Concertina and barbed wire top a fence near the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

Concertina and barbed wire top a fence near the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. (Aaron Kidd/Stars and Stripes)

The U.S. Treasury has leveled sanctions on the North Korean border security agency that enforces the communist regime’s strict travel ban.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control on Friday sanctioned North Korea’s Ministry of State Security Border Guard General Bureau, which provides security at the country’s border with China and Russia, according to a Treasury Department news release.

The North Korean bureau helps the regime “thwart escapes through tight border controls, including land mines and shoot-on-sight orders that have resulted in the deaths of numerous” defectors, according to the Treasury Department release.

Roughly 34,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since 1998, according to data from the South Korean Ministry of Unification. The ministry recorded 72 defectors in 2020 and 17 so far this year.

Moscow and Beijing have agreements with Pyongyang to forcibly repatriate North Koreans who flee the country, according to the U.S. State Department and multiple United Nations reports.

In the same announcement, the Treasury Department sanctioned two people with ties to SEK Studio, a North Korean state-run animation firm that contracts with foreign companies to supply cheap labor from animators in North Korea and China, according to the release.

Kim Myong Chol, the Paris-based representative for SEK, collected payment on SEK contracts with clients in Europe, according to the department.

Deepak Jadhav, an India-based director of Funsaga Pte Ltd., allegedly contracted with SEK for an animation project, according to the Treasury Department. An unnamed SEK official said Funsaga sent more than $50,000 to SEK as a result, along with $15,000 to a Chinese company.

Foreign companies that employ North Korea labor “enable the continued poor treatment that these workers endure, which includes constant surveillance, being forced to work long hours, and having a significant portion of their wages confiscated by the regime,” according to the Treasury announcement.

The Treasury Department first sanctioned SEK Studio on Dec. 10, 2021. The sanctions are meant to stop the named individuals, SEK and its front companies from laundering their money or moving it across international borders, according to the release.

A U.N. Security Council resolution in 2017 expressed concern over North Korean workers working internationally and required member states to repatriate all of them.

“[North Korean] nationals are also often forced to work in foreign countries to generate foreign currency that is utilized to support [its] weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” the Treasury Department said in its release.

The sanctions against North Korean affiliates were part of the Treasury Department’s broader list that targeted 40 people and organizations from El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Mali, China, Russia and other countries in observance of International Anti-Corruption Day and Human Rights Day.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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