Cuba may have tried to send brand new weapons to North Korea, as well as spare parts for its fighter jets, a new report by John Hopkins University researchers suggests.
If these suspicions are confirmed, Cuba would be in serious violation of United Nations sanctions that bar weapons sales to North Korea.
Researchers from the U.S.-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University looked at pictures and cargo reports gathered by U.N. inspectors aboard the Chong Chon Gang, a North Korean cargo ship that was detained in Panama last July, as it made its way from Cuba to the Asian country.
In their report published on Tuesday, the John Hopkins experts explain that the North Korean ship was carrying brand new rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank ammunition and night-vision goggles, which it presumably got in Cuba.
Night vision equipment found aboard the Chong Chon Gang. (Photo: SIPRI/38 North)
The report also says that the ship carried 15 engines for Mig-21 fighter jets.
Six weeks ago, when the Chong Chon Gang was seized by officials in the Panama Canal, Cuban officials acknowledged that they had placed military cargo on the ship. They claimed that the fighter-jet engines and radar equipment found on board were components of the communist-ruled island’s 1960s-era air-defense system and were slated to be repaired in North Korea.
But the John Hopkins report says that the way in which the engines were packed suggests that these are new engines that were sent to North Korea to beef up that country’s fleet of MiG-21 jets.
“North Korea attaches great importance to its fleet of MiG-21 jet aircraft. While obsolete by western standards the MiG-21 remains a fast aircraft,” the report states. “With a maximum speed of Mach 2, it is as fast as the KF-16, the South Korean variant of the American F-16 that forms the mainstay of Seoul’s fighter fleet.”
The John Hopkins report also points out that six weeks ago, Cuban officials failed to mention brand new equipment that was later found on the Chong Chon Gang, like the night goggles and RPGs, which were in “mint condition.” This discrepancy also suggests that Cuba was trying to sell military gear to North Korea, and not just trying to get it fixed.
Unused RPGs also found aboard the Chong Chon Gang. (Photo: SIPRI/38 North]
The John Hopkins report says that North Korea has previously tried to procure parts for Mig-21 jets from Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The communist country has also been accused by UN officials of clandestinely shipping weapons on cargo ships that make stops in Syria and Yemen.