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Panama: UN Report Finds N. Korean Ship Violated Sanctions

Military equipment lays in containers aboard a North Korean-flagged ship at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, July 16, 2013.
Panama said U.N. 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 said 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 research group this week said the weapons shipments is likely larger than Cuba has acknowledged.

Hugh Griffiths co-authored the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which was published by 38 North, a website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He tells VOA it is not likely that many of the weapons were headed to North Korea for repair.

"In addition to the missile components and jet fighter aircraft, there were also conventional arms, artillery shells and rocket-propelled grenades, among others, which were clearly not going back to Cuba for repair, because they were in mint condition. They were going to North Korea and were going to stay there."

Griffiths says if this is the case, then it would represent a clear violation of the U.N. embargo on North Korea, which was put in place because of Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

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