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2008/08/21 10:41 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 17 (August 21, 2008)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)

N. Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Inspects Army Unit

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspected an army unit and urged all soldiers to master "military skills," the North's state-run news agency said on Aug. 14.

   Kim, accompanied by army generals, visited Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 1319 and "stressed that all soldiers should own high military skills and combat power," the Korean Central News Agency quoted him as saying.

   He also expressed appreciation at the soldiers' tree-planting efforts, saying the lush forests near the barracks and in the surrounding mountains were a reflection of their "sizzling patriotism."

   Deforestation is reportedly the key reason North Korea suffers severe flood damage in the summer monsoon season almost every year, as trees serve as the main fuel source during the winter in the economically devastated country.


North Korea Stresses Saving Food Amid Worldwide Food Crisis

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea urged farmers to save food as a means of overcoming the worldwide food crisis amid warnings from international humanitarian agencies that the impoverished country will have difficulty obtaining food support next year.

   The (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) on Aug. 16 quoted an official of the Union of Agricultural Working People of (North) Korea as saying that the organization under the North's ruling Worker's Party is encouraging its 1.3 million members through propaganda activities to conserve food as much as possible, adding the problem is not limited to North Korea.

   The official reportedly said that the struggle to consume less food is a way to solve the food problem in its own country, as more than 800 million people are suffering from chronic food shortages throughout the world.

   The KCBS broadcast another article of reporters' discussions on how to endure the food crisis when developing countries are increasingly finding it hard to secure grain amid hikes in food prices worldwide.

   North Korea, which has recently received 50,000 tons of food aid from the United States, along with other shipments from Russia and European countries, will manage to solve its food problem to some extent this year, analysts say, though the South, one of its main food providers, has suspended its food support amid chilled inter-Korean relations.

   On the same day, Washington-based Radio Free Asia said that the food aid condition for poor countries will be harder next year due to fears of economic recession in the West and a slow-down in China's economic growth. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme had accomplished only 50 percent of its annual donation target for this year as of Aug. 1.


N. Korean Wins Second Olympic Gold for Her Country

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean gymnast Hong Un-jong won the women's vault competition of the Beijing Olympics on Aug. 17, bringing her country its second gold medal from this year's Games.

   The North's news media reported on her win the following day.

   Despite a 0.3 penalty, the 19-year-old scored 6.5 and 9.35 in her two vaults for a total of 15.16, edging Germany's Oksana Chusovitina, who took the silver with a score of 15.575. Cheng Fei of China finished third with a total of 15.562.

   It was the first gold claimed by the North since Pak Hyon-suk won the women's 63-kilogram weightlifting competition on Aug. 12.

   The North Korean delegation, which has 63 athletes, suffered a setback on Aug. 15 when the International Olympic Committee expelled its male shooter, Kim Jong-su, on doping charges. Kim had won a bronze and a silver, both of which were taken away and given to his runners-up.

   Hong finished fourth in the world championship last year in Germany, while Cheng topped the competition and Chusovitina finished sixth.

   North Korea stands at 23nd in the medal rankings, as of Aug. 20.


N. Korea Names Top-level Diplomat as Ambassador to Syria

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has appointed a deputy foreign minister as its new ambassador to Syria, one of Pyongyang's closest allies, the communist state's official news agency said on Aug. 18.

   The appointment of Choe Su-hon, who had served as deputy foreign minister in charge of international organizations since 1986, is seen as a sign of North Korea's emphasis on maintaining diplomatic ties with Damascus.

   "Choe Su-hon is named as the DPRK's ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic according to the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said in an one-paragraph article, using the abbreviation for the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   Choe is known for his expertise in U.S. and international affairs.

   He has delivered speeches at the General Assembly of the United Nations as the North's representative, and he also led Pyongyang's negotiations with global agencies, including the World Food Programme.

   Choe's previous post is expected to be filled by Pak Kil-yon, the North's former top envoy to the U.N.

   North Korea reportedly has six deputy foreign ministers under Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju.

   North Korea established diplomatic relations with Syria in 1966. Syria has no diplomatic ties with South Korea.

   The U.S. claims that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor. The site that was believed to house to reactor was destroyed by Israel last year.

   Pyongyang reportedly acknowledged Washington's concern over the alleged proliferation in its recent declaration of its nuclear programs, which it submitted under a deal with its partners at the six-way talks. The other participants are South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.