Panama: North Korea ship to Cuba 'broke arms embargo'

The North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang sits docked at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, 14 August, 2013. The container ship Chong Chon Gang has been held in Colon since 16 July

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Panama says an undeclared Cuban weapons cargo found on a North Korean ship is an "undoubted violation" of the United Nations' arms embargo on Pyongyang.

A draft report by UN experts sent to Panama after the seizure of the ship in July confirmed a breach of sanctions, the ministry of public security said.

Two North Korean diplomats are in Panama to assist the ship's 35 crew.

Cuba said it shipped the arms to North Korea for repair. It did not say why they were hidden under tonnes of sugar.

A source in the public security ministry said authorities had been given a first draft of the report compiled by UN sanctions panel experts, the AFP news agency reports.

A man works in a container with the MiG-21 jets found inside the North Korean Chong Chon Gang vessel where an alleged Soviet-built radar control system for surface-to-air missiles was found, at the Manzanillo Port in Colon, Panama on 21 July, 2013. One of two Soviet-made fighter planes found inside the North Korean vessel

The ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was seized on suspicion it was carrying drugs.

The vessel had been navigating the Panama Canal.

Chong Chon Gang's route

Map showing the route that the Chong Chon Gang took before being seized in Panama
  1. Departs from Nakhodka in Russian far east (200km east of North Korean border)
  2. Arrives at Pacific side of Panama Canal
  3. Leaves the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side heading for Havana, but disappears from satellite tracking
  4. Arrives back at Panamanian port of Manzanillo; later searched for contraband. Weapons uncovered

Officials found 25 containers of military hardware, including two Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft, air defence systems, missiles and command and control vehicles.

The statement from the Panamanian public security ministry was released after the North Korean diplomats - from the country's mission in Havana - visited the crew members at a former military base.

Satellite tracking

They are being detained on suspicion of arms trafficking; an offence which carries a 12-year prison sentence.

The United Nations inspectors completed their work two weeks ago but are yet to present their official findings publicly.

The Chong Chon Gang left Russia's far east on 12 April and travelled across the Pacific Ocean before entering the canal at the start of June, with Cuba as its stated destination.

The ship disappeared from satellite tracking systems after it left the Caribbean side of the canal, resurfacing on 11 July.

Experts say this may indicate that the crew switched off the system that automatically communicates details of their location.

It was stopped near Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal on 15 July.

Under United Nations sanctions, North Korea is banned from weapons exports and the import of all but small arms.

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