Malta has stopped issuing work visas for N. Koreans: foreign minister
ROME, July 31 (Yonhap) -- Malta has stopped issuing work visas to North Koreans and is effectively ejecting those already in the country, South Korea's foreign minister said, as countries around the world are taking steps to halt the flow of money into the communist country's nuclear and missile programs.
Speaking to Yonhap News Agency on the sidelines of a meeting of heads of overseas diplomatic missions in Rome on Saturday, Yun Byung-se said the Maltese government has decided to take firm steps in relation to human rights abuse of migrant workers.
"Valletta has stopped extending visas for North Korean workers and will not issue new ones," South Korea's top diplomat said.
The development is noteworthy because Malta has maintained a close relationship with North Korea since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1971. There have been reports that the rights of North Korean workers in the country have been violated and the money these workers earned was being used to prop up the regime in Pyongyang that was slapped with the strongest sanctions yet by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) earlier this year.
The international body took strong action after the North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and fired off a long range missile a month later.
Yun then said starting with Malta, European countries that still host North Korean workers, such as Poland, are taking similar actions to stop the flow of cash to the reclusive country.
In addition, the minister said he conveyed to his Maltese counterpart a wish to ink an agreement that would permit working holiday arrangements and other ways to expand exchanges between the peoples of South Korea and Malta.
"Although Malta is small, it is situated between Europe and Africa, and its position will grow when it assumes the rotating chairmanship of the European Union (EU) in the first half of next year," he stressed.
The official then said he held talks with his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni and agreed to expand cooperation in such areas as defense, the arms industry and creative economy areas. The two sides agreed to expand two-way commerce that hit US$9 billion last year to over $10 billion.
Yun said Seoul needs to strengthen ties with Italy due to the country's importance on the international stage and its large potential. He pointed out that with Britain's decision to leave the EU, Italy's role, along with that of Germany and France, will grow. Rome is set to become the chair of the Group of Seven meeting and a nonpermanent member of the UNSC next year.
The minister, meanwhile, said at the meeting of South Korea's diplomatic missions in the EU that Seoul needs to take more steps to protect its people in Europe in the wake of terrorist attacks and work with European countries to enforce tighter sanctions against North Korea.
On the matter of Choe Ryong-hae, vice chairman of North Korea's State Affairs Commission, making a stopover in Beijing on his way to Brazil for the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games, Yun did not place much importance on it.
"The matter does need to be checked further, but Choe may have just stopped at the Chinese capital en route to Rio de Janeiro," Yun said.
Around 30 North Korean athletes have been sent to Brazil to compete in wrestling, judo, marathon and six other sports at the Olympics scheduled to run from Aug. 5 to 21.
China and North Korea seem to be trying to mend relations that have been frayed by Pyongyang's saber-rattling in recent years.
At the recent ASEAN Regional Forum held in Laos, China showed its willingness to engage the North in dialogue as a way of showing its displeasure with Seoul and Washington for their joint decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul and Washington have brushed aside dialogue proposals with the North by insisting the country make a firm commitment to denuclearization first.
Yun Byung-se (C) poses for a photo with South Korean heads of overseas diplomatic missions of European Union countries at a meeting in Rome on July 30, 2016. (Yonhap)