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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea-linked smuggling ships made 25 stops in Japan

Vessels seen to be exporting coal, exposing gaping hole in sanctions enforcement

TOKYO -- Vessels suspected of illegally transporting North Korean coal entered Japanese ports at least 25 times since 2016, when an international ban on such exports took effect, highlighting a clear weakness in the global sanctions regime against the country.

The four ships, registered in Belize, Sierra Leone and Vanuatu, are alleged to have helped smuggle about 35,000 tons of North Korean coal into South Korea via Russia. The South Korean customs authority cracked down on the operation Aug. 10, and the ships are banned from entering the South's ports.

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