S. Korea praises Panama for seizure of N. Korean ship, weapons

MANZANILLO, Panama, July 19 (UPI) -- South Korean leaders praised Panama for seizing a North Korean-flagged ship carrying undeclared weapons and vowed better cooperation to implement sanctions.

The country's Foreign Affairs Ministry said Seoul "commends and supports the interdiction by the Panamanian government of the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean vessel suspected of carrying prohibited items on board," South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported Friday.


Authorities seized the vessel in the Panamanian port of Manzanillo Monday night after it arrived from Cuba. A U.N. resolution, approved in response to the country's nuclear activities, bans North Korean import and export of most weapons.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday the Cold War-era weapons were on the vessel along with a shipment of sugar, explaining the weapons were obsolete and were being shipped to North Korea to be repaired under a contract. North Korea has asked Panama to release the vessel.

In its statement, Cuba's External Affairs Ministry said the cargo consisted of two MiG-21 aircraft, 15 MiG engines, two anti-aircraft missile batteries and components of nine missiles, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Cuban statement described the cargo as "obsolete."


At the request of Panamanian authorities, the United Nations will investigate the matter, sending a team of five experts to the Latin American country next month.

Investigators were still searching the docked freighter Thursday.

South Korea said it hoped for "full implementation" of sanctions against its northern neighbor, pledging "close cooperation with the international community to this end," Yonhap reported.

The weaponry destined for North Korea is of 1950s origin, Philip Peters, president of the Cuba Research Center in Virginia, told the Times.

"This appears to be a violation of the U.N. resolution [banning weapons trade with North Korea]. But in military terms it has almost no significance at all," Peters said. "What this incident says about Cuba is that there aren't a lot of places where you can go to get these old airplanes and antiaircraft systems fixed."

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