09/24/2004, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Atomic Agency calls on Pyongyang to again allow inspections

South Korean company sold materials that can be used in chemical weapons to North Korea.

Vienna (AsiaNews/Agencies) – By a unanimous resolution of its 137-member general conference in Vienna today, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on North Korea to allow the return of its inspectors and "to promptly accept comprehensive IAEA safeguards and co-operate with the agency in their full and effective implementation." The IAEA had made the same request last year. North Korea –which has never been shy about its nuclear ambitions– had expelled inspectors in 2000 and withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation treaty in early 2003.

It has also been officially confirmed that North Korea obtained materials from South Korean companies that could be used in chemical weapons production. A top official in the South Korean Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy revealed that a "company was found to have exporter 107 tons of sodium cyanide to North Korea through China [. . .] last year." It was also reported that another inquiry was under way into the shipment of 40 tons of sodium cyanide, including 15 tons originating in South Korea, to North Korea.

Sodium cyanide is highly toxic chemical that has industrial uses, but that can be used in making nerve gas. It is on South Korea's list of strategic goods that cannot be exported without a government permit to "high risk countries", among them North Korea.

The high official did not identify the name of the company involved, but said that one of its executives was charged, tried and sentenced to a jail term.

In so doing the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy finally admitted what it had hitherto denied confirming press reports that unlawful trade with North Korea had been going on for some time.

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