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Old 11th April 2007, 02:38 AM
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Korea's funds freed.

North Korea funds freed, says US

SEOUL: The United States said on Tuesday that Macau authorities have unblocked funds in frozen North Korean accounts, and told Pyongyang it must now start shutting down a nuclear reactor days before a deadline.

The reclusive state has insisted it will only close the reactor, which supplies it with weapons-grade plutonium, once $25 million dollars in funds linked to North Korean interests and frozen since 2005 in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia are freed.

Under an international deal agreed two months ago to end its nuclear weapons program, North Korea has until Saturday to start shutting down its Yongbyon atomic plant.

“I will let the Macanese authorities speak to how they want to put it but the bottom line is that they have unblocked these accounts and the account holders can -authorised account holders can -withdraw the funds from those accounts,” US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

A Macau Monetary Authority official said only that there would be an announcement of some kind within a “few days”. The funds were frozen after Washington accused the Macau bank of being involved in money laundering.

Furious that the money still had not been freed, North Korea walked out of a round of six-country talks on its nuclear program in March, five months after its first atomic test.

The US announcement came as top US officials visited both sides of the divided Korean peninsula. “I think we’ve reached a very important day today with the imminent release of these funds,” chief US nuclear negotiator Chris Hill said in Seoul. “Now we need to move on from this banking issue to the real purpose of our February agreement, which is to get on with denuclearisation.”

Meanwhile Japan decided on Tuesday to extend sanctions on North Korea set last October after it conducted a nuclear test, as doubts grew over whether Pyongyang can close a nuclear reactor by a mid-April deadline. reuters
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