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2008/07/24 11:26 KST


Foreign Investors Moving to Secure North Korean Mining Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Foreign investors are trying to secure mining rights in North Korea, including rights to uranium mines, ahead of the North's removal from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states.

   Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on July 7 that a British investment firm increased the amount of the North's "Korea Development Fund" to US$10 million from the original amount of $5 million last October, when conspicuous signs of progress in removing international financial and economic sanctions against the communist country emerged.

   Quoting international financial sources, the radio station said several investment groups in London and Hong Kong are pushing for the establishment of funds for North Korea.

   U.S. companies such as Cargill, Bechtel, Goldman-Sachs and Citigroup have shown strong intentions of investing in North Korea, where mineral resources are abundant, the RFA said. These companies are hoping to participate in the investment fund for the communist country via London if the North is removed from the list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

   Other analysts explained that the Bush administration showed flexibility in the recent nuclear negotiations with North Korea, particularly in dealing with the suspected uranium enrichment program, so the U.S. and Britain would take a lead in developing uranium mines in North Korea.

   North Korea submitted a long-overdue declaration on its nuclear activities at Yongbyon in late June, and is about to enter the third phase of its nuclear dismantlement. North Korea had agreed last year to disable its key nuclear facilities and give a full accounting of its nuclear programs in return for political incentives and energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy oil.


North Korean Bond Prices Decline Due to Financial Crisis

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Prices of North Korean bonds are decreasing on the international market despite recent favorable conditions for the communist country, which is being removed from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states, a Washington-based radio station said on July 8.

   Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that the low prices of North Korean bonds are attributable to the worldwide financial crisis, adding that the price is only 25 cents per US$1, one-fourth of its par value or a 20 percent decrease from six months ago, when the price was 32 cents.

   Peter Bartlett, president of the Exotix Limited, a British securities firm, said that North Korean bond prices are going down because of the crisis in the financial market. He said the recent resolution on North Korea's denuclearization is quite promising and encouraging, but "their concerns are more about the global credit crunch."

   Investment sentiment is very low for North Korean bonds, and there is no particular movement for buying them, he said. Bartlett added there will not be any great change in bond prices for the time being, even after the North is removed from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

   Washington has begun the process of removing North Korea from the list in return for Pyongyang's submission of a long-awaited account of its nuclear activity, which the North handed over six months after its deadline under an aid-for-denuclearization deal.

   Stuart Culverhouse, senior analyst for the British financial broker ICAP, said that the fate of the North Korean bond will depend on the progress of the six-party talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. He said the North needs to be more open to international society, including financial organizations, so it can attract more investment in the bond market.

   The radio station said Western banks have sold bonds since 1994 to regain their money loaned to North Korea. It said North Korea's total debt payable to the Western banks is estimated at $1.6 billion.


Seoul to Accept London's Request to Identify N.K. Asylum Seekers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul has decided to cooperate in London's efforts to identify some 450 people who sought asylum in Britain claiming they are North Korean defectors, a Foreign Ministry official said on July 19.

   The government will run the fingerprints of the applicants through its database in Seoul in order to check whether the applicants have already obtained South Korean citizenship, the official said, requesting anonymity.

   "In Britain, there are about 850 people presumed to be North Korean defectors, among whom 450 or more have applied for refugee status," the official said. "The British government sought our cooperation to confirm if the applicants are genuinely North Korean defectors."

   The South Korean Foreign Ministry made the decision after having consultations with related government offices, officials said. The National Police Agency, the country's top police body, had opposed cooperation, saying personal information of citizens should not be provided to a foreign country unless the people in question are criminals, they said.

   "What we will hand over is not the entire personal information of certain civilians but information on whether fingerprints sent from the British government are identical to those in our database or not," one of the officials said. That information would greatly influence the chance of the applicants getting refugee status in Britain, he added.

   A total of 130 North Korean defectors were granted refugee status in Britain last year but all of them had already obtained South Korean citizenship, according to the U.S.-based radio broadcaster Voice of America. They are known to have chosen to live in a third country after failing to adapt to life in South Korea.


Obama Says North Korea Has Eight Nuclear Warheads

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on July 23 called for active diplomacy to check nuclear proliferation, saying the Bush administration's lack of diplomacy resulted in North Korea developing eight nuclear warheads.

   In an interview with a CBS program, Obama, however, did not elaborate on where he had received the information on the North's possession of eight nuclear weapons.

   The intelligence community estimates the number at five to 10, based on the up to 50 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium the North is believed to have produced over the past decade or so at its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, north of its capital, Pyongyang.

   "North Korea, when we weren't talking, developed eight nuclear weapons," Obama said. "And when we started talking, we've now arrived at a possibility where we could get those nuclear weapons and those systems dismantled."

   The Illinois senator was talking about the recent developments in the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

   The Bush administration had refused to deal directly with Pyongyang and Tehran for the past years unless they drop their nuclear ambitions. But in recent months it has actively engaged North Korea, persuading it to present its nuclear program list, blast a nuclear cooling tower and agree to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of October in return for energy aid.

   Washington is in the midst of a 45-day process running to Aug. 11 to delist the North as a state sponsor of terrorism, and the Bush administration has already removed some sanctions.