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Published: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 3:20:01 AM
Updated: Sunday February 16, 2014 MYT 3:21:18 AM

Panama says freed North Korean ship set sail for Cuba

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - A North Korean ship detained near the Panama Canal for smuggling Cuban weapons set sail back for the Caribbean island on Saturday with most of its crew on board after it paid a fine, the government said.

The Chong Chon Gang ship was seized in July for smuggling Soviet-era arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, under thousands of tonnes of sugar.

Thirty-two sailors in good health were on the ship when it left the country's Colon port Saturday morning, Panama's foreign ministry said in an emailed statement. The captain and two other officers remain jailed on weapons trafficking charges.

The ship was released after paying two-thirds of a $1 million fine imposed after two MiG-21 aircraft, 15 MiG engines and nine anti-aircraft missiles were found hidden beneath its declared cargo of sugar.

After the discovery, Cuba acknowledged it was sending "obsolete" Soviet-era weapons to be repaired in North Korea and returned to Cuba.

(Reporting by Lomi Kriel; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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