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View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A special envoy of the Namibian president has since Friday been on an official state visit to North Korea, despite recently confirming Pyongyang’s involvement in the construction of a Namibian munitions factory in probable contravention of UN sanctions.
Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah’s weekend meetings with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and titular head of state Kim Yong Nam focused on talks related to the development of “friendly and cooperative relations … and other issues of mutual concern,” state media outlet the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Sunday.
But the visit, which also included a reception and visits to prominent propaganda sites around Pyongyang, has drawn concern from those monitoring the implementation of UN sanctions designed to prevent military cooperation between North Korea and other countries.
In March, Nandi-Ndaitwah herself confirmed that Namibia had – among other deals – contracted North Korea to build a munitions factory, military academy and a new headquarters for its ministry of defense, but refuted that UN sanctions had been broken.
However, a UN Panel of Expert (PoE) report in February suggested the transfer of military services in deals worth an estimated $335 million constituted a possible sanctions breach, something an NK News investigation subsequently echoed in April.
Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea specialist affiliated with Troy University, asked Monday whether the Namibian visit was therefore scheduled to “sever ties and wrap things up … (or to) explore ways to circumvent the sanctions?”
“Of course, North Korea wants to carry on with business,” he said.
“But if Namibia seeks to continue military-to-military cooperation, it could end up being a costly miscalculation … (which could) test the international community’s will to enforce the sanctions regime, which Pyongyang seeks to undermine.”
North Korea sanctions specialist Joshua Stanton, who runs the One Free Korea website, said while “not all diplomatic interactions with North Korea are prohibited,” Nandi-Ndaitwah’s denial of previous sanctions violations was “spurious.”
“Either Ms. Nandi-Ndaitwah hasn’t read the resolutions or has chosen to defy them,” he said, warning that the U.S. should be prepared to take further steps.
“If strong diplomatic appeals fail to bring that violation to an end, the State and Treasury Departments should act swiftly to sanction the North Korean and Namibian entities involved under section 104(a) of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act.”
For its part, Namibian media has yet to report on the goals of Nandi-Ndaitwah’s trip, with precedent suggesting DPRK state media being unlikely to reveal further details about discussions.
Notably, the meeting comes following sustained South Korean efforts to convince traditional allies of North Korea in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean to end or reduce their ties with Pyongyang, a goal pursued following the North’s fourth nuclear test and satellite launch earlier this year.
North Korea and Namibia have a long history of diplomatic and military cooperation, with Pyongyang providing significant support to the Namibian military during its war of independence.
Then North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong last visited Namibia in June last year, meeting President Hage Geingob and Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa Amadhila.
KCNA said at the time that the two countries agreed to “bolster up ties” following the visit.
Main picture: KCNA