SEOUL: North Korea said that Cuban arms seized from a Pyongyang-flagged ship near the Panama Canal were part of a legitimate deal, amid concerns United Nations sanctions may have been violated.
Havana said the arms, discovered on the ship among tons of sugar, were “obsolete” Soviet-era missiles and parts, which were being sent to North Korea for repair—an account backed up by its allies in Pyongyang.
“This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to be sent back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract,” North’s Korea Central News Agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
“The Panamanian authorities should take a step to let the apprehended crewmen and ship leave without delay,” the statement added.
But Panama on Wednesday officially requested UN inspectors scrutinize the cargo, which UN diplomats said could constitute a breach of the strict arms sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear program.
“The cargo is illegal because it was not declared. Anything that is not logged, even if it is obsolete, is contraband,” Panamanian Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said.
“We are awaiting the arrival of experts from the United States and Britain, per our request, as well as a technical team from the UN Security Council,” he added.
A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in a statement the secretary general “commends the action taken by Panama in full conformity with its obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions.”
“The secretary general awaits the outcome of the investigation into the matter in question and is sure the 1718 Security Council Sanctions Committee will promptly address it.”