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S. Korea announces sanctions against North

SEOUL, South Korea &

South Korea made its first concrete move today to enforce U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea for its nuclear test, saying it will ban officials from the communist country who fall under a U.N. travel restriction and control financial transactions between the rivals.

Meanwhile, a South Korean Defense Ministry report underscored the lingering threat posed by the North, saying the regime is believed to have enough plutonium to make as many as seven nuclear bombs. The North is also working to make a small, lightweight nuclear warhead that can be carried by ballistic missile, according to the report released by an opposition lawmaker.

The U.N. resolution, passed in response to the North's underground nuclear blast on Oct. 9, seeks to ban the country's weapons trade and calls for North Korean ships to be searched for suspected illegal materials. The resolution asks all member countries to state how they plan to implement the sanctions within 30 days of its Oct. 14 adoption.

Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said Seoul would ban some North Korean officials from traveling to the South and control transactions and remittances related to inter-Korean trade and investment with Pyongyang, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.

It was unclear how tough the South will be in enforcing the restrictions. Seoul had been hesitant to take strong measures to support the sanctions, mindful of North Korea's massive armed forces poised at the border, its family and cultural ties, and its wish to expand economic relations with its neighbor.

Also at issue was whether South Korea would expand its participation in a U.S.-led drive to interdict North Korean ships and aircraft suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction or related material.

South Korea has been reluctant to participate fully in the Proliferation Security Initiative because of concerns it could lead to clashes with North Korea and undermine efforts to persuade the communist state to give up its nuclear ambitions through diplomacy.

Still, Seoul's announcement is certain to be welcomed in Washington, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged South Korea to show "a strong commitment" to the sanctions.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang warned that any move by the South to impose trade, travel and financial sanctions would be seen as a "declaration of confrontation" that would elicit "corresponding measures" from the North. It also said sanctions could cause a breakdown in inter-Korean relations.

"If North-South relations collapse due to reckless and imprudent sanctions against us the South Korean authorities will be fully responsible for it and will have to pay a high price," said a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea rejected the North's warning today.

"If North Korea is concerned about the future of Korean people, it should not aggravate the situation any more (and) return immediately to the six-party talks," the Unification Ministry said, referring to negotiations among the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff.

The South Korean Defense Ministry report on the North's nuclear capabilities was based on a meeting of top military officials a day after the North's test.

The report says the North is believed to have extracted 110 pounds of high-grade plutonium, enough for up to seven nuclear weapons. The North can use its Russian-made bombers to drop the bombs, the ministry said, adding that the North has 82 Il-28 bombers at bases in Uiju and Jangjin.

North Korea also has built a nuclear warhead weighing some two to three tons. To be mounted on a missile, the warhead would need to be less than a ton, the ministry said.

The North stunned the world in 1998 by firing a long-range ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific. It also test-fired seven missiles in July, including a long-range missile believed capable of reaching the U.S. that crashed shortly after launch.

Meanwhile, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Japan wants a meeting with the U.S. and South Korea as soon as possible to solidify a common stance on the North Korean nuclear standoff. Their foreign ministers met in Seoul last week.

"Of course it's quite important to consolidate the three nations on the issues," the official said on condition of anonymity, citing ministry protocol. "It's important for us to have such meetings as soon as possible."

Also today, a leading international think tank warned of a looming humanitarian crisis in North Korea, saying more people could try to flee amid increased isolation and food shortages.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group urged regional governments to improve their treatment of more than 9,000 North Korean refugees in the region.

"There's a very real possibility that the nuclear crisis will be followed by a humanitarian crisis," said Peter Beck, head of the group's Seoul office. "The more belligerent the North is, the less the world wants to help them, no matter how much you try and separate politics from humanitarian issues."


Associated Press Writers Jae-soon Chang in Seoul and Hans Greimel in Tokyo contributed to this report.