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Vietnam seeks South Korean support in South China Sea

HANOI: Vietnam’s Prime Minister sought support for the nation’s stance in the South China Sea when he met South Korea’s foreign minister in Hanoi on Monday.

Vietnam is the country most openly at odds with China over the waterway since the Philippines pulled back from confrontation under President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Prime Minister proposed that South Korea continue its support over the position of Vietnam and Southeast Asia on the South China Sea issue and to help the country improve its law enforcement at the sea”, the government said in a statement on its website after the meeting between Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se.

The statement did not say whether South Korea backed Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea.

Yun did affirm his country’s willingness to promote ties despite instability in South Korea after the ousting of President Park Geun-hye over a graft scandal.

South Korea is Vietnam’s biggest foreign investor thanks to companies like Samsung.

South Korea and China are currently in dispute over deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defence system. South Korea on Monday has complained to the World Trade Organization about Chinese retaliation against its companies over the deployment.

Last week, Vietnam demanded China stop sending cruise ships to the area in response to one of Beijing’s latest moves to bolster its claims to the strategic waterway.

China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan lay claim to parts of the route, through which about US$ 5 trillion of trade passes each year.

(Reporting by My Pham; Editing by Julia Glover)

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Sarawak rounding up illegal North Korean workers: Report

SINGAPORE: Malaysian authorities are reportedly rounding up about 140 North Koreans in Sarawak whose work permits have expired.

According to The Star on Wednesday (Mar 8), Chief Minister Abang Johari said he was awaiting instructions from the Malaysian government on deporting the North Koreans.

“The question is whether we can deport them or not,” he was quoted saying. “Deportation has to be done because they are illegal but with the current diplomatic problem, we have to get clearance from the federal government.”

The workers who overstayed are being dealt with amid ongoing tensions between North Korea and Malaysia, which have been locked in a diplomatic spat over the killing of the man widely believed to be Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia that hires North Koreans on record, according to Bernama which cited the human resource minister.

Mr Abang Johari had said on Tuesday that there are about 170 North Koreans in the Borneo state, who are mainly specialised workers operating in a coal mine and a hydro project. A total of 36 of them have valid permits and are still working in Sarawak, he added on Wednesday.

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China say North Korean issue fundamentally between US, North Korea

BEIJING: China on Friday dismissed renewed pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump over its role in North Korea, saying the crux of the matter was a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea “very easily if they want to”, turning up pressure on Beijing to exert more influence to rein in Pyongyang’s increasingly bellicose actions.

China has made clear that it opposes North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and has repeatedly called for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a return to negotiations between Pyongyang and world powers.

It has also insisted it is dedicated to enforcing U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

“We have said many times already that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is the problem between the United States and North Korea,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing, responding to Trump’s remarks.

“We hope the relevant parties can shoulder their responsibilities, play the role the should, and together with China play a constructive role for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and for its denuclearisation,” he added.

China announced on Saturday last week it was banning imports of coal from North Korea, after it tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

North Korean state media issued a rare reproach of China on Thursday saying its main diplomatic backer was “dancing to the tune” of the United States for halting its coal imports because of its nuclear and missile programmes.

The North’s state-run KCNA news agency did not refer directly to China by name but in an unmistakable censure it accused a “neighbouring country” of going along with North Korea’s enemies to “bring down its social system”.

Asked about the report, Geng said the U.N. sanctions were a clear signal of opposition from the international community about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and that China would enforce them.

However, he also described China and North Korea as being friendly neighbours.

“We are willing to work with North Korea to promote the stable and healthy development of relations,” Geng said, adding North Korea was well aware of China’s position on its nuclear programme.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Vietnamese man believes sister held over North Korean murder

HANOI: A Vietnamese man said on Sunday (Feb 19) he believes his sister is one of the suspects arrested in Malaysia in connection with the murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam was assaulted at Kuala Lumpur International Airport with what was thought to be a fast-acting poison. Malaysian police have said that among those arrested was a woman with a Vietnamese travel document.

Vietnamese authorities have said only that they are investigating and are in touch with Malaysia.

Joseph Doan confirmed that his sister’s name was Doan Thi Huong and that she was born in 1988 in Nam Dinh province, southeast of the capital Hanoi. Those details are the same as those released by Malaysian police.

“We only hear on the Internet and everyone else hears on the Internet but judging from the picture it looks like her. I can’t be a 100 per cent certain because we haven’t met her yet,” he said in Nam Dinh.

The rice farmer said his sister appeared to be the woman whose image was captured in a grainy airport CCTV image wearing a white shirt with the acronym ‘LOL’ on it. He said Vietnamese authorities had been in touch and had been supportive.

Doan said his sister had left home when she was 18 and only came home occasionally and without letting anyone know when she would be back. “Whenever she comes home I can only tell her to study and work hard,” he said.

South Korean and US officials have said Kim Jong Nam was assassinated by North Korean agents.

Malaysian police said on Sunday that four North Korean suspects in the murder fled Malaysia on the day of the killing.

Malaysian police arrested a North Korean man on Friday in connection to the murder, while a Vietnamese woman and an Indonesian woman have also been arrested. A Malaysian man is being detained to facilitate the investigation.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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South Korean court issues arrest warrants for two ex-presidential aides

SEOUL: A South Korean court said on Sunday it had issued arrest warrants for two former presidential aides under investigation in an influence peddling scandal that has sent President Park Geun-hye’s approval rating to a record low.

The Seoul Central District Court said in a statement that it granted a warrant to prosecutors to arrest An Chong-bum, a former senior advisor for Park, who faces charges of abuse of power and attempted extortion. An was already in custody under an emergency detention order.

The court said it also issued an arrest warrant for a second former presidential aide, Jeong Ho-seong, who also had already been held in temporary custody. Prosecutors apprehended Jeong late on Thursday on suspicion of leaking classified information.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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US sanctions North Korean leader for rights abuses

WASHINGTON: The United States placed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on its sanctions blacklist for the first time on Wednesday (Jul 6), calling him directly responsible for a long list of serious human rights abuses.

US officials said Kim and 10 other top officials also blacklisted were behind widespread abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced labour and torture in the country’s system of prison camps for political detainees that has made North Korea “among the world’s most repressive countries.”

They also were responsible for harsh censorship of media, academic and cultural activities, including imprisoning people accused of viewing foreign films.

“Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labour, and torture,” said Adam Szubin, Acting Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Treasury said that Kim, North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” was responsible for abuses in his roles as head of the country’s Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People’s Security.

According to officials in Washington, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security holds 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners in political prison camps where torture, execution, sexual assault, starvation, and slave labour are common.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of People’s Security overseen by Kim runs a network of police stations, detention centres and labour camps where suspects under interrogation “are systematically degraded, intimidated, and tortured,” the United States said.

Kim is “rather plainly ultimately responsible for the actions of his regime including its repressive policies,” a senior US official said, speaking anonymously.

But authorities in Washington for the first time identified other top officials directly involved in rights abuses, including Choe Pu Il, the Minister of People’s Security, Ri Song Chol, a senior official in the Ministry of People’s Security, and Kang Song Nam, a Bureau Director with the Ministry of State Security.

Another on the new sanctions list, Cho Yon Jun of the powerful Organisation and Guidance Department, is in charge of enforcing loyalty to Kim, including executing those who defy his will, the senior US official said.

The sanctions were announced in parallel with the State Department’s release of a new report which documents the abuses throughout the North Korean security apparatus and political prison camp system.

It is not the first time the United States has placed a head of state on a sanctions list. Previously sanctioned leaders include Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

SANCTIONS ‘SEND A MESSAGE’

US officials said they do not expect immediate consequences from the sanctions, which freeze the US-based assets of those named, and forbids Americans from doing business with them.

But senior officials said that naming those directly involved could make them think twice about what they are doing.

“With these efforts, we aim to send a signal to all government officials who might be responsible for human rights abuses, including prison camp managers and guards, interrogators, and defector chasers, with the goal of changing their behaviour,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

The senior official said there was evidence that an increasing number of people inside North Korea, including inside Kim’s regime, are conscious that Kim’s strongman rule might have its limits.

“What this report does is send a message to people within the North Korean regime, particularly at those lower to mid levels, that if you become involved in abuses like running concentration camps or hunting down defectors, we will know who you are and you will end up on a blacklist that leaves you at a significant disadvantage in the future.”

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