UN experts to visit Panama to probe Cuban arms

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea will make a three-day visit to Panama next week to investigate an undeclared arms shipment from Cuba discovered in a North Korean-flagged ship detained in the Panama Canal, the chair of the sanctions committee said Wednesday.

The six-member team will present an initial report on their Aug. 13-15 visit and then a substantive report with their conclusions and recommendations, U.N. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg told reporters after a Security Council meeting.

Lucas said there has been no discussion in the sanctions committee or the Security Council on whether the shipment violated a U.N. arms embargo.

“We don’t yet have a conclusion if it is a violation or not,” she said. “The committee will only start discussing once we have the report and then see if we have a consensus on whatever conclusions they have been drawing.”

During the closed Security Council meeting, Lucas said “everybody commended Panama for the swift action and for informing the committee and immediately inviting the committee and the panel to assist.”

The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was headed from Cuba to North Korea when it was seized in the canal July 15 based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

The manifest said it was carrying 10,000 tons of sugar, but Cuban military equipment was found beneath the sacks. Panamanian investigators haven’t found any drugs yet but they have found live munitions.

After the seizure, Cubans officials said the cargo included 240 metric tons of obsolete planes and missiles they were sending to North Korea to be repaired and returned. They did not mention any munitions.

South Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Sook said several council members expressed appreciation for “the Cuban government’s openness — that they will not challenge the authority of the Security Council and they will be as cooperative as possible in the process of investigation.”

“We hope that their words could (be) met by deeds,” he said.

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