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Panama: North Korean ship stopped with missile parts from Cuba

MEXICO CITY—The Panamanian government has discovered what appears to be “sophisticated missile equipment” hidden in the hull of a North Korean container ship that had set sail from Cuba and was slated to head home via the Panama Canal, President Ricardo Martinelli said late Monday.

Martinelli divulged the details of the discovery to Panamanian media and in a pair of brief posts on his Twitter account.

The Panamanian newspaper La Prensa reported that Panamanian officials had initially suspected that the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was carrying drugs, and detained it in the port of Cristobal, on the Caribbean coast, near the Panama Canal entrance.

Late Monday, Martinelli tweeted a picture of what he called undeclared “war cargo” that he said was hidden under a shipment of sugar. La Prensa reported that the crew was mutinous, and that, according to Martinelli, the ship’s captain had attempted suicide.

If the shipment proves to be missiles or other arms, it would likely constitute a violation of United Nations sanctions against North Korea that prohibit the importation of conventional weapons and items that could be used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.

The sanctions against the hermit-like communist country have been in place since 2006, and were strengthened by the U.N. Security Council in March after the North Koreans announced a nuclear test in Febraury.

The Spanish news agency EFE reported that a Korean military delegation headed by general Kim Kyok Sik had visited with top Cuban military officials in Havana in late June. The North Korean general said at the time that the two friendly countries shared “the same foxhole.”

As of Tuesday, neither the North Korean or Cuban governments had issued an official statement on the discovery.

President Martinelli, meanwhile, declared that his country’s canal was “for peace, not for war,” according to La Prensa.

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Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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