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2008/05/01 09:54 KST

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 2)

North Korea denies report of abduction of women in 1970s

PARIS (Yonhap) -- North Korea on April 24 denied a French daily's report that the North abducted and held hostage at least 28 foreign women, including three French citizens, in the 1970s, calling the report a "fabrication."

   One day earlier, Le Figaro alleged the North abducted the women to use them to teach foreign languages to North Korean spies.

   In response to the report, an official at the North Korean mission in Paris said by phone, "There is no reason at all for us to kidnap French women or any other country's women."

   The official said on condition of anonymity, "They just point a finger at us whenever some people are missing since the Japanese have clung to this issue."

   Also among the group were three Italians, two Dutch and two from the Middle East, the French paper added, citing testimony by a Lebanese woman who was released in 1979 after being held hostage by the North.

   The woman testified she was held with 28 other foreign women, including three French, at a residence where the abducted women stayed, the newspaper said.

   The North Korean official also rejected the daily's allegation that the North abducted the women to make them teach foreign languages, saying that it "could take foreign language instructors to the country in cooperation with the French government if such instructors were needed."

   North Korea admitted in 2002 that 13 Japanese were kidnapped by North Korean agents, but said all but five died.


Pro-Pyongyang daily dismisses concern over sidelining Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A pro-Pyongyang daily in Japan dismissed on April 25 mounting concerns that North Korea may try to sideline South Korea at the six-party talks on dismantling the communist state's nuclear programs.

   North Korea has stepped up harsh rhetoric against Seoul recently to protest its tough position while being cooperative in Washington's efforts to restart the stalled negotiations.

   The Choson Sinbo, newspaper of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, claimed in a commentary that the South's conservative forces accustomed to "sycophancy toward the U.S." have "arbitrarily distorted" the North's true intention.

   The daily, which usually represents Pyongyang's position, alleged Seoul is using the nuclear dispute as an excuse to handle inter-Korean relations as part of the South's foreign diplomacy.

   President Lee Myung-bak has vowed to adjust the speed of inter-Korean cooperation projects to progress in the denuclearization talks and unsuccessfully tried to merge the Unification Ministry, the country's top office in dealing with the North, into the Foreign Ministry.

   "It's eventually up to themselves if things after the North Korea-U.S. deal in Singapore develop as worried by the South Korean conservative authorities or not," the daily said.

   It also urged Lee to respect last year's inter-Korean summit agreement on further economic cooperation and peace programs, claiming he would otherwise continue to worsen inter-Korean ties.


North Korea's foreign minister visits China

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's foreign minister Pak Ui-chun visited China for four days in late April and met with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing on April 28.

   According to the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pak and Yang informed each other of the situation in their countries and exchanged views on boosting the relations of friendship between the two countries and matters of mutual concern.

   Pak, who assumed his post last May, arrived at the Beijing airport on April 26 and flew home on April 29. It was Pak's first visit to China, the North's closest ally, in his capacity as the country's top diplomat.

   Some media reports said his visit might be aimed at preparing for a trip to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   His visit coincided with an allegation by the Bush administration that North Korea assisted Syria in clandestine nuclear activities from 1997-2007.

   China is the host country of the six-way talks, which also include the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan and Russia, for the North's denuclearization.

   Analysts in Seoul say the talks will be likely to be held in May after months of deadlock surrounding the North's declaration of its nuclear programs.


European humanitarian aid agency plans to close Pyongyang office

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid warnings that North Korea is facing a food crisis this year, a European humanitarian aid agency plans to close its office in Pyongyang in mid-May, a Washington-based radio station said on April 29.

   Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted Simon Horner, spokesman of the European Commission's Head of Information and Communication (ECHO), as saying the agency will shut down the office on May 14 in line with the reduction of humanitarian aid to the communist state. The aid program has been carried out under consultations with the North every year.

   Horner reportedly said that the condition of the North is stable for the time being, though it is still vulnerable to shocks from the outside.

   However, the food crisis due to hikes in grain prices worldwide will affect the North, Horner said, adding that if the North asks for food or emergency help, the agency will dispatch personnel from its Bangkok office to Pyongyang for the provision of humanitarian aid.

   The ECHO used a budget of 2 million euros (US$3.12 million) for humanitarian aid to the North last year.

   The North is expected to suffer from a shortage of 1.66 million tons of grain this year, according to the World Food Program (WFP). Among European Union member states, Italy decided to send 2,650 tons of grain worth 1 million euros to the North through China as emergency aid in late April, RFA said on April 17.


N.K. calls for U.N. action plan to help developing countries: report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has called on the U.N. to act fast to achieve international goals for assisting developing economies, saying the goals face "a serious challenge" from a widening global economic divide, a report said on April 29.

   "Consistent efforts by developing countries to achieve international development strategies now face a serious challenge by the unequal global economic order," the North's official Korean Central News Agency quoted North Korea's Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Ri Myong-san as saying during a U.N. agency meeting last week.

   The agency needs to prepare "an action plan for achieving the global development goals," said Ri, the top North Korean delegate to the 12th session of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held April 20-25 in Accra, Ghana.

   North Korea will continue to bolster economic cooperation and exchanges with all countries ac?oss the world "based on the principles of respect of sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit," the official stressed.

   The UNCTAD holds its major session once every four years to discuss how to link development to trade, finance and technology. This year's meeting focused on food shortages and rising prices that have recently sparked unrest in many developing countries, foreign news reports said.