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

FILE - A police officer stands guard aboard the North Korean-flagged freighter Chong Chon Gang, at the Manzanillo International container terminal on the coast of Colon City, Panama, Wednesday, July 17, 2013. North Korea on Wednesday repeated Cuba's assertion th
A Panamanian prosecutor says a North Korean ship detained for allegedly smuggling Cuban weapons is free to go, but 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 reiterated that no final decision has been made.

Murgas said the North Korean vessel itself 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.

Authorities seized the Chong Chon Gang in July on suspicion it was carrying drugs. However, a search of the vessel turned up not narcotics but Cuban weapons, including two fighter jets, hidden beneath a shipment of sugar.

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

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

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