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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Cambodia “shut down all” North Korean businesses and bank accounts, kicked out all workers, and complied with all other UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions by the end of 2019, the country claimed in its first implementation report to the UN regarding sanctions enforcement efforts.
The report, submitted on January 20 but only publicly released on the website of the UN 1718 Sanctions Committee on Thursday, listed 115 North Korean workers, 12 companies, eight restaurants, and the famous Angkor Panorama Museum as casualties of sanctions requirements in 2019 alone.
“Cambodia has always adhered to its firm stance of supporting non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction towards the complete elimination of these weapons,” the introduction to the report stated.
“As a responsible member of the United Nations, Cambodia has completely fulfilled its international obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and has faithfully implemented the resolutions of the Security Council on sanctions relating to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions resolutions on North Korea dating back to 2006 have required the submission of implementation reports, though most member states began complying with the requirement after new resolutions were passed in 2016 and 2017.
In compliance with UNSCR 2321 passed in 2016, Cambodia stated in the implementation report that the government “has shut down all businesses of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including restaurants and museums, operating in Cambodia.”
The process appears to have begun when the government on March 1, 2018 set up an “interministerial ad hoc working group for the inspection of all documents and the investigation of the companies and businesses of the” DPRK in relation to sanctions compliance, according to the report.
One company, Glory Worldwide Glow Co., Ltd., was issued an order to be deregistered by the Ministry of Commerce in June 2019.
11 more companies were said to have been forcefully deregistered on December 30, 2019: “Pyongyang Unhasu Co., Ltd., Sunrise Horizon Co., Ltd., U.J. Import Export Co., Ltd., The Brands Classic Co., Ltd., Mansudae New Tech Corporation Ltd., Jupic (Cambodia) Trading Co., Ltd., Haegeum River Soft Drink Shop, Sach Ang Sing Pyong, Ho Seryong Pyong Yang Arirang, Pyong Yang Traditional Noodle and Pyong Yang Restaurant.”
In addition, eight restaurants were named as having “had their tourism licenses deregistered and have been shut down” as of December 5 last year.
These were listed as the “Pyongyang Arirang Restaurant (Phnom Penh), Moranbong Restaurants (Phnom Penh), Pyongyang Unhasu Restaurant (Phnom Penh), Pyongyang (Koryo) Restaurant (Phnom Penh), Pyongyang Traditional Restaurant (Phnom Penh), Sach Ang Sing Pyong (Phnom Penh), Pyongyang Traditional Noodle (Siem Reap), [and] Friendship/Pyongyang Restaurant (Siem Reap).”
NK News reported in mid-December that several restaurants had indeed officially shut down, but a source said staff were still operating discreetly inside at least one location, the Pyongyang Restaurant in Siem Reap, despite appearing closed from the outside.
Perhaps the most high-profile North Korean business in Cambodia, the Angkor Panorama Museum (Grand Panorama) in Siem Reap Province, was also “shut down … on 4 December 2019” by the government in order to comply with sanctions.
The move came, however, almost two years after the North Korean partner — the Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies (known as the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang), which built the museum between 2013-15 — was blacklisted by the UNSC in August 2017.
NK News learned from a source who visited the site just after the government supposedly shut it down that a sign was posted at the museum stating it had “suspend[ed] business operation immediately and temporarily.”
Cambodia stated in the implementation report that the Angkor Panorama Museum was originally “established by an agreement between Mansudae New Tech Corporation Ltd. and the Authority for the Protection and Safeguarding of Angkor and the Region of Angkor and based on a build-cooperate-transfer project.”
“All assets of Angkor Panorama Museum, including technical materials as well as the building, are under the management, maintenance and protection” of the Cambodian government partners at present, it added.
DON’T BANK ON IT
The report also revealed that North Korean diplomats in the country had been closely involved in running these businesses, as is common with DPRK embassy staff working abroad.
One diplomat named Sin Chol, an Attaché to the DPRK embassy in Phnom Penh, was said in the report to have had “seven bank accounts in two different financial institutions” that had been closed by the government “since 2017.”
Public records online state that someone named Sin Chol was also co-director of the Sunrise Horizon Co., Ltd., which included in the list of those kicked out of Cambodia as part of sanctions compliance efforts.
Regarding the embassy’s activities at the end of the compliance efforts, the report stated that it “does not have any bank account in any banks or financial institutions in Cambodia.”
It also said that in compliance with UNSCR 2397 passed in 2017, “the National Bank of Cambodia has confirmed that there are no bank accounts, funds, financial assets or economic resources established or owned by [designated] individuals and entities in Cambodia.”
“Furthermore, Cambodia has never provided any financial support to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in any form,” it added.
Cambodia stated in its implementation report that it has been fully compliant with the measure requiring all North Korean workers to be repatriated by December 22 last year in accordance with a resolution passed two years prior.
After that resolution passed at the end of 2017, the Cambodian government reportedly “took measures to investigate and look back on the nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea earning income within the territory of Cambodia.”
It “found that there were 115 workers from the [DPRK] in Cambodia working in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap Province,” the report said, adding that all were repatriated as of the deadline and that orders have been distributed to prevent any further cases.
The government notice to halt the extension of work visas was only issued on November 30 last year, it said, though the government claims it stopped issuing new work authorizations in compliance with the sanctions “since 2017.”
One sign of the government’s apparent vigilance in this area came just after the worker repatriation deadline, when 16 North Korean computer programmers were found to be working illegally and ordered to leave the country in early January.
Cambodia was for years one of the key sources of North Korean vessels acquiring flags of convenience for maritime operations, as detailed in annual reports over the years by the UNSC DPRK sanctions committee’s Panel of Experts (PoE).
The country nonetheless said that it has been tackling the issue since 2015, having more broadly “decided to close down foreign ship registration” for all foreign countries that August resulting in their registry certificates expiring a year later.
Evidence has emerged in the years since, however, that the practice may not have been completely eliminated.
Regarding North Korean vessels entering Cambodian ports, regardless of whether they are sanctioned and subject to entry bans, the report said “the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia has banned the import, export, transit and trans-shipment of goods involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Despite Cambodia’s sanctions compliance detailed in the implementation report, the country has long enjoyed friendly relations with North Korea.
An exchange of high-level delegations, one led by DPRK vice foreign minister Ri Kil Song to Phnom Penh and one by Cambodia’s ruling party to Pyongyang, even took place in November just before most of the late-2019 compliance efforts were carried out.
In congratulatory letters between either the two sides’ heads of state or other top officials and in other high-level visits in recent years, the two have at least paid lip service to enhancing bilateral relations in the future.
But as a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesperson said after Ri Kil Song’s visit last November, while the country’s diplomatic ties with North Korea are strong, their trade relations remain modest.
Edited by Oliver Hotham