Panama seizes N.Korean ship smuggling military hardware

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PANAMA CITY — Panama seized a North Korean-flagged ship carrying undeclared military cargo from Cuba hidden in a shipment of sugar, President Ricardo Martinelli said.

Officials searched the ship on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Panama Canal because they suspected it was carrying illegal drugs, Martinelli told RPC Radioon Monday. He posted a picture on his Twitter account of a long green object inside what appeared to be a cargo container. The ship’s captain tried to commit suicide and about 35 crew members were detained, he said.

“We are a neutral country at peace,” Martinelli said. “We are very concerned about undeclared war material passing through the canal.”

Pictures taken of the captured vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, show what appears to be a radar for upgrading the Asian nation’s missile defense system, said Neil Ashdown, an analyst with research company IHS. UN sanctions forbid North Korea from buying or selling ballistic missile or nuclear technology.

“We’ve only seen these three pictures, so it’s entirely possible that there are other things in the shipment that would be a weapon or surface-to-air missile,” Ashdown said in a phone interview from London. “This is definitely a component for a military system.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised China for it efforts to push North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons aspirations. Tensions on the Korean peninsula escalated in February after North Korea conducted a nuclear test before proposing talks with South Korea and the U.S. last month.

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