Panama uncovers fighter jet engines from seized North Korea ship

COLON, Panama Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:45pm EDT

1 of 3. A police officer walks next to a container holding a MiG-21 fighter jet engine from the seized North Korean-flagged ship Chong Chon Gang, at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon, Panama City July 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Jasso

COLON, Panama (Reuters) - Panamanian investigators unloading the cargo of a seized North Korean ship carrying arms from Cuba under sacks of brown sugar on Tuesday found 12 engines for MiG-21 fighter jets and five military vehicles that officials said resembled missile control centers.

Investigators earlier this month had found two MiG-21 fighter jets and two missile radar systems on board the Chong Chon Gang, which was bound for North Korea when it was stopped by officials.

Panamanian Security Minister Jose Mulino said the cargo appeared to fall within what Cuba had said was a range of "obsolete" arms being sent to North Korea for repair.

Panama asked the United Nations to delay the arrival of investigators by a week until August 12, because the process of unloading cargo found under 100,000 tons of sugar has taken longer than expected.

About 25 percent of the sugar has been removed so far, Mulino said.

Investigators have gone through most of two storage houses in the 155-meter (510 foot) vessel, Mulino said, but three more warehouses remain.

The process has involved about 500 police since June 15 when Panamanian law enforcement discovered the military equipment.

They initially pulled over the Chong Chon Gang after receiving a tip it was carrying drugs, Panamanian law enforcement have said. Cuban officials told Panama the cargo was a donation of sugar for the people of North Korea.

Officials have found most of the weapons Havana said were on board, including the two fighter jets, originally produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, and two missile radar systems.

No missiles have been found, and though officials originally feared one container held explosive material, none was discovered.

(Reporting by Lomi Kriel; Editing by Ken Wills)