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Countries in Region Say Few North Koreans Remain as UN Deadline Nears

BenarNews staff
Washington
2019-12-18
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North Koreans walk from their embassy in Kuala Lumpur prior to its closing, March 15, 2017.
North Koreans walk from their embassy in Kuala Lumpur prior to its closing, March 15, 2017.
AP

Updated at 6:11 p.m. ET on 2019-12-20

Officials in Southeast and South Asian nations say they have few North Koreans living within their boundaries, as a deadline by the U.N. Security Council for member-states to repatriate workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is set to expire on Sunday.

A Security Council resolution passed on Dec. 22, 2017, gave United Nations member-states two years to send DPRK citizens home and it banned North Korean workers from receiving new work visas from other countries.

In the resolution, the council acknowledged that “revenue generated from DPRK workers overseas, among others, contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” which are under U.N. sanctions.

In Thailand, an official reported that only 68 North Koreans had work visas, including six who received them this year. Elsewhere, the number was even smaller.

“In principle, Thailand will not extend old [permits] or give new work permits to North Korean workers. We cooperate with the U.N. – no more visas so there should not be a problem,” Suchart Pornchaiwisetkul, director-general of the Department of Employment, told BenarNews.

A foreign ministry spokesman said Thailand adhered to the U.N. resolution while police Lt. Gen. Sompong Chingduang, the head of the Immigration Bureau, said he did not know about the deadline.

In Malaysia, officials did not comment on North Koreans in their country, but government figures show that most of them left shortly after the February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader, at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

Following Kim’s death, about 300 North Koreans working in mines in eastern Sarawak state were sent home and a North Korean restaurant in Kuala Lumpur closed.

In September, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed in an interview with BenarNews that Malaysia was planning to reopen its embassy in Pyongyang.

Indonesia appeared to be affected by Kim’s killing as well when a North Korean-owned restaurant in Jakarta closed that year. One of two suspects in Kim’s killing, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, saw charges against her dismissed earlier this year before she quickly flew to Jakarta.

A foreign ministry spokesman said no migrant workers from North Korea were left in Indonesia.

“I have received information that no North Korean nationals are registered as working in Indonesia, except those working at the North Korean embassy,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews.

In Bangladesh, an official said the migrant workers had departed years ago.

“The government position is we will fully abide by the U.N. resolution on North Korea,” Nahida Sobhan told BenarNews. “Since the adoption of the U.N. resolution in 2017, we have not issued any visas to North Korean workers.”

Sobhan, the director general of the United Nations wing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said a North Korean company had been involved in a mining project in Madhyapara but left when Bangladesh did not renew its contract.

Meanwhile, China and Russia on Monday issued a draft resolution calling for the U.N. Security Council to ease restrictions on North Koreans working overseas, Reuters news agency reported.

No action has been taken on the resolution.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka, Tia Asmara in Jakarta, Muzliza Mustafa in Kuala Lumpur and Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version wrongly reported that Malaysia's prime minister in 2018 had announced plans to reopen Pyongyang's embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

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