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2008/08/21 10:42 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 17 (August 21, 2008)


Millionaire Motorists to Visit Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's mass synchronized Arirang show is set to draw an unusual audience on Aug. 13, as 240 car-loving millionaires participating in an international motor rally vroom into Pyongyang en route to China.

   "All participants will get to experience an unprecedented one night in North Korea as part of a global friendship initiative, getting to watch the Mass Games," rally organizers of the Gumball Rally said on their English Web site.

   Named after a 1976 film about a coast-to-coast road race, the Gumball Rally brings together wealthy drivers from around the world. Around 100 members participate in the annual 3000-mile (5000-km) international rally on public roads. This year, their itinerary allows them to witness the spectacle of both the Arirang Games and the Olympic Games in China, where they head next.

   "Social dialogue between the West and North Korea is very limited," Maxmillion Cooper, founder of the Gumball Rally, headquartered in London, was quoted as saying by the the Washington-based radio station Voice of America (VOA). "The invitation means that Pyongyang is beginning to have non-political talks with Western society."

   According to the report, they are scheduled to join a dinner hosted by North Korea's Ministry of Culture and see the Arirang show the same night. After the performance, some of the drivers who play music will hold a small concert for friendship and harmony.

   The 90-minute show features tens of thousands of performers carrying out synchronized gymnastics and flipping colored cards to create giant mosaics at a huge stadium in the North Korean capital.

   North Korea regularized the show in 2002. This year's event will run from Aug. 1 through Oct. 10.

   This year's motor rally, celebrating its 10th anniversary, started in San Francisco on Aug. 9, with participants also driving through Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas.

   After the one-day visit in the reclusive country, they will drive to the Chinese cities of Nanjing, Shanghai and Zuxhou before moving to the final stop of Beijing a week later.

   North Korea's news media did not report the itinerary for their visit to Pyongyang.


S. Korean Firms Raise Minimum Wage for N. Korean Workers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean companies operating at an industrial complex just north of the heavily fortified inter-Korean border have raised the minimum wage for their North Korean workers by 5 percent this month, according to company statements on Aug. 13.

   About 23,000 North Koreans have been hired by some 70 South Korean factories to work in the industrial complex, touted as a model for eventual reunification between the two Koreas and located in the North's western border city of Kaesong.

   Starting this month, North Korean workers will be paid a minimum US$55.13 a month, up from $52.50, said an official for the South Korean companies in Kaesong.

   It's the second time that the minimum wage has been increased since the industrial park started operations in late 2004.

   "The South Korean companies and the North Korean authorities agreed to hold annual meetings in August" to decide on a possible increase in the minimum wage, the official said.

   International critics, meanwhile, have raised doubts over whether North Korean workers at the Kaesong industrial zone have actually received their wages.

   The wage increase comes amid escalating tensions between South and North Korea over the shooting death of a Seoul tourist at the North's resort site.


N. Korean Defector in Coma After Fasting to Protest Repatriation of Defectors

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A North Korean defector briefly fell into a coma on Saturday after over two weeks of fasting in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington in protest of China's repatriation of North Korean defectors, a pastor said on Aug. 17.

   Cho Jin-hae was taken to the Georgetown University Hospital on Saturday afternoon before recovering consciousness a couple of hours later, Pastor Lee Hee-moon said.

   The 21-year-old woman who came to the United States in March will give a press conference in front of the Chinese Embassy on Monday morning, said the pastor, who is the defector's guardian. "We are persuading her to stop the fasting, although she insists on keeping going," the pastor added.

   Cho has been fasting since Aug. 3, a week before U.S. President George W. Bush visited Beijing to attend the Summer Olympics there.

   She met with Bush on July 25 at a forum here, where Bush delivered a speech on human rights and introduced her to the audience.

   "We stand with Cho Jin Hae, who witnessed several of her family members starve to death in North Korea," Bush said. "She herself was tortured by the communist authorities."

   While meeting with President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders in Beijing, Bush took up the issues of North Korean defectors, religious freedom and other human rights topics, only to be met by China's counterattack that the U.S. should not interfere in China's internal affairs.

   In Seoul, which he visited on his way to Beijing, Bush issued a joint statement with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, saying that they "shared the view that in the process of normalizing relations, meaningful progress should be made on improving North Korea's human rights record."

   The statement is the first of its kind in a decade, as Lee's liberal predecessors feared such a move would provoke North Korea.

   Cho -- who was admitted to the U.S. along with her mother and sister in March, ending a saga in which she was repatriated to the North three times -- urged Olympic host nation China to become a country of gold medals in human rights.

   She said that she spent 15 months at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing after being admitted there in December 2006.

   China considers North Korean defectors to be economic migrants rather than refugees under an agreement for their deportation signed with communist ally North Korea.

   The U.S. has accepted more than 80 North Korean defectors under the North Korean Human Rights Act, enacted in 2004 to help such defectors settle in the U.S. and other Western countries.

   More than 10,000 North Korean defectors have settled in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.


North Korea May Have Attended Lee's Inauguration; Lawmaker

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A "special invitation" may have induced North Korea to attend South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration ceremony in February, a ruling party lawmaker said on Aug. 19 as Seoul's six-month-old government continues to grapple with chilled inter-Korean ties.

   Relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have been strained since the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration took office on Feb. 25, with the North snubbing calls for resuming the stalled inter-Korean dialogue.

   Tensions escalated between the two divided countries after a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean tourist last month at Mt. Kumgang, a scenic resort on the North's east coast. Seoul immediately suspended the decade-old tour, which is a symbol of cross-border reconciliation efforts.

   "North Korea said it would not attend the ceremony if Seoul sent an ordinary invitation that would also go to other countries," Lim Tae-hee, chief policymaker of the governing Grand National Party, said in a forum on inter-Korean cooperation. "After a lengthy discussion on what North Korea meant by a 'special invitation,' we sent an ordinary invitation. It (North Korea) did not send a delegation, just as it had said."

   Lim had been a member of Lee's transition committee that operated for two months after the presidential election in December.

   President Lee had said at the time that he would welcome a North Korean delegation to his inauguration ceremony should the Stalinist state decide to send one.

   Unlike his two liberal predecessors, Lee has been firm in linking economic cooperation and the implementation of two inter-Korean deals struck under the former governments with Pyongyang's denuclearization.

   Irritated by Lee's hard-line stance, Pyongyang has released several harsh comments aimed at his government, and has refused to apologize or cooperate in investigations into the July 11 shooting incident.


N. Korea Bought Stinger Missiles from Mujahideen in 1990s

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea purchased an undetermined number of U.S.-made portable anti-aircraft missiles from Afghanistan in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union-backed Najibullah regime collapsed, according to a U.S. Congressional report.

   The Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, dated August 8, referenced articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

   The Times wrote on July 24, 1993 that a buy-back effort by the U.S. government "failed because the United States was competing with other buyers, including Iran and North Korea."

   The Reagan administration provided Afghanistan's mujahideen fighters with about 2,000 Stinger missiles to help them fight against Soviet aircraft in the mid-1980s, according to the report.

   The Washington Post reported on March 7, 1994 that the "CIA had recovered only a fraction (maybe 50 or 100) of the at-large Stingers," although up to 300 missiles are believed to be unaccounted for.

   The CIA spent US$10 million in the buy-back in 1992 and set aside $55 million for the same purpose in 1994, the report said.