Mig-21 Fighter Jets were found aboard a ship headed to North Korea
as it passed through the Panama Canal earlier this month.
The two Soviet-era fighter jets were among other munitions, including missiles, recovered by Panamanian authorities from the ship which had called in Cuba – an ally of North Korea.
The supersonic jets were hidden underneath thousands of sacks of sugar on the 510-foot freighter.
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The weapons headed to the oppressive regime is a violation of United Nation sanctions against North Korea, Agence France-Presse noted
"The shipment . . . is a grave violation of international treaties," Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "Weapons transfers from one communist regime to another hidden under sacks of sugar are not accidental . . . and reinforces the necessity that Cuba remain on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor state terrorism."
When questioned, Cuba said the shipment contained "obsolete" weapons that were being sent over to Pyongyang in order to be refurbished and returned to the Caribbean Communist regime.
Cuba's explanation was backed by a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, who according to the official KCNA news agency, was quoted as having said, "This cargo is nothing but aging weapons, which are to send back to Cuba
after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract."
"One can't take undeclared weapons through the Panama Canal below other cargo," Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli said with regards to the intercepted shipment.
Martinelli added that he had yet to personally speak with Cuban officials since the island nation off Florida first asked for the ship to be released last Saturday.
On Aug. 5, the U.N. plans to send inspectors to Panama to investigate the shipment further.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said the ship appeared to have violated the U.N. arms embargo, Reuters reported. Britain is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
According to Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, Javier Caraballo, the planes emitted a strong odor of gasoline, which suggests they were likely used recently.
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The 35-man crew of the Chong Chon Gang ship has been detained and could potentially face arms trafficking charges, the Agence France-Presse reported. Thus far they have reportedly been uncooperative with Panamanian authorities.
Insisting the shipment was legal the North Korean regime demanded the crew's release.
Panama has so far dismissed North Korea's requests.
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