March 14, 2019 10:20
North Korea continued to produce raw materials for nuclear weapons last year even amid a flurry of diplomacy with South Korea and the U.S., according to a report by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea on Tuesday.
The report says the Yongbyon 5 MW reactor has been in normal operation since December 2015, though it temporarily suspended operations for a few days in February, March, and April in 2018.
"It seems the North temporarily suspended operations of the Yongbyon reactor during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, during a special South Korean envoy's visit to Pyongyang in March, and during the inter-Korean summit at the border truce village of Panmunjom in April last year," a researcher with a think tank here explained.
But according to the report, "In November 2018, a member state informed [the committee] that the reactor's operation had been suspended from September to October 2018 and that the discharge of spent fuel rods could have taken place during those two months."
The committee said it is probing organizations and individuals in Asia who secretly supplied centrifuges for the North to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
It "observed the removal of spoil piles in Pyongsan in 2018," where there is a uranium mine, "which indicates that mining may be ongoing," adding it "observed no significant change around the possible uranium enrichment facility in Kangson during the reporting period, except for the periodic movement of oversize trucks."
The New York Times on Sunday speculated that the North produced enough nuclear materials to make about six nuclear weapons between the first and second summits with the U.S.
Apart from the Yongbyon facility, the North is also assembling missiles at civilian plants or non-military facilities, the committee said, apparently to guard against targeted strikes against official nuclear and missile facilities.
Meanwhile, the report accuses North Korea of stealing US$571 million in Asia by hacking cryptocurrency exchanges on at least five occasions between January 2017 and September 2018.
The regime also trafficked arms with some 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East to evade international sanctions.
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