Panama: North Korea ship’s arms violated United Nations sanctions

By Dialogo
August 29, 2013

PANAMA CITY, Panama – The undeclared shipment of Cuban weapons found on a North Korean ship are a violation of United Nations (UN) sanctions against arms transfers to Pyongyang, Panamanian officials said on Aug. 28, citing a UN report.
Panama’s Public Safety Ministry said in a prepared statement that according to a draft report by UN experts sent to Panama after the ship was seized in July, the cargo “undoubtedly violates sanctions of the UN, which supports the course of action Panama took.”
The statement was the first information released about the mission of the experts, who completed their inspections two weeks ago. They were led by Briton David Martin Uden, a former ambassador to South Korea.
North Korea is under UN sanctions regarding its controversial nuclear program, which bar the transport of all weapons to and from the isolated state apart from the import of small arms.
North Korea carried out a third nuclear weapons test in February, triggering even tighter UN sanctions.
The ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted on July 10 as it tried to enter the Panama Canal on suspicion it was carrying drugs.
Authorities uncovered 25 containers of military hardware, including two MiG-21 fighter jets, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.
Both Cuban and North Korean officials said they were Cuban arms being shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract.
But officials from both nations didn’t explain why the items were buried under more than 200,000 sacks of sugar inside the ship.
The United Nations has yet to state publicly how it will proceed.
The Public Safety Ministry released its prepared statement after a group of North Korean diplomats visited the ship’s 35 crew members, who are being detained at a former military base on charges of arms trafficking.
The crew members face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
Five percent of the world’s commerce travels through the nearly century-old Panama Canal, with that expected to increase following the completion of a major expansion project.
[AFP (Panama), 28/08/2013; La Prensa (Panama), 28/08/2013]