U.S. urges N Korea to avoid sparking tensions

The US Treasury imposed Wednesday its first individual sanctions against the North Korean leader for serious violations of human rights ranging from extrajudicial killings to torture.

Adam J. Szubin, acting under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement that the actions taken by the U.S. government "highlight the U.S. Government's condemnation of this regime's abuses and our determination to see them stopped".

"Through most of the long history of the worldwide community's engagement with North Korea, the horrific human rights abuses committed by the regime have been known but not necessarily been central to how we have engaged", said a senior Obama administration official.

Those steps froze any property of the North Korean government in the United States and essentially prohibited exports of goods from the United States to North Korea.

Previously, the United States placed heavy sanctions on the secretive state for its nuclear and missile activity.

Analysts have warned that the sanctions will be regarded by North Koreans as a "personal insult" against Kim Jong-Un, but the move has been welcomed by human rights activists.

Peter Harrell, a former State Department sanctions official, said that the drumbeat of sanctions over the past year had likely already driven away any North Korean government money in Western banks.

The U.S. State Department estimates that between 80,000 and 120,000 people are being held at prison camps in the isolated state.

It comes as America released a report, which uncovers North Korea's political prison camp system and security apparatus. That report accused senior members of the military regime, including Kim, of overseeing crimes against humanity.

"The sanctions from today will do nothing whatsoever to alter North Korea's strategic calculus and only underscore their thinking that the US has a "hostile policy" against their country", Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Reuters.

"The latest sanctions are expected to go beyond a symbolic move toward actually deterring (human rights violations)", he said. Ten other North Korean officials made the blacklist.

But blacklisting Kim, the hereditary leader who took power in North Korea after the December 2011 death of his father Kim Jong Il, signals an intensification of US pressure against Pyongyang.

China doesn't appear to have any interest in letting North Korea get out of hand, as Kim Jong Un reportedly had his uncle Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013; Song Thaek was the main established contact between both countries.

At the same time, Kerry said the United States stood "ready and prepared" to return to talks with North Korea aimed at convincing the country to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

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