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(News Focus) Can N. Korean footballer join Serie A amid sanctions?

All Headlines 08:42 March 07, 2017

ROME, March 7 (Yonhap) -- Whether a talented North Korean striker can make a debut in the top Italian professional football league Serie A is of great interest here as the issue has something to do with U.N. sanctions on a series of North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

According to local news outlets, including soccer specialist website "gianlucadimarzio.com," Cagliari FC in Sardinia, Italy, is likely to sign a contract with North Korean attacker Han Kwang-song in a few days at the earliest.

The Serie A club has been testing the 18-year-old player since the end of January and evaluated him highly.

Han, who had once trained at a football academy in Spain, showed his capability at the U-17 FIFA World Cup in Chile in 2015, with the British newspaper "The Guardian" choosing him that year as one of the world's top 50 players who was born in 1998.

Han also left powerful impressions by leading his team through his outstanding skills to the final of the AFC U-16 Championship in Thailand in September 2014, where it faced South Korea for a historical derby. It was the first time that the two Koreas competed in a final game of the tournament.

North Korean striker Han Kwang-song (front) is vying for the ball in the final against South Korea at the AFC U-16 Championship in Thailand on Sept. 20, 2014. (Yonhap)

Local media recently said that Han, who was the captain of the North Korean youth team, is a player who is endowed with both talent and strong character and whom such renowned football clubs as Liverpool FC in the Premier League and Fiorentina in Serie A had their eyes on.

He proved his real merits to all of the Cagliari officials during his month-long tryouts, according to the news outlets.

Amid his favorable performance reviews, however, "The Sardinian Union," a leading daily in Sardinia, recently reported that the Italian parliament has sent its government a questionnaire, calling for a review on whether Han's contract with Cagliari can constitute a violation of U.N. sanctions on the North.

"The advance of a North Korean player into Serie A, one of the world's prestigious professional leagues, will be a clear-cut evidence of violating the international community's sanctions on North Korea, and means that a player whose human rights and freedom are guaranteed at the lowest level is to stay in Italy," the questionnaire said.

The North Korean regime is sending laborers abroad to rake in a considerable amount of foreign currency, and yet they are believed to receive just part of their wages while their basic rights are being restricted, the document said.

The parliament asked the government to clearly find out whether rights of North Korean players active in Italy are properly guaranteed and whether their salaries are funneled into the Pyongyang regime.

The parliament sent a similar questionnaire to the government in May last year in relation to another North Korean striker Choe Song-hyok's entry into Fiorentina's youth team in February.

The government did not make an official reply to the questionnaire at that time, but Fiorentina discharged Choe and 14 other North Korean players all at once right after it was sent to the government. Speculation rose that the football club might have taken the step under pressure surrounding a controversy over a breach of international sanctions.

Local sources said chances are not low that Han's contract will have the brakes put on it in any way because the international community's stance on the North Korean regime is tougher than any other time especially in the wake of the regime's alleged assassination of Kim Jong-nam, a half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in Kuala Lumpur early last month.

Moreover, Italy is in a position to set an example in sanctions on the North as it is the chair of the U.N. Security Council's committee on sanctions on the socialist country for this year, the sources said.

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