Thailand says purchase of N. Korean gold preceded sanctions

Section:

From Reuters
Thursday, December 28, 2006

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061228/wl_nm/korea_north_thailand_gold_dc_2

North Korea sold 1.3 tonnes of gold to Thailand a few months before the United Nations slapped international sanctions on Pyongyang in October, according to Thai customs data.

Thailand paid the reclusive communist state a total of 1.03 billion baht ($28 million) for 500 kg of gold in April and 800 kg in May, the Customs Department said on its web site, www.customs.go.th.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh said importing unwrought or semi-manufactured gold from North Korea did not violate the U.N. sanctions, which included a ban on sales of luxury items to Pyongyang.

"The deals were done before the sanctions were imposed. Even if we import them now, it is still legal," Kitti told Reuters.

The U.S.-led sanctions, approved unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on October 14 five days after Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test, were intended to persuade the North to resume six-party negotiations on ending its nuclear ambitions. Despite Pyongyang's return to the table, the sanctions, which also require all countries to prevent the sale or transfer of materials related to its unconventional weapons programs, remain in place.

Thailand, a major jewelry maker, imported nearly 80 tonnes of gold from 22 countries in the first 11 months of 2006, according to the Customs Department.

But traders say gold purchases from North Korea are rare.

"These orders might have been just a one-off purchase by one firm," said an official from the Thai Gold Traders Association.

"Thai traders don't usually import gold from North Korea because it is a communist country with so many unpredictable factors," said the official who declined to be named.

($1=36.33 baht)

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