Panama intercepts illegal North Korea arms shipment to Cuba

Hidden behind sacks of sugar. Ye gods! Straight out of a B-movie.

Panama Seizes North Korea-Flagged Ship for Weapons

The Panamanian authorities have seized a North Korean-flagged ship traveling from Cuba through the Panama Canal that was carrying “undeclared military cargo,” and Panama’s president said late Monday that the cargo was presumably “sophisticated missile equipment.”

The president, Ricardo Martinelli said in a radio interview that the illegal cargo was found in two containers hidden behind a large shipment of sugar. In a Twitter posting he included a photo of what looked like a green tubular object in a container.

The United Nations has imposed broad sanctions on North Korea that seek to curtail its ability to export and import weaponry, particularly missile components and technology. Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted a general in Myanmar, Thein Htay, for buying military goods from North Korea.

American officials say that North Korea’s arms trade has helped finance the country’s nuclear and missile ambitions. In February, North Korea carried out its third nuclear test, a detonation that led to a tightened round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations and supported by North Korea’s longtime ally and benefactor, China.

In his remarks on Radio Panama, Mr. Martinelli said the ship was headed to North Korea and that the captain tried to commit suicide during the episode.

The president said the ship would undergo a thorough inspection to look for weapons being transported illegally through the Panama Canal. The 35 North Koreans on board were being detained after they resisted efforts to take the ship to the Caribbean port of Manzanillo.

“We’re going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside,” he said. “You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal.”

Mr. Martinelli’s remarks about the cargo possibly containing missile components have not been independently verified.

The seizure comes as Panama and South Korea, the North’s sworn enemy, have been strengthening ties and exploring a possible free trade agreement.