North Korea offers Nigeria missile technology

by Dave Clark

LAGOS, Jan 28 (AFP) -

North Korea's isolated totalitarian regime has offered to sell Nigeria advanced missile technology, a Nigerian official said Wednesday, announcing talks that are likely to anger the United States. "They came to us wanting a memorandum of understanding signed with us towards developing missile technology, and training and manufacture of ammunition," said a spokesman for Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar. "They were just trying to get us interested. There hasn't been any interest shown on our side," Onu Kaba Ojo said. Ojo confirmed that Nigeria was seeking ballistic missile technology, and said that this had come up at a meeting on Tuesday between Atiku and his North Korean counterpart Yang Hyong-Sop, although no deal had been signed. A statement issued by Atiku's office after the meeting said: "He assured that government would continue to co-operate with the Korean government in the defence sector, an area in which both Nigeria and North Korea have co-operated over the years."

But, Ojo said, Nigeria bought weapons from "many countries" and no deal had yet been struck with Pyongyang.

Any move by Nigeria to acquire North Korean ballistic missiles would be sure to annoy Washington, which is locked in a bitter stand-off with Pyongyang over its nuclear ambitions and international arms sales. Kim Jong-Il's totalitarian regime -- which US President George W. Bush regards as a member of a so-called "axis of evil" -- earns much of its hard currency by selling and swapping missile and weapons secrets.

North Korea has developed missiles capable of carrying warheads as far as Japan, and is reported to have shared its technology with Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan and Saddam Hussein's former Iraqi regime. Profits from the proliferation are said by US intelligence to feed back into North Korea's search for a nuclear weapon.

Nigeria, by contrast, is seen as a friend of the United States. Bush visited Abuja last year and praised President Olusegun Obasanjo for his leadership within Africa. Some 15 percent of the United States' crude oil needs are supplied by Nigeria's burgeoning oil industry.

Ojo insisted that Abuja's talks with Pyongyang should not give Washington cause to worry, and promised that Nigeria was not at all interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

"I'm sure that Nigeria is not dreaming of nuclear weapons at all, just missile technology," he said, adding that a "multi-use foundry" also discussed at Tuesday's meeting would be for civilian use.

"If you're acquiring technology for peaceful purpose I don't think that should make our allies uneasy," he added.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, and its military is by far the most powerful in west Africa, where it has contributed successfully to a number of widely praised peacekeeping missions. It has never made war on its weaker neighbours, although it does have an unresolved boundary dispute with Cameroon over ownership of the potentially oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. The disagreement is under UN mediation.

Ojo said that missiles would add to Nigeria's defensive capabilities. "Nigeria has a very formidable military ... I'm sure it's not out of place to want to fortify ourselves. Nigeria is not a belligerent nation, we don't make wars," he said.

"Anything we do is for the defence of our country and peacekeeping in west Africa," he said. Yang Hyong-Sop is vice president of North Korea's ruling Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, and is regarded by observers as a powerful figure in Pyongyang's secretive regime. The United States is seeking to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes and return to talks with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Nigeria had no immediate comment on Nigeria's talks with North Korea.