An attempt by North Korea to establish a diplomatic mission in Nairobi has been turned down.
The rebuff projects the view that Kenya does not want to be seen to be warming up to the world’s pariah state.
Diplomatic sources within the United Nations Office in Nairobi have indicated that the UN mounted pressure on Nairobi to reject the move by North Koreans, despite officials from that country visiting Nairobi twice.
On Sunday though, the government denied that North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has made the application.
“That is not true. North Korea did not make such a request,” Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho told the Nation.
However, our source at the UN says two delegations came to Nairobi in November last year and in early March, seeking favours and, hopefully, start a process of establishing a diplomatic post in Nairobi.
“The delegations had very powerful officials in the government of North Korea.
“They sought to speak with Foreign Ministry officials over the possibility of establishing an embassy,” the source said.
“The UN suggested against it and there was further pressure from other countries who voiced similar concerns,” the diplomat added, while clarifying that North Korea did not put the request in writing.
North Korea has been a pariah state for some time, given its nuclear weapons programme and global concerns over its human rights record.
In February 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea released a report in which it gave horrendous details of crimes against humanity.
The UN experts documented torture, extrajudicial executions, starvation and mass imprisonments, before recommending that North Korea’s leaders be charged at the International Criminal Court.
North Korea called the findings a “fuss” but the UN has recommended an imposition of targeted sanctions on Pyongyang.
The UN findings had been preceded by a report by the International Network for the Human Rights of North Korean Overseas Labour which found out a national policy in Pyongyang of sending its nationals to work menial jobs but whose salary was paid to the government.
When the Nation inquired from the Immigration Department whether there are any North Koreans working in Kenya, an official said there were none. This response was supported by the UN diplomat.
But North Koreans have another problem: involvement in drug trafficking and poaching.
Early this month, four North Koreans were arrested in Mozambique with rhino horns on their way to Qatar. According to reports in Mozambican media outlets, the North Koreans live in South Africa but had links with their compatriots working in other countries and the source of the trophies may have been from far countries such as Kenya.
“North Korean diplomats have previously been found to help in these trafficking by taking advantage of diplomatic bags which cannot be subjected to checks at ports of entry.
“In fact Pyongyang doesn’t sufficiently support its diplomats abroad influencing them to fend for themselves through illegal means,” the UN man told the Nation on Friday.
Kenya is not the only country North Koreans have approached in a bid to gain support against sanctions. In November, North Koreans led by the chairman of the Workers Party Kim Yong-nam toured DR Congo, Sudan and Uganda.
In Uganda where North Korea has an embassy, Pyongyang has been involved in training security agencies there but human rights activists argue there is a presence of North Korean labourers who toil for their government to be paid.
In its earliest years, North Korea maintained diplomatic ties exclusively with Eastern bloc countries, including China and Vietnam.
It only began reaching out to developing countries emerging from colonialism, competing with South Korea for diplomatic recognition and legitimacy, after the Korean War. In Africa, North Korea has diplomatic relations with 46 countries, but has fewer embassies in these countries.