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Panama: North Korea Ship Can Leave, But Status of Crew Uncertain

A Panamanian prosecutor says a North Korean ship detained for allegedly smuggling Cuban weapons is free to go, but says no decision has been made about the 35 crew members, contrary to earlier reports.

Prosecutor Nahaniel Murgas told reporters late Wednesday that his office has an application requesting a series of measures in regard to the crew members, but no decisions yet.

Murgas said the North Korean vessel is free to go, but may not leave the country without paying penalty fines owed to the Panama Canal Authority.

Earlier Wednesday Murgas had said only the ship's captain, first mate, and a Korean official on board, would be held to face charges of arms trafficking.

The North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang and its crew were seized in July on suspicion it was carrying drugs. But a search turned up Cuban weapons, including two fighter jets, hidden beneath a shipment of sugar.

Panama says the shipment violated an international arms embargo against North Korea.

Both Havana and Pyongyang say the weapons were obsolete and were being sent to North Korea for repair before being shipped back to Cuba.

But officials have not explained why the weapons were hidden under sacks of sugar.