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Did Cuba's arms shipment to North Korea violate sanctions? U.N. will investigate.

Officials in Panama interrupted a shipment of arms from Cuba to North Korea last week. Now, the U.N. Security Council will investigate the incident for a possible breach of sanctions. North Korea says the weapons were being sent in for repairs. 

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The experts are mandated to "gather, examine and analyze information from States, relevant United Nations bodies and other interested parties" on allegations of sanctions violations and report back to the 15-member Security Council. 

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Crew tight-lipped 

Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said Panama had asked the United States for technical assistance on the matter, which would be provided. She said Washington would be talking to Cuba "very soon" about the ship.

A State Department official said the scheduled migration talks with Havana went ahead on Wednesday as even though the United States believes Cuba broke U.N. sanctions, the issues were deemed to be "apples and oranges."

According to Cuba, the weapons on the ship 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.

Servicing of weapons would also be in breach of the arms embargo imposed on North Korea sanctions.

A U.N. resolution adopted in 2009 says the embargo applies to "all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms, except for small arms and light weapons."

U.S. Democratic lawmaker Robert Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement condemning Cuba, saying it needed very careful monitoring.

"The shipment ... is a grave violation of international treaties," he said. "Weapons transfers from one communist regime to another hidden under sacks of sugar are not accidental ... and reinforces the necessity that Cuba remain on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor state terrorism."

Hal Klepak, a history professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said Cuba was "using weapons and equipment of staggeringly old vintage" and that the Pentagon had long since written off the island as a military threat.

Since Cuba's military doctrine was designed to deter any attack, it needs to maintain the arms it has, he added.

"Cuba cannot afford to buy anything newer and does not have repair facilities of its own for such needs. Thus if it is not to scrap, for example, the aircraft entirely, it must repair and potentially update them in some areas," Klepak said.

Panama's Foreign Minister Nunez said his country had no problem with Cuba but had been under a U.N. obligation to stop the North Korean vessel and inspect its contents.

Javier Caraballo, Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, said 33 of the 35 crew members had so far been charged with crimes against Panama's internal security for trafficking undeclared arms. All 33 members had invoked their right to remain silent, he added. The government said it aims to charge all the crew.

Separately, IHS Fairplay, which monitors the movement of ships, said it had found another North Korean-flagged vessel made a similar journey to Chong Chon Gang last year. The O Un Chong Nyon Ho docked in Havana during May 2012, IHS said.

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Louis Charbonneau, David Adams, Paul Eckert, Marc Frank and Michelle Nichols and Ju-min Park; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Claudia Parsons, David Brunnstrom and Stacey Joyce)

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