UN Council hits N. Korea with sanctions over rocket launch

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations (UN) Security Council on Tuesday unanimously ordered new sanctions against North Korea for a banned rocket launch last month and threatened "significant action" if it stages a nuclear test.

North Korea's space agency, a bank, four trading companies and four individuals were added to the UN sanctions list for an assets freeze and travel ban.

The resolution, proposed by the United States (US), "condemned" North Korea for what it said was a "ballistic missile technology" test on Dec 12.

The North, already under tough UN sanctions for nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, said the launch was to put a satellite in space.

The US and China held weeks of top-level negotiations over the international response before the resolution was submitted to the council for a vote.

The US government had sought tough measures against Pyongyang, while China has sought to shield its ally against sanctions.

After the sanctions were passed, US ambassador Susan Rice said the resolution was a sign that North Korea will have "an increasingly steep price" to pay if it chooses confrontation with the international community.

China's UN envoy Li Baodong called for greater diplomatic efforts to halt North Korea's weapons programme, which is a major concern to neighbouring South Korea and Japan.

The Security Council demanded that the North suspend "all activities related to its ballistic missile programme" and resume a moratorium on missile launches.

It also demanded that the North "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner." The council "expresses its determination to take significant action in the event of a further DPRK (North Korea) launch or nuclear test," added the resolution.

The Korean Committee for Space Technology, the government agency which organized the rocket launch, topped the list of new bodies sanctioned.

The list also included Bank of East Land, which the resolution said had been used to transfer funds to "in a manner that circumvents sanctions" and had dealt with banks in Iran that also face UN sanctions.

Korea Kumryong Trading Corporation, Tosong Technology Trading Corporation, Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation and Leader (Hong Kong) International were also added to the list.

All were accused of procuring equipment for North Korea's nuclear and missile development or of exporting and dealing in arms.

The four individuals placed on the list were all involved in North Korea's technology development or bank officials. The resolution deplored the North's use of "bulk cash" to avoid sanctions.

"This resolution demonstrates to North Korea that there are unanimous and significant consequences for its flagrant violation" of previous resolutions, US envoy Rice told reporters.

She said the new measures would "concretely help to impede the growth of North Korea's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program and reduce the threat of proliferation."

She said the US wanted "credible negotiations" with North Korea but warned the resolution "makes clear that there will be an increasingly steep price to pay if North Korea again chooses confrontation with this council and the international community."

China's UN ambassador Li said that despite his country's support for the resolution, the Security Council had to be "prudent, measured, proportionate, conducive to peace and stability." He told reporters there had to be new efforts to start "the diplomatic track and avoid the escalation of tension." China has been trying to revive moribund six-nation talks on the North's nuclear programme.

South Korea, a temporary member of the council since Jan 1, strongly welcomed the resolution.