12/18/2018, 13.41
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More than a thousand North Korean deserters fled this year

Since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2012, about 1,000-1,500 North Koreans have left the country each year. Between January and November 2018, Seoul has authorised several humanitarian missions in the North, including drugs, milk powder and flour worth US$ 4.15 million. The North slams new US sanctions that threaten “denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula”. South Korea is trying to mediate. New talks are set with the US.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Between January and November of this year, 1,042 North Koreans have defected to South Korea, the country’s Unification Ministry announced today, a figure in line with the that of last year, when 1,045 people fled the North during the same period of time.

Since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2012, about 1,000-1,500 North Koreans have left the country each year. According to South Korean government data, the number of North Korean deserters living in the South reached 32,381 at the end of November.

The Unification Ministry also provided data on South Korea’s humanitarian commitments to the North. Between January and November 2018, Seoul authorised 14 separate missions. Six civic groups delivered 4.7 billion won (US$ 4.15 million) worth of tuberculosis drugs, milk powder and flour.

Last year, South Korea announced a US$ 8 million assistance plan for North Korea through international humanitarian groups, but the plan has yet to be implemented.

It was put on hold pending developments in denuclearisation talks with the North and international sanctions against Pyongyang, South Korean media reported.

Sanctions and denuclearisation are the cause of the latest tensions between North Korea and the United States. Pyongyang slammed the latest US punitive measures announced on 10 December against three senior North Korean officials.

Issued for violation of human rights, sanctions will hit the US assets of Chloe Ryong-hae, Kim Jong-un's right-hand man; Security Minister Jong Kyong-thaek and propaganda official Pak Kwang-ho.

In a statement, North Korea expressed "shock and indignation" at the new US sanctions, which could "block the path to denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula forever”.

North Korean authorities also accused the US state department of being "bent on bringing... relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire".

For Pyongyang, the US policy of "maximum pressure" would be its "greatest miscalculation" and that it should instead return to the confidence building that was hoped for following the Singapore summit between the leaders of the two countries.

In light of the new tensions, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced fresh talks with Washington.

Stephen Biegun, the US special representative on North Korea policy, is scheduled to start a four-day visit to South Korea tomorrow. He will discuss various issues related to North Korea, including inter-Korean relations, as well as coordinate strategies for "substantive progress" in efforts toward denuclearisation and peace.

South Korea is trying to maintain the momentum of dialogue hoping that better relations with Pyongyang will facilitate the process.

In fact, the two Koreas are still engaged in steps to reduce tensions. Next week they will hold a highly symbolic ceremony to start work to upgrade and reconnect cross-border roads and railway tracks.

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