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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 13)

All News 07:03 August 13, 2018

Violation of sanctions
Three local firms imported North Korean coal

The Moon Jae-in government has laid bare the truth about allegations that North Korea exported coal to South Korea after transshipping it at Russian ports. Three domestic trading firms brought in 35,038 tons of North Korean coal and pig iron worth 6.6 billion won ($5.86 million) in seven shipments between April and October last year.

On Friday, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) announced the finding _ an inconvenient truth that the liberal administration had to accept belatedly after 10 months of investigation. Yet the discovery is unlikely to end the controversy over how the authorities failed to detect and prevent the coal and pig iron imports. Conservative opposition parties are calling for a National Assembly probe into the government's poor handling of the cases.

The announcement shows the South's disdain for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2371 that was adopted in August 2017 to punish the North for test-firing intercontinental ballistic missiles. The resolution bans the Stalinist country from exporting coal, iron ore and other minerals.

For starters, South Korea will inevitably lose its credibility in enforcing international sanctions. It should not have created any loophole in the sanctions regime. Regrettably, the South has emerged as a violator of the U.N. resolution. This might have negative implications for the denuclearization and peace process on the peninsula.

The Seoul government should not dismiss the violations as only a simple scheme in which the domestic firms sought to profit from the illegal imports. The KCS referred the firms to the prosecutors' office for allegedly forging customs documents and bringing in North Korean materials. They were found to have transshipped the materials at Kholmsk and other Russian ports, and to have manipulated documents to look as if the imports originated from Russia.

Those firms should be subject to harsh punishment for violating the U.S.-led sanctions. But the government should not close the case by holding only the importers culpable. It must try to find why it took such a long time for the KCS to conclude its investigation after getting tips from the U.S. last October.

The authorities need to take punitive action against anyone found responsible for the failure to detect the illegal activities as well as the delay in the probe.

On Saturday, the government decided to ban four vessels, which carried the coal and pig iron to the South, from visiting the country's ports. The ships are the Jin Long and the Shining Rich both registered with Belize, the Sierra Leone-flagged Rich Glory and the Panama-registered Sky Angel.

It is necessary to prepare for possible independent U.S. sanctions, or a secondary boycott against some domestic entities, including Korea South-East Power Co., which purchased and used the coal to generate power. Seoul officials are playing down the possibility of such punishment, but they should not be too optimistic because the U.S. Congress might try to take some action.

Most of all, the Moon administration should go all-out to prevent such a breach of U.N. sanctions happening again. It should not spare any effort to restore its credibility in faithfully implementing them. It also needs to step up cooperation with the U.S. and other allies in achieving the shared goal of denuclearizing the North.

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