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DPRK diplomats to discuss future of North Korean ship detained in Panama

October 23, 2013, 7:51 UTC+3

Two staff members of the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to Cuba are due to arrive in Panama on Wednesday

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MEXICO CITY, October 23 (Itar-Tass) - Two staff members of the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to Cuba are due to arrive in Panama on Wednesday to discuss with the authorities of that country the question of a further destiny of the detained North Korean ship, which was carrying Cuban arms, and of its crew. It was announced in Panama that the diplomats would meet with Javier Caraballo, prosecutor of drug trafficking affairs.

During the forthcoming consultations, the sides will discuss the possibility of release of the ship's 35 crewmembers, against whom the Panamanian prosecutor's office had brought a tentative charge of an "attempt to do harm to collective security". Under the provisions of the law of that Central American country, the charge entails imprisonment of up to 12 years for this offence.

Earlier, Panama's Foreign Minister Fernando Nunes stated that the authorities of the country were holding consultations with the DPRK about the possibility of returning the ship to the owner and repatriating the detained crew. However, the making of a final decision on the matter is "exclusively within the competence of the Prosecutor's Office," the Minister pointed out. According to information available with him, the investigation does not plan to bring official accusations at law-court against 33 North Korean seamen.

The DPRK's ship was stopped for a routine inspection in the Panama Canal on July 10. Several days later, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said that "arms, including components of rocket technology were found in containers kept beneath a large consignment of sugar". The cargo had not been declared prior to the passage of the ship through the canal. Immediately after the detention of the ship, Cuba stated "outdated Soviet-made arms are on board the ship. The arms were sent to the DPRK for repair and a subsequent return to the island".

Panamanian authorities applied to the UN in a request for a thorough examination of the cargo by UN experts. That was done to establish "whether the shipment violates UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which ban the export of any arms to North Korea and import from there". In August, UNSC experts examined the cargo and are now busy preparing an appropriate report. 

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