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Cuba missiles, radar system and jets 'bound for North Korea'

Panama says it has seized a North Korean-flagged ship carrying what appeared to be ballistic missiles and other arms that had set sail from Cuba.

 Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli told RPC radio the ship was heading for North Korea. Mr Martinelli said the undeclared military cargo appeared to include missiles and non-conventional arms.

A private defence analysis firm that examined a photograph of the find said the ship appeared to be transporting a radar-control system for a Soviet-era surface-to-air missile system and Cuba later released a statement calling the equipment on the boat "obsolete defensive weapons" from the mid-20th century.

North Korea is barred by United Nations sanctions from importing sophisticated weapons or missiles.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry admitted the military equipment belonged to the Caribbean nation, but said it had been shipped out to be repaired and returned to the island.

It said the 240 metric tonnes of weaponry consisted of two Volga and Pechora anti-aircraft missile systems, nine missiles "in parts and spares", two Mig-21 Bis and 15 engines for those planes.

"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.

It said Havana remained "unwavering" in its commitment to international law, peace and nuclear disarmament.

Earlier, Panama's president Ricardo Martinelli said the ship, identified as the 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang was carrying missiles and other arms "hidden in containers underneath the cargo of sugar". It was seized as it tried to cross the Panama Canal.

Luis Eduardo Camacho, a spokesman for Mr Martinelli, said authorities had only searched one of the ship's five container sections, and the inspection of all the cargo would take at least a week. Panama has requested help from United Nations inspectors, along with Colombia and the UK, said Javier Carballo, the country's top drugs prosecutor. "Panama being a neutral country, a country in peace, that doesn't like war, we feel very worried about this military material," Mr Martinelli said.

North Korea's government made no public comment on the case.

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