North Korea continued to enhance its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes last year while also illegally importing refined petroleum, all in breach of UN sanctions, according to a confidential UN report seen by Reuters.
The country also illicitly exported some $370m worth of coal with the help of Chinese barges, the report added.
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The 67-page report to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea, which is due to be made public next month, comes as the United States tries to revive stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea.
“In 2019, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, which it continued to enhance, in violation of Security Council resolutions,” the independent UN sanctions monitors wrote.
“Despite its extensive indigenous capability, it uses illicit external procurement for some components and technology.”
Pyongyang also illegally imported luxury cars and alcohol, according to the report, which was conducted by experts responsible for monitoring the application of sanctions.
North Korea has been subjected to UN sanctions since 2006.
In 2017, several sets of international sanctions were further imposed on Pyongyang, limiting its oil imports and banning its exports of coal, fish and textiles, in order to push the country to stop its nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.
To date, the measures have been unsuccessful.
It has nonetheless continued to develop its arsenal, analysts say, despite three high-profile meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore, Vietnam and Panmunjom, a village that lies in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are in deadlock over issues of sanctions relief, and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
The UN Panel of Experts said they received, as in the previous year, a report from the US with satellite images and data covering the period from January 1 to October 31, 2019.
The US report purportedly showed that North Korea exceeded the authorised import quotas for refined oil.
“The Russian Federation and China requested more conclusive evidence to make a judgement,” said the report, seen by AFP.
The document also noted that “the DPRK continued to flout UN Security Council resolutions through illicit maritime exports of commodities, notably coal and sand.”
Pyongyang also “continued to import luxury goods and other sanctioned items, including luxury vehicles, alcohol and robotic machinery.”
The country has continued “to access international banking channels in violation of UN sanctions, mainly by using third-party intermediaries,” the report found.
North Korea “continued illegally to acquire virtual currencies and to conduct cyber-attacks against global banks to evade financial sanctions.”
China, which is often suspected of helping North Korea despite the sanctions, said on Monday in a statement from its UN mission that it had “always faithfully and seriously fulfilled its international obligations”.
This was despite the “huge losses” suffered by Beijing from implementing UN decisions, it said.
“It is imperative for the Security Council… to make necessary adjustments to the sanctions measures especially in areas concerning the livelihood” of North Korean citizens, it said in the statement.
China proposed a resolution in late 2019, along with Russia, that would allow for the lifting of certain bans, particularly on fishing and textiles.