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Monday, October 16, 2006

China inspects North Korean cargo

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)- China inspected cargo trucks bound for North Korea on Monday as Australia banned the North's ships from its ports and Japan considered more sanctions to punish the reclusive nation for its proclaimed nuclear test.

The Chinese inspections at a border crossing with the North came amid concerns that Beijing would ignore a call under new U.N. sanctions for nations to check cargo leaving and arriving from North Korea.

China is a major trader with North Korea and its support is key to the success of the U.N. measures. Chinese custom officials refused say whether the inspections were prompted by the U.N. sanctions.

U.S. officials started a diplomatic swing through Asia to address possible divisions over how to impose the new sanctions. The
U.N. Security Council resolution, approved Saturday, also includes an embargo on major arms to Pyongyang and the freezing of assets of businesses linked to the North's weapons programs.

The top U.S. envoy on North Korea's nuclear program, Christopher Hill, traveled to Japan on Monday to meet with his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae.

"We want to talk about implementation of the (U.N. Security Council resolution) and other measures ... and make sure that North Korea is not able to obtain the technology or financing to continue these programs," Hill told reporters in Tokyo.

Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice was to arrive in Japan on Wednesday before traveling to
South Korea and China. She was expected to have a three-way meeting with the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers Thursday in Seoul, Japanese officials said.

Amid the diplomacy, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country had no reservations about pursuing its nuclear ambitions despite the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea. Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. of using the U.N. Security Council as a "weapon to impose its hegemony."

Japan has taken one of the hardest lines against the North. Last Friday, the Cabinet approved closing ports to North Korean ships and banning trade with the North.

On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that his country may impose more sanctions depending on how other countries respond to the U.N. measures.

Australia announced that it would go beyond the U.N. resolution by banning the North's ships from entering its ports except in dire emergencies.

"I think that will help Australia make a quite clear contribution to the
United Nations sanctions regime," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

China — North Korea's biggest trading partner — has balked at the cargo inspections, saying they would increase tensions.

But on Monday, customs inspectors examined cargo trucks bound for North Korea in the border city of Dandong. The officers opened the back of each truck but didn't open individual boxes or bags.

Last week, reporters who visited the border post didn't see inspectors open any trucks.

Spokespeople for China's General Administration of Customs in Beijing and in Shenyang, the provincial headquarters for Dandong, refused to discuss the inspections and whether they were prompted by the U.N. sanctions.

Trading companies in Dandong and another border city, Tumen, said the sanctions — and apparent stepped-up inspections — were not affecting their companies' shipments.

"Today, we just sent a batch of agricultural tools to North Korea by truck," said Huang Kelin, manager of Wanshida Trading Co., a Dandong-based firm that also has an office in Pyongyang.

The sanctions shouldn't cut off the flow of basic foodstuffs to the North, which has endured years of famine caused by bad harvests and poor economic policies.

But the U.N.'s food agency said Monday that millions of North Koreans face "real hardship" this winter due to reduced food aid from foreign donors.

South Korea, a key donor, stopped aid after the North fired a series of missiles in July. Supplies from China are one-third of last year's levels, said Mike Huggins, a WFP spokesman who just returned from a visit to North Korea.

Huggins told reporters in Beijing that at this time of year fruit and vegetables "are not available to the poorest people, and they become more reliant on food aid."

"If that food aid is not there, then there is going to be very real hardship," he added.

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