July 16, 2013

Panama finds suspected weapons on N. Korean ship

The ship appeared to be transporting illegal missile-system parts from Cuba to North Korea, which would violate a United Nations embargo.

By Juan Zamorano / The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY — A North Korean ship carrying weapons system parts buried under sacks of sugar was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba to its home country, which is barred by United Nations sanctions from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles, Panamanian officials said Tuesday.

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Military equipment lays in containers aboard a North Korean-flagged ship at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. A North Korean ship carrying weapons system parts buried under sacks of sugar was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba to its home country, which is under a United Nations arms embargo, Panamanian officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

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Police patrol by boat next to the North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang docked at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. Panama's president said the country has seized the ship, carrying what appeared to be ballistic missiles and other arms that had set sail from Cuba. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

Additional Photos Below

A private defense analysis firm that examined a photograph of the find said the ship appeared to be transporting a radar-control system for a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system, and Cuba later released a statement calling the equipment on the boat "obsolete defensive weapons" from the mid-20th century.

A statement from Cuba's Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the military equipment belonged to the Caribbean nation, but said it had been shipped out to be repaired and returned to the island.

It said the 240 metric tons of weaponry consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles "in parts and spares," two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those airplanes.

"The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty," the statement read.

It concluded by saying that Havana remains "unwavering" in its commitment to international law, peace and nuclear disarmament.

Earlier, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said the ship identified as the 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang was carrying missiles and other arms "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar."

Martinelli tweeted a photo showing a green tube that appears to be a horizontal antenna for the SNR-75 "Fan Song" radar, which used to guide missiles fired by the SA-2 air-defense system found in former Warsaw Pact and Soviet-allied nations, said Neil Ashdown, an analyst for IHS Jane's Intelligence.

"It is possible that this could be being sent to North Korea to update its high-altitude air-defense capabilities," Ashdown said. Jane's also said the equipment could be headed to North Korea to be upgraded.

Panamanian authorities said one container buried under sugar sacks contained radar equipment that appears to be designed for use with air-to-air or surface-to-air missiles, said Belsio Gonzalez, director of Panama's National Aeronautics and Ocean Administration. An Associated Press journalist who gained access to the rusting ship saw green shipping containers that had been covered by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of white sacks marked "Cuban Raw Sugar."

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of increasingly tougher sanctions against North Korea since its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006.

Under current sanctions, all U.N. member states are prohibited from directly or indirectly supplying, selling or transferring all arms, missiles or missile systems and the equipment and technology to make them to North Korea, with the exception of small arms and light weapons.

The most recent resolution, approved in March after Pyongyang's latest nuclear test, authorizes all countries to inspect cargo in or transiting through their territory that originated in North Korea, or is destined to North Korea if a state has credible information the cargo could violate Security Council resolutions.

"Panama obviously has an important responsibility to ensure that the Panama Canal is utilized for safe and legal commerce," said Acting U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, who is the current Security Council president. "Shipments of arms or related material to or from Korea would violate Security Council resolutions, three of them as a matter of fact."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli posted this picture on his Twitter account Monday showing what he said officials believe is sophisticated missile equipment found in containers of sugar aboard a North Korean-flagged ship traveling from Cuba.

AP

click image to enlarge

Panamanian police officers patrol a deck aboard a North Korean-flagged ship at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. The North Korean ship carrying weapons system parts buried under sacks of sugar was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal on its way from Cuba to its home country, which is under a United Nations arms embargo, Panamanian officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

 


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