Easing of North Korea sanctions has limited effect

Easing of North Korea sanctions has limited effect

One month after Japan's lifting of some sanctions against North Korea, the effect has been minimal.

After North Korea established its Special Investigation Committee to seek information regarding abducted Japanese nationals, and launched its probe, Japan lifted some sanctions.

Though bans on traveling between Japan and North Korea were lifted, it is still prohibited to send goods to North Korea except for humanitarian purposes.

A source close to Japan-North Korea relations said, "Exchanges between Japan and North Korea have not seen any significant changes."

The Japanese government lifted some sanctions on July 4 to coincide with the establishment of the North Korean special committee. The main sanctions lifted were travel between the two countries, and the obligation to report the transfer of funds and cash to North Korea.

It has also become possible for North Korean ships to enter Japanese ports to load goods for humanitarian purposes.

But a ban on entry for the North Korean passenger-cargo ship Mangyongbong continues. The ship sailed between Japan and North Korea until 2006.

Due to the partial lifting of sanctions, senior members of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) are now allowed to reenter Japan after traveling to North Korea.

Ko Dok U, chairman of Chongryon's western Tokyo regional headquarters in Akishima, Tokyo, who had been on the banned list, travelled to North Korea in late July. Ko reportedly said he was to visit his relatives.

Travel restrictions on Japanese nationals who wanted to visit North Korea were also lifted. Six Japanese Diet members, including House of Councillors member Antonio Inoki, visited the country from July 10 to 14, and met with Kang Sok Ju, a secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea.

However, items allowed to be sent to North Korea are limited to humanitarian goods, such as food, clothing and medicine. But the rules on these goods are set out in a very detailed way. For example, if the goods are sweaters, the number is limited to four.

The partial lifting of the sanctions does not appear to have had a substantial effect on the domestic situation in North Korea, which reportedly faces a severe shortage of goods.

Sources close to the issue said that travel to North Korea by Korean residents in Japan has not increased because of high airfares.

In Japan-North Korea negotiations, North Korean representatives persistently sought for the ban on Mangyongbong's entry to Japanese ports to be lifted, but Japanese representatives refused.

It is suspected the ship was used to illegally export missile parts and for covert actions against Japan, such as the transport of North Korean agents' contacts.

A source in the Japanese government said, "The ban on the ship is a symbol of the sanctions imposed on North Korea and therefore cannot be lifted easily."

It is likely that North Korea will submit its first investigation report on the abduction and other issues to Japan in early September.

But one Japanese government official said, "North Korea may report the results of its investigation little by little in the hope of lifting the ban on Mangyongbong."

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