Heavy sanctions on North unlikely for weapons-filled vessel

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Heavy sanctions on North unlikely for weapons-filled vessel

The chief South Korean envoy to the United Nations said “it appears there will no additional sanctions” on Pyongyang following Panama’s seizure of a North Korean-flagged vessel smuggling Cuban weapons under a shipment of sugar last month. He also added that Pyongyang’s presence in the United Nations has become virtually nonexistent.

“It is possible for strong UN measures such as additional sanctions for important situations such as if nuclear or missile-related weapons are involved,” Kim Sook, the South Korean Ambassador to the UN, recently told reporters in New York.

“If you compare it to driving, it will be like receiving a fine for breaking traffic laws.”

He said what is most important is “to confirm, as Cuba and North Korea claim, that the weapons are indeed ‘obsolete defensive weapons’ that need repair.” He added that further measures could be taken by the UN once the reason why the weapons were concealed is revealed.

The vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, was seized while en route to North Korea from Cuba on July 15. The captain and crew resisted the search and cut the cables on cranes used to unload cargo. The freighter’s 35 crew members were detained.

Panamanian authorities found 12 MiG-21 fighter aircraft engines and five military vehicles Tuesday, which is consistent with the list of weapons provided by the Cuban government.

Panama said yesterday that a UN inspection of the weapons has been postponed until Aug. 12.

Kim said there were two reasons for the delay of the investigation. Firstly, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador and other Central American countries are opposed to the investigation due to fears of increasing American influence in the region. Secondly, the vessel is still in the process of being unloaded. Only a quarter of the 100,000 tons of sugar has been removed thus far.

“The presence of a New York channel between North Korea and the United States is becoming more and more insignificant,” said Kim. “In reality, the North Korean UN delegation’s activities have ceased … Last June, the North Korean delegate’s voluntary press conference was met with general indifference from the press and international community. North Korea is getting further isolated from the international community.”

BY JEONG WON-YEOB, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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