20 Jul 2013

Panama charges arms cargo crew

5:30 pm on 20 July 2013

Panama has charged the 35 crew members of a North Korean ship detained in Panama after it was found to be carrying weapons.

They are accused of endangering public security by illegally transporting war material, after police found the weapons under bags of sugar. Cuba has since said it had sent the Soviet-era weapons to North Korea for repair.

"According to its declaration, the ship only carried 10,000 tonnes' sugar, it never declared war material,'' says prosecutor Javier Caraballo.

North Korea on Wednesday urged Panama to release the Chong Chon Gang and its crew without delay.

Panama has asked the UN to investigate whether there has been a breach of the sanctions against North Korea.

UN sanctions prohibit the supply of arms to Pyongyang in the dispute over its controversial nuclear programme.

The BBC reports the crew will remain in detention while security forces unload the cargo under which the weapons were hidden, and search the rest of the ship.

The Cuban foreign ministry says the Chong Chon Gang was carrying 240 tonnes of "obsolete" weapons: two anti-aircraft missile complexes, nine missiles in parts and spares, two MiG-21 fighter planes and 15 MiG engines.