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Oil to Kaesong may violate UN prohibitions

Aug 23,2018
South Korea transported more than 80,000 tons of petroleum products into the North’s border town of Kaesong from June to July for a planned inter-Korean liaison office, an opposition lawmaker said Tuesday, which could violate United Nations sanctions.

The shipment was made as Washington continues to urge the international community not to ease sanctions on Pyongyang before it achieves final, fully verified denuclearization.

Citing an unnamed U.S. official, the local Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Monday that setting up the communications office could risk violating sanctions that have drawn North Korea back to the negotiating table.

A South Korean government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Tuesday that Seoul didn’t need approval from the United Nations Security Council to ship the goods into the North because they were going to be used by South Koreans working in the office, which Seoul is aiming to open by the end of this month.

The fuel, which will be used for electricity generation, didn’t provide the North with any economic benefit, the official stressed.

Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Wednesday that the liaison office was a “small issue” between Seoul and Washington, two days after he said it was his “knowledge” that the U.S. expressed “understanding” of South Korea’s stance.

“There are 24 embassies in Pyongyang,” said Kim. “Opening a liaison office in Kaesong is a much smaller step than establishing an embassy. Things have to develop for [the South] to officially open an embassy in Pyongyang. It’s just such a small issue to be deciding what’s right and wrong in [something] like a joint liaison office.”

Rep. Cheong Yang-seok from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, an assistant administrator of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee who revealed Seoul’s transfer of petroleum products to Kaesong, said he thinks Seoul went too far.

“Even if [the fuel] is used by South Koreans,” said Cheong, “the liaison office is in North Korea, which makes this a problem.” The lawmaker said Seoul’s decision to send the petroleum to the North was “hasty” because negotiations on the office and whether it violates international sanctions haven’t been settled conclusively with the United States.

Citing data from the Korea Customs Service, Cheong said South Korea shipped 82,918 kilograms (182,802 pounds) of oil and diesel worth some 103 million won ($92,000) to North Korea from June to July. Of that amount, 1,095 kilograms worth 1 million won were sent back to South Korea, meaning 81,823 kilograms were consumed in the North.

According to Cheong, 180 kilograms went toward assisting repairs of a hall in the Mount Kumgang resort, which is being used for group meetings in this week’s inter-Korean family reunions. The remaining 81,643 kilograms went to Kaesong. South Korea’s shipment to Mount Kumgang was already exempted by the UN.

UN Security Council Resolution 2397, passed last December, reads that all UN member states should prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of all refined petroleum products in the aggregate amount of up to 500,000 barrels annually. Washington believes the North already imported more than that limit in the first half of this year.

BY YOO JEE-HYE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]