North Korea

Panama calls in UN to inspect North Korean arms ship

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 July, 2013, 1:37am

A UN Security Council sanctions committee will examine the case of a North Korean ship that was intercepted by Panama and found to be carrying arms from Cuba.

Britain's UN envoy Lyall Grant's announcement follows Panama's request for the Security Council to consider whether the shipment constituted a violation of UN sanctions.

Panama stopped the North Korean ship last week and seized its cargo. Authorities discovered missile equipment, MiG fighter jets and other arms aboard that Cuba said were "obsolete" Soviet-era weapons being sent to North Korea for repair.

North Korea broke four days of silence yesterday, insisting they were transported legally and demanding that Panama immediately release the vessel and its 35 crew members.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry described the weapons as ageing armaments that needed refurbishment under a contract with Cuba. It also harshly criticised Panama for what it called its pretext of searching the vessel for narcotics and its violent treatment of the crew.

The Chong Chon Gang was seized on Sunday at the northern entrance to the Panama Canal, following what the Panamanians described as a violent stand-off with the crew members.

The marines discovered a cargo of cold war-era anti-aircraft radar components and other antiquated armaments buried under more than 200,000 bags of Cuban brown sugar.

"The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of 'drug investigation' and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug," the ministry said in a statement. "Yet they are justifying their violent action, taking issue with other kind of cargo aboard the ship."

Cuba has acknowledged it owns the weapons.