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23 countries host N. Korean laborers: State Department report

All Headlines 01:30 August 31, 2016

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- Nearly two dozen countries around the world host North Korean laborers that the communist regime is accused of forcing into harsh working conditions to earn hard currency for its nuclear and missile programs, a U.S. State Department report showed Tuesday.

The list of 23 countries, including China, Russia, Singapore and Thailand, was included in the department's recent report to Congress that details U.S. strategy to promote initiatives to enhance international awareness of and address the human rights situation in the North.

Yonhap News Agency obtained the Aug. 24-dated report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It was believed to be the most comprehensive list of countries hosting North Korean workers that the U.S. government has ever put together. The list could put pressure on those countries to end such practices at a time when labor export has become an increasingly important source of hard currency for Pyongyang.

The 23 countries are Angola, Burma, Cambodia, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Laos, Poland, Malaysia, Malta, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.

About 50,000-60,000 North Koreans are believed to be toiling overseas, mainly in the mining, logging, textile and construction industries. The average wage was stated as USD$120 to $150 per month, but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the North's government.

The North reportedly receives more than $100 million from this system per year.

They are also reportedly forced to work usually between 12 and 16 hours, and sometimes up to 20 hours, per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Health and safety measures are often inadequate, and workers are given insufficient food.

The report is the latest in a series of measures by Washington to increase pressure on Pyongyang over its human rights record. In July, the U.S. imposed its first-ever sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for his role in the country's human rights violations.

"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is one of the world's most repressive countries," the State Department said in the latest report. "The government seeks to dominate all aspects of its citizens' lives, and it restricts the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, religion, peaceful assembly, association and movement."

The department outlined its strategy for addressing the situation in the North, largely in three categories: efforts to promote international awareness of the abuses in the North, including helping defectors to share their experiences; providing outside information to North Korean people; and promoting accountability among North Korean officials.

"Those responsible for serious human rights violations in the DPRK must be held accountable," the department said. "While full accountability is a long-term goal, we continue to seek opportunities to promote accountability and to remind DPRK officials that they will be held responsible for their actions."

July's U.S. blacklisting of North Korean leader Kim and his aides was part of such efforts, it said.

The department vowed to "continue to collect and evaluate information with the goal of identifying more individuals, at all levels, associated with human rights abuses."

In a section about countries that forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees, the report only said that there were reports this year that North Korean refugees were arrested in Vietnam and handed over to Chinese authorities, and that non-governmental organizations continue to report that repatriations took place along the China-North Korea border.

North Korea has long been labeled as one of the worst human rights violators. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.

But the North has bristled at such criticism, calling it a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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