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North Korea denies aiding Syria in fight against rebels

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they stand along a road in the town of Tel Arn in Aleppo after capt
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they stand along a road in the town of Tel Arn in Aleppo after capt

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea denied it was sending military aid to the Syrian government, one of its few close allies, in its battle against rebel forces after media reports said that Pyongyang had sent advisors and helicopter pilots.

"Some foreign media are floating misinformation that the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) supplied war equipment to Syria, its airmen are directly involved in air-raids on insurgent troops in Syria," the North's state run KCNA news agency said late on Thursday.

The Jerusalem Post reported in October that 15 North Korean helicopter pilots were operating in Syria "on behalf of President Bashar Assad's regime" and said the report had been confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Other reports have identified North Korean artillery officers as being in Syria, although they were said not to be directing fire.

North Korea has long-standing ties with Syria and constructed a plutonium reactor there that was destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007. It also has links with Syria's chemical weapons program.

Under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States, Assad agreed to destroy all Syria's chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people on August 21.

Japanese media reports in August said Turkey had intercepted a shipment of gas masks and small arms from North Korea to Syria.

The North is under United Nations sanctions for its nuclear weapons and missile program and its role in proliferating nuclear and missile technology.

(Reporting by David Chance; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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