Yun Byung-se, The Indispensable Man

Park Geun-hye, the cautious triangulatrix who belatedly became South Korea’s most subversive (to North Korea) president for two decades, is all but gone, and almost everyone in South Korea is applauding. None, however, have applauded with as much enthusiasm as those on South Korea’s far left, who fill a spectrum between anti-anti-North Korean and violently pro-North KoreanThe left now senses that it has an advantage headed into next year’s presidential campaign and hopes to end Seoul’s campaign of diplomatic and financial isolation of its renegade provinces in the North, and its encouragement of embarrassing and damaging defections by senior regime officials like Thae Yong-ho. But if the left hoped that the end of Park’s presidency would also mean the end of that campaign, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is dashing those hopes. These examples, which I’ve collected over the last three months, show Yun carrying right on where Park left off.

  • 9/27: In Seoul, Park asks the President of the Netherlands “to play an ‘active role’ in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear ambitions and provocations through sanctions and diplomacy.”
  • 9/29: North Korea opens a new embassy in Belarus, but without an accredited ambassador.
  • 9/30: South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister visits Germany, in part “to discuss strategies for global coordination against North Korea’s nuclear program.”
  • 10/4: Yonhap reports that Seoul has asked the Bulgarian government to curtail North Korea’s abuse of the Vienna Convention, “generating hard currency through illicit real-estate dealings.” (UNSCR 2321 has since emphasized that diplomatic missions may not be used for commercial purposes.)
  • 10/6: Yun suggests that U.N. member states should downgrade or cut diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. (The State Department has also called on states to “downgrade or sever” diplomatic relations with the North.)
  • 10/12: Costa Rica’s President visits President Park in Seoul and promises to issue a decree implementing UNSCR 2270.
  • 11/1: Under international pressure, Indonesia cancels a visit by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong
  • 11/2: Sudan’s Foreign Minister visits Seoul, meets with Yun, and says it has cut all military ties with North Korea.
  • 12/1: Yun says South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. will announce their own national sanctions, foreshadowing the latest round of Treasury Department designations.
  • 12/3: Immediately after the approval of UNSCR 2321 by the Security Council, Yun urges China to implement the new resolution faithfully. He also urged the incoming Trump administration  to “take over and implement the strong sanctions.”
  • 12/6: Yun says he’s scheduled to hold high-level talks with his counterparts from the U.S., China, and Russia on implementation of the sanctions, and adds, “The unprecedentedly powerful UNSC resolution, combined with individual sanctions by Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, will corner North Korea into a situation that it cannot circumvent.”
  • 12/16: Visiting Yun in Seoul, Hungary’s Foreign Minister promises to support sanctions against North Korea.

South Korea is not only vowing to continue its campaign, it is now starting to claim that it’s putting the North under severe financial and diplomatic strain. You can find the most detailed case for that claim here. It’s worth reading in full, but take it with a grain of salt.

On the optimistic side of the ledger, there is an alleged internal North Korean document exhorting diplomats to strengthen ties to “non-aligned” states, traditionally some of its best trading partners and arms clients. This interview (in Korean) with Thae Yong-ho adds recent direct evidence that sanctions have caused financial problems for the North Korean embassy in the U.K. Thae’s description of life as a North Korean diplomat adds further evidence to my observation that North Koreans overseas who can’t kick up enough tribute to their bosses — perhaps because of sanctions — worry about being punished or purged. That may make them attractive targets for recruitment to provide even more financial information, or to defect.

One could also read Pyongyang’s campaign to improve its foreign trade structure as an effort to get around trade sanctions it didn’t need to evade before. Its raising of taxes on its people may be an effort to make up for lost foreign revenue, although that connection isn’t entirely clear, nor would it be a departure from past practice. Either way, Pyongyang pays a morale penalty for those levies.

Not everything has gone South Korea’s way, however. North Korea’s arms clients in Africa, some of which have long-standing commercial and ideological ties to Pyongyang, have been stubborn targets. For example, despite Uganda’s claim that it would end its military training contracts with North Korea — UNSCR 2270 requires member states to do so immediately — it turns out that Uganda is merely choosing not to renew those contracts.

This blog has also followed Namibia’s illogical and self-serving justifications for its arrangements with North Korea.Despite claims by the Namibian government that it would end its cooperation with sanctioned North Korean entities, that relationship apparently continues. The Treasury Department’s recent designation of its principal North Korean partner, Mansudae Overseas Project Group, a front for KOMID, may make that cooperation more difficult for Namibia and the many other African countries where Mansudae operates. It will send a message to Windhoek that it must enforce the U.N. resolutions, confiscate the factory, and send the KOMID and Mansudae representatives home. For example, the South African insurance company Old Mutual insured some of Mansudae’s work in Namibia. It may hesitate to continue providing that service now. We’ll need to do more of this to give Yun the support he needs.

Then there is the case of Angola, which after a meeting with South Korea’s Second Vice Foreign Minister, said that it supports South Korea’s position on the sanctions, but hasn’t exactly enforced them to the letter since then. The fact that Seoul is dangling an agreement “to boost ties in trade, investment and development” may help. More on Yun’s extensive travels to make UNSCR 2270 stick, here and here, via Marcus Noland.

Reports that Poland and Oman had stopped employing North Korean slave labor may also have been premature. Even Thailand has allowed a new North Korean restaurant to open.

While I understand the importance of showing South Korean audiences that sanctions can work, the stories I linked in this post, and my posts here, here, and here, show a more mixed picture than Seoul’s optimistic assessments. The reality is more a case of two steps forward, one step back, with South Korea making significant gains, but not fast enough, and without enough fire support from the U.S. State and Treasury Departments to put steel on the harder targets.

The question that increasingly preoccupies me is whether it’s already too late. And given the rising talk of preemptive strikes — if only to buy time — will South Koreans be willing to accept the risks those strikes would entail? Stated differently, did Barack Obama and the chaos that rules the streets of Seoul squander our last chance to disarm North Korea peacefully?

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Treasury fires a broadside at Kim Jong-un’s slave labor racket

This blog has promoted the outstanding investigative work and legal analysis of the Leiden Asia Center in exposing North Korea’s rental of forced labor to European shipyards and construction companies, under unsafe and exploitative conditions. That work, ably led by Remco Breuker, yielded this Vice documentary and reports filled with actionable information. 

Recently, Breuker wrote a long, sad, and funny opinion piece lamenting that LAC’s research has incurred much harassment from Pyongyang’s wacky bands of online sympathizers while having little apparent effect on the EU’s enforcement of its worker protection laws. That’s why I was so pleased to be the one to tell Mr. Breuker that, thanks in part to LAC’s work, the U.S. Treasury Department just froze the assets of several North Korean slave merchants LAC first identified.

OFAC designated the Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies, Korea General Corporation for External Construction, Namgang Construction, and Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.  The Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies has been reported to conduct business in countries including Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Benin, Cambodia, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal, Syria, Togo, and Zimbabwe.  Korea General Corporation for External Construction has worked to supply North Korean laborers in the Middle East for the purpose of earning hard currency for the North Korean regime.  Namgang Construction has worked to supply North Korean laborers in the Middle East and Asia for the same purposes.  The Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation also works to supply North Korean laborers in Asia and Africa to earn foreign currency for the North Korean regime.  Some of the revenue generated by overseas laborers is used by the Munitions Industry Department, which was designated by the Department of State in August 2010 pursuant to E.O. 13382 for its support to North Korea’s WMD program. [U.S. Treasury Dep’t Press Release]

Leiden Asia Center’s work also had a greater impact on EU states’ policy than he acknowledges, even if that impact may be an indirect one. Poland and Malta have come under media and diplomatic pressure from the U.S. and South Korea over their acceptance of North Korean workers. Both have since stopped issuing visas to more of them. Per capita, Pyongyang’s slave laborers in the EU brought it its highest profits. There’s little question that the Leiden Asia Center’s work was the impetus for much of this change.

There are some notable exceptions. Mansudae Overseas Project Group was exposed by the 2016 report of the U.N. Panel of Experts for helping to build an arms factory in Namibia (a topic that merits its own post). Treasury’s list also omits one of the North Korean entities exposed by LAC and Vice, the DPRK Chamber of Commerce, which lists two Pyongyang addresses: “c/o Ministry of Foreign Trade, Central District, micom@co.chesin.com,” and “Jungsong-dong, Central District, P.O.Box 89.”

Once again, Treasury’s authority for the designations was Executive Order 13722, And once again, the executive order implements section 104(a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. 

Sec. 2. (a) All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:

[….]

   (iv) to have engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea; [EO 13722]

If diplomatic pressure was already starting to constrict Pyongyang’s slave trade before these new sanctions, it’s reasonable to expect that the freezing of the slave merchants’ assets and a new U.N. resolution expressing “concern” about the trade will give those efforts new impetus. Pyongyang still has some stubborn customers in Qatar, Kuwait, and Malaysia who might be persuaded to terminate those relationships.

Will Pyongyang simply shift those workers to China and Russia? Those markets may also be reaching the point of saturation. Employers of North Korean laborers in Russia have recently been embarrassed by a series of on-the-job deaths and injuries, defections, reports of torture and mutilation by local minders, video of a mass brawl with Russian workers, and at least one suicide by self-immolation. Even in China, Reuters recently suggested that the number of expatriate North Korean workers is declining. That, too, may be a function of defections, which have caused Pyongyang great embarrassment and forced it to plow some of its profits back into the deployment of more minders, and minders for the minders. The death spiral swirls.

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Leo Byrne is (almost) single-handedly destroying North Korea’s smuggling fleet

The other night, I was chatting with a reader who was surprised to hear me praise NK News. Although I consider Chad O’Carroll a friend, it’s no secret that Chad and I have philosophical differences about North Korea policy. Some of the things I read at NK News make me roll my eyes; others drive me to paroxysms of rage. But what I can never say about NK News is that it pulls punches. Its decision to publish Nate Thayer’s stunning expose of AP Pyongyang was as brave as the report itself was devastating. Its report on the Masikryong Ski Resort exposed serious sanctions violations and wound up being cited in the U.N. Panel of Experts reports. It did better reporting on the Pyongyang apartment collapse story from Seoul than the AP did from a few blocks away (Update: See? This is what I’m talking about.). You can love it, hate it, or alternate between both of those reactions, but NK News has become a public utility for North Korea watchers. 

Yet NK News’s single greatest asset must be Leo Byrne, whose investigative tenacity and meticulousness puts him into contention to be the single best journalist covering North Korea for any publication, anywhere. Byrne does what too few journalists bother to do — he digs up hard-to-find facts; reads the legal authorities that give those facts meaning, consequence, and context; and reports them. Byrne’s recent reporting on shipping sanctions has been a good example of this. For some days now, I’d meant to find the time to write about his discovery that, following the adoption of U.N. Security Council in 2270 in March, 50 North Korean ships re-registered under the Tanzanian flag:

According to data from Marine Traffic, the Equasis maritime database, and inspection records from Port State Control (PSC) authorities, around 15 percent of ships on the NK Pro vessel tracker now sail with under (sic) a Tanzanian flag, with the large majority of changes happening over a three-month period.

The numbers and time frames indicate an unprecedented campaign to reflag vessels with links to the DPRK, dwarfing previous flurries of changes that occurred after the UN and U.S. designated a North Korean shipping company in 2014. [NK News, Leo Byrne]

That’s a problem, because UNSCR 2270 says this:

“19.  Decides that Member States shall prohibit their nationals and those in their territories from leasing or chartering their flagged vessels or aircraft or providing crew services to the DPRK, and decides that this prohibition shall also apply with respect to any designated individuals or entities, any other DPRK entities, any other individuals or entities whom the State determines to have assisted in the evasion of sanctions or in violating the provisions of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) or this resolution, any individuals or entities acting on behalf or at the direction of any of the aforementioned, and any entities owned or controlled by any of the aforementioned, calls upon Member States to de?register any vessel that is owned, operated or crewed by the DPRK, further calls upon Member States not to register any such vessel that is de-registered by another Member State pursuant to this paragraph, and decides that this provision shall not apply with respect to such leasing, chartering or provision of crew services notified to the Committee in advance on a case-by-case basis accompanied by: a) information demonstrating that such activities are exclusively for livelihood purposes which will not be used by DPRK individuals or entities to generate revenue, and b) information on measures taken to prevent such activities from contributing to violations of the aforementioned resolutions;

North Korea’s merchant fleet is subject to international sanctions because of North Korea’s history of using it for smuggling weapons, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

To give credit where it’s due, Claudia Rosett first discovered that the Dawnlight, a North Korean ship designated by the U.N. for arms smuggling, hoisted the Tanzanian flag as the Firstgleam, just days after 2270 was adopted. Byrne’s report shows that this was much more than a one-off; it as part of a pattern and practice of violation that was either grossly negligent, corrupt, or willful. In addition to the ex-Dawnlight, Byrne reports that the ships re-registered under the Tanzanian flag include a vessel designated by the U.S. Treasury Department, and others that have been “mentioned” in U.N. Panel of Experts reports. 

The news site All Africa adds that Tanzania has a checkered history of reflagging ships for Iran, which drew a visit from the local U.S. embassy. The Tanzanian Foreign Ministry blamed “a ‘notorious’ Dubai-based agent” and said it would contact the local North Korean embassy to investigate. Well!

“Diplomatically, we can’t rush to act on unverified issues. But, in general, our international shipping registration agents have been categorically warned against permitting countries sanctioned by the UN to fly our flag because by so doing, the country would be deemed to have violated membership sections of the UN,” Dr Mahiga said. [Louis Kolumbia, AllAfrica]

Let’s hope that that investigation proceeds swiftly to a plausible conclusion, because Tanzania’s shipping registration authority is also in great peril under U.S. law, to the extent the transactions are denominated in dollars (which almost always turns out to be the case). 

First, NKSPEA section104(b) gives the President the authority to designate any person who “knowingly engages in, contributes to, assists, sponsors, or provides financial, material or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, any person designated pursuant to an applicable United Nations Security Council resolution.” Then, Executive Order 13722, which (partially) implements the NKSPEA, imposes sectoral sanctions on North Korea’s transportation industry, potentially widening the risk to any transactions involving North Korean shipping. The potential consequence is that Tanzania’s registry could have its assets frozen. Fortunately, that may not be necessary, because Byrne’s report has captured the undivided attention of the Tanzanian government, which says it has already de-registered 13 of the North Korean ships, and has begun the process of de-registering the rest of them.

ZMA director general Abdallah Hussein said in an interview on Tuesday that the process to deregister Democratic People’s Republic of Korean (DPRK) vessels started in June and was ongoing to ensure no vessel with links to North Korea fly the Tanzania flag in compliance with the UN Security Council sanctions. The minister for Foreign Affairs minister (sic), Dr Augustine Mahiga, had told The Citizen on Sunday that the ministry would initiate a diplomatic process to ensure that all vessels linked to North Korea are deregistered. [….]

If the deregistration started in June as Mr Hussein claimed, then, that hasn’t been reflected yet in the Tanzania foreign ships registry, for the investigation carried out by Leo Byrne, a Data and Analytic Director at NK News based in Seoul shows the majority of the vessels that were deregistered by other countries following tightening of North Korean sanctions “transferred their details to the Tanzanian registry, which accepted nearly all the ships between June and August this year.”

Mr Hussein expressed surprise over the same thing. “I wonder why Mr Byrne’s analysis hasn’t reflected ships that we have deregistered,” he said. [AllAfrica]

As a blogger, the pinnacle of my career was the day I saw my work denounced by KCNA — on May Day, no less. Byrne now shares the rare privilege of being called out by an entire foreign government (in his case, by name). As to the defense that Byrne did not credit Tanzania for de-registering 13 ships, well, that’s fair in the same sense that no one thanked Kim Jong-un for not nuking off last weekend, and no one thanked Donald Trump for not grabbing anyone’s hoo-ha all day yesterday. 

As far as I know, anyway. 

Ideally, U.S. and South Korean diplomats in Dar as Salaam should pay courtesy calls to the Tanzanian Foreign Ministry and politely ask, “Hey, what gives?” Maybe they already have. That approach seems to have worked well enough for enforcing Iran sanctions. But if the State Department doesn’t act, I’d expect that eventually, Congress will ask the same question of the State Department. With Tanzania already acting to de-register North Korean ships, it may be that less subtle approaches should be reserved for more recalcitant targets (are you listening, Namibia?).

Overall, the news looks increasingly bleak for North Korea’s merchant fleet. Panama and Mongolia have de-registered North Korean ships, and Cambodia, the single largest reflagger, appears to be moving in that direction. The government of Jordan identified two cases in which its shippers used a North Korean flag of convenience and has since acted to put an end to that practice. As the range of countries reflagging North Korean ships narrows, more media and diplomatic attention will inevitably focus on those that remain, like Tuvalu and Sierra Leone. A sanctions regime is only as strong as its weakest link, but slowly, link by link, the chain is tightening.

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Angola is playing fast and loose with North Korea sanctions

Like its neighbor, Namibia, Angola aligned with the Soviet block during the Cold War. The Angolan government and the Namibian rebel movement, the South West Africa Peoples’ Organization or SWAPO, received military assistance from Cuba, which had up to 60,000 soldiers near Angola’s border with Namibia during a vicious set of guerrilla wars in the 1990s. The Soviet Union is gone, but historic alliances can be persistent things, especially when those alliances also come with financial ties. This has certainly been the case with North Korea’s ties to Namibia, which has been reluctant to shut down a North Korea arms factory on its territory, despite the fact that that factory is a clear violation of UNSCR 2270.

In April, I cited the 2016 Panel of Experts report and raised suspicions that Angola’s military cooperation was a violation of UNSCR 2270. Since then, Andrea Berger has done us all the service of pointing out where U.N. member states’ compliance reports are published online. Not surprisingly, Angola’s report raises more questions than answers. First, Angola admits that it is hosting two North Korean nationals, Kim Hyok-chan and Kim Kwang-hoon, who are under investigation by the U.N. Panel of Experts monitoring compliance with the sanctions.

However, it must be noted that Kim Hyok Chan, a DPRK citizen born on 6 September 1970, carrier of diplomatic passport No. PD563410191, is on the list of individuals under investigation by the Panel of Experts established pursuant to resolution 1874 (2009) and designated for targeted sanctions such as a travel ban and asset freeze. This individual holds multiple-entry visa No. 60000/MRX/16, valid until 2 February 2017, from the Angola Ministry of External Relations. The individual is a diplomat of the DPRK and entered the national territory on 14 February 2016 from Addis Ababa. [….]

Kim Kwanghoon, a DPRK citizen born on 9 June 1981 and carrier of passport No. M66430933, has an ordinary visa with the number 100866086/16, valid until 6 May 2016, and left the country on 5 May 2016, bound for Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The individual works for the Ofek Company. [Angola compliance report]

Neither man appears on the U.N.’s consolidated sanctions list, and neither is mentioned by name in the POE’s 2016 or 2015 reports. If there’s a list of persons under investigation published by the U.N., I’m not aware of it. Nor would it seem wise to publish a list of persons under investigation. I wonder if the Angolans just said more than they should have (oops). Then, Angola then takes the position that it’s under no obligation to expel either man.

Concerning the expelling of diplomats or representatives of the government of the DPRK or nationals of other countries suspected of helping to circumvent the sanctions regime, it was not necessary to expel any DPRK diplomat from the country, as they did not represent a threat to national security and were not outright affected by any of the provisions of resolution 2270 (2016). [Angola compliance report]

So, move along! Nothing to see here! Not quite. The resolutions have several provisions that require the expulsion of North Korean or third-country nationals. Not all of them necessarily require an individual by-name designation. Here’s a paragraph from UNSCR 2270:

“13.  Decides that if a Member State determines that a DPRK diplomat, governmental representative, or other DPRK national acting in a governmental capacity, is working on behalf or at the direction of a designated individual or entity, or of an individual or entities assisting in the evasion of sanctions or violating the provisions of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) or this resolution, then the Member State shall expel the individual from its territory for the purpose of repatriation to the DPRK consistent with applicable national and international law …. [UNSCR 2270]

So, if the Angolan government knows that Kim Hyok-chan or Kim Kwang-hoon is working on behalf of a designated entity, such as Green Pine (U.N. designated since 2012), Saeingpil (a U.N. designated alias of Green Pine), or KOMID (U.N. designated), the Angolans have to expel them, whether the individual people are designated by name or not. The apparent intent of the resolutions’ drafters was to allow either designation of entities (and by implication, their employees) or alternatively, the designation of individual bad actors whose affiliations aren’t clear or aren’t proven. 

But is there any evidence that either man is working for a designated entity? In the case of Kim Kwang-hoon and his employer, Ofek, I found no additional information online. Ofek isn’t designated. Kim Hyok-chan, however, is another story. Let’s start with the 2016 Panel of Experts report.

108.  The Panel investigated two incidents involving Green Pine (see S/2012/287): two deliveries in July 2011 of items for military patrol boats to Angola and an air shipment in February 2011 of submarine parts inspected in Taipei (see annex 1 and S/2015/131, paras. 81-83). The consignments were shipped from Vienna by an Austrian national, Josef Schwartz, through his company, Schwartz Motorbootservice & Handel GmbH. He had traded with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on multiple occasions in the past, including violations and attempted violations of the luxury goods ban. The Panel confirmed that he had assisted Green Pine in evading the arms embargo. [UN POE report, 2016]

That finding apparently has its origins in this interesting report on Saeingpil in the Washington Free Beacon, which alleges that Kim Hyok-chan works for Saeingpil.

The assistance includes marine engines and replacement parts for North Korean patrol boats sold to the Angolan military within the past six years.

Additionally, North Korean military trainers are providing arms and security support to Angolan presidential guards, according to recently obtained information on the transfers.

Similar military support to Uganda and Tanzania was ruled to violate U.N. sanctions by a United Nations panel of experts on North Korea.

According to the sources with access to details of the Angolan military transfers, a North Korean company, Saengpil Associated Co., currently is in the process of shipping engines and replacement parts for some of the 18 patrol boats that were built for the Angolans since 2011.

Saengpil is part of North Korea’s Green Pine Associated Corp., which has been sanctioned in the past by the United Nations. Both entities are part of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korean covert action and intelligence organization.

The Saengpil representative behind the military transfers was identified as Kim Hyok-chan who has been working in Angola since 2008 and has been the lead official in charge of the arms deals between the two countries. Kim also is a second secretary at the North Korean embassy in Luanda, the Angolan capital.

North Korean agreements for the patrol boats date to August 2009, when Angolan technicians were trained on repair and maintenance. Construction of the patrol boats, described as PB 100s, began in March 2011. Renewal of the accord for repair and maintenance was concluded in January 2013. [Washington Free Beacon]

Nowhere does the Angolan report say whether its government investigated whether Kim is or is not tied to Saeingpil. You have to wonder if it ever occurred to the Angolans to, you know, ask him, or maybe review his immigration or banking records. If Kim works for one of those designated entities, Angola is required to expel him, regardless of whether he’s designated by name. Its non-response on that issue suggests that it’s playing fast-and-loose with the resolutions.

The report goes on:

Concerning Green Pine Pi’l Trading Corporation, also known as Saeng Pi’l Associated Company, and Beijing New Technology Trading Company, Limited, inquiries made did not uncover any new information, and the information provided in previous notes still prevails. [Angola compliance report]

My only reaction to this is, what the hell does that even mean? If Green Pine or Saeingpil has an office in Angola, the Angolan government is required to close it, end of story. Here’s the relevant provision from UNSCR 2270:

“15.  Underscores that, as a consequence of implementing the obligations imposed in paragraph 8 (d) of resolution 1718 (2006) and paragraphs 8 and 11 of resolution 2094 (2013), all Member States shall close the representative offices of designated entities and prohibit such entities, as well as individuals or entities acting for or on their behalf, directly or indirectly, from participating in joint ventures or any other business arrangements, and underscores that if a representative of such an office is a DPRK national, then States are required to expel the individual from their territories for the purpose of repatriation to the DPRK consistent with applicable national and international law, pursuant to and consistent with paragraph 10 of resolution 2094 (2013); [UNSCR 2270]

Next, Angola — which was so recently busted for making arms deals with Green Pine, and which hosts 1,000 North Korean workers, claims that it’s unaware of any North Korean bank accounts that it has to freeze.

Concerning the freezing of any funds, financial assets and economic resources of the DPRK that are deposited in foreign banks, as well as funds managed by entities linked to the Government or the North Korean Worker’s Party in Angola, the relevant institutions, including the ministries of Defence and the Interior and the National Bank of Angola, are surveying the situation regarding bank accounts and migratory status of citizens from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as of DPRK collaborators working in the country. [Angola compliance report]

Angola also said it was fully implementing the ban on the sale of aviation and rocket fuel to North Korea, although as we’ve seen, Chinese businessman and ex-spy Sam Pa has extensive links to Angola’s state oil company and to Bureau 39. Those links also merit further investigation. 

Most recently, Angola was in the news for hosting North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, who “defended Pyongyang’s dual pursuit of nuclear and economic development during talks with his Angolan counterpart.” This doesn’t inspire great confidence.

Finally, I expect to see some more interesting reporting about Angola’s links to North Korea in the coming weeks, but I’ll let someone else tell you that story.

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Sanctions Diplomacy: Yesterday Uganda, today Namibia, tomorrow Cambodia

Earlier this week, when a senior Namibian official who had defended her government’s military cooperation with North Korea showed up in Pyongyang, I conceded that she could be there to terminate that cooperation, but didn’t assess that possibility as very likely. But yesterday, the Namibian government announced it was ending its joint projects with North Korea, including a North Korean-run arms factory, to comply with new U.N. sanctions:

“The Government of the Republic of Namibia, in fulfilling her international obligations to abide by UN Security resolutions, has decided to terminate the services of KOMID and MOP in Namibia, for as long as the UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK are in place,” the statement read. [NK News, Hamish Macdonald]

See also Reuters and Namibia’s own New Era Newspaper. Namibia’s announcement follows Uganda’s termination of its contracts with North Korea to train its police forces.

Presumably, this is the work of good diplomacy by someone, although I couldn’t tell you who. Africa had become an important arms market for North Korea in recent years — and continues to be —  but with the Namibian announcement, it’s clear that diplomatic efforts to get African countries to terminate their military relations with North Korea are gaining traction. Seoul has publicized its efforts — including outreach to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania — but Washington hasn’t publicized its own, perhaps for perfectly sound reasons, and perhaps because they’re non-existent.

One point that comes through clearly is that the threat of secondary sanctions is a part of why countries that ignored U.N. sanctions against North Korea for years are enforcing them now. Just look what I found in my visitors’ log after I first posted about the sanctions against Namibia that would be mandatory under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act:

[Now that I have your undivided attention ….]

In retrospect, the Namibian official’s visit to Pyongyang was probably meant to express regret at the termination of mil-mil cooperation with North Korea, and to express Namibia’s desire to maintain good relations anyway. That is, Namibia complied with U.N. sanctions reluctantly, but it still complied. Sometimes, the diplomat’s velvet glove works better with a regulator’s iron fist. So, to the anonymous diplomat who (I assume) presented that stark choice to the Namibian government, you may redeem a copy of this post for the beverage of your choice.

This isn’t the full extent of the public reporting on Seoul’s diplomatic offensive against Pyongyang’s arms dealers. Its diplomats have recently lobbied the governments of the EU, France, Bulgaria, and Russia. This week’s visit by a large, high-level delegation of South Korean diplomats to Laos and Cambodia could be even more critical.

“During the talks with senior officials, (Hwang) plans to request cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear issues, including efforts to push for the implementation of a United Nations Security Council resolution,” according to the ministry statement. [Yonhap]

The diplomats will come bearing gifts.

“Hwang will meet with Cambodia and Laos’s senior defense officials and discuss bilateral defense cooperation,” the ministry said in a press release.

Hwang is the highest ranking South Korean defense ministry official ever to visit the two countries. The delegation comprises working-level officials from Cheong Wa Dae, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Ministry of National Defense.

During his visit, Hwang will also make a courtesy call to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“In the talks with senior officials, Hwang plans to request cooperation in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, including efforts to push for the implementation of UNSC resolutions,” the ministry said.

Hwang will also meet with senior defense officials in Laos to discuss a wide range of issues, including cooperation in demining, according to the ministry. [Korea Times]

Both countries, with their lax and corrupt regulatory environments, have become key links in North Korea’s access to global shipping and finance. The strange North Korean happenings in Cambodia include the recent deaths of two North Korean doctors, the arrests of 15 North Koreans in Phnom Penh for running an illegal gambling website, the hosting of North Korean restaurants that are suspected havens for money laundering, and many reports of North Korean ships flying the Cambodian flag, a practice that was recently banned by UNSCR 2270. If Cambodia doesn’t fall into line with U.N. sanctions, the U.S. should impose sanctions against its shipping registries, and then perhaps some of its banks, under section 104(a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. Laos, with its record of repatriating North Korean refugees, should lose its tier status under the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act.

Previously, President Obama had urged Vietnam, a long-time North Korean arms client, to implement new U.N. sanctions, which will impact its exports to U.S. markets.

The news is not entirely good. For example, almost five months after the U.N. Panel of Experts named dozens of North Korean operatives, front companies, and third-country enablers, the Treasury Department hasn’t designated a single North Korean target since March 15th. I’m frustrated by the fact that, contrary to rumors I’d heard, there are still no human rights designations of North Korean officials, weeks after a statutory deadline to name names under section 304 and apply designations under section 104(a)(5).

All that is deeply disappointing and may soon draw unwanted attention from Congress, but at least we can say that the results of our progressive diplomacy are promising. As our Ambassador in Seoul, Mark Lippert, has said, sanctions enforcement is a long diplomatic game. Fortunately, North Korea’s friends tend to be poor countries, tied to Pyongyang by little more than fading Cold War memories and convenience. With continued effort and patience, those ties can be undone, and we’ll continue to see good results.

~   ~   ~

Afterthought: Perhaps I’ve been too quick to assume that the Namibian government’s actions will follow its words. I suppose the wiser course is to keep watching for signs that the Namibian government is really doing this. Nor should we let it off the hook for doing everything that UNSCR 2270 requires — expel KOMID’s representatives, freeze its property, and dispose of it.

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Top Namibian official visits Pyongyang

 

In March, this blog reported on the revelation by the U.N. Panel of Experts that the African nation of Namibia, a desert country in the southwest corner of the continent, had hired North Koreans, including representatives of U.N.-designated KOMID, to build an arms factory near Windhoek. At the time, Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah came to her government’s defense, admitting that her government was the site of a North Korean-run arms factory, but denying that the arrangement violated U.N. sanctions.

Today, NK News reports that Ms. N-N arrived in Pyongyang last Friday for a state visit, where she posed for photographs with Kim Yong-nam.

Namibia

[via NK News]

Now, I can’t say whether the purpose of the visit itself is inappropriate unless I know what those present will discuss. After all, not all diplomatic interactions with North Korea are prohibited. I suppose the purpose of the visit could be to “sever ties and wrap things up,” as Daniel Pinkston suggests, but the level of the interactions and the coincident publicity don’t give me much confidence in that theory.

As noted above, Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah is well aware of the North Korean arms factory in her country, but has denied that it violates U.N. sanctions. The U.N. Panel of Experts has correctly concluded that it’s a violation.

106. The construction of any munitions factory or related military facilities is considered to be services or assistance relating to the provision, manufacture or maintenance of arms and related materiel and therefore prohibited under the resolutions.

Here are the relevant provisions of UNSCR 2270:

“6. Decides that the measures in paragraph 8 (a) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to all arms and related materiel, including small arms and light weapons and their related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms and related materiel;

“9. Recalls that paragraph 9 of resolution 1874 (2009) requires States to prohibit the procurement from the DPRK of technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of arms and related materiel, and clarifies that this paragraph prohibits States from engaging in the hosting of trainers, advisors, or other officials for the purpose of military-, paramilitary- or police-related training;

Investigative journalist John Grobler later did an outstanding report on the factory for NK News, revealing the extent of the factory’s operations. Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah has argued, however, that because the arms factory deal predates U.N. sanctions it’s permitted. Nonsense. UNSCR 2270 even has a force majeure clause in paragraph 47, clarifying that no claim shall lie for the termination of preexisting contracts that violate the sanctions. The resolutions clearly have retroactive effect.

The 2016 POE report found that the North Korean company running the arms factory is KOMID, which is designated by the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury Department — either “in cooperation with, or using the alias of, Mansudae Overseas Project Group companies.” The Namibian government is obligated to expel all KOMID representatives and freeze all KOMID property immediately:

13. Decides that if a Member State determines that a DPRK diplomat, governmental representative, or other DPRK national acting in a governmental capacity, is working on behalf or at the direction of a designated individual or entity, or of an individual or entities assisting in the evasion of sanctions or violating the provisions of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) or this resolution, then the Member State shall expel the individual from its territory for the purpose of repatriation to the DPRK consistent with applicable national and international law. . . .

[….]

“32. Decides that the asset freeze imposed by paragraph 8 (d) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall apply to all the funds, other financial assets and economic resources outside of the DPRK that are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by entities of the Government of the DPRK or the Worker’s Party of Korea, or by individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, or by entities owned or controlled by them, that the State determines are associated with the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) or this resolution, decides further that all States except the DPRK shall ensure that any funds, financial assets or economic resources are prevented from being made available by their nationals or by any individuals or entities within their territories, to or for the benefit of such individuals or entities, or individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction, or entities owned or controlled by them, and decides that these measures shall not apply with respect to funds, other financial assets and economic resources that are required to carry out activities of the DPRK’s missions to the United Nations and its specialized agencies and related organizations or other diplomatic and consular missions of the DPRK, and to any funds, other financial assets and economic resources that the Committee determines in advance on a case-by-case basis are required for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, denuclearization or any other purpose consistent with the objectives of this resolution.

Either Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah hasn’t read the resolutions or has chosen to defy them. If strong diplomatic appeals still haven’t secured commitments to bring that violation to an end, the State and Treasury Departments should act swiftly to sanction the North Korean and Namibian entities involved under section 104(a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. Anything less would signal to North Korea’s arms clients elsewhere in Africa that the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions are mere suggestions. This time, an example must be made.

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Seoul’s diplomacy targets North Korea’s arms trade in Africa

Just last week, I wrote that South Korea’s diplomatic efforts to secure compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270 were putting ours to shame. Seoul is now offering fresh evidence of this by doing what I’ve said for weeks that our own diplomats should be doing — going on tour in Africa to pressure defense ministries to stop buying from Pyongyang.

Seoul’s direct approach to two countries with close military ties to Pyongyang highlights its push to stem North Korea’s cash flows from overseas after its nuclear test. Military exports have for decades been a major source of funds for North Korea. Earlier this year, the U.S. also accused North Korea and Iran of working jointly on a missile engine. [….]

Ms. Park will be accompanied in Uganda by South Korea’s vice defense minister to increase military cooperation with Seoul, according to a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman. Officials in Seoul have made clear that North Korea is on the agenda for the Uganda visit.

“In light of the fact that Uganda is a strategic foothold in East Africa for North Korea, President Park’s visit will provide an important opportunity to strengthen cooperation…with regard to the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue,” Kim Kyou-hyun, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, said earlier this week. [WSJ, Alastair Gale]

President Park will also visit Kenya and Ethiopia, where Arirang News says she will bring offers of aid from an expanding assistance budget. But three visits won’t be enough unless this is only the first tour of many. Other suspected African arms clients of North Korea include Angola, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Kim Yong-nam is currently in Equatorial Guinea, and has a more ambitious itinerary than President Park.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim on Friday had “friendly talks” with national leaders from Chad, Gabon, Central Africa, Congo and Mali. A day before, Kim met the president of Burundi and the former president of Mozambique. [NK News, Choi Ha-young]

That would be Mozambique, the only country with an AK-47 on its flag. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the latest addition to the list of probable North Korean arms clients, following a “confidential” report to the U.N. Security Council, prepared by six independent experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against the D.R. Congo.

The U.N. experts also reported that several Congolese officers told them North Korea has supplied Congolese troops and police with pistols and sent 30 instructors to provide training for the presidential guard and special forces.

There is a U.N. arms embargo on North Korea that prevents Pyongyang from importing or exporting weapons and training. An arms embargo on Congo requires states to notify the Security Council sanctions committee of any arms sales or training.

The experts said they found that several Congolese army officers, as well as several police deployed abroad in a U.N. mission, appeared to have North Korean pistols.

The Congolese officers said the pistols were delivered by North Korea to the Congolese port of Matadi in early 2014. “The group also found that the same type of pistols was available for sale on the black market in Kinshasa,” the report said.

The experts said they had asked Pyongyang and Congo for information but had not yet received a response. Congolese and North Korean officials had no immediate comment. [Reuters]

This is too big a job for South Korea to do alone. Not only must the U.S. State Department get into the game, it should try to recruit partners among close allies, such as Japan, France, and the U.K., to help persuade African states to buy their implements of death somewhere else. You’d think that in light of President Obama’s popularity in Africa and his origins on that continent, he’d be an especially effective advocate of our interests.

But let’s also give credit where it’s due. President Obama personally raised the enforcement of North Korea sanctions in a recent visit to Vietnam, another long-standing arms client of Pyongyang. More of this, please.

Previous posts on North Korea’s Africa arms trade here.

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Angola may be defying U.N. sanctions against North Korea

A report last month by the U.N. Panel of Experts found that Namibia has been involved in joint projects with KOMID, a designated North Korean entity, to build an arms factory in the African nation. The finding drew a defiant response from the Namibian government, but as a defense to a sanctions violation, it was a blue answer to a red question. In response, I wrote this post — which attracted much attention in Windhoek — rebutting Namibia’s argument and explaining the potential legal consequences the Namibian Defense Ministry would face if its defiance continues. I also tweeted links to reports that Namibia may also have sold uranium to North Korea.

This week, it’s Namibia’s neighbor to the north, Angola, that’s sharing unwanted headlines with North Korea. First, Radio Free Asia reports that “[a]round 10 North Korean workers dispatched to Angola have died of yellow fever” during an outbreak that has killed 178 people. 

It said some 1,000 North Korean workers are in Angola, including construction workers and medical staff, the report said, referring to the workforce North Korea dispatches overseas to earn money.

The recent deaths of the North Koreans calls into question the quality of North Korea’s yellow fever vaccine and the veracity of North Korea’s claims to have inoculated its workers sent to the African country, according to the report.

Those who became sick have asked to be repatriated, but the North Korean government has opted to not comply out of fear that they could cause the disease to spread at home, the media company said. [Yonhap]

Second, the Angolan government may also be defying UNSCR 2270’s ban on security cooperation with North Korea. Like Namibia, Angola was named in the most recent report of the Panel of Experts. The panel found that Angola bought “items for military patrol boats” from a (subsequently) U.N.-designated North Korean trading company, Green Pine, with the help of our old friend, Josef “Boaty McBoatface” Schwartz.

Then, last week, the official Angolan news agency Angop published this cryptic report, defending the country’s unspecified sharing of “experiences in public security” with North Korea. Meaning?

On the occasion, the board of the Angolan Ministry of the Interior thanked the contribution of the people and government of North Korea have made to Angola, since the early period of the African country’s struggle for national liberation.

The friendship and co-operation relations between the governments of Angola and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are based on a politico-diplomatic framework, as well as on the General Agreement signed in May, 1977, a time that Angola’s first president, Dr António Agostinho Neto made an official visit to North Korea.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was among the first states to recognize the independence of Angola (11 Nov, 1975), which the Asian country officially acknowledged on 16 November 1975, a date that marked the start of official relations between the two states, immediately followed by the opening of the Asian country’s diplomatic mission in Luanda (Angola’s capital). [Angop]

The Angolan government may be under the illusion that this kind of argument helps its situation. In fact, it only attracts more attention from troublemakers like me by highlighting the Angolan government’s spurious reading of the sanctions. Like Bill Newcomb, I’ll reserve final judgment about whether Luanda’s security dealings with Pyongyang violate UNSCR 2270 until I know exactly what those dealings are. Still, it’s hard to imagine any form of security cooperation with Pyongyang that wouldn’t violate it.

For the Angolan government to answer that it enjoyed comradely relations with the North Koreans is irrelevant. The sanctions don’t require Luanda to sever diplomatic relations with Pyongyang; they do require it to cease its military cooperation, arms trafficking, commerce in dual-use items, and dealings with designated entities. A reader could reasonably infer that Angop’s report was a response to the panel’s revelations about Angola’s purchases from Green Pine. And why would Angola still feel the need to defend its dealings with North Korea if they’re all in the past? At the very least, it merits further investigation by the Panel of Experts. (This isn’t the full extent of Angola’s questionable commerce with North Korea, which would violate UNSCR 2270 if proven, but I’ll keep the rest to myself.)

Of course, one lesson we’ve learned over the last ten years is that U.N. sanctions don’t enforce themselves. The world’s less responsible actors will continue to engage in opportunistic (and prohibited) trade with North Korea until they confront the risk of consequences. In 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department presented banks around the world with that choice by designating Banco Delta Asia, and by sending Treasury officials around the world to clarify those consequences for banks that didn’t immediately get the message.

It’s time for a similar approach to North Korea’s arms clients in Africa, whose patronage is probably a significant source of income for Pyongyang, and continues to fuel conflict in Africa. The radical idea I’m calling for here is for our State Department to practice some diplomacy. If State is serious about enforcing sanctions against North Korea, it should promptly arrange a tour of Africa, to warn the appropriate ministries in Luanda, Harare, Kampala, Windhoek, Asmara, Addis Ababa, and Cairo that in addition to the unenforceable U.N. sanctions, the NKSPEA attaches serious mandatory sanctions to military cooperation with North Korea — including the blocking and forfeiture of assets, loss of aid, and visa bans.

Not only could such an approach enhance the credibility of the U.N. and cut off a key source of income for Pyongyang, it could also yield valuable information about North Korea’s arms trafficking, either from newly cooperative African governments, or from North Korean arms dealers who come under pressure from sanctions and are consequently induced to defect.

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Namibia’s prohibited arms deal with N. Korea triggers mandatory sanctions under U.S. law.

Namibia is a beautiful desert country with a turbulent history. Some years ago, when I worked in South Africa, I flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town, took a bus across the border to Keetnamshoop, and hitch-hiked to the isolated town of Lüderitz, which sits where the barren dunes of the Namib Desert spill into the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Lüderitz was established by German colonists in the 19th Century; today, many of their descendants still live in the German-style homes their ancestors built. (Thanks to a friendly local I met on the bus, I was an overnight guest in one of those houses.) Hitch-hiking out proved more difficult than hitch-hiking in, but the hours spent waiting on the roadside, amid the dunes, eventually paid off. I hitched a ride out just before a thermonuclear sunset lit the faces of the dunes with a Martian-red glow that should have had a soundtrack by Igor Stravinsky.

My visit to Namibia came just months after the country became independent, and after the end of a bloody bush war that pitted Cuban-backed SWAPO guerrillas against the South African Army. SWAPO has won every election since then by an overwhelming margin. Evidently, SWAPO’s old ties to fellow alumni of the old Soviet bloc endure. The most recent U.N. Panel of Experts report finds that as early as 2002, the Namibian Ministry of Defence hired Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, or KOMID, a North Korean entity designated by the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury Department, to build it a weapons factory:

101. KOMID reportedly conducted business activities in Namibia until at least early 2015, including through the construction of a munitions factory at Leopard Valley, in the Windhoek area, in cooperation with, or using the alias of, Mansudae Overseas Project Group companies.56

102. Namibia informed the Panel that it had contracts with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea concerning arms and related materiel before 2005. One covered the construction of the Windhoek munitions factory from 2002 to 2005, involving a subsidiary of Mansudae. Namibia also confirmed that it had received training and technical assistance relating to arms, but stated that, given United Nations sanctions, the relevant experts had returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

103. Namibia confirmed that Mansudae was involved in several military construction projects, including the military academy and the ongoing construction of the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. It denied knowledge of links between Mansudae and KOMID (see annex 70).

104. However, satellite imagery shows that construction at the military base at Leopard Valley was continuing in September 2014 (see annex 71). The Mansudae company brochure also advertised the 2010 contract with the Ministry of Defence for the construction of facilities at Leopard Valley (see annex 70).

105. The Panel confirmed that, as at August 2015, workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were undertaking construction activities at another military base in Suider Hof (see fig. 23). At the time of writing, Namibia had not replied regarding the purpose of the facility under construction.

106. The construction of any munitions factory or related military facilities is considered to be services or assistance relating to the provision, manufacture or maintenance of arms and related materiel and therefore prohibited under the resolutions. [Panel of Experts, 2016]

The Panel published this photograph of the factory:

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 7.06.30 AM

It also noted that two KOMID representatives have been regular visitors to Namibia.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 7.05.32 AM

Both Kil and Kim were designated by the U.S. Treasury Department under Executive Order 13687 on January 2, 2015.

Since the publication of the Panel’s report, the Namibian government has admitted to the relationship, but denied violating the resolutions, offering a spurious interpretation of them:

DEPUTY prime minister and international relations’ minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah has confirmed the existence of a North Korean-built munitions factory in the country, but said the factory was not in contravention of any United Nations’ sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said the Namibian government was not involved in anything untoward, and that government has cooperated with the United Nations and openly answered and forwarded information requested by the UN. [The Namibian]

The Namibians point out that the ventures date back to as early as 2002, and that “relations between the two countries date back to Namibia’s liberation struggle.” But what is at issue here is conduct occurring after October 2006, when UNSCR 1718 banned the trade in major weapons systems with North Korea, and 2009, when UNSCR 1874 extended the ban to all arms and related material. Over the following years, those sanctions were further clarified to eliminate loopholes. The U.N.’s designation of KOMID in April 2009 removed all doubt that any dealings with it since then have been clear violations of the resolutions.

Today, with the passage of UNSCR 2270, there is no doubt that any arms-related transactions with a North Korean entity are prohibited. Namibia is obligated to terminate its relationships with KOMID, freeze all of its assets and property, and send its representatives home.

Namibia also confirmed that it had received training and technical assistance relating to arms, but stated that given United Nations’ sanctions, the relevant experts had returned to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. […]

She added that the sanctions against North Korea covered mainly nuclear weaponry, and Namibia is not prohibited from having diplomatic ties with that country.

This is a blue answer to a green question. Of course Namibia is permitted to have diplomatic relations with North Korea; that is not the issue. Of course the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions don’t just cover nuclear weapons; they also ban North Korea’s arms trade, which almost certainly finances its nuclear and missile programs. The Namibian government needs to read the resolutions and comply with them.

She confirmed that a munitions factory was built, but that it was a Namibian project, adding that the North Koreans worked on projects such as the construction of State House, Heroes’ Acre, the military museum, the Independence Museum and other military construction projects.

If KOMID or another U.N.-designated entity is involved in these deals, they’re also prohibited. As with Kaesong, the arrangements are also arguably violations of UNSC provisions requiring member states to freeze any assets that could be used to further North Korea’s nuclear and other prohibited programs.

The UN report stated that the munitions factory was built at at Leopard’s Valley in the Windhoek area, while government confirmed to the UN that Mansudae was involved in several military construction projects, including the military academy and the ongoing construction of the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.

The Namibians are having trouble getting their story straight.

The deputy prime minister also came to the aid of her colleague, defence minister Penda ya Ndakolo, who flatly denied the existence of a project between Namibia and North Korea to build an armaments factory.

She said Ya Ndakolo was referring to a project which is underway since the munitions factory’s construction project has long been completed. “We are not hiding it,” she stated.

Perhaps the Namibians doubt that the U.N. will enforce its writ and that this will all blow over. A year ago, that might have been a reasonable assumption. Perhaps they’re simply unfamiliar with what the resolutions require, although I suspect the Panel of Experts has since rectified that through bilateral communications. But even if the U.N. can’t enforce its writ, the U.S. Treasury Department can — and must — because of the new North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. Among the conduct that triggers mandatory sanctions is this:

(a) Mandatory Designations.—Except as provided in section 208, the President shall designate under this subsection any person that the President determines—

[….]

(2) knowingly, directly or indirectly, provides training, advice, or other services or assistance, or engages in significant financial transactions, relating to the manufacture, maintenance, or use of any such weapon, device, or system to be imported, exported, or reexported to, into, or from North Korea;

[Update: Rereading this, a closer fit may be section 104(a)(9), which applies to any person the President determines “knowingly, directly or indirectly, imports, exports, or reexports to, into, or from North Korea any arms or related materiel.” Under the sanctions regulations in 31 C.F.R., the term “arms or related material” typically includes (by inference) technical assistance other than for peace-keeping purposes. In the specific context of North Korea, the U.N. also includes technical assistance within the meaning of the term “arms and related materiel.”]

The Namibian MoD’s violations of “applicable U.N. Security Council Resolutions” could also trigger discretionary sanctions under section 104(b)(1)(A), which authorizes the designation of any person who “knowingly engages in, contributes to, assists, sponsors, or provides financial, material or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, any person designated pursuant to an applicable United Nations Security Council resolution.”

A section 104 designation triggers a series of consequences, starting with the blocking of any assets that enter the U.S. financial system, potential prohibitions on transactions in foreign exchange or credit between financial institutions, and a travel ban on Namibian MoD officials.

Namibia’s open defiance of the U.N. Security Council will be an important test of the Obama Administration’s determination to enforce the new law. I can’t speak for Congress, but Congress would probably allow the administration a reasonable opportunity to use diplomacy to get the Namibians to terminate these relationships with North Korea. Failing this, the law requires that the Namibian MoD officials responsible for the dealings with KOMID, and other designated entities, be designated under section 104.

~   ~   ~

Update: Well! Good morning, Namibia!

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.00.48 PM

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Uganda is violating U.N. sanctions against North Korea

When North Korea sends its diplomats to Africa, presumably to ask for their votes against a General Assembly resolution that would refer Kim Jong Un to the ICC, I hope it sends at least some of the same diplomats who called Botswana’s U.N. Ambassador a “black bastard,” if only to show the hypocrisy of the African leaders who received them:

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda gave a state banquet late Thursday in honor of North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, praising Pyongyang for what he said was its prominent role in fighting imperialism.

Kim Yong Nam, the president of the country’s parliament, is in Uganda as part of a rare tour of Africa, where North Korea has actively tried to cultivate potential allies like the long-serving, increasingly anti-West Museveni.

The North Koreans are training Ugandan police in martial arts and Museveni hailed North Korea for helping to mechanize Uganda’s military over the years. North Korea is also training Ugandan military pilots, he said.

Kim visited Sudan and the Republic of Congo before arriving in Uganda for “an official goodwill visit,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. [AP]

Any training in the use of “arms and related materiel” would violate UNSCR 1874:

“9.   Decides that the measures in paragraph 8(b) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms or materiel;

“10.  Decides that the measures in paragraph 8(a) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms, except for small arms and light weapons and their related materiel, and calls upon States to exercise vigilance over the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK of small arms or light weapons, and further decides that States shall notify the Committee at least five days prior to selling, supplying or transferring small arms or light weapons to the DPRK;

Here’s a link to UNSCR 1718, in case you want to pursue that, too. The North Korean military relationship with Uganda goes back to at least 2010, when North Korean instructors first began to train Ugandan police officers in tae kwon do. Having drawn no reaction from the State Department for that, the Ugandans apparently decided that it was safe to expand the relationship to clear violations of the resolutions.

U.S. relations with Uganda have been under strain recently, because of the latter’s extreme anti-gay legislation. I’d say cut their aid and cancel a military exercise, but we just cut their aid and canceled a military exercise. Still, the U.S. recently “ordered a sharp increase” in the deployment of U.S. Special Operations forces to Uganda to hunt down warlord Joseph Kony.

Off-hand, I can think of several places where those forces are needed more badly to defeat a more direct threat to U.S. interests. Indeed, North Korea’s proliferation and its violation of U.N. sanctions are a greater threat to our national interests than the doings of a local warlord in Central Africa, and the humanitarian crisis in North Korea is far greater than the one in Uganda. Perhaps it’s time to force Uganda to choose between having a military relationship with North Korea, and a military relationship with the United States.

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Starving Bulawayo to feed Pyongyang?

When I traveled in Zimbabwe a quarter-century ago, it was one of the region’s strongest economies and a net exporter of food. In is a miracle of 21st Century government incompetence, President-for-life Robert Mugabe threw Zimbabwe, with some of the world’s best farm land, into a food crisis a decade ago. Zimbabwe must now rely on aid from the World Food Program.

So what business does one starving nation have selling off, or renting out, precious farm land to … North Korea? And how likely do you suppose it is that that food will at least reach the North Koreans who need it most? I suspect that WFP monitors have better access in Zimbabwe than they do in North Korea, where the WFP is so lacking in donations that it may soon end its operations. But in any event, let no one say that North Korea can’t afford to grow food abroad, or import it commercially, if it makes doing so a priority.

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Is Khaddafy a goner?

He’s lost Benghazi and he could lose Tripoli by tomorrow morning, America time:

Libya’s unrest spread to the capital Tripoli on Sunday after scores of protesters were killed in the second city Benghazi, which appeared to have slipped out of control of forces loyal to strongman Muammar Gaddafi. [….]

In the first sign of serious unrest in the capital, thousands of protesters clashed with supporters of Gadaffi in Tripoli. Gunfire could be heard and police using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. In Benghazi, center of Libya’s unrest, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and appeared to be in control of the city before security forces opened fire and killed scores.

The defection of military units and tribal leaders is very bad sign … if your name is Muammar Khaddafy. I don’t know anyone who voted for him, so I don’t suppose he’ll be missed much, but I have little reason to think that Libya is well prepared to replace Khaddafy’s regime with a better one. Could things get even worse? Why, yes! It’s the Middle East, after all. Which is reason enough to remember that things could still get ghastly in Egypt, too.

If you need another reason to look forward to the fall of the Khaddafy regime, it’s the certainty that it will reveal — if not produce — a spate of great stories about his 40-member squad of hand-picked, ahem, bodyguards. One version of the story holds that they’re all virgins (uh huh) while another holds that many of them are married with children.

qaddafibodyguard.jpg

What is generally agreed that they’re trained in martial arts and other means of actually killing people.

Who among us wouldn’t pay another dime for a gallon of gas for that back story? Also, am I the only one who thinks Khaddafy has taken on a disturbing resemblance to Michael Jackson?

There are some North Korean angles I’ve been rambling my way toward here. One is that at least until 2004, Libya had been one of Kim Jong Il’s best weapons customers, and even sold Khaddafy some casks of uranium hexafluoride before Khaddafy came clean and turned them over to the Americans.

There is also the example of the Libyan revolution, regardless of its eventual outcome. Egypt’s government was overthrown by mostly non-violent protests and a non-violent defection by the army. This could not have happened in a totalitarian place like Libya, where the reports tell of a violent popular uprising and a violent split in the security forces. Unlike the Egyptian case, Libya’s violent revolution is a plausible fit for North Korea. That’s especially the case when, as Rimjingang reminds us, the North Korean army isn’t eating well:

[F]ood shortages in the army are very serious. According to a Defense Security Command commissioned officer Kim Dong-cheol met in North Pyongan Province, the amount of food, principally corn, supplied to the troops is being restricted to 300 grams/day. “At 100 gram a meal amounts, you will suffer malnourishment just by sitting around.” Kim says that the food supplied to the army hasn’t been in this low in the last 10 years.

The Defense Security Command is in charge of protecting Kim Jong-il and other important officials, so it receives better treatment than normal combat squads or construction teams. This officer, an acquaintance of Kim, spoke his mind about the lack of food: “It is only January and the food situation is already this bad. That means that during the spring distress period (the offseason running from April to August, when there are food shortages every year) it will be terrible.

The report goes on to say that “even though food is being trading in the markets, the government is left scraping the bottom of the barrel,” suggesting that for once, citizens are gaining an economic advantage over the regime in the markets. How can this be? For one thing, traders probably aren’t particularly interested in taking the new North Korean scrip that the regime is using as a medium of exchange. For another, some ordinary North Koreans are probably able to buy food with the yuan and the dollars they’re getting from relatives abroad. There’s an element of speculation on my part here, but if I’m right, this would be the first time that markets are diverting food from the military to the common people, instead of the other way around. That would be a wonderful and dangerous tipping point.

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The Monstrosity Industry

dnkf00006519_4.jpgIt is fairly common knowledge that Kim Jong Il deprives and starves his people to buy luxuries for himself and build monuments to his rule, but I did not know how many more luxuries and monuments he can now afford by selling luxuries and monuments to other statist tyrants.

Only in Africa or the Middle East can Kim Jong Il still serve as a role model for great governance.

According to the source, North Korea has earned $66.03 million from Namibia alone thanks to the construction of the Presidential Palace ($49 million); the Cemetery of National Heroes ($5.23 million); a military museum ($1.8 million); and Independence Hall ($10 million).

It has also earned almost $55 million from Angola via the António Agostinho Neto culture center ($40 million); Cabinda Park ($13 million); and the Peace Monument ($1.5 million).

Additionally, the North has constructed a basketball stadium ($14.4 million) and an athlete academic center ($4.8 million) in the Congo, earning almost $20 million dollars in total.

Thanks to the Monument to the African Renaissance in Senegal, the North has made another $12 million dollars.

There are around 19.8㎢ set aside for a vacation spot for the president of Equatorial Guinea, which is supposed to earn Mansudae around $800,000, not to mention a government office building ($1.5 million), Luba Stadium ($6.74 million) and conference halls ($3.5 million).

The source also reported, “The money earned from these construction projects is managed by the No. 39 Department. Some of these dollars are used for domestic governance, while the rest go to secret accounts in Switzerland or Macau to become Kim Jong Il’s secret funds. [Daily NK]

An aside: how the hell do they find this stuff out? Nice pictures there, by the way.

Personally, I’m incensed at the thought of all of the nerve gas and uranium hexafluoride the African people are being denied so that their leaders can have these things instead. But thanks to North Korea’s trade with Africa, at least Kim Jong Il won’t lack for elephants, even if the elephants still aren’t white.

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Global Outrage as African Animals Are Treated Like North Korean Human Beings

It’s not just elephants that Zimbabwe is capturing and shipping to North Korea:

Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has ordered that two of every animal species in the Hwange National Park be sent to North Korea as a gift to that country’s leader, Kim Jong Il. [Johannesburg Times]

Conservationists say the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, will send a modern-day ark, containing pairs of giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and other wild animals taken from a national park, to a zoo in North Korea. [The Guardian, via Sydney Morning Herald]

An official is now insisting that octogenarian “President” Robert Mugabe has nothing to do with it, while sort-of confirming that the “gifts” are being rounded up:

However Vitalis Chadenga, the Director General for National Parks told the weekly Zimbabwe Standard newspaper that Mugabe was not involved in the controversial export. “I can tell you that the president or even the minister is not involved in this, there is nothing like a presidential decree here at parks. But I can confirm that we received an application from the Democratic Republic of North Korea and we are still processing the application,” he said on Friday.

Chadenga insisted exports of wild animals to any country were governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) regulations. “Of the animals which were requested only two elephants are endangered, the others like giraffes, zebras, warthogs are not endangered according to Cites,” he said. Chadenga said experts had been sent to the communist country to assess the new home for the animals and a report was being compiled. [Nehanda Radio]

It’s striking how much international outcry Zimbabwe is receiving over rounding up animals and sending them to death or a life of misery in North Korea. Contrast that to the apathy of most of the global news media when China does the same thing to men, women, and children every day.

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Can you say, “kokiri kalbi?”

baby-elephant.jpgThis is the cutest picture I could find.

Two baby elephants intended as a gift to North Korea are unlikely to survive the journey by air, Zimbabwean conservationists said Thursday.

The independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said the 18-month-old elephants were being held in pens in the western Hwange National Park, along with pairs of most of the park’s other animal species bound for North Korea. The country is a longtime ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. [L.A. Times]

As tragic as I find this to be on one level, on another, they should be lovely grilled over yontans and served with spicy deonjang and wrapped in sesame leaves. I suppose somewhere, someone has said it tastes like chicken.

By the way, the best headline on this story goes to the A.P.: “Dumbo Drop.”

True story: I was once charged by an elephant in Hwange National Park in 1990. The wildlife viewing at the waterholes was great, and it’s not far from Victoria Falls (I almost fell in). At the time, there were plenty of elephants at Hwange, though pretty much everything in Zimbabwe has deteriorated since then.

Say, isn’t it time for Robert Mugabe to die already?

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South Africa Intercepts North Korean Arms Shipment (Updated)

tank3.jpgNot for the first time, North Korea is implicated in shipping weapons to one or more belligerents in the civil war in Congo, and not for the first time, North Korea is caught selling tank parts to a warring African nation in violation of a U.N. resolution. This time, however, the North Korean shipment has been seized in the course of what “Western diplomats” call a “clear-cut violation” of UNSCR 1874 (full text in my sidebars):

South Africa has told a UN Security Council committee it intercepted a North Korean weapons shipment bound for Central Africa, which diplomats said was a violation of a UN ban on arms sales by Pyongyang.

The seizure took place in November, when South African authorities received information that a ship headed for Congo Republic was carrying containers with suspicious cargo, according to a letter sent by South Africa to the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee. [Reuters]

Oh, and guess which member of the U.N. Security Council handled the cargo and didn’t alert anyone about any suspicious contents:

The letter, parts of which were seen by Reuters Monday, said a North Korean company was the shipping agent and the cargo was first loaded onto a ship in China, then transferred to a vessel owned by French shipping firm CMA CGM in Malaysia.

Diplomats said the French company alerted authorities to the fact it had suspicious cargo on board and was not believed to have done anything wrong.

If only the North Koreans had Charles Pascua‘s number in their rolodex, this whole misunderstanding could have been avoided:

The South Africans intercepted the vessel and seized the containers, which held tank parts. The letter, which the committee received last week, said the South Africans discovered “that the contents fell within the definition of conventional arms in that the contents consisted of components of a military tank T-54/T-55.”

The letter said the documentation for the containers described the cargo as “spare parts of bulldozer.” T-54 and T-55 tanks were designed and produced in the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s but were later upgraded and made in other countries.

Neither the French company nor the countries involved had any immediate comment.

Fortunately, it is possible to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution somewhat effectively, even without the full cooperation of all members of the Security Council.

The UN sanctions and the cut-off of handouts from South Korea have dealt a heavy blow to the North, which has an estimated gross domestic product of $17 billion, and may force it back to nuclear disarmament talks in the hopes of winning aid, analysts say.

Yeah, they’ll come back to talks some day, for the right payoff. But so what? They still won’t disarm. Just ask them.

Update: Additional details on the cargo and its interception from Kyodo News, via the Mainichi Shimbun.

Most of the shipment consisted of components for T54 and T55 tanks, made in the former Soviet Union, said the report, obtained by Kyodo News. In addition to gun-sights, seats, tracks, storage boxes and periscopes for the tanks, radios with Chinese markings were also discovered, as well as protective head gear and search lights.

North Korea apparently tried to hide the true nature of the shipment as it was described as “spare parts of a bulldozer” and the containers were lined with large quantities of rice in sacks. After seizing the goods in November, South African authorities secured the containers in a warehouse in Durban, where they remain pending the completion of the investigation.

According to the report, the goods, bound for Pointe Noire, the Republic of Congo, were first loaded onto a ship in Dalian, China, on Oct. 20. The cargo was then transferred to another ship, the Westerhever, which was chartered by a subsidiary of a French company, CMA CGM. The vessel left Port Klang, Malaysia, on Nov. 16. The ship was due to refuel at Durban harbor in late November, but because of fuel shortages was instructed to bunker at Walvis Bay. On Nov. 27 while on route to Walvis Bay the captain was ordered to return to Durban and discharge the two containers in question.

Walvis Bay is in Namibia, a former South African protectorate that became independent in 1990 — the same year I visited this town in Namibia — and is ruled by veterans of the leftist South West African Peoples’ Organization (SWAPO). As was the case with Ethiopia, senior North Korean officials have made state visits to Namibia and have cultivated ties with its government. It’s not hard to see why. Namibia is a major producer of such mineral products as diamonds and uranium.

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North Korean Defects from Embassy in Ethiopia

Yonhap and AFP are both reporting that a 40 year-old North Korean “medic” at the embassy in Addis Ababa defected to South Korea last October. The man is now safely in Seoul.

Yonhap said the communist state’s embassy protested strongly, making a threatening call to the South Korean mission.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

North Korean officials used cars to stage protests outside the building where Kim stayed for up to three weeks, YTN said.

How immature. Why can’t these people just do what any normal government would do and publicly execute the defector’s entire family as a lesson to others? (Stop already — it’s not as if I’m giving these thugs ideas.)

Although Yonhap had described the defector as a “diplomat,” it’s more likely he was a member of this 31-member medical delegation dispatched from North Korea to Ethiopia last year. North Korea’s relations with Ethiopia are strong enough that Ethiopian kids have been shipped off to visit Pyongyang (a lovely time was had by all, I’m sure) and even banded together into — sit down for this — an “Ethiopian Youth Study Group of the Juche Idea,” which has to be about the oddest combination I’ve heard of since the Julia Roberts / Lyle Lovett marriage. In 2007, Kim Yong Nam even paid a visit to Addis Ababa.

By now, you’re already wondering how I’m going to find a cynical angle in the natural, fraternal warmth that has bound North Koreans and Ethiopians in comradeship since the time of King Tangun, and I suppose your suspicions are well placed, because Ethiopia is also a major North Korean arms client, or was. Recall that shortly after Chris Hill secured Peace in Our Time and signed us up for Agreed Framework II, someone did us the great disservice of catching the North Koreans red-handed selling arms, including tank parts, to Ethiopia, a flagrant violation of UNSCR 1718. No matter, said the State Department, as other matters took precedence in those times. That pretty much spelled the end of UNSCR 1718 as an effective resolution, not even six months after its passage. It took another nuclear test and UNSCR 1874 to revive it.

For years, reports have floated around that North Korean embassies were expected to be self-financing, often through illegal activity. One interesting line of speculation about this defection is that if the enforcement of UNSCR 1874 is working fairly well, the Ethiopians aren’t buying and the embassy’s commissary isn’t serving so much meat soup these days, either.

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