UN chief praises Panama on North Korea, urges swift UN action

UNITED NATIONS, July 17 Wed Jul 17, 2013 7:12pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS, July 17 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised Panama on Wednesday for seizing a North Korean ship carrying arms from Cuba, adding that the U.N. sanctions committee would take up the issue promptly.

"The Secretary-General commends the action taken by Panama in full conformity with its obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions," Ban's press office said in a statement.

It added that Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, "notes that it is the duty of all member states to implement Security Council decisions.

"The Secretary-General awaits the outcome of the investigation into the matter in question and is sure the (North Korea) Security Council Sanctions Committee will promptly address it," the statement said.

North Korea is under U.N. sanctions for its repeated nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Ban's unusual praise for a country complying with U.N. sanctions came after Panama called on the Security Council to investigate the ship and its cargo.

Earlier on Wednesday Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said missile equipment hidden in a shipment of brown sugar from Cuba appears to have violated a U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang.

The ship was stopped last week as it headed into the Panama Canal and Panamanian authorities arrested the crew on Monday after finding undeclared missile-shaped objects and weaponry.

Cuba said the weapons were being sent back to North Korea for repair and included two anti-aircraft missile batteries, nine disassembled rockets, two MiG-21 fighter jets, and 15 MiG-21 engines, all Soviet-era military weaponry built in the middle of the last century.

The U.N. arms embargo on North Korea covers all exports by Pyongyang and most imports, with the exception of small arms and light weapons and related materiel. But to export small arms to Pyongyang, states must notify the U.N. North Korean sanctions committee in advance.

Service and maintenance of weapons by North Korea are also banned under the U.N. sanctions regime. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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