North Korea says sanctions block imports of athletes' gear

North Korea has protested to three international sporting federations that requests to buy sports equipment for its athletes were being denied due to U.S.-led sanctions, letters obtained by Reuters on Thursday showed.

The letters dated Aug. 30, seeking support to purchase the materials, were provided by a North Korean diplomat in Geneva who said: "Sports materials can't help build missiles."

They were addressed to the International Ski Federation (FIS) and World Archery Federation, both based in Switzerland, and the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), based in Munich, Germany.

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously imposed nine rounds of sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) since 2006 for its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The far-reaching sanctions include grey areas such as luxury goods and exceptions that are subject to interpretation.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States will add more sanctions against North Korea.

"This association has sent several letters of purchase intention to more than 20 ski equipment production companies and sales agencies including Atomik (Atomic), Blizzard, Fischer, in June and July and made its effort to purchase the equipments," read the letter from the Ski Association of the DPRK, referring to three Austrian makers of ski equipment.

"But unfortunately, those ski equipment companies and sales agents rejected or have not responded to its request," it said.

The letter, signed by Ri Hak Chol, president of the isolated country's Ski Association and copied to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, blamed "stifling maneuvers and bulldozing coming from the U.S. which brandishes the stick of sanction against those who are not following it".

North Korea sought "positive cooperation" from the FIS "to enable this association to purchase the required ski equipments in compliance with Olympic ideals and its mission to promote worldwide ski sports".

There were no immediate replies from the FIS or the IOC nor the other two governing bodies to Reuters requests for comment.

North Korea's IOC member Chang Ung said last week that the Pyeongchang winter Olympics in South Korea in February will not be affected by the escalating crisis on the peninsula and North Korea will hopefully be able to send athletes. Figure skating, short track speed skating and possibly Nordic skiing could potentially feature North Korean athletes, he said.

The letter from North Korea's Archery Association said it had contacted three archery equipment companies, including in Lancaster -- an apparent reference to a U.S. supplier based in Pennsylvania.

This was to buy equipment approved by the World Archery Federation for use in the 18th Asian Games, being held in Indonesia in 2018, and other international competitions.

"However, under the pressure of the United States, they are still keeping dumb (silent)," it said.

Blaming the United States, it said such obstacles were "tantamount to an uncivilized act of returning to the Dark Age".

The DPRK's Shooting Association said it had written to six companies including Pardini, an Italian firearms maker, seeking to buy equipment for its athletes at the Asian Games.

If international sports organizations turn a blind eye to such behavior, "they will leave a disgraceful mark in the world history of sports", it warned.

(Additional reporting by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Catherine Evans)