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S. Korea trying to confirm N. Koreans in S. Africa for World Cup preparations

All Headlines 10:25 March 16, 2010

SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is trying to confirm its intelligence that North Korean workers are in South Africa to help put the final touches on World Cup stadiums there, after organizers in Johannesburg denied such involvement, an official here said Tuesday.

South Korean officials and media reports said Monday North Korea has sent workers to South Africa to earn foreign currency by helping the country prepare for the upcoming World Cup finals in June.

Local organizers of the competition, however, told Yonhap News Agency that not a single North Korean is involved in such work. An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry -- which handles North Korean affairs -- said government branches are working to validate its earlier intelligence after the denial from Johannesburg.

"We're trying to confirm what the facts are," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But until we come up with a final confirmation, our intelligence stands."

South Korean intelligence officials believe the communist neighbor has sent tens of thousands of workers, including miners and lumbermen, around the world for years to earn U.S. dollars.

North Korea is a finalist in the upcoming World Cup after having qualified last year for the first time in 44 years. It will compete in it along with South Korea, which has also qualified. The divided countries remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Analysts say economic hardships in North Korea deepened after the country went ahead with its second nuclear test in May last year and drew a fresh set of U.N. sanctions. Pyongyang has declared an economic drive this year to raise living standards and improve trade.

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