UN experts expect to travel to Havana to clarify North Korean ship issue


Special to El Nuevo Herald

United Nations experts who inspected the North Korean boat that was detained by Panamanian authorities for carrying undeclared Cuban weapons submitted a preliminary confidential report to the Security Council Friday and are awaiting an invitation from Cuba to visit the island.

The experts hope Cuba will not take long to give a response since Panama is dependent on a U.N. decision before taking any action on the future of the boat and its crew of 35 who are under Panamanian custody.

The experts returned Aug. 16 from Panama, where they inspected the boat for three days and spoke to the crew.

After inspecting the boat, the next step would be to ask Cuba a series of questions about the case — hopefully in person in Havana — before issuing a final report on North Korea’s possible violation of the U.N.’s arms embargo.

The report would include conclusions and possible recommendations to the U.N. sanctions-monitoring committee that oversees sanctions against North Korea. All 15 members of the Security Council are part of this committee.

The first report that circulated Friday among council members is a brief document entitled Travel Report. It basically covers facts gathered during the trip and adding some details about the case. The second report, however, will be a longer and deeper document that would include conclusions and possible recommendations.

The sanctions-monitoring committee would be the entity that would decide, based on the report, which actions to take. The decisions must reach consensus. The opposition of one of its members would block any action.

Sources consulted that have followed the case closely say that the committee, after receiving the report and analyzing it, could close the case with a warning to Cuba to avoid the incident from happening again in the future.

Also, among other options, it could apply sanctions against entities and persons involved in the incident.

Since 2006, U.N. has issued resolutions imposing several sanctions against North Korea for testing nuclear missiles. Among these sanctions is the prohibition of importing or exporting weapons.

The North Korean boat, Chong Chon Gang, has been under Panamanian custody since July 10, after authorities suspected it was carrying drugs. Instead, they found weapons hidden under tons of sugar.

After the boat’s detention was officially announced, the Cuban government said that the it contained 10,000 tons of sugar together with obsolete Soviet weapons being sent to North Korea to be repaired and later returned to Cuba.

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