North Korea tells UN it has Covid-19 'under safe, stable control'

A woman speaks on a mobile phone as she rides a bus in Pyongyang on Aug 13, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - North Korea has a "reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defence" and will now focus on developing its economy, North Korea's UN Ambassador Kim Song said on Tuesday (Sept 29), though he acknowledged that international sanctions were a hindrance.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Kim also said the "anti-epidemic situation in our country is now under safe and stable control" as a result of measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

North Korea has said it has no confirmed cases, though some US officials have cast doubt on that claim.

State media said on Wednesday North Korea has discovered unspecified "faults" in its anti-epidemic measures amid controversy over the death of a South Korean man whom Pyongyang said was killed to prevent the coronavirus.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a meeting of the ruling Worker's Party's powerful politburo on Tuesday to review its anti-Covid-19 measures and discuss ways to improve them, the official KCNA news agency said.

The gathering came after a South Korean fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean soldiers at sea last week, a major incident that shocked many South Koreans.

Seoul has accused the soldiers of setting the man's body on fire after killing him, while Pyongyang said they only burned a flotation device he was using, in order to stave off any risk of coronavirus infections.

Already weighed down by tough international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, Pyongyang is also facing significant economic damage from strict border closures and other measures aimed at preventing a coronavirus outbreak and struggling to cope with damage from recent storms and flooding.

"Based on its reliable guarantee for safeguarding the security of the state and people, the DPRK is now directing all its efforts to economic construction," said Kim Song, using his country's formal name - Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It is a matter of fact that we badly need an external environment favourable for economic construction," he said.

"But, we cannot sell off our dignity just in a hope for brilliant transformation - the dignity which we have defended as valuable as our own life. This is our steadfast position."

He said North Korea was still being threatened by military hardware like stealth fighters being used on the Korean Peninsula and "nuclear strike means of all kinds are directly aimed at the DPRK."

"Genuine peace can only be safeguarded when one possesses the absolute strength to prevent war itself," Kim said.

"As we have obtained the reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defence by tightening our belts, peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region are now firmly defended."

Independent UN sanctions monitors reported to the UN Security Council in August that North Korea was pressing on with its nuclear weapons programme and several countries believe it has "probably developed miniaturised nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles."

Mr Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have met three times since 2018, but failed to make progress on US calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea's demands for an end to sanctions.

North Korea's ruling party plans a congress in January to decide a new five-year plan, state media reported last month, after a party meeting noted serious delays in improving the national economy and living standards.

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