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August 29, 2013

Panama: UN Report Finds N. Korean Ship Violated Sanctions

by VOA News

Panama says United Nations experts have determined Cuban weapons seized from a North Korean cargo ship in the Panama Canal were a violation of U.N. sanctions.

The Panamanian government based its conclusion Wednesday on a preliminary report by U.N. experts who recently finished inspecting the cargo seized last month.

Panama did not release the report, but said it concluded "without a doubt" that the North Korean ship violated a U.N. ban on the transfer of arms to North Korea.

Cuba says it was sending the weapons, which it referred to as "obsolete," to Pyongyang to be repaired and returned to Havana. The weapons included two Soviet MiG-21 fighter jets, 15 MiG-21 motors, and nine anti-aircraft missiles.

Panamanian authorities stopped the ship just outside the canal on suspicion of carrying drugs. Upon inspection, they found the undeclared weapons hiding under thousands of bags of sugar.

The 35 North Korean sailors on board were charged with trying to ship undeclared weapons through the Panama Canal. They remain detained at a former U.S. military base in Panama.

Panama on Wednesday said the U.N. report justified its actions in stopping the ship, seizing the weapons, and detaining the sailors.

A U.S.-based research group this week said the weapons shipments is likely largely than Cuba acknowledged. The 38-North group said it was unlikely many of the weapons were headed to North Korea for repair, since pictures appear to show some of them in their original packaging.

The U.N. has yet to announce what action it will take in response to the weapons seizure.

North Korea is subject to an arms embargo in response to its nuclear and missile programs.