Updated: 01/17/2014 09:33 | By Agence France-Presse

North Korea to pay Panama fine for seamen's release

North Korean authorities will pay a fine next week to ensure the return of a ship stopped near the Panama Canal with military weapons from Cuba onboard, officials said Thursday.


North Korea to pay Panama fine for seamen's release

The Chong Chon Gang at Manzanillo harbour in Colon, Panama, on July 16, 2013 - by Rodrigo Arangua

The settlement should end a protracted dispute over the Chong Chon Gang, a freighter with a crew of 35 intercepted by Panamanian customs officers on July 10 as it tried to enter the canal. 

Authorities uncovered 25 containers of military hardware, including two Soviet era MiG-21 fighter jets, air defense systems, missiles and command and control vehicles, concealed within 200,000 sacks of sugar.

"Over the course of the next week, they have confirmed to us that the (North Korean) Foreign Ministry will pay to free the sailors and the ship," Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez told reporters.

Panama, which is holding the North Korean ship's 35-strong crew at a former US naval base, initially imposed a million-dollar penalty on the communist state.

Bu the amount was reduced to $666,666 (two thirds of the initial fine) after North Korean officials admitted to having given a false statement on the ship's load and agreed to pay.

The crew members face a possible sentence of 12 years in prison for arms trafficking, although Nunez anticipated prosecutors would free 32 of them who did not know the content of the load.

Nunez said the North Koreans would be released "immediately" after the fine is paid.

But the sailors' lawyer Julio Berrios told AFP: "I have not been informed of this, and I don't know where Nunez got this information."

The lawyer called for the entire crew to be released, saying none of them knew the content of the shipment, which was loaded by Cubans in Havana. 

He has previously said Panama was using the crew members to exert pressure on North Korea to pay the fine, which Pyongyang had initially promised to pay between late November and early December.

Both Havana and Pyongyang said the weapons aboard the freighter were obsolete Cuban arms being shipped to North Korea for refurbishment under a legitimate contract.

Panama, however, said the shipment violated the UN arms embargo against North Korea. 

And in August, the Panamanian government said the United Nations had determined that the weapons were an infringement on sanctions imposed over the reclusive North's nuclear weapons program.

The UN has yet to make an official determination on the shipment.

Latest Photo Galleries on xinmsn

NEWS VIDEOS

MORE NEWS VIDEOS

facebook recommendations

LIVE NEWS RADIO STREAMING

  • 938 Live

    938LIVE is Singapore's only English news and talk station which transmits round the clock with an engaging and enticing spread of programmes on current affairs, health, business and lifestyle as well as news every half hour until midnight.

  • Capital 958


    95.8FM城市频道的前身是"第三广播网"。上个世纪30年代末,新加坡就有中文广播,一路走来经过不少政治,社会局势的改变,中文广播在本地一直扮演举足轻重的角色。