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Sunday May 19th, 2019 10:56AM

UN experts: North Korea nukes intact, dispersing missiles

By The Associated Press
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes, U.N. experts said in a new report.

The experts' report to the Security Council, seen Tuesday by The Associated Press, says the country continues to defy U.N. economic sanctions, including through "a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal."

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea — the country's official name — also continues to violate an arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods and financial sanctions, the experts said.

And the panel said it investigated "the DPRK's sophisticated cyberattacks" against multiple countries "to evade financial sanctions."

The report was sent to council members as U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At their June summit in Singapore, Trump promised "security guarantees" to Pyongyang and Kim recommitted to the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

But there were no signs in the experts' report that Kim has taken any steps toward eliminating his nuclear arsenal or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which he boasted could reach the U.S. mainland.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain intact," the experts said.

"The panel found that the DPRK is using civilian facilities, including airports, for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing 'decapitation' strikes," the report said. It also "found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of the DPRK to disperse the assembly, storage and testing locations."

The experts said they are continuing to investigate companies, entities and individuals in Asia that are on the U.N. sanctions blacklist and "clandestinely procured centrifuges for the DPRK's nuclear program" — and that attempted to sell "a wide range of military equipment to armed groups and governments in the Middle East and Africa."

The panel painted a picture of continuing wide-ranging efforts by North Korea to evade U.N. sanctions.

A huge increase in ship-to-ship transfers "render the latest United Nations sanctions ineffective by flouting the caps on the DPRK's import of petroleum products and crude oil as well as the coal ban imposed in 2017 by the Security Council in response to the DPRK's unprecedented nuclear and ballistic missile testing," the experts said.

One unnamed country said North Korea obtained more than the cap of 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products in 2018, but another unnamed country questioned the figure, the experts said.

They also said that "global banks and insurance companies continue to unwittingly facilitate payments and provide coverage for vessels involved in ever-larger, multimillion-dollar, illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as an increasing number of ship-to-ship coal transfers and attempted trans-shipments."

The panel said ship-to-ship transfers involve "increasingly advanced evasion techniques." These include ship identity theft," false Automatic Identification System transmissions, physically disguised North Korea tankers, illegally changed vessel names, night transfers, and the use of additional vessels for trans-shipment of prohibited items, it said.

The panel said it inspected seized vessels engaged in prohibited coal trading and documented "ship identity laundering."

In addition, it said, "the world's largest container shipping line continued to unwittingly transport prohibited items" seized by unnamed countries.

As for the arms embargo, the experts said North Korea attempted to supply small arms, light weapons and other military equipment via foreign intermediaries to Libya, Sudan and Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen.

The experts said they also investigated North Korean involvement in gold mining in Congo, construction of a military camp in Sierra Leone, the sale of fishing rights in waters surrounding the country, and other activities around the world banned under U.N. sanctions.

"Financial sanctions remain some of the most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures of the sanctions regime," the panel said.

Individuals acting on behalf of North Korean financial institutions are operating in at least five countries "with seeming impunity," it said. The Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korean intelligence agency that conducts clandestine operations, continues to transfer funds from closed accounts in the European Union to those in Asian financial institutions, the panel said.

The experts said the global operations of the companies Glocom and MKP continued despite the panel's past reporting on their illegal activities, "and show the ongoing use of overseas companies and individuals to obfuscate income generating activities for the DPRK regime."

They said that "DPRK diplomats continue to play a key role in financial sanctions evasion" along with representatives of companies and other entities on the sanctions blacklist, including by controlling accounts in multiple countries and using the names of family members and front companies.

"DPRK diplomats continue to travel under false accreditation in their passports," the panel said, "and have also facilitated the country's efforts to illegally export large quantities of coal through trans-shipment to disguise the origin."

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