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By Lomi Kriel
PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Cuban weapons seized aboard a North Korean ship in Panamanian waters last month are "without doubt" a violation of United Nations sanctions against arms transfers to Pyongyang, Panama said Wednesday, citing a U.N. report.
Panamanian authorities say they were given a preliminary report presented by a panel of experts to the Sanctions Committee at the U.N. Security Council, according to a statement by Panama's Ministry of Security.
"According to the first report presented by the panel of experts from the U.N. sanctions committee, the Cuban weapons found in the North Korean ship 'without doubt' violate the U.N. sanctions, which validates Panama's position on how it acted," the ministry said, citing the report.
Panamanian investigators detained the Chong Chon Gang last month near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal after receiving a tip it was carrying drugs. Weapons were found under 10,000 tons of Cuban sugar.
The U.N. findings echo a similar report released Tuesday by a U.S. think tank concluding the shipment not only breached U.N. sanctions, but was likely meant for Pyongyang's use, and not destined for Havana as Cuban officials maintained.
A team of six U.N. Security Council experts has been in Panama investigating whether the weapons violate a 7-year-old U.N. ban on arms transfers to North Korea because of its nuclear weapons and missile development.
The panel of experts is an independent body tasked with reporting to the U.N. Security Council and U.N. officials cannot comment on its ongoing investigation.
After the weapons were discovered, Cuba acknowledged it was sending 240 tons of "obsolete" Soviet-era weapons, including two MiG jets, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles, to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba.
Cuban officials told Panama the cargo was a donation of sugar for the people of North Korea, according to a senior Panamanian official.
(Editing by David Adams and Stacey Joyce)