Fighter jets and parts seized from a North Korean ship by Panamanian authorities were probably intended for use by the communist state, in an apparent violation of United Nations sanctions, an arms control institute has said.
The findings by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute contradict Cuba's claim that it was not breaking the sanctions as it was sending equipment to North Korea for repairs and expected it to be returned, including MiG aircraft and motors, missiles and anti-aircraft missile systems.
UN sanctions forbid North Korea from trading arms to deprive it of technology and revenue for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. If the Cuban equipment was intended for North Korean use, it would suggest Pyongyang is struggling to maintain its ageing conventional forces.
The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted on July 15 in the Panama Canal, with 25 containers of Cuban military equipment found beneath the 10,000 tons of sugar. The equipment was not listed on the ship's manifest.
Experts at the Stockholm institute say they have seen a report and photographs compiled by Panamanian authorities and the United Nations Organisation on Drugs and Crime on what was found in the containers.
The institute's experts said there was other cargo not mentioned by Cuban officials in public statements, including items of ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades and conventional artillery, much of it in mint condition and in the original packing cases. "They clearly were not 'to be repaired and returned to Cuba'," the institute says in an analysis.
The analysis was published by 38 North, the website for the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. It was written by Hugh Griffiths, who heads the Stockholm institute's programme on countering illicit trafficking, and research intern Roope Siiritola.
After the seizure Cuba said the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons" including two MiG-21 jet aircraft and 15 motors, nine missiles in parts, and two anti-aircraft systems that they were sending to North Korea "to be repaired and returned". North Korea also said it had a "legitimate contract" to overhaul "ageing weapons" to be sent back to Cuba.
UN sanctions state that member states shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of all arms and materiel to North Korea and related spare parts, except for small arms and light weapons.
In mid-August, a UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea travelled to Panama to investigate the arms seizure. Their report has yet to be made public.