Sat April 19, 2003 03:23 AM ET
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Up to 20 high-ranking North Korean military officers and nuclear
scientists have defected to the United States and its allies under a plan involving several
countries including the Pacific state of Nauru, an Australian newspaper said on Saturday.
The defections began last October after 11 countries agreed to provide consular protection
to smuggle North Koreans from China, The Weekend Australian said.
The man seen as the father of North Korea's nuclear program, Kyong Won-ha, was believed
among the defectors, the newspaper said.
It said a U.S.-based lawyer approached Nauru's former president, Rene Harris, with an offer
to foot the bill for establishing Nauruan embassies in Washington and Beijing, ostensibly to
boost trade ties with those countries.
But the real reason for the Beijing embassy was "to expedite the movement of these very
important people," the paper said, citing Harris.
Nauru's former finance minister, Kinza Clodumar, was quoted as saying he was briefed on
what was dubbed "Operation Weasel" while with a Nauruan delegation in Washington in
"We were going to get a (North Korean) nuclear scientist and his family from a farm in China
and then take them in a Nauru consulate car to an embassy," Clodumar said.
Some countries agreed to act as transit points for up to 30 days once the defectors left China, the paper said, citing
"confidential documents and interviews with key players in Washington, the Pacific and North Asia."
But the paper said in the end, Nauru's diplomatic cover was not used to deliver defectors to safety.
The operation, which has now been wound up, was managed by Americans and New Zealanders operating at arm's length
from their governments, the paper said.
Countries believed to have been involved include the United States, Nauru, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Thailand, the
Philippines and Spain, the report said.