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2008/08/14 10:45 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 16 (August 14, 2008)


400 Students Injured in Pyongyang Streetcar Accident: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- About 400 students participating in North Korea's famed mass gymnastics show were injured as streetcars skidded and overturned in Pyongyang, an Internet newspaper has reported.

   The accident, reported on Aug. 6 by the Seoul-based Daily NK, took place in the downtown area of the capital city on July 20 when three streetcars carrying students crashed into one another after the first one stopped abruptly due to an electric power failure.

   Four of the car's carriages slid sideways and overturned as a result.

   "It is a tragic accident caused by a simple power supply problem," a source in Pyongyang was quoted as saying.

   Students injured in the crash were on their way to a training session for the acrobatic performance, called Arirang. Sixty of the students were seriously injured, the report said.

   North Korea commenced with the world's largest choreographic show on Aug. 4 with close to 100,000 acrobatic, gymnastic and dance performers. Since the first performance in 2002, the games have helped the isolated country earn much-needed revenue from foreign tourists.

   Around 300 second-hand streetcars operate on the streets of Pyongyang. They were imported from the Czech Republic in 1990 and often experience routine breakdowns because of dilapidated parts, said the report.


North Korea, Russia to Redraw Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) - North Korea and Russia have agreed to redraw their border along the Tumen River, as floods frequently change the shape of the waterway, according to a Russian foreign ministry report monitored here on Aug. 6.

   "Russia and North Korea agreed at the end of last year to hold working-level talks for a certain period of time to work on a new treaty on the border," the ministry said in a recent posting on its official Web site.

   It did not mention when the first talks will be held.

   The current border was drawn under an agreement reached in 1990 between North Korea and the former Soviet Union. Border landmarks were then installed on the bottom of the 17.5-km section of the river.

   However, floods over the past decade have significantly changed the shape of the waterway and a number of border marks have been lost, according to a joint topographical survey of the two countries in the early 2000s. The survey found that floods had eroded part of both territories.

   To prevent further erosion of the land, Russia in recent years has planted trees and began building a bank along its side of the river.

   Some South Korean diplomatic observers, considering a possible reunification of the Korean states, are concerned that the North may give up part of its land along the border area in return for Russian investment in the reclusive state.

   But many others are less worried, saying the formation of a new treaty on the border will be a time-consuming process, and that the two nations are likely to first fully consider economic and diplomatic interests.


Seoul to Hand over Body of N. Korean Soldier Found Last Month

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is set to hand over the body of a North Korean military officer found last month near the inter-Korean border to the communist nation, officials said on Aug. 7.

   The officer's body, identified by his attire as a second lieutenant, is to be handed on Aug. 8 to the North's military mission to the Joint Security Area (JSA) inside the demilitarized zone, according to officials at the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC).

   The body was found in the Imjin River, just south of the heavily fortified inter-Korean border, on July 27 by a South Korean fisherman, according to the official.

   As the supervisory body of the Korean Armistice Agreement, which ended the 1950-53 Korean War, the UNCMAC also handles most of interactions with the North's military mission at the JSA, better known as the truce village of Panmunjom.

   "The North's Panmunjom mission accepted our offer to send back the body, so a transfer has been arranged for 11 a.m. on Aug. 8," an official said, asking not to be identified.

   The cause of the North Korean soldier's death has not been identified, but officials said it is not rare to find the body of a North Korean soldier or civilian drifting to the South on rivers that cross the border.

   The two Koreas are divided by the four-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone. The countries technically remain at war as the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.


North Korea Rejects U.S. Envoy's Planned Visit

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has spurned a request by U.S. President George W. Bush's specially appointed human rights envoy for the communist nation to visit an inter-Korean industrial zone next week, officials in Seoul said on Aug. 7.

   Jay Lefkowitz sought to tour the industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong on Aug. 13 on the sidelines of his visit to Seoul. Lefkowitz has often criticized the site for its poor working conditions for North Korean employees.

   "He applied for the visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex through the U.S. embassy in South Korea," Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

   The North rejected the application, however, saying the envoy's visit to the town was not appropriate, Kim added.

   Lefkowitz tried to visit Kaesong late last month, but called off the plan without giving a specific reason.