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U.S. imposes sanctions on two North Korean entities over labour export

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two North Korean entities that it said are involved in sending North Koreans to work abroad in violation of United Nations sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the Namgang Trading Corp, or NTC, and the China-based North Korean lodging facility Beijing Sukbakso, even as Washington tries to revive stalled talks to persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea has been flouting a U.N. Security Council resolution that mandated that all countries repatriate North Korean labourers by the end of last year to stop them from earning hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s government, the Treasury Department said.

“The exportation of North Korean workers raises illicit revenue for the government of North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The department did not specify to which countries North Korea has continued to send workers. But it said that in 2018, NTC had workers in Russia, Nigeria and numerous unidentified Middle Eastern countries.

Beijing Sukbakso was blacklisted for allegedly providing support to NTC and Namgang Construction, which was designated in 2016 for exporting workers to countries in the Middle East and Asia, the Treasury Department said.

The sanctions imposed on Monday freeze any U.S. assets of NTC and Beijing Sukbakso and generally prohibit Americans from doing business with them. They come at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Pyongyang has expressed frustration at what it calls Washington’s lack of flexibility in the denuclearisation talks and warned that it would no longer be bound by a self-declared moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing.

U.S. officials say North Korea must take more concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs before sanctions are eased.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful North Korea would make the right decision.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis