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S.Korea finds no al-Qaeda evidence on cargo ship
( 2003-10-31 13:42) (Agencies)

South Korea said on Friday it had found nothing unusual on a Greek-owned ship after an investigation sparked by a tip-off it could be carrying members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group.

"Joint investigation agencies have searched the ship for weapons or forged passports but have not found anything unusual," an official at Kunsan port told Reuters by telephone.

"There will be no more big investigation like yesterday's but we will keep watching the ship until they leave the country," said the port authority official, who declined to be identified.

The vessel, called the Athena and flying the Bahamas flag, arrived in the west-coast port of Kunsan with its cargo of timber on Thursday and was scheduled to stay for up to 10 days.

Greek shipping company Petrobulk Maritime, which owns the vessel, said on Thursday South Korean investigators had found nothing suspicious and left the ship after apologizing.

The National Intelligence Service, South Korea's top spy agency, declined to comment.

Witnesses said the crew was staying on board while the cargo waited to be unloaded.

On Wednesday, the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper quoted unidentified military sources as saying the U.S. military had tipped-off South Korean officials about the ship.

About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in the South, including at a base near Kunsan, to help deter North Korea.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to visit South Korea in November. South Korea is deciding whether to send combat troops to help U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is due to visit Seoul on November 5-7.

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