North Korea and several African countries are violating arms sanctions and – to the ire of U.S. officials – have become fast-growing trade partners, according to multiple sources and a UN report.
At least 10 African countries are said to be skirting tough UN measures by buying arms or defense training from North Korea. Pyongyang is exporting over $100 million in goods to Africa each year, according to the latest research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A UN panel is looking into whether the African nations sent millions of dollars to North Korea in exchange for arms and military training. That money, analysts say, was used by North Korea to fund its fledging missile program, which has become a growing international threat.
The UN group is looking into whether North Korea:
- Trained the presidential guard of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola;
- sold automatic weapons to Congo;
- sold arms and military radios to Eritrea;
- sold anti-aircraft missile systems to Mozambique;
- repaired and upgraded Uganda’s surface-to-air missile systems and air-defense radar;
- and sold Tanzania $12.5 million worth of military-related contracts.
The group is also looking into unspecified sanction violations by Benin, Botswana and Zimbabwe and into whether North Korea is building an intelligence-gathering center and munitions factory in Namibia.
The world body has revved up its pressure on African countries who have violated sanctions. In a report earlier this year, the UN lambasted North Korea for defying its trade sanctions.
“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication,” the world body said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that any nation with economic or military ties of any kind with North Korea “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.” The Trump administration has threatened to cut off trade or support for countries who continue to deal with North Korea.
The UN and U.S. have been particularly been concerned with Namibia’s ties to Pyongyang and for the past year have reportedly pressured the country’s leaders to cut ties with the world-threatening regime. But in Namibia, a country of 2.5 million people, North Korea has established deep roots.
But if Tillerson makes good on his threat, Namibia stands to lose $500 million in trade with the U.S. and millions of dollars in aid to fight an HIV and AIDS epidemic devastating the country.
Uganda also allegedly has such deep ties with North Korea that the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, reportedly speaks Korean.
Africa has a record of flouting UN edicts. One source told Fox News that only 7 percent of UN resolutions relating to Africa are supported by the continent.
And Africa’s ties to Pyongyang go back more than 50 years, when North Korea backed anti-colonial struggles. Mozambique, which reportedly helped free itself from Portuguese rule with North Korean assistance, has the prestigious boulevard Avenida Kim Il Sung running through the downtown area of its capital, Maputo.
“During the Congolese civil war, North Korea allegedly provided mercenaries in return for control of a uranium mine,” said Marcus Noland of Washington D.C.-based think tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “More recently, the country has been tagged (by the UN) for allegedly purchasing North Korean small arms, and hiring North Korean Special Forces.”
MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity reports that West Africa’s Burkina Faso is the biggest importer of North Korean products on the continent. About $32.8 million worth of goods were sold to the tiny country in 2015, the latest year for which figures were available. In all, MIT says 29 African countries import North Korean products.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. is committed to making sure all countries stop doing business with North Korea, no matter how large or small.
“As a part of our maximum pressure campaign,” Nauert said, “we are committed to ensuring that DPRK’s arms-related exports, assistance, training and support activities are terminated, including in Africa.”
Paul Tilsley reports on African stories for Fox News out of Johannesburg, South Africa.