Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rice urges terror finance crackdown in NKorea allusion

HANOI (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Asia-Pacific nations to crack down on illicit financial activities by "weapons proliferators", in an indirect reference to North Korea.

"Confronting the threats posed by terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, natural disaster and pandemic disease is inextricably tied to the prosperity of the region," Rice told APEC ministers meeting in Hanoi.

"We also hope that APEC members will take all necessary actions to prevent the abuse of their financial systems by weapons proliferators."

North Korea's nuclear ambition, put on display last month when Pyongyang carried out its first atomic bomb test, is one of the key issues on the agenda at this week's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering.

The United States is one of five nations involved in disarmament talks with North Korea. A breakthrough came in September 2005, when Pyongyang agreed to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

But the North walked out of the talks a year ago after Washington effectively froze 24 million dollars in North Korean funds by blacklisting a bank in Macau.

The United States said the funds were the suspected proceeds of counterfeiting US dollar "supernotes" and other illicit activities by the regime of Kim Jong-Il.

North Korea boycotted the six-party talks for a year in protest at Washington's freeze and a larger crackdown on accounts elsewhere in Asia.

The APEC meeting comes two weeks after North Korea agreed in secret negotiations in Beijing to return to the six-nation talks, which involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.


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