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Wednesday 11 December 2019

UN experts: North Korea continues to dodge sanctions

North Koreans gather at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate a rocket launch on February 7 that was condemned around the world. (AP)
North Koreans gather at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square to celebrate a rocket launch on February 7 that was condemned around the world. (AP)

United Nations experts say North Korea is continuing to evade the world body's sanctions, using airlines, ships and the international financial system to trade in banned items for its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Experts monitoring sanctions against the North say Pyongyang also continues to export ballistic missile-related items to the Middle East and trade in arms and related material to Africa.

A summary of the expert panel's report, obtained by The Associated Press, says one reason North Korea is able to keep evading sanctions is "the low level of implementation" by the 193 UN member states of the four UN sanctions resolutions adopted since the reclusive communist country's first nuclear test in 2006.

The panel said the reasons for non-implementation were diverse, including "lack of political will" inadequate national legislation, lack of understanding of the UN Security Council resolutions and "low prioritisation".

The report and its conclusions "raise important questions about the overall efficacy of the sanctions regime", it said.

The report was sent to the security council, where the United States and China have been working on the text of a new sanctions resolution since North Korea's latest nuclear test on January 6.

The council pledged to adopt "significant new measures" at an emergency meeting on Sunday after the North launched a long-range rocket that world leaders denounced as another "intolerable provocation" and called a banned test of dangerous ballistic missile technology.

The United States, backed by its Western allies, Japan and South Korea, want tough new sanctions that would hamper North Korea's ability to do business. But diplomats say China, the North's ally and key protector in the security council, is reluctant to impose economic measures that could cause North Korea's economy to collapse.

The experts' summary said Pyongyang conceals illicit activities by embedding agents in foreign companies and using diplomatic personnel, long-standing trade partners, and relationships with a small number of trusted foreign nationals.

The experts said North Korea's Ocean Maritime Management Company "continues to operate through foreign-flagged vessels, name and company re-registrations, and the rental of crews to foreign ships" despite being on the UN sanctions blacklist since July 2014.

Meanwhile the US Senate is considering hitting North Korea with more stringent sanctions in the wake of Pyongyang's satellite launch.

Senators are expected to vote on a Bill targeting North Korea's ability to access the money it needs for developing miniaturised nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles to deliver them.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a similar measure last month and there is strong bi-partisan support in the Senate for the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act.

"The kind of belligerence we've seen from Pyongyang must not be ignored," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said.

Washington, Seoul and others consider the satellite launch a banned test of missile technology. That assessment is based on Pyongyang's open efforts to manufacture nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the US mainland and that the technology used to launch a rocket carrying a satellite into space can be applied to fire a long-range missile.

In the annual assessment of global threats delivered to Congress on Tuesday, director of national intelligence James Clapper said North Korea had expanded a uranium enrichment facility and restarted a plutonium reactor that could start recovering material for nuclear weapons in weeks or months.

Both findings will deepen concern that North Korea is not only making technical advances in its nuclear weapons programme, but is working to expand what is thought to be a small nuclear arsenal.

US-based experts have estimated that North Korea may have about 10 bombs, but that could grow to between 20 and 100 by 2020.

Mr Clapper said Pyongyang had not flight-tested a long range, nuclear armed missile, but was committed to its development.

"We have long assessed that Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy," he said.

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