July 18, 2013
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Thursday demanded the release of a vessel seized in Panama suspected of carrying narcotic drugs and banned arms, claiming the weapons were being transported under a legitimate contract with Cuba, the official KCNA news agency reported.
“An abnormal incident in which our trade ship Chong Chon Gang was seized by Panamanian authorities on suspicion of carrying narcotics has occurred,” said an unnamed spokesman of DPRK’s Foreign Ministry, claiming that Panamanian officers “violently attacked” the ship’s captain and crew.
“The Panamanian authorities should release our crew and vessel without delay,” said the spokesman, adding that “when the officers were unable to find any narcotics, they took issue with other cargo on the vessel in order to cover up their violence.”
“This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract with Cuba,” he added.
Cuba has also said the shipment consisted of aging weapons that were to be repaired and returned to Cuba.
The weapons, manufactured in the mid-20th century, were two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missile parts and spares, two MiG-21 Bis and 15 motors for those planes, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
According to the Panamanian government, the 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang it seized on Monday was suspected of trying to cross the Panama Canal with undeclared cargo that appeared to be missile parts.
Pyongyang is under broad UN sanctions against arms trafficking with other countries after it launched a long-range rocket in December 2012 and conducted its third underground nuclear test in February.