A Panamanian official announced Wednesday that more containers of suspected weapons have been found aboard a ship seized last week that was bound for North Korea from Cuba.
Panamanian Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino told the Reuters news agency that authorities found two new containers in addition to the two that were previously discovered under thousands of tons of sugar.
Acting on intelligence it hasn’t publicly described, Panama seized the rusting, 34-year-old North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang on July 11 as it headed toward the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal on its way to the Pacific and its final destination of North Korea.
Hidden under some 240,000 white sacks of raw brown Cuban sugar, Panamanian officials found shipping containers with parts of a radar system for a surface-to-air missile defense system, an apparent violation of U.N. sanctions that bar North Korea from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles.
Nearly 24 hours after Panama announced the find and said it would continue searching the ship for more contraband, Cuba acknowledged late Monday that the ship’s cargo included 240 metric tons of “obsolete defensive weapons”: two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles “in parts and spares,” two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those airplanes. The equipment was meant to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba, the Cuban government said.
North Korea has a robust capability to repair and upgrade Soviet-era military equipment, and the economically struggling, isolated nation has a track record of trading technical help for commodities such as sugar, experts said.
At the same time, North Korea is known to be seeking to evade sanctions and get spare parts for its own weapons systems, particularly Mig jet fighters. That raises the possibility that in lieu of cash, Cuba was paying for the repairs with a mix of sugar and jet equipment, experts said.
Full article: Panama: North Korean ship had more hidden arms containers (CBS)