Namibia entangled in global nuclear tension

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Desie Heita
Windhoek

Namibia has found herself innocently embroiled in the escalating tension over North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear armaments development, with the United Nations unable to confirm as yet whether the agreement last year to terminate commercial relations between Namibia and North Korea has been fully implemented.

The tension between Washington and Pyongyang reached new heights yesterday after a North Korean missile flew over northern Japan’s Hokkaido Island before crashing into the northern Pacific Ocean. Reacting to the news, US President Donald Trump said North Korea’s latest missile launch signals “contempt” for its neighbours and the UN.
Trump said North Korea would only increase its isolation and that “all options” were on the table, the BBC reports.

A Windhoek-based North Korean businessman and a Namibian-registered construction company were blacklisted and sanctioned by both the US Treasury and the Japanese government last week. The US and Japan imposed additional sanctions following new sanctions approved by the UN Security Council on August 22.

A report by the Panel of Experts to the UN Security Council has cast aspersions over the Namibian government’s pledge in June 2016 that the country has terminated the services of North Korean companies, and would not trade with the two North Korean companies in question, for as long as UN sanctions against Pyongyang remain in force.
The UN alleges in its report that Namibia has commissioned new projects – including defence contracts – to run throughout 2017. The projects were commissioned in the same month a special Namibian delegation informed the UN of its intention to terminate the trade relationship with North Korean firms.

Last year, Namibia’s International Relations Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, after the UN protested the country’s relations with North Korea, visited Pyongyang to inform that country’s leadership that the commercial ties that previously existed would be severed due to the provisions of international law.

The meeting, New Era reported last year, was cordial and the North Korean leadership was said to have perfectly understood the pressure under which Namibia found herself. But the latest UN report says North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Projects office in Windhoek is the majority shareholder in other Mansudae companies registered in other African countries, and continues to operate in several countries.

Mansudae, together with North Korea’s Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), are what landed Namibia in hot water with the UN in the first place. Thus, the UN sanctions of August 22 saw Namibia being thrust into the centre of the nuclear dispute which has drawn into its vortex the US, Japan and North Korea.

The US Treasury lists the Namibian-based North Korean businessman as 49-year-old Kim Tong-chol, while the North Korean corporations under sanction are Qingdao Construction Namibia and Mansudae Overseas Projects.
The US Treasury department lists Tong-chol as a resident of Windhoek’s Herbst Street and a key senior executive for Mansudae Overseas Projects, as well as its architectural and technical subsidiary.

The US Treasury department published the new list of individuals and corporations that are blacklisted from dealing with US entities last week. Two days later Japan applied sanctions on the same individuals and corporations.
Tong-chol is alleged to have made subcontracting arrangements with Qingdao Construction to take over four Namibian government-sponsored construction projects, as well as the North Korean employees and materials associated with the work.

Qingdao Construction Namibia has also bid for a number of lucrative state contracts, such as the upgrading of Walvis Bay airport.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilise the region,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told the media after the updating of the sanctions list last week.

A report issued by the UN in February expressed serious doubt over whether the Namibian government actually implemented the commitments made to the UN in June 2016.

The report said it could not confirm whether Namibia has actually terminated the services of North Korean companies Mansudae and KOMID, or that it would not trade any longer with the two entities while UN sanctions against North Korea remain in force.

“The [UN] Panel [of Experts] requested [from the Namibian government] confirmation of this termination and information on any repatriation of labourers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but has yet to receive a reply,” the final report by the panel to the Security Council notes.

The report also found that while the Namibian government professes having cut ties with Mansudae and KOMID, a Mansudae office in Windhoek continues to oversee operations and make money in other African states, through Namibia. The report points out that the Mansudae registered in Angola, is 90 percent owned by the Mansudae registered in Windhoek.

The UN’s resolution of August 22 expressly prohibits countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean labourers working abroad, bans new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures. The sanctions also ban North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood exports.
Pyongyang seems to have responded to the latest sanctions by firing off several missiles on Monday. One missile reportedly flew over Japan’s sparsely populated area of Hokkaido and broke into three parts before landing in the Pacific, about 1,180km east of the north Japanese island.

It was the latest missile tests in a series of tests by North Korea that have angered the Japanese and US governments, who said to be concerned that Pyongyang may be close to perfecting the capability to deliver nuclear-armed missiles that to the continental US.

By the time of going to print last night, the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation had not yet replied to a number of questions sent by New Era regarding the implications of the latest round of sanctions.

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