Police raid offices of North Korean group in Japan

TOKYO, Nov 27 (Reuters) Japanese police today raided the headquarters and several offices of a pro-Pyongyang group of Koreans living in Japan on suspicion of a pharmaceuticals law violation, officials said.

Pro-Pyongyang Koreans had protested about harassment earlier this month, saying that schools had been vandalised and students threatened after Tokyo imposed sanctions against North Korea for a series of missile tests in July and a nuclear test in October.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference today that raids were made on the headquarters of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), as well as branch offices elsewhere in Tokyo, on suspicion that a pharmaceuticals law had been broken.

He declined to give further details, citing ongoing investigations.

According to media reports, a woman linked to a group affiliated with Chongryon was given 60 bags of intravenous solution by a doctor in what they said was an unauthorised transaction around May.

She subsequently attempted in May to take the bags to North Korea without declaring them on a ferry used by ethnic North Koreans, the Mangyongbong-92, but they were discovered by customs officials, the reports added.

The intravenous solution is often used as a nutritional enhancement, Kyodo news agency said.

The ferry, which had been used by ethnic North Koreans in Japan to visit relatives, has been barred from Japanese ports since July, when North Korea conducted several missile test-launches.

Police confirmed the raids but declined to confirm further details.

Protesters, some holding signs saying ''Stop the unfair raids,'' scuffled with police in front of Chongryon headquarters.

No statement was immediately available from Chongryon, but an official there said one would be issued later on Monday.

About 600,000 ethnic Koreans live in Japan, many of them descended from the two million Koreans brought to Japan as forced labour during Tokyo's 1910-1945 colonisation of the peninsula.

Of those, about 80,000 are pro-North, while 220,000 support South Korea and the rest are neutral.

Japan has imposed a number of sanctions on North Korea, including banning imports, banning the entry of all North Korean ships to Japanese ports, and prohibiting the entry of North Korean nationals except those residing in Japan unless there are special circumstances.

Japan earlier this month banned exports to the North of 24 kinds of luxury goods including cars, wrist-watches, liquor, cigarettes, jewellery, perfume and caviar.

REUTERS BDP PM1057

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