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N Korea hints at seeking money from Australia for ship

Written by: Staff

SEOUL, Mar 28 (Reuters) North Korea hinted at seeking compensation from Australia for seizing and sinking a North Korean ship that had been used to transport drugs, according to an official media report today.

Last week, two Australian fighter jets bombed and sank an impounded North Korean cargo ship in what Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said was a strong message to Pyongyang about its suspected involvement in drug running.

The North's official KCNA news agency cited a relatively obscure pro-North Korean group as saying Australia needs to compensate North Korea.

''The Australian authorities should make an honest apology to it according to the results of the trial and compensate to the ship and its crewmen for the human, material and mental damage done to them,'' KCNA reported the Federation of Koreans in the United States as saying in a commentary.

There was no official demand for compensation from North Korea but analysts have noted that since the government controls the media, it only permits approved comments to appear.

The 4,000-tonne ship the Pong Su had been impounded since 2003, when it led the Australian navy on a 1,100-km chase off the outheastern coast after being spotted unloading part of a 150 kg shipment of heroin at a secluded beach.

Four Pong Su crew members pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges, with two sentenced to 23 and 22 years in jail and two yet to be sentenced. But the ship's captain and three officers were sent back to North Korea earlier this month after being found not guilty of aiding the drug operation.

The United States has said it suspects North Korea of engaging in illicit activities such as counterfeiting and drug trafficking as a way to secure funds for its anaemic economy.

Reuters DKS DB1851

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