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Americas

Panama intercepts N. Korea ship with suspected arms

© dsasso via flikr

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-16

Panama on Monday stopped a North Korean vessel that President Ricardo Martinelli said had sailed from Cuba and tried to illegally sneak suspected sophisticated missile material through the Panama Canal.

Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli on Monday said authorities there had seized a North Korean-flagged ship travelling from Cuba with suspected sophisticated missile material.

"The world needs to sit up and take note: you cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal," Martinelli told Radio Panama.

"We had suspected this ship, which was coming from Cuba and headed to North Korea, might have drugs aboard, so it was brought into port for search and inspection,” he said, describing a dramatic scene in which the ship’s captain tried to kill himself.

"The captain  tried to commit suicide, and the crew also rioted," when police moved in, Martinelli said. "So we are holding this vessel for further investigation."

"When we started to unload the shipment of sugar we located containers that we believe to be sophisticated missile equipment, and that is not allowed," Martinelli said.

Missile history

Cuba is the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas, and a rare ally of North Korea.

North Korea defiantly carried out its third nuclear weapons test in February and threatened to attack the United States, in language that was shrill even by the usual standards of the reclusive state's bombastic rhetoric.

Cuba's coast lies just 90 miles from the United States' southeastern flank.

In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war at the height of the Cold War.

US and Soviet leaders had a 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuban soil.

Disaster was avoided when Washington agreed to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's offer to remove the missiles in exchange for a US pledge not to invade Cuba.

Then US president John F. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove US missiles from Turkey.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-16

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