(PANAMA CITY) — Panamanian authorities have apparently caught North Korea violating sanctions banning the trade and sale of unconventional weapons by intercepting a freighter that they say was hauling a cargo of missile system components.
According to Panama President Ricardo Martinelli, the “sophisticated missile equipment” came from Cuba and was hidden among sacks of sugar, one of the communist island’s top exports.
Martinelli said Panamanian authorities seized the 36-year-old freighter Chong Chon Gang when the crew refused to be redirected to a port at the Atlantic end of the canal. All 35 members were arrested and the president said there would be a top-to-bottom search of the vessel to uncover more contraband.
Initially, the Panamanians believed the North Korean freighter was carrying narcotics.
The U.N. imposed tough sanctions against North Korea’s sale and trade of unconventional weapons after Pyongyang conducted illicit missile tests in recent years to bolster its nuclear ambitions.
Coincidentally, Panama and South Korea have been strengthening relations just as North Korea and Cuba have done the same.
Havana issued a statement late Tuesday that the arms were obsolete Cuban weapons being sent to North Korea for repair.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Angela Dewan and Donie O'Sullivan, CNN
Marisa Russell, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN