The United States, South Korea and Japan have expressed deep concern over what they described as North Korea’s “malicious” cyber-activities in support of its banned weapons programmes.
Cryptocurrency funds stolen by North Korean hackers have been a key source of funding for the country’s weapons programmes, according to the United Nations, with such theft reaching a record last year.
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“We reiterate with concern that overseas DPRK IT workers continue using forged identities and nationalities” to evade UN sanctions and raise funds for missile programmes, the three countries’ envoys said in a joint statement on Friday, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim Gunn, South Korea’s envoy, held talks with his US and Japanese counterparts this week and condemned North Korea’s continued weapons tests.
Japan’s envoy also “strongly condemned” the “unprecedented frequency and manner” of North Korea’s missile launches as a serious and imminent threat to regional security, Japan’s foreign ministry said. Japan on Friday announced a two-year extension of its trade ban on North Korea, with exemptions for humanitarian reasons.
The US and South Korea have been conducting a series of annual springtime exercises since March, including air and sea drills and their first large-scale amphibious landing drills in five years.
North Korea has reacted furiously to the exercises, calling them a rehearsal for invasion.
In response, it has unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads, and fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States. It has also tested what it called a nuclear-capable underwater attack drone.
As Pyongyang continues to develop its military arsenal, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has also called for raising awareness over the continued human rights abuses in the country.
In its first publicly released report on the situation last week, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said North Korea executes its citizens for drugs, religious activities and sharing South Korean media.
Pyongyang has long rejected international criticism of its human rights record as a US agenda to overthrow its regime.