Maputo — Mozambique's Deputy Foreign Minister, Maria Lucas, on Monday denied claims, carried by the US television station CNN, that Mozambique is violating United Nations sanctions against North Korea, and is cooperating militarily with Pyongyang.
Interviewed by Radio Mozambique, Lucas said that the only cooperation between Mozambique and North Korea is political. She added that international experts will be visiting the country in the first quarter of the year to monitor compliance with the sanctions against the Kin Jong-un regime.
The experts are from the United Nations panel set up in 2009 to monitor the sanctions, which were imposed because of Pyongyang's illicit nuclear weapons programme. Lucas said Mozambique is willing to cooperate with the UN panel.
“The government recently invited the panel to visit Mozambique to see on the spot the work the country is doing to collaborate with this panel”, said Lucas. “The panel has promised to visit Mozambique during this quarter”.
Lucas said Mozambique has “historic relations” with North Korea dating back to the early days of the liberation struggle against Portuguese colonial rule, when North Korea provided support for the guerrilla army of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo).
“We continue to have these political relations with North Korea, but because Mozambique is part of the United Nations, we are cooperating with all the work of the UN panel on the sanctions against North Korea”, said Lucas. “Mozambique is implementing all the lessons and agenda of the United Nations and that is why work is being done on the ground to identify some Mozambican companies working with North Korea before the publication of the sanctions”.
She claimed the government had been working with these companies to make them aware of the sanctions, and insisted “now we have no economic relations with North Korea”.
The CNN piece claimed to have stumbled across a joint fishing venture between Mozambique and North Korea. It filmed two rusting vessels named “Susan 1” and “Susan 2” in the Maputo fishing port, which it claimed were “sanctions busting trawlers manned by crews from North Korea”.
CNN showed ignorance of the Mozambican economy by describing fishing as “one of the country's most lucrative industries”. While this may have been true in the 1970s, today fisheries accounts for a small percentage of Mozambican GDP and of the country's exports.
After the first couple of paragraphs, CNN switches to much more serious allegations of military cooperation. CNN claims that it “uncovered a secret web of front companies, military cooperation and elite-forces training deals between North Korea and Mozambique, all in violation of international sanctions”.
The CNN reporters say they had access to documents showing “that the cooperation is sealed with illegal contracts worth millions of dollars. The money is funnelled through regionally based North Korean diplomats to Pyongyang”.
The report cites unnamed Mozambican military sources saying that “North Koreans have been training elite forces at a base in Maputo for at least two years”.
CNN does not pinpoint the exact location of this alleged base, and no other media has mentioned it.
The purpose of this cooperation, from Pyongyang's point of view, is to obtain desperately needed hard currency. But Mozambique itself has been in severe financial difficulties since the discovery of previously undisclosed debts in 2016.
The “hidden debts” of over two billion US dollars, incurred, with illicit government guarantees, by the security related companies Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company), Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to suspend its programme with Mozambique. Other donors and financial agencies followed suit - in April 2016, all 14 donors who used to provide direct support to the state budget suspended their disbursements and to date have not resumed them.
Other parts of the CNN report seem to suggest that the military cooperation of the past may have ended. An earlier report from the UN Panel of Experts mentioned North Korean cooperation with the Mozambican armed forces in such areas as radar and air defence systems, and the refurbishment of tanks and other Soviet-era equipment. A front company called Haegeumgang was used to run the operation.
Thanks to correspondence between Mozambican military officials and North Korean representatives, which CNN claims to have seen, the journalists discovered the Haegeumgang premises in Maputo - a two-story building in the heart of the city.
But the house has been abandoned, and is now up for rent. A rental agent told CNN "There were some Asians living and working here. They left three or four months ago". He said they left because they could not afford to pay the rent.