July 23, 2013 09:38
The Panamanian government has found all the parts of two Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter jets on a North Korean ship coming from Cuba, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli told reporters Sunday.
The jet parts were found in containers while cargo was being unloaded from the ship, with their fuselage, wings and engines separated. Cuba earlier listed them in an inventory of the shipment, which it said was being sent for repair under a "legitimate contract."
The MiG-21 is a supersonic fighter jet manufactured in the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. It was used in about 50 countries due to its low production cost and high maneuverability.
About 10,000 MiG-21s were produced in the Soviet Union and some 3,000 others in China and India. The model remains in use in only a few poor countries like Cambodia, Cuba and North Korea and is too superannuated to find parts.
The 10,000 tons of raw sugar in which the arms shipment was concealed may have been intended as payment for the repair work, international security experts speculate.
"Upgrading, servicing and repairing, that's what the North Koreans do," said Hugh Griffiths, an arms trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. "It is military equipment prohibited under UN sanctions, so whether payment is made in the form of barter trade or foreign currency, it still constitutes a violation."
The North is said to have more than 150 MiG-21 fighter jets and sometimes receives weapons parts, as well as daily necessities as payment for repairs.
But the business is waning because other countries can increasingly stop and search North Korean ships suspected of carrying illegal arms in accordance with a resolution the UN Security Council adopted in March. Panama too searched the ship under the same resolution.
Transport of weapons to North Korea for repairs also violates the UN resolution, a UN official said.
The UN is sending a five-man fact-finding team to Panama to investigate how the ship is linked to the illegal trade. Their investigation will begin on Aug. 5 after Panama wraps up its own inspection of the ship and unloading of cargo.
The UN will then determine whether the North has violated the UNSC resolution and whether the UN should impose additional sanctions.
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