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Panama Sets Trial Date for Crew Members of N. Korea Cargo Ship

FILE - Panamanian forensic workers in a container holding a MiG-21 fighter jet seized from the North Korean-flagged ship Chong Chon Gang at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon city, July 21, 2013.
FILE - Panamanian forensic workers in a container holding a MiG-21 fighter jet seized from the North Korean-flagged ship Chong Chon Gang at the Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon city, July 21, 2013.
Yonho Kim
The three crew members of a North Korean vessel seized by Panama last July for carrying undeclared weapons have had their trial date set for next month, according to a Panamanian official.

Roberto Moreno, the Panamanian prosecutor handling the Chong Chon Gang case, said in an interview with the VOA’s Korean service the court has set of date of June 4 for the hearing.  It is not clear how long the trial will last, but Moreno said he would expect a verdict from the judge within a month of the proceedings.

The Chong Chon Gang and its 35 crew members were detained by Panamanian authorities while passing through the Panama Canal with undeclared goods, which included surface-to-air missiles and two MIG-21 fighter jets, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

Thirty-two crew members were released in February after North Korea paid about $690,000 in fines.  But the three, including the vessel’s captain and a political officer, were charged for illegal weapons trafficking.

Earlier this year, 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 service.

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