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Report: North Korea mine struggling as sanctions squeeze regime

By Elizabeth Shim
Report: North Korea mine struggling as sanctions squeeze regime
North Korea's iron ore industry is being squeezed by international sanctions, according to a South Korean press report. File Photo by Yonhap

Feb. 21 (UPI) -- North Korean laborers at a large mine in northeastern North Korea have given up hope the regime will deliver on promises of trade revitalization owing to ongoing corruption and "smuggling" activities.

United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions have hit Musan mine, one of the largest iron ore reserves in the country, Daily NK reported Wednesday.

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The South Korean press report included images of a village near the mine, taken by Daily NK's source, showing a pile of iron accumulated in an abandoned field.

China, North Korea's largest trading partner, has banned North Korean iron ore exports.

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North Korea's response to international sanctions has been to call on ordinary people to "support" the Musan mine, the report states.

But the people's impoverishment is affecting morale, and the government has been unable to elicit a positive response to their plans, according to a source in North Hamgyong Province.

"Recently from on high [the authorities] issued an order to actively support the Musan mine," the source said. "But in the case of Yonsa and Musan counties, complaints like, 'I have enough trouble finding food', are emerging, because there are so many households that can only afford to eat two meals a day."

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The report did not clarify whether ordinary people in the area were struggling with food procurement owing to sanctions, or because the regime was denying them access to food.

Smuggling of the iron ore is rampant, the source said.

The state additionally requested Rajin, Sonbong city residents to bring in funds to support the mine in Musan, but they are struggling to make ends meet owing to "economic closures" in their cities.

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Rajin, sometimes spelled Najin, was previously declared a special economic zone during the rule of Kim Jong Il.

South Korean politicians are crediting sanctions for imposing the right kind of pressure against North Korea that may have played a role in their recently cooperative behavior at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Rep. Kang Seok-ho of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said Wednesday if the current level of economic pressure continues, North Korea's dollar reserves will be depleted by October, Yonhap reported.

Kang, who chairs South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee, said détente is the direct results of the sanctions.

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