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Cuba confirms arms bound for North Korea on ship seized in Panama


Cuba has confirmed a North Korean cargo ship seized in Panama was carrying missiles, fighter jets and other armaments that were loaded in Cuban ports but claimed it was "obsolete defensive weaponry" being sent away for repair.

Panamanian authorities stopped the freighter on Monday when weaponry was found in amongst a load of 10,000 tonnes of sugar. The Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, said the ship, identified as the 14,000-tonne Chong Chon Gang, had been carrying missiles and other arms "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar". 

On Tuesday the Cuban foreign ministry said the 240 tonnes of armaments consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles "in parts and spares", two Mig-21 planes and 15 engines for those planes – all of which had been bound for repair in North Korea.

"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 remained "unwavering" in its commitment to international law, peace and nuclear disarmament.

Under current sanctions aimed at North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, all UN 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.

Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for Martinelli, said authorities had only searched one of the ship's five container sections and the inspection of all cargo would take at least a week. Panama had requested help from United Nations inspectors, along with Colombia and the UK, said Javier Carballo, the country's top narcotics prosecutor.

North Korea's government made no public comment on the case.

The Guardian