North Korea enhanced nuclear, missile programs in 2019 in breach of sanctions – U.N. report

FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

North Korea continued to enhance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs last year in breach of United Nations sanctions, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters on Monday.

The country also illicitly imported refined petroleum and exported some $370 million worth of coal with the help of Chinese barges, the report added.

The 67-page report to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to be made public next month, comes as the United States tries to revive stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea.

“In 2019, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which it continued to enhance, in violation of Security Council resolutions,” the independent U.N. sanctions monitors wrote.

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006. They have been strengthened by the 15-member Security Council over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The sanctions monitors said that in a fresh bid to evade sanctions, North Korea had started to export millions of tonnes of commodities – banned since 2017 – using barges.

‘Unintended effects’

While U.N. sanctions are not meant to harm North Korean civilians, the U.N. report said: “There can be little doubt that U.N. sanctions have had unintended effects on the humanitarian situation and aid operations, although access to data and evidence is limited and there is no reliable methodology that disambiguates UN sanctions from other factors.”

Russia and China have raised concerns that sanctions were harming North Korean civilians, and have expressed hope that easing some restrictions could help break the deadlock in nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

But the United States, France and Britain said now is not the time to consider lifting sanctions.

The U.N. report said North Korea conducted 13 missile tests last year, launching at least 25 missiles, including new types of short-range and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.