N Koreans end visit to Panama over seized ship

PANAMA CITY - North Korean diplomats concluded a two-day visit to Panama Thursday to discuss the status of the crew of a North Korean freighter caught with a shipment of undeclared Cuban arms.

"The meeting was positive and we are moving forward," Panamanian Security Minister Jose Raul Molino said.

Molino said, however, that any resolution of the North Korean crew's case must be in keeping with "the norms of the Panamanian legal process."

During the visit, the North Korean delegation met with the 35 members of the crew of Chong Chon Gang, which was seized July 10 as it was passing through the Canal from the Atlantic side.

Authorities discovered a shipment of Cuban arms, including two MiG-21 fighter jets, air defence systems and command and control vehicles.

On Wednesday, the Security Ministry said a panel of UN experts had reported preliminarily that the shipment violated UN sanctions against North Korea.

The ship's crew face a maximum of 12 years in prison if convicted in Panama of arms smuggling.