11/03/2006, 00.00
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Pyongyang offers slaves in exchange for Russian oil

Primorsky city exports more than four million dollars worth of oil per year to North Korea. In exchange, it receives "forced labour at zero cost", the only currency that the regime of Kim Jong-il has left.

Primorsky (AsiaNews) – The North Korean government is paying for oil imported from Russia by dispatching forced labour at zero cost since it has no other way to pay in goods or services. This was confirmed by the investigations of independent journalists, a professor of the Far Eastern Research Centre of Vladivostok and members of the Russian government.

According to statistics of the local administration of Primorsky city, Pyongyang's oil imports increased from 62,000 dollars in 2001 to 4.4 million dollars last year.

An expert who lives in North Korea, anonymous for security reasons, said: "The city from where the oil is coming does not have its own energy resources. It exports oil to North Korea on behalf of the federal government of Moscow and in compensation receives labour instead of money due to North Korean incapability of making payments."

Thus, the number of North Koreans who have received a "working visa" for Russia has increased, with more than 5,000 just over this past year. This openness is contrary to local government policy that restricted foreigners' entry until 2002.

Asked about the matter, an official from the Russian municipality replied: "We have limited the number of labour permits for foreign workers as this means taking away employment from Russian workers." The official said he did not know anything about the recent growth of the North Korean community because "the person in charge is away at the moment."

Professor Larisha Jabrobskaja, of the Far Eastern Research Center in Vladivostok, said: "Pyongyang has been suffering from a chronic trade deficit since the 1990s. So it is sending its labour abroad in exchange for necessary materials like oil."

Most North Koreans sent to Russia work as woodcutters but some have also managed to work in fields like construction, agricultural and marine industry. However, local Russians in Primorsky say they "are always disadvantaged and suffer discrimination when they search for jobs and lodging."

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