Cuba’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday confirmed that it sent missiles and other military equipment to North Korea aboard a ship that was seized by Panamanian government authorities.
In a statement, the Cuban ministry said the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, and its 35-member crew were detained.
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"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to inform that said vessel sailed from a Cuban port to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mainly loaded with 10,000 tons of sugar," the statement said.
The military equipment included 240 metric tons of "obsolete defensive weapons," including two anti-aircraft "complexes."
The air defenses were described as "Volga," the export version of the Soviet-era SA-2 surface-to-air missile systems, and the "Pechora," the expert version of the SA-3.
Nine missiles, two Mig-21 aircraft, and 15 motors for the jet were included "to be repaired and returned to Cuba," the statement said.
"The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty," the statement said.
U.S. officials said the shipmenet violates U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit arms shipments to North Korea. The sanctions were imposed on North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests.
The military goods were seized Friday as the ship approached the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal.
Panamanian authorities said the ship was suspected of carrying illegal drugs and was boarded and searched.
The crew resisted and the captain tried to commit suicide, raising suspicions about the cargo.
Military specialists said the shipment highlighted covert military cooperation between the two communist states and raised new worries that Cuba may be shopping for North Korean ballistic missiles.
North Korea exports three variants of the short-range Scud missiles and the medium-range Nodong missile.
North Korea also has nuclear weapons and is believed to be working on developing a nuclear warhead for its missiles.
Cuba was the location of a major Cold War confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union in 1962 when Moscow imported medium-range and intermediate range missiles.
The Cuban missile crisis brought the two states to the brink of nuclear war and ended when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw the missiles.
Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the North Korea-Cuba affair "highlights the propensity for outlaw states to collaborate where they can."
Squassoni also said the shipment "violates U.N. Security Council resolutions banning imports and exports of military goods to and from North Korea."
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli announced late Monday that "the world needs to sit up and take note: you cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal."