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(LEAD) N. Korea imports massive amount of Chinese silver in Jan.: data
BEIJING, March 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea imported an unusually massive amount of silver from China in January, possibly in relation to leader Kim Jong-un's birthday that month, sources and China's customs office said Thursday.

   Data from China's customs office showed that North Korea imported 661.71 kilograms of Chinese silver for US$653,128 in January.

   The monthly import is unusually enormous given that the North took in only $77,593 worth of precious metal and other jewels for the whole of 2012. The corresponding amount for 2011 was $57,000.

   Before January this year, the North had hardly spent more than $10,000 on monthly imports of such goods, according to the data.
Given the leader's birthday on Jan. 8, North Korea watchers said the massive amount of imported silver may have been used to produce silverware souvenirs to celebrate the leader's birthday.

   "It's difficult to assume the exact purpose of the silver imports," a source said. Given that late leader Kim Jong-il used to bring in foreign brand luxury sedans and expensive watches to treat the country's top echelon on major holidays, the bulk of silver imported in January may have been used for similar purposes, the source said.

   Backing this assumption, the customs data also showed that the North imported an unusually large amount of costume jewelry worth $10,447 in the same month.

   Another source said the country seems to have been in urgent need of an extraordinary amount of silver that month given that it has abundant silver reserves.

   pbr@yna.co.kr
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