As the UN Security Council deadline for the repatriation of all North Korean workers draws closer, a senior US government official says Nepal is making ‘good progress’ in implementing the Dec 22, 2017 Security Council resolution. As per the resolution, Nepal will have to repatriate all North Korean workers by the last week of December this year.
Speaking to media persons on the condition of anonymity, the US government official added that Nepal is on course to meet the deadline. “It is gratifying that Nepal government is taking steps and cooperating with both US government and UN officials to implement sanctions,” he said. In the second week of June this year, Mark Lambert, US special envoy for North Korea, had visited Nepal to take the stock of progress on Nepal’s part. During his stay, he had met lawmakers, government officials as well as ruling Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
According to Nepali officials, Lambert had expressed concerns over North Korean workers and the businesses they ran in Kathmandu. The ruling NCP, however, is divided over cracking down on North Korean activities in Nepal. Many in the party believe that as bilateral relation between Nepal and North Korea is on track, the activities of North Koreans in Nepal should not be restricted. But, as a UN member, Nepal is obliged to implement the UNSC sanctions.
The US official also discussed the possibility of cyber-attacks by North Korean hackers to steal money from Nepali banks. The Americans believe North Korean hackers have stolen at least $1.1 billion in a series of attacks on global banks over the past four year, of which $81 million was taken from the central bank of Bangladesh in February 2016. “As other South Asian countries may face the same problem we are ready to support their banks protect themselves from hackers,” the official added.
The UN panel on implementation of sanctions is investigating North Korea’s evasion of financial sanctions to illegally transfer funds from financial institutions and cryptocurreny exchanges, according to a UN report. According to it, such cases were reported in Bangladesh, Chile, Costa Rica, Gambia, Guatemala, India, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, South Africa, Tunisia and Vietnam.
A senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Korea also pointed to possible cyber-attacks from North Korea as a major challenge other countries. On Nepal’s part, US officials say they are ready to help it enhance its cyber capabilities.
Earlier, during his visit to Kathmandu in May this year, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary at US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Affairs, David J Ranze, had taken up this issue with Nepal. Similarly, the same issue figured in Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s visit to Washington in December last year.
The UN and the US are both concerned that North Korea nationals continue to work in several countries with the goal of generating funds for North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In order to monitor the status of sanction implementation, UN had formed an expert panel.
After pressure from US officials, Nepal instructed nine companies with North Korean investment to close down and take back their investment after liquidation of their companies. Nepal has also informed North Korea that it is not going to issue any business visa to its nationals after October-end, 2019.
Available evidence suggests many countries have not done enough to send back North Korean workers. There is also a tendency of changing the North Korean companies’ names to evade sanctions.
For at least a year North Korea has been at the forefront of global discussions and media coverage in light of its recent engagement with the US, even though the engagement has not helped in the denuclearization of North Korea. Similarly, there have been several rounds of talks between North Korea and South Korea. The ongoing diplomatic engagement, however, has helped reduce tensions in the Korean peninsula.