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Japan Slaps Financial Sanctions on North Korea

Japan has imposed financial sanctions on North Korea to punish the communist state for its provocative missile tests two months ago.

The new sanctions effectively ban transfers of money from Japan to North Korea by any individual or organization linked to Pyongyang's missile programs or efforts to make weapons of mass destruction.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Tuesday the move is in line with a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Pyongyang's July missile tests.

Abe says he does not know how Pyongyang will respond. But he adds that he hopes North Korea will heed the U.N. action by immediately halting its provocative missile activities, return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons development and adhere to its pledge to abandon all of its nuclear programs.

Abe, known for his hawkish stances toward North Korea, is expected to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next week, after the Liberal Democratic Party chooses its next leader on Wednesday.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki says the sanctions are effective immediately. The finance minister explains that 15 groups and one individual linked to North Korea are specifically targeted by the government's action. He adds that all Japanese financial institutions will be inspected to make sure they comply with the sanctions, which he expects will have a considerable impact on North Korea.

Australia on Tuesday also imposed similar financial sanctions. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer calls the action consistent with the "strong international stand against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The sanctions come exactly a year after North Korea agreed with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to end its nuclear programs. In return, the impoverished country was promised economic cooperation and energy aid. However, since then Pyongyang has refused to return to talks on implementing the agreement.

Last year, the United States imposed financial sanctions against North Korean enterprises in response to alleged counterfeiting and money laundering. Pyongyang says it will not return to the nuclear talks until Washington lifts those sanctions.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations, but there is limited trade between the two countries, and many ethnic Koreans living in Japan send money to the North. Hundreds of millions of dollars sent from Japan each year provide Pyongyang with vital economic support.

Also Tuesday, an official at a South Korean bank said North Korea had tried to open accounts at a branch in Kaesong, an industrial zone set up in the North but used by South Korean companies.

The Woori Bank denied the request, made last December, because it was only authorized to handle the accounts of South Korean customers.