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North Korean Funds Freed as Nuclear Deadline Nears
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The United States said Tuesday that Macao authorities have unblocked North Korea funds frozen at the Banco Delta Asia and authorized account holders can withdraw their money from the bank.

"Based on previous discussions with Chinese, Macao, and North Korea officials, as well as understandings reached with North Korea on the use of these funds, the United States would support a decision by the Macanese authorities to unblock the accounts in question," the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

Pyongyang has insisted it will only close the reactor, which supplies it with weapons-grade plutonium, once US$25 million in funds linked to North Korea interests and frozen since 2005 in Macao's Banco Delta Asia are freed.

Under an international deal agreed two months ago to end its nuclear weapons program, North Korea has until Saturday to start shutting down its Yongbyon atomic plant.

"...the bottom line is that they have unblocked these accounts and the account holders can authorized account holders can withdraw the funds from those accounts," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

A Macao Monetary Authority official said only that there would be an announcement of some kind within a "few days".

The funds were frozen after Washington accused the Macao bank of being involved in money laundering.

Furious that the money still had not been freed, the North Korea walked out of a round of six-country talks on its nuclear program in March, five months after its first atomic test.

The US announcement came as top US officials visited both sides of the divided Korean Peninsula.

"I think we've reached a very important day today with the imminent release of these funds," chief US nuclear negotiator Chrisopher Hill said in Seoul.

(China Daily via agencies April 11, 2007)

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