Panama detains North Korean-flagged ship, seizes weapons

PANAMA CITY Tue Jul 16, 2013 2:20am EDT

A North Korean flag flutters in the propaganda village of Gijeongdong as seen from South Korea's Taesungdong freedom village, near the border village of Panmunjom, during a graduation ceremony for Taesungdong Elementary School, in Paju February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Jung Yeon-je/Pool

A North Korean flag flutters in the propaganda village of Gijeongdong as seen from South Korea's Taesungdong freedom village, near the border village of Panmunjom, during a graduation ceremony for Taesungdong Elementary School, in Paju February 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jung Yeon-je/Pool

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PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Panama has detained a North Korean-flagged ship coming from Cuba as it approached the Panama Canal with undeclared weapons, President Ricardo Martinelli said.

The weapons, hidden in containers of brown sugar, were detected after Panamanian authorities stopped the ship, suspecting it was carrying drugs. The vessel was pulled over near the port of Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.

"We're going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside," Martinelli told Panamanian television late on Monday, without giving further details.

"You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal."

Martinelli said the captain of the vessel tried to commit suicide after the ship was stopped. Panamanian authorities have detained some 35 crew members.

A spokeswoman for the canal said she did not have any more information and referred questions to the attorney general.

The attorney general's office did not immediately return requests for comment.

Javier Caraballo, Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, told local television the ship was en route to North Korea.

(Reporting by Lomi Kriel; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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