Cuban jets sent to North Korea ready to fly, Panamanian official says

PANAMA CITY, Panama, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Cuban fighter jets found aboard a North Korean cargo ship in Panama three months ago, despite an embargo, were in flyable condition, Panamanian officials said.

Cuban officials said the 508-foot ship Chong Chon Gang, intercepted in July at the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal, carried only old aircraft and parts to North Korea for repair, but two planes, 15 jet engines in excellent condition and other weaponry were found aboard the ship under tons of bags of sugar.


Prosecutor Javier Caraballo, in charge of an arms trafficking case against the 35 crew members, said the cargo included two MiG-21 fighter planes and evidence the planes were airworthy. One had paperwork on board indicating it was flown only a few months before its seizure, he said.

The United Nations imposed an embargo on arms shipments to North Korea, citing the country's nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Caraballo said the crew members live comfortably in air-conditioned quarters, and have access to the North Korean embassy in Cuba while they await trial that could bring each of them 12-year sentences.

The Panamanian government, however, is treading lightly in the case and offering little comment, fearful of angering Cuba, a major purchaser of goods in Panama's "free zone" at Colon, McClatchy Newspapers reported Friday, noting a ship travels weekly from Colon to Havana to supply Cuba's tourist hotels.


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