SEOUL--Only the elite and selected military heavyweights in North Korea can get their cars tanked up as international sanctions start to bite.

The regime in Pyongyang imposed the ban on gasoline stand sales in late September, according to a source here who is knowledgeable about goings-on in the reclusive country.

The move was apparently taken to prepare the nation for the impact of U.N. economic sanctions to protest North Korea's repeated ballistic missile launches and sixth nuclear test.

The governments of Japan, the United States and South Korea are using intelligence satellites to confirm whether and how a ban on exports of gasoline to North Korea are taking effect.

Only a few hundred of the most senior members of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, along with high-ranking government and military officials, are still permitted to purchase gasoline, the source said.

Those individuals all have license plates that begin with the three-digit sequence "727," which refers to July 27, an auspicious date in North Korean history as it was when a cease-fire agreement was signed in 1953 to suspend fighting in the Korean War.

The special license plates are a privilege given out in the name of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un.

Among party officials, only those with the rank of member or alternate member of the Central Committee, are eligible for the plates.

The committee had 235 such members as of May 2016, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The figure includes high-ranking military and government officials.

It is unclear if there has been any change in the sale of gasoline to taxis and buses.

Hoarding of gasoline began in earnest at the start of the year in anticipation of the international community imposing economic sanctions.

Gasoline prices have tripled during that time. North Korea was slapped with new sanctions after its sixth nuclear test in September.

The measures include one that limits the annual import into North Korea of refined petroleum products, such as gasoline and light oil, to 2 million barrels, or the equivalent of about 270,000 tons of crude oil.

The North Korean government has issued instructions to top officials to stockpile an additional 1 million tons of crude oil to prepare for this eventuality.

According to South Korean government officials, North Korea's annual demand is in the range of 700,000 to 900,000 tons. It also has a stockpile totaling 1 million tons in case of hostilities on the Korean Pensinula.

The ban on gasoline sales has eliminated the long lines that commonly formed at North Korean gasoline stands, according to intelligence satellites used by Japan, the United States and South Korea.

One North Korean source said, "Gasoline is not being sold no matter how much money is offered."