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Japan to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea

TOKYO: The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Friday.

Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest it has test-fired in recent months.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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In talks with US, China calls for diplomacy on North Korea

BEIJING: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said after talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday that there had to be a commitment to using diplomatic means to peacefully settle the North Korea issue.

Tillerson said Wang had agreed they would work together to try to get North Korea’s government to change its current course of pursuing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The two were speaking to reporters after meeting in Beijing.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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North Korea, China in focus as Tillerson starts Asia trip in Tokyo

TOKYO: Japan will be seeking clues to Washington’s policies on a volatile North Korea and a rising China while hoping to steer clear of trade rows when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets officials on Thursday at the start of his first Asia trip.

The former oil executive, who will also travel to South Korea and China, will seek to reassure Tokyo and Seoul about countering North Korea’s growing nuclear prowess, and press China to do more on one of the most serious security threats facing President Donald Trump.

Tillerson is expected to confirm the “unshakeable bond” of the U.S.-Japan alliance and underline cooperation on meeting the threat from Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes when he meets Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe is the only Asian leader to have met U.S. President Donald Trump since his inauguration, and Trump said the United States was “100 percent” behind Japan.

North Korea last week launched four more ballistic missiles and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

Tillerson will have “substantive, hard” talks with U.S. partners in Asia on next steps in dealing with North Korea, but his visit is not likely to produce an immediate specific response, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Washington has previously said all options, including military, are on the table in its review of policies toward North Korea and Japanese officials are keen to know more details.

U.S. Defence Secretary Jim “Mattis correctly said all options are on the table … but as a practical matter, I don’t see the administration deciding to preemptively strike North Korea’s capabilities,” said Michael Green, a former U.S. official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Japan has a pacifist constitution but influential lawmakers have been pushing for the country to develop the ability to counter Pyongyang’s military advances.

Tokyo is also considering beefing up its ballistic missile defences with a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system or Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the missile defence system used at sea.

China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea, where it has a territorial row with Japan, and the South China Sea, where it has disputes with the Philippines and several other Southeast Asia nations, will also be on the agenda as will trade.

Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro cited Japan on Monday for non-tariff trade barriers and said Washington must use its leverage as the world’s largest market to boost U.S. exports.

Some Japanese officials, though, say trade will take a back seat to security. “We have more key issues of common concern, like North Korea,” one official said, declining to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to media.

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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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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Women charged with North Korean's murder leave court in bullet-proof vests

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Wednesday charged two women: an Indonesian and a Vietnamese: with murdering the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader in an assassination using a super-toxic nerve agent that killed in minutes.

Siti Aishah, a 25-year-old mother of one from Jakarta, and Doan Thi Huong, 28, from rural northern Vietnam, could be hanged if they are convicted for the killing of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13.

Police brought the two women to court handcuffed. As they left, they were made to wear bullet-proof vests, reflecting Malaysian authorities’ fears that others involved in the killing could want the women silenced.

No plea was recorded after the charges were read out against them.

But, Aishah and Huong have told diplomats who visited them in custody that they were unwitting pawns in an assassination that U.S. officials and South Korean intelligence have said was organised by North Korean agents.

Huong’s lawyer told reporters outside the court that his client had told him she was innocent.

“She denied. She denied. She said ‘I’m innocent’,” Selvam Shanmugam said.

“Of course, she’s definitely distressed because she is facing death penalty,” he added.

The next court date will be on April 13, when prosecutors will apply for the accused to be tried jointly.

Kim Jong Nam, who had criticised the regime of his family and his half-brother Kim Jong Un, died after the two women allegedly smeared VX nerve agent, a chemical described by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, across his face.

He had been preparing to catch a flight to Macau, the Chinese territory where he had been living under Beijing’s protection since going into exile several years ago.

According to the charges the women and four unnamed people, who are still at large, were in the airport departure, with the intention to murder the North Korean citizen.

One North Korean man, identified by police as Ri Jong Chol, is still in police custody and has not been charged yet. Police have identified seven other North Koreans wanted in connection with the case, including an embassy official in Kuala Lumpur.

Amid a bitter diplomatic row, members of Malaysia’s cabinet met with a high level North Korean delegation that arrived on Tuesday to press for the release of the citizen in custody, and for the body to be handed over.

Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam told reporters he was not at that meeting, but a decision would eventually be made on what to do with the body as no next of kin had come forward for formal identification.

North Korea maintains the victim is a North Korean citizen, but denies he is the half brother of its leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korea’s foreign minister told a U.N. sponsored disarmament conference in Geneva on Tuesday that its unpredictable, nuclear-armed neighbour has thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons, including VX.

Yun Byung-se called for “collective measures” against North Korea, including possible suspension of its U.N. membership.

“WASHED HANDS”

Security camera footage, which has been broadcast in the media, showed two women assaulting Kim Jong Nam at the airport around 20 minutes before he died.

Both women have told diplomats from their countries that they had believed they were carrying out a prank for a reality television show. Indonesian diplomats said Aishah told them she was paid around US$ 90 by whoever tricked her into taking part.

Malaysian police have said the suspects had washed their hands after the assault, and were aware that the liquid smeared on their victim’s face was toxic.

Aishah’s lawyer, Gooi Soon Seng was granted a gag order to restrain police and potential witnesses from making public statements that may incriminate his client.

Huong was detained 48 hours after the murder in the same airport terminal where Kim Jong Nam was killed.

She is believed to be the dark-haired woman wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the acronym “LOL”, whose image was caught on security cameras while waiting for a taxi after the attack.

Appearing in court on Wednesday, Huong wore a yellow shirt and blue jeans, and her wavy hair was dyed blonde.

Aishah was caught a day after Huong. Police said she suffered a bout of vomiting while in custody that they said was due to side-effects from exposure to the VX. Indonesian diplomats who visited her subsequently said she was in good health.

In court, Aishah indicated that she understood the charges against her. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt, her solemn face framed by long, dark hair, Aishah nodded to Indonesian embassy officials as she left the courtroom.

“We hope that she gets a fair trial, afforded all her legal rights and not tried by the public,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir told Reuters in Jakarta.

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA; writing by Praveen Menon and A. Ananthalakshmi; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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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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UN imposes new sanctions on North Korea to slash cash from exports

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Wednesday aimed at cutting the Asian country’s annual export revenue by a quarter in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution to slash North Korea’s biggest export, coal, by about 60 percent with an annual sales cap of US$ 400.9 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes, whichever is lower.

The U.S.-drafted resolution also bans copper, nickel, silver and zinc exports and the sale of statues by Pyongyang.

The United States was realistic about what the new sanctions on North Korea – also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – will achieve, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council after the vote.

“No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. But this resolution imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this Council’s demands,” she said.

“In total, this resolution will slash by at least US$ 800 million per year the hard currency that the DPRK has to fund its prohibited weapons programs, which constitutes a full 25 percent of the DPRK’s entire export revenues,” Power said.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. It conducted its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9.

“Sanctions are only as effective as their implementation,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council. “It is incumbent on all member states of the United Nations to make every effort to ensure that these sanctions are fully implemented.”

China, believed to be the only country buying North Korean coal, would slash its imports by some US$ 700 million compared with 2015 sales under the new sanctions, diplomats said.

Over the first 10 months of 2016, China imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from North Korea, up almost 13 percent from a year earlier. North Korean exports to the end of 2016 will now be capped at US$ 53.5 million, or 1 million metric tonnes.

While China said it was opposed to North Korea’s nuclear tests, U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi accused the United States and South Korea of intensifying confrontation with North Korea by scaling up military exercises and presence.

He described the planned U.S. deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea as “neither conducive to the realization of the goal of de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula nor helpful to the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula.”

The U.N. resolution blacklisted 11 more individuals, including former ambassadors to Egypt and Myanmar, and 10 entities, subjecting them to a global travel ban and asset freeze for ties to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

It calls on U.N. states to reduce the number of staff at North Korea’s foreign missions and requires countries to limit the number of bank accounts to one per North Korean diplomatic mission amid concerns that Pyongyang had used its diplomats and foreign missions to engage in illicit activities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

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North Korea diplomat in UK defects to South with family – South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea said North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London, Thae Yong Ho, had arrived with his family in South Korea, making him the highest-ranking diplomat ever to defect to the South

Thae defected to the South due to discontent with the regime and for the future of his child, Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman at the South’s Unification Ministry, told a news conference.

Jeong declined to give details on the timing of Thae’s arrival or his itinerary.

“They are currently under government protection and relevant institutions are going ahead with necessary procedures as usual,” Jeong said.

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

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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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