TOKYO, August 15. /ITAR-TASS/. Japan has frozen the assets of North Korean company Ocean Maritime Management, operators of a vessel detained by Panama authorities last year, for shipping undeclared weapons from Cuba, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
The move comes as Tokyo engages in talks with Pyongyang to return Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago. It also comes weeks after the United Nations imposed sanctions on the company for violating UN Security Council Resolution 1718 that bans delivery of heavy weapons to North Korea.
The North Korean-flagged vessel Chong Chon Gang was detained for inspection at the entrance to the Panama Canal in July last year. Several days later, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said that “weapons, including missile components, were found in the ship’s containers under a major sugar batch".
This cargo was not declared before the vessel’s passage through the Panama Canal. Shortly after the ship’s detention, Cuba said the vessel carried “outdated defensive weapons” of Russian make, to be “repaired and returned” to Cuba. It was not immediately clear how many assets, if any, Ocean Maritime held in Japan, Toyko's ministry said.
North Korea agreed in May to re-investigate the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by the reclusive state in the 1970s and 1980s. In return, Japan last month eased sanctions on the North, lifting travel curbs and allowing port calls of North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes, Reuters reported.
The sanctions lifted are separate from those imposed by Japan and UN members after Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006. These prohibited UN member states from trading arms with Pyongyang and financial transactions that facilitate such trade.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government needs to tread a fine line and not appear too close to North Korea, undermining calls for it to abandon its nuclear and missile projects while still maintaining contact not to derail the kidnap investigation.
“We have no choice but to do what’s right, treating them (re-investigation and arms smuggling) as separate things,” a ministry official said.