10/23/13 - The West Australian - N. Koreans in Panama over detained sailors in Cuba arms case
Panama City (AFP) - North Korean officials were in Panama Wednesday to
check on 35 of their sailors held for allegedly smuggling undeclared Cuban
military goods in an apparent UN sanctions violation.
"The only thing they have addressed is to go see the conditions in which
the sailors are detained," prosecutor Javier Caraballo told reporters.
The men also paid a courtesy visit to Panama's top prosecutor Ana Belfon.
Political counselor Ra Yun Bak and Havana-based diplomat Ri Il Gyu were
due to discuss the sailors' fate with Caraballo and others during their
two-day visit, a government source said.
The sailors are detained at Fort Sherman, a former US military base. They
have access to satellite television, air conditioning, a dining area,
smokers' area and even a beach.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez said that 33 of the 35 sailors
could be released during the diplomats' visit if prosecutors accept Cuba's
argument that the crew did not know they were carrying hidden military
But Caraballo had said he expected the investigation to conclude around
The sailors were on board the Chong Chon Gang, which was intercepted July
10 as it tried to enter the Panama Canal on suspicion of carrying drugs.
Authorities instead uncovered 25 containers of military hardware,
including two Soviet era MiG-21 fighter jets, air defense systems,
missiles and command and control vehicles.
Both Havana and Pyongyang said they were "obsolete" Cuban arms being
shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract.
The communist allies did not explain why the items were buried under more
than 200,000 sacks of sugar.
The ship's crew members face up to 12 years in prison if convicted on arms
The Panama Canal Authority announced in September that it had slapped a $1
million fine on the ship.
In August, the Panamanian government said the United Nations had
determined that the shipment violated sanctions against arms transfers to
The sanctions were imposed over the reclusive country's controversial
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