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2008/05/29 11:23 KST


N. Korea Boycotts S. Korean Soccer Competition Amid Damaged Ties

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has withdrawn from next month's international women's soccer competition in South Korea, citing the recent erosion in inter-Korean relations, an organizer said on May 23.

   The abrupt withdrawal marks the second time the powerhouse in women's soccer has decided to boycott the Peace Queen Cup event, which was first held two years ago. The North previously stayed away from the competition amid a rise in regional tensions triggered by its unprecedented nuclear test.

   "We were notified on Monday of the North's decision," spokesperson Heo Kyung-lak said by phone, citing an official North Korean statement delivered to the organizing committee in Seoul.

   "We regret to tell you we cannot take part in the competition amid the deteriorating conditions on the Korean Peninsula," the statement read.

   Relations between the two Koreas have soured recently following a string of spats between the two sides, which remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

   Lee Myung-bak, the new South Korean president who took office in February, has said he would take a tougher stance toward the communist neighbor unless Pyongyang makes substantial moves toward nuclear dismantlement.

   North Korea has blasted the conservative South Korean leader, claiming Lee is jeopardizing inter-Korean ties. It has also expelled South Korean officials from joint facilities on its soil and test-fired a barrage of missiles.

   Barring the boycott, the eight-day Peace Queen Cup event is scheduled to draw eight nations from around the world, including the United States, Brazil, Italy and Canada. South and North Korea were set to collide in the June 14 opener in the city of Suwon, just south of Seoul.

   North Korea won the women's championship organized by the Asian Football Confederation in 2001 and 2003. It also finished first in the under-20 Women's World Championship two years ago.


British Council to Extend English Education Program in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) - The British Council will extend its English teaching program in North Korea until 2010 in order to help more elite citizens in the isolated communist country speak fluent English, a news report said on May 23.

   The program was originally set to finish this year, but the council decided to extend it at the North's request, Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported, quoting James Rowe, spokesman for the council.

   Three native English instructors currently teach about 450 professors and students at Pyongyang's colleges under the program that began in 2002, the report said.

   The council now wants to hire four new native speaker instructors who will start working in
Pyongyang for one year from September under an agreement with the North Korean authorities on the program's extension, it added.

   Those who taught in Pyongyang say the English language ability of North Korean professors was measured at level B1 or B2 of the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is an intermediate or upper-intermediate level, the report said, quoting other officials with the council.


N. Korean Patrol Boat Violates Western Sea Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean Navy patrol boat on May 27 briefly crossed the western sea border, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), while guiding Chinese fishing boats operating in the area, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in Seoul said.

   The ship returned to the North Korean side about 17 minutes later following radio warnings by South Korean Navy ships patrolling the area, the JCS said.

   "Some 200 Chinese fishing boats were operating in the vicinity at the time and our Navy made every preparation for any unfortunate incidents while broadcasting radio warnings," a JCS spokesman told reporters.

   It was the fourth time for the communist North to violate the western maritime border this year. The cash-starved North allows Chinese fishing boats to operate in its waters for fees.

   The North's first violation of the NLL this year came on March 28 when one of its patrol ships crossed the border and remained in South Korean waters for some 10 minutes. The communist nation then test-fired several short-range missiles later that day from a ship operating in the West Sea.

   The NLL, drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, has served as a de facto border of the divided Koreas, but Pyongyang regularly demands it be redrawn.

  The communist nation's violations of the NLL led to two deadly clashes between the countries' naval forces in 1999 and 2002.


N. Korea Stops Drills, Sends Troops to Help Farms: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's 1.1-million strong military has apparently halted its regular military exercises while its troops help farmers raise crops, a source here said on May 28.

   The North's armed services usually hold large-scale inspections and scattered exercises around this time of year ahead of a massive regular summer exercise beginning in August, the source said.

  However, they appear to have abandoned their primary role for now to help raise crops, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.

   "We are seeing massive support for farming by North Korean troops stationed throughout the country," he said, noting the scale of the military support also appeared to have significantly increased from previous years.

   The North's military is often said to render assistance during the farming season, but rarely so frequently that it has to give up its regular exercises. In the North, every resource and effort goes to the military under leader Kim Jong-il's longstanding policy of "Songun," meaning military-first.

   The rare move comes amid recent reports that Pyongyang is facing a food crisis that is nearly a famine, with tens of thousands expected to starve to death if the international community does not act in the next few months to feed them.

   Stephen Linton, head of the Eugene Bell Foundation who recently traveled to the impoverished North, on Tuesday said the "next month" can be very critical for the North if the world does not act.

   The World Food Program, a U.N. organization, estimates the North may fall short of some 1.6 million tons of food this year despite its plans to provide 600,000 tons.