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2008/06/12 10:57 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 7 (June 12, 2008)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF

N. Korea, Japan Agree to Hold Official Normalization Talks in Mid-June

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea and Japan agreed on June 7 to meet next week for official talks on resolving the abduction dispute and normalizing bilateral relations, a Japanese envoy said.

   Akitaka Saiki, Japan's chief negotiator at the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization, told reporters in Beijing after an unofficial meeting with Song Il-ho, North Korea's ambassador for normalization talks with Japan, that the two sides agreed to meet officially in Beijing on June 11-12.

   However, North Korea's official media, as of June 11, had not reported about the unofficial meeting.

   Japan's chief negotiator Saiki said Japan "agreed with North Korea to hold official talks in the Chinese capital on June 11 and 12.

   The two officials arrived in Beijing earlier in the day for the normalization talks under the six-party framework aimed at resolving the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The Pyongyang-Tokyo talks have been in limbo since the last round took place in Ulan Bator in September 2007.

   Japan has been refusing to normalize relations or provide aid to North Korea, insisting that the North has failed to fully address the abduction issue.

   Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1960s and 1970s, and later allowed five survivors and their family members -- as well as the family members of the abductees said to have died -- to return to Japan.

   With the return of the victims, North Korea says the issue has been resolved, but Tokyo has raised questions about the number of abductees and their fate.

   "Through various discussions in today's meeting, we conveyed Japan's position on the abduction of Japanese citizens, and North Korea listened attentively," Saiki said.

   "As it is important to make progress in the bilateral relations, the two sides agreed to continue this discussion in the next meeting," he said.

  
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North Korea Welcomes Improvement of China-Taiwan Relations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- As Pyongyang has been at odds with Seoul for the past few months, North Korea has welcomed the recent improvement of relations between China and Taiwan.

   Rodong Sinmun, organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party, on June 9 said the head of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang recently visited Beijing before pledging a win-win relationship with the mainland at a meeting with China's President Hu Jintao -- the highest-level contact between the two sides since 1949. The report was carried by Uriminzokkiri, the North's official Web site.

   The organ said the turnaround of relations, which it noted were very cold during the rule of previous Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, came with the election of new President Ma Ying-jeou in March, who pledged dialogue with China.

   The commentary came amid criticism by the North against the government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was inaugurated in late February on pledges to get tough on the communist country.

   Rodong Sinmun reported that China and Taiwan recently held an economic forum, while Taiwan in May gave aid worth US$112 million to help alleviate damages caused by a devastating earthquake in Sichuan, China. The newspaper added that such efforts for peaceful development are getting international support.

  
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'Obama Is Better Than McCain for U.S., North Korea'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In consideration of the relationship between North Korea and the United States, Barack Obama, the presidential candidate of the U.S. Democrats, is better than Republican John McCain as the next president, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said on June 9.

   Choson Sinbo, organ of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, favored Obama, reporting that he said he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without conditions if he is elected president, while harshly criticizing incumbent President George W. Bush.

   On the other hand, the newspaper said McCain is "a variant of Bush" and "nothing better than a scarecrow of neoconservatives."

   Such a report, which represents the North's position indirectly, came as Obama won the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton in the primary elections.

   Even if McCain wins the coming election in November, he cannot reverse past U.S.-North Korea ties, the newspaper said, hoping to continue the improving relations with Washington, regardless of who wins the presidency.

   It also said that the primary elections of both parties showed that the U.S is diverse and has undergone a fundamental change, noting that Hillary is a woman, Obama is black and McCain is old.

   The newspaper added that the result of the elections cannot be predicted, even though Obama is currently slightly ahead of McCain.

  
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North Korea Warns of U.S. Canceling Reduction of Its Forces in the South

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on June 9 warned it will not allow the United States "to exploit the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," pointing out that in their defense talks in early June, the U.S. and South Korea reconfirmed their cancellation of a cutback of U.S. forces in South Korea.

   The warning came in a statement made by a spokesman for the Panmunjom Mission of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), and was carried by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on the same day. Panmunjom is the truce village on the border between the North and the U.S.-led United Nations Command in the South.

   The KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying, "The KPA will never allow the U.S. to exploit the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as a pretext for intensifying moves for aggression against the DPRK (North Korea) and a fig leaf for covering up them."

   The U.S. secretary of defense and the minister of national defense of South Korea on June 3 held talks in Seoul, at which they officially confirmed the agreement reached between Lee Myung-bak and George W. Bush to cancel the plan for reducing U.S. troops in South Korea. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

   "Should the U.S. and the South Korean warlike forces persist in their moves for a war against the DPRK as now, the KPA will be left with no option but to further bolster all its war deterrents," the statement said, which could be interpreted as the North's potential suspension of its denuclearization process.

   The strong reaction came as the North and the U.S. were finishing the disablement of the North's nuclear facilities.

  
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N.K. Denies Rumors on Bird Flu Outbreak: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has denied rumors that avian influenza or hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is spreading in the country, a radio report said on June 10.

   The North's heath authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) that there has not been a single case of bird flu or HFMD reported to the authorities this year, Washington-based Radio Free Asia said.

   The denial came in response to a report published a week ago by South Korean aid group Good Friends, claiming that a mysterious epidemic suspected of being bird flu or HFMD has been spreading in North Korean towns bordering China.

   In recent months, the disease took the lives of many North Korean infants that suffered from malnutrition caused by food shortages, the group claimed, citing North Korean doctors in the border area who requested anonymity.

   The WHO has rendered technical and monetary support to North Korea to help prevent possible bird flu outbreaks since the communist state was hit by the deadly disease in 2005. No new case has been reported since then.

   Jai Narain, the director for communicable diseases at the WHO's Southeast Asia office in New Delhi, was quoted as saying the international body is working closely with the North Korean health authorities to prevent any potential bird flu outbreak and that Pyongyang has submitted related reports to the organization on a regular basis.

   The France-based OIE, the world organization for animal health, also said the North's latest report to the office included no information or reports of any bird flu outbreaks, the radio station reported.

   North Korea has inoculated poultry against bird flu to prevent the spread of the virus from neighboring South Korea, according to the North's state-run news media.

   South Korea has slaughtered over 8 million birds since early April when bird flu broke out there for the first time in more than a year. But no South Korean has died of bird flu.

   HFMD, meanwhile, has struck over 10,000 people resulting in 26 fatalities, all of them children, in recent months, according to Chinese media reports.

  
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N. Korea Praises S. Korean Protests against U.S. Beef

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea praised South Koreans' massive protests against a U.S. beef agreement on a historic anniversary on June 10, calling the Lee Myung-bak government an "unbearable humiliation" to the Korean people.

   "With the traitor Lee Myung-bak there, the South Korean people will undergo even deeper misery and pain, and all the Korean people won't be able to avoid catastrophe," Rodong Sinmun, newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, said in a commentary.

   The remarks came as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans started the largest anti-government protest yet against the impending resumption of U.S. beef imports. The protest coincided with the anniversary of the historic June 10, 1987 pro-democracy movement.

   The Lee administration "is an unbearable humiliation to the June democracy activists," it said.

  The commentary called the month-long candlelight rallies against U.S. beef imports "an anti-U.S., anti-fascist protest of the South Korean people to achieve democracy and unification" with the North.

   Marking the historic anniversary, the North heaped criticism on President Lee Myung-bak, whom it has called a "traitor" and "U.S. sycophant."

   In 1987, over 1 million South Koreans took to the streets, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old university student. Lee Han-yeol died after being struck on the head by a tear gas canister while protesting against the regime of Chun Doo-hwan. His death and the ensuing public protest led the then military regime to adopt a direct presidential election system.

  (END)