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March 27, 2014

Crew of N. Korean Ship Detained in Panama Receive Regular Red Cross Visits

by Jee Abbey Lee, Yonho Kim

The captain and two other officers of a North Korean freighter detained in Panama are receiving regular visits by officials of international organizations while waiting for trial.

In an e-mail sent to VOA's Korean Service, Prosecutor Roberto Moreno of the Panamanian Attorney General’s Office said the three members of the Chong Chon Gang crew are being treated in the best way possible at the La Joya Penitentiary.

In addition to visits by officials from the United Nations and the Red Cross, Moreno said the sailors also have access to their lawyers.

However, he declined to comment on whether he has received Pyongyang’s response regarding the scheduled trial for the three men.

Most of the crew has been released. But North Korea has demanded the release of the remaining three, saying the commandeered arms shipment was part of a legitimate deal.

The captain and 34 other crew members were detained last July when the ship was caught smuggling Soviet-era arms from Cuba, including surface-to-air missile and fighter jet parts, in direct violation of U.N. resolutions.

Earlier this month, a U.N. panel said North Korea is using sophisticated means to avoid international sanctions imposed by the Security Council.

The report said Pyongyang's embassies in Cuba and Singapore are suspected of facilitating banned arms trades.

U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea prohibit a range of weapons imports from and exports to North Korea, such as combat aircraft and missile systems.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean and Spanish services.