Using satellite imagery across the years, including most recently from March 2019, U.S. experts said there is evidence coal has been moving out of North Korea despite the restrictions on exports placed on the regime by the United Nations Security Council.
The number of ore cars, used to transport loose bulk commodities such as coal or ore, grew momentarily in 2018 but declined in 2019, analysts said.
"Their numbers grew briefly in February 2018, when 30 to 50 ore cars were observed on three successive images, all empty. By May 4, 2018, and continuing through March 23, 2019, the numbers decreased again with only a dozen or fewer probable ore cars observed at a time, although there were tens of passenger and box cars seen throughout this period," the report states.
North Korea coal may have been crossing into Russia as well, despite restrictions.
"The coal stores on quays [in Rajin, North Korea] have remained constant and significant in volume. No coal trains were observed at the adjacent rail spur during this period either, although unlike cargo ships which may take several days to load, trains can load and unload quickly, and therefore, are more fleeting," the report states.
38 North included an image of "probably coal on quays at Rajin," taken on Feb. 8, 2019.
Coal stocks also began rising in "other quays" after the passage of U.N. sanctions resolutions and a South Korean decision to ban ships that had previously docked in North Korea.
The report comes at a time when Pyongyang's propaganda is berating the South, following the collapse of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam.
Uriminzokkiri said Tuesday the United States and South Korea are turning to military pressure through joint combat search and rescue exercises, including Pacific Thunder.
In March, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said two U.S. Air Force B-52 bombers had flown near the Korean Peninsula.