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US House passes new sanctions bill against N Korea

IANS | Washington |

Aiming to cut off Pyongyang’s links to the global financial system, the US House of Representatives has approved a bill to impose more sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

The bill approved on Tuesday received 415 votes in favour and 2 against, Efe news reported.

It is named after Otto Warmbier, an American student who died in June after spending more than a year in coma in a North Korean prison.

The legislation calls on the US Department of Treasury to freeze the accounts of foreign financial institutions that conduct business with North Korea.

“It’s time for those banks to choose between aiding and abetting the North Korean government or standing for peace with America and its allies,” Republican representative Andy Barr, the author of the bill, said during a house debate on Tuesday.

“Foreign banks can either do business benefiting North Korea or business with the United States. They cannot do both,” Barr said, adding that the current sanctions still failed to completely eliminate Pyongyang’s access to the global financial system.

The United Nations approved last month a new package of sanctions aimed at economically stifling North Korea, which includes limitations on the country’s petroleum and by-product imports as well as a ban on its textiles export.

According to estimates by the US, North Korea would lose $ 2.7 billion or about 90 per cent of its sales abroad together with previous sets of sanctions, which imposed an embargo on coal, iron, fish and seafood exports.

Warmbier was detained in North Korea in January 2016 when he visited the country as a tourist.

Authorities sentenced him to 15 years of hard labour after the 22-year-old was found guilty of attempting to steal a political propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang.

He had fallen into a coma for more than a year before he was released in June 2017 and died a month after.

Warmbier’s parents said alleged their son was tortured in North Korea, an allegation US President Donald Trump agreed with.

Pyongyang, however, denied the allegations.

He died of complications stemming from a deficiency of blood and oxygen in his brain, according to the forensic report.