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South Korea, US, Japan urge repatriation of North Korean workers

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea, Japan and the United States (US) yesterday urged United Nations (UN) member states to repatriate North Korean workers, claiming they continued to help Pyongyang dodge sanctions and fund its weapons programmes.

North Korea was also engaged in “malicious cyber activities” that supported its military expansion, representatives of the three countries said in a joint statement.

Overseas workers have long been a significant source of income for nuclear-armed North Korea, but under a 2017 UN resolution, member states had until December 2019 to repatriate them.

But after yesterday meeting in Seoul, the South Korean, Japanese and US special envoys for North Korea stressed the need for countries to ensure compliance with UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions.

“Overseas DPRK IT workers continue using forged identities and nationalities to evade UNSC sanctions and earn income abroad that funds the DPRK’s unlawful weapon of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes,” the envoys said, using North Korea’s official name.

“We are also deeply concerned about how the DPRK supports these programmes by stealing and laundering funds as well as gathering information through malicious cyber activities.”

A three-way talk between the US, Japan and South Korea. PHOTO: AP

North Korea stole as much as USD1.7 billion in cryptocurrency last year alone, they added.

North Korea has sent large numbers of workers abroad, mostly to neighbouring China and Russia, but also to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

In 2019, analysts said China and Russia – Pyongyang’s main allies – were issuing North Korean workers with alternative visas to ensure a continued supply of cheap labour.

North Korea last year declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power, effectively ending the possibility of denuclearisation talks.

In recent months, it has tested a number of weapons, including an intercontinental ballistic missile in defiance of international sanctions.

“We strongly condemn the DPRK’s repeated ballistic missile launches as well as its escalatory and destabilising rhetoric related to the use of nuclear weapons,” the envoys said.