US sanctions three North Korean officials over human rights

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said Monday (Dec 10) it was imposing sanctions on three senior North Korean officials over human rights abuses, despite President Donald Trump's efforts to woo the regime into a denuclearisation accord.

The sanctioned officials include Choe Ryong Hae, who has been considered a right-hand man to leader Kim Jong Un.

The Treasury Department said it was taking action against "North Korea's reprehensible treatment" of its citizens in accordance with a 2016 US law that requires sanctions over rights abuses.

"The United States has consistently condemned the North Korean regime for its flagrant and egregious abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and this administration will continue to take action against human rights abusers around the globe," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The orders - announced on the UN-backed Human Rights Day - include the seizure of any assets of the three officials in the United States and a ban on any US-based financial transactions with them.

Such restrictions may have little immediate impact on officials in one of the world's most closed countries but will have a clear symbolic impact as North Korea seeks greater acceptance by the United States.

Kim and Trump held a first-of-a-kind summit in June in Singapore as North Korea seeks a historic declaration of the end of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.

Choe is one of the closest aides to Kim and has been described in the past as the effective number-two in controlling the military.

He is often trusted to conduct foreign policy or make high-profile announcements. At a major military parade last year, he warned that North Korea was ready to "beat down enemies with the power of nuclear justice." The Treasury Department noted that Choe is head of the ruling Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department, which enforces ideological discipline and ensures that all officials keep in line.

Another of the officials targeted is Jong Kyong Thaek, the minister of state security. According to a State Department report submitted to Congress, Jong directs censorship as well as human rights violations by the ministry, which is the regime's chief counterintelligence agency.