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Panama Insists on U.N. Handling of North Korean Shipping Case

Panama will not settle the case of a North Korean cargo ship that was found carrying Soviet era weapons via a bilateral meeting between the two nations, and instead will continue to insist that the United Nations handle it, the Miami Herald reported.

It was announced last week that a U.N. inspection team would travel to Panama to investigate the Chong Chon Gang freighter that was sailing through the Panama Canal en route to North Korea from Cuba when the weapons were discovered.

Cuban officials have said they were sending aging aircraft, missile-launch equipment and other military gear to North Korea for maintenance services and that the items were to have been returned to Havana later on. However, the equipment was hidden among bags of sugar and may have violated a military export embargo against Pyongyang because of its illicit nuclear arms program.

A verbal message sent by North Korea's embassy in Havana on Friday said that the cargo ship did not intend to threaten the security of the Panama Canal and expressed the North's desire to resolve the case "diplomatically" and with "amiable cooperation," the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed Panamanian government source.

"As long as the case is in the hands of the (Panamanian) Security Ministry and there's no final report report from the United Nations, there is no diplomatic solution," an anonymous official told El Nuevo Herald.

The diplomatic note also asked that two North Korean diplomats be allowed into Panama so that they could advise crewmen of the North Korean freighter, according to the Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, additional missile-launching equipment was found in the last unopened container on the freighter, the Chosun Ilbo reported. Panamanian officials told the Korean news service that the search of the ship had concluded. 

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This article provides an overview of Cuba’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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