2 more containers seized from ship

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2 more containers seized from ship

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A soldier stands near two arms-filled containers seized from the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon, Panama on Wednesday. Cuba said the weapons were being sent back to North Korea for repair and included two anti-aircraft missile batteries, nine disassembled rockets, two MiG-21 fighter jets, and 15 MiG-21 engines, all Soviet-era military weaponry built in the middle of the last century.[REUTERS/NEWS1]

Panamanian authorities have discovered two additional containers suspected to contain illegal weapons and military equipment in a North Korean ship they seized last week en route to the North from Cuba.

Panamanian Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino announced Wednesday on his Twitter account that authorities had found two more containers aboard the 14,000-ton vessel, the Chong Chon Gang. The Cuban Foreign Ministry has said the weapons are aging military goods, including two MiG fighter jets, being sent to North Korea for repairs. The arms were hidden beneath 250,000 sacks of raw Cuban sugar.

Minister Mulino told reporters he has “requested technical personnel and equipment” from the U.S. and U.K. governments and said he will hand the investigation over to United Nations inspectors.

“It’s going to be transferred to the UN Security Council, they will decide what to do,” he was quoted as saying to reporters in Panama City.

Washington suggested it would launch a thorough inspection into whether the smuggling of the weapons breaches UN sanctions against North Korea.

“So as you know, there’s a UN process through the Security Council to determine whether there was a violation of sanctions,” Marie Harf, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, told reporters at a daily briefing on Wednesday. “That process is ongoing. The Government of Panama has requested our assistance in this matter.”

“Obviously, this shipment, if it’s confirmed to have what we suspect, would be of interest to the sanctions committee,” Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters at a press meeting on Tuesday in New York.

North Korea has formally requested that Panama release the ship and its crew yesterday through its official mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency.

“An irrational incident happened in which our trade ship, the Chong Chon Gang, has been seized by Panamanian investigators on suspicion of carrying drugs,” an unnamed spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry told the KCNA yesterday. “The Panamanian authorities should take measures to release our crew detained there and let our ship go.”

IHS Fairplay, an international military news source, said on Wednesday that it discovered that another North Korean ship had visited Cuba in 2012 using a similar route to that of the Chong Chon Gang.

The monitor says the vessel, the O Un Chong Nyon Ho, visited Havana and Puerto Rico in May 2012 and moved through the northern part of the Panama Canal in June. In August, the ship was last spotted heading for Nampo Port in North Korea. The report could not say whether it was carrying any illegal cargo.

Kim Kyok-sik, North Korea’s newly-minted chief of the general staff of the North Korean army, visited Cuba in June, the KCNA reported, without elaborating on his purpose.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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