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Panama orders release of North Korean sailors

Three of 35 shipmates to face charges for trafficking Cuban arms, while the rest will be freed, prosecutors say.

Last updated: 30 Jan 2014 19:30
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The Chong Chon Gang was found to be carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles [EPA]

Panama's judicial authorities have ordered the release of 32 of 35 crew members of a North Korean ship, detained last July for carrying hidden arms from Cuba.

Prosecutor Nathaniel Murgas said on Thursday that the captain and two other crew members will remain to face arms trafficking charges.

The Chong Chon Gang was found to be carrying Cuban fighter jets and missiles. The ship's owners have agreed to pay a $670,000 fine this month to release it.

Prosecutors said that Panama's organised crime office ordered the release of the 32 crew members on Tuesday.

They were subsequently turned over to immigration authorities, who were working with the crew members to prepare the necessary paperwork to leave.

The ship was headed to North Korea from Cuba on July 15 when it was seized in the Panama Canal based on intelligence that it may have been carrying drugs.

The Cuban military equipment was found beneath sacks of sugar.

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