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(LEAD) N. Korea thwarting S. Korea's bids to block access to online propaganda
By Sam Kim
SEOUL, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is altering the online addresses of its statements denouncing South Korea and the United States in a new attempt to thwart Seoul's bids to block access to them, an official said Thursday.

   Last week, the communist country opened an account with the highly popular global microblogging service Twitter, "tweeting" links to statements posted on its official Web site, http://www.uriminzokkiri.com.File photo
South Korea quickly blocked access by its nationals to the statements, citing a law that requires them to gain government approval if they want to view such material.

   An official at the Korea Communications Commission, however, said that North Korea continues to modify the Internet protocol (IP) addresses of its statements to fool the South Korean watchdog.

   "We're currently blocking new IP addresses as soon as we find them," the official said, declining to be identified because he had yet to be allowed formally to give the information.

   North Korea is currently running the Twitter account at https://twitter.com/uriminzok, which had nearly 8,700 subscribers, or "followers," as of Thursday afternoon. It contained 20 messages, or "tweets," most of them showing links to official statements uploaded on its Web site.

   Some South Koreans said Wednesday and Thursday that they were able to read the North Korean statements via the links, sometimes even for hours, before they were blocked.

   A warning that the uriminzokkiri site contains illegal material pops up if it is directly opened from South Korea. In 2004, the North tried changing the name of the site to "Wooriminzokkiri" to parry South Korean attempts to block access, the official said.

   "It's now the IP addresses that the North is altering," he said. The Web addresses are only "domains" that make it easy for users to access the IP addresses where the statements are actually stored, he said.

   North Korea appears to be expanding its propaganda warfare as South Korea and the United States step up their pressure on Pyongyang to admit to its wrongdoing and open up for dialogue.

   Last month, Pyongyang opened an account with the global video-sharing site YouTube and started uploading clips that ridicule senior officials in Seoul and Washington.

   On Wednesday, South Korea warned its citizens that it may be considered illegal to interact with the North Korean Twitter account, apparently calling on them to refrain from reposting, or "retweeting," the messages.

   Observers said Seoul may be overreacting.

   The North Korean Twitter Web page "is more amusing than anything else," Michael Breen, author of "The Koreans" who runs a communications consulting firm in Seoul, said. "The government here needs to lighten up and give its own people access and stop being afraid of the North Korean propaganda."

   "Twitter is a symbol of information technology. The South should consider ways to open the North through channels like Twitter rather than block them," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said.

   South and North Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Their relations are at one of the worst points in history following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March blamed on Pyongyang. The North denies involvement.

   samkim@yna.co.kr
(END)