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2008/08/28 11:04 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 18 (August 28, 2008)

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U.S. Court Begins Default Judgment on Pueblo Captives' Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A federal court has begun default judgment on a suit filed by seamen of the USS Pueblo seeking compensation from North Korea for the physical and psychological damage they suffered while detained in North Korea decades ago, their lawyer said on Aug. 20.

   "We tried this case in April and at that time the judge directed us that we have a default judgment that is in place," Richard Streeter said.

   The USS Pueblo, a 906-ton U.S. intelligence-gathering ship, was attacked and seized by Pyongyang on Jan. 23, 1968. One American sailor was killed and 82 others were held prisoner for 11 months before they were freed.

   North Korea has displayed the ship along the Taedong River in Pyongyang for anti-American propaganda purposes, and allowed tour groups to visit the vessel.

   Streeter said he filed "findings, facts and conclusions of law" with the District of Columbia federal court in June, as North Korea has not yet responded to the 2006 serving of the complaint to Pyongyang through DHL.

   "We have provided the defendant with the opportunity to respond, and the defendant did not respond," he said. "Therefore we entered default judgment."
He said he asked for US$97 million in compensation for the four victims represented in the suit.

   "Each of these fellows -- that was the four plaintiffs, except for Mrs. Rose Bucker, who is the representative of her deceased husband -- were held in captivity by N. Korea starting Jan 23 until they were released in Dec. 23, 1968," the lawyer said.

   Each of the victims deserves $10,000 per day under U.S. case law, as they "have been beaten or kicked, other things like that on a daily basis" and suffered "additional damages, pain and suffering, so on and so forth," he said.

   Once the court makes a final decision on the case, the lawyer said, he will try to get access to North Korean assets frozen in the U.S. under various restrictions imposed by the U.S. government's listing of North Korea as a terrorism-sponsoring state.

  
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N. Korea's Birthrate Higher Than S. Korea's: Research Institute

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Impoverished North Korea's fertility rate was estimated to be slightly higher than that of South Korea this year, a U.S. population research center said in a report on Aug. 20.

   A North Korean woman in her childbearing years delivers 2 children on average, compared to a South Korean woman who bears only 1.3, said the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a non-profit research organization in Washington.

   North Korea's crude birth rate, or the number of newborn babies for every 1,000 people, was estimated to be 16, higher than Seoul's 10, the report noted.

   South Korea has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, though it has increased somewhat from a record low of 1.08 in 2005 thanks to nationwide efforts to boost birth rates to aid the economy.

   In the "2008 World Population Data Sheet" posted on its Website, PRB estimated the North's annual population growth rate at 0.9.

   The North's population will increase from its current 23.5 million to 25.8 million in 2025 and to 26.4 million in 2050 if it keeps growing at this rate, the report said.

   Funded by both private foundations and government agencies in the U.S., the PRB has issued an annual global population, health and environment almanac since 2003.

   In comparison to PRB's findings, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated the North's crude birthrate at 14.61, with a population growth rate of about 0.7 and a population of 23.5 million as of July.

   In October North Korea will conduct its first national consensus in 14 years with help from the United Nations Population Fund, according to the U.N. agency.

   About one to three million North Koreans are believed to have starved to death in the late 1990s due to natural disasters and years of economic mismanagement.

  
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Pyongyang Not on Level of Starvation, But Seoul's Aid Necessary

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Although food shortages in Pyongyang have not reached the level of famine as in the mid-1990s, Seoul's contribution is necessary to prevent aggravation of the situation, an official of the World Food Program (WFP) said on Aug. 23.

   The United Nations organization has asked South Korea to contribute up to US$60 million in food aid to the impoverished communist country, Seoul's Unification Ministry said earlier this week, adding the government will consider the appeal on the basis of public opinion.

   Public sentiment in the South has been cooling toward North Korea, which shot dead a South Korean tourist in its Mt Kumgang resort last month. Pyongyang has refused to apologize or cooperate in a joint-investigation into the incident, further straining ties with the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.

   "The situation is quite critical with some of the regions in the country reaching the level of 'humanitarian emergency,' but we don't consider that it is at the level of starvation or famine," Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP's country director for North Korea, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-funded private radio station.

   "We, however, would be more than welcome if South Korea could provide us with the contribution above $20 million, maybe up to $60 million, especially as we expect the country to be the largest donor in our emergency relief program."

   South Korea, which has provided annual aid to Pyongyang in the form of rice and fertilizer in recent years, halted direct shipments this year due to escalating political tensions with its neighbor. Seoul earlier said it would provide aid if the North requests it, which it has not done.

   The WFP said parts of North Korea were experiencing their worst food shortages in nearly a decade, urging Seoul to make the donation to provide sustenance for approximately 6.2 million neediest people among the population of 23 million.

   Seoul has yet to decide on the issue, but the Unification Ministry said the North Korean nuclear or other political matters will not affect its decision. The $60 million could buy about 75,000 tons of rice or 150,000 tons of corn, according to the ministry.

   President Lee, who took office in February, has been against what he calls an "unconditional flow of aid" to the North under his predecessors and firm on the need to link the handouts with Pyongyang's denuclearization.

   While Seoul stepped back in providing food, Washington started in June to send 500,000 tons of pledged food aid to the North, most of which will be distributed by the WFP.

  
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S. Korea Sets Official English Name for N. Korea Policy

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The government has officially set the English name for its trademark North Korea policy as "the policy of mutual benefits and common prosperity," officials said on Aug. 26.

   The Korean name for the policy was announced in late July but its English translation had remained undecided.

   "We decided to fix an English name for the policy because there have been many different translated versions," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, the top Seoul office on North Korea, told reporters.

   He said the name was chosen because it best suits the government's policy of pursuing a relationship of co-existence and co-prosperity with the North beyond the current phase of reconciliation.

   The government aims at firmer inter-Korean reconciliation than its two liberal predecessors, seeking to bring tangible benefits not only to the North but to the South as well, officials said.

   President Lee Myung-bak pledged during his election campaign to help the North triple its per capita gross national income to US$3,000 if it abandons its nuclear programs and opens itself to the world.

   The so-called "Vision 3,000" program is now part of Lee's broader North Korea policy, officials said.

   Lee said in a speech marking Korea's liberation day this month that he still expects the North to return to the dialogue table to pursue economic cooperation with the South despite the chilled relations.

  
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S. Korea to Punish N.K. Defectors Seeking Refugee Status in Third Country

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean defectors may be criminally punished if they seek refugee status again in another country after obtaining South Korean citizenship, officials said on Aug. 26.

   "The government decided to cut down resettlement subsidies promised to North Korean defectors who settled in South Korea if they apply for asylum in a third country by lying about their nationality," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry, told reporters. "The government may consider criminally punishing them, depending on individual cases."

   The decision was made in a Seoul meeting on Monday attended by senior officials from 19 related ministries, including the Unification Ministry, the spokesman said. The government will soon begin work on an implementation plan, he added.

   More than 12,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War after fleeing their communist homeland to escape famine and political oppression. Surveys, however, show that many experience economic difficulty once in the South due to a lack of necessary job skills.

   Last year alone some 130 North Koreans were granted refugee status again in Britain after obtaining South Korean citizenship, according to tallies made in London.

   More than 80 North Korean defectors have been granted refugee status in the U.S. since Washington enacted a law in 2004 to expedite acceptance of these asylum seekers, according to Washington-based reports. It is not known how many among them already have South Korean citizenship.

   Once a defector settles in South Korea, he or she receive 6 million won (US$5,507) in installments from state coffers, along with a rental apartment. The government can cut the monetary aid by half if the beneficiary is found to have violated laws governing their status.

  
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Seoul's Prosecution Arrests Alleged N. Korean Spy Disguised As Defector

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's prosecutors said on Aug. 27 they arrested a female North Korean defector believed to be a trained spy and who allegedly used sexual favors to gain sensitive information from South Korean military officers.

   If proven in the courts, the case would confirm long-held concerns over infiltration by North Korean agents posing as refugees.

   The investigation could expand to other North Korean defectors, as prosecutors believe more spies could have entered the country under the guise of defection.

   "We could only suspect that there could be spies mixed in with North Korean defectors during the reconciliatory mood of the past 10 years and had no evidence. The suspicions have turned into reality for the first time," Kim Kyeong-su, a senior prosecutor at the Suwon District Prosecutors' Office, said in a press conference.

   The 35-year-old suspect, Won Jeong-hwa, was arrested last month and indicted on Aug. 27 on charges of spying for North Korea, using her romantic relationships with several South Korean military officers as sources of information. One of her lovers, identified as a 26-year-old Army captain, was detained for collaborating with her, prosecutors said.

   According to prosecutors, before coming to the South in 2001, Won served jail time for theft and feared possible execution for committing another crime -- stealing tons of zinc, which is punishable by death in the resource-strapped North. Years after hiding in northeastern China, she returned home with relatives' help and, in 1998, became a spy for North Korea's National Security Agency, local authorities allege.

   Prosecutors said the North first commissioned Won to kidnap North Korean defectors in China for repatriation. She then expanded her mission to South Korea, which she entered in 2001 by marrying a South Korean man. Posing as a defector, she turned herself in to South Korea's National Intelligence Service.

   Won is suspected of collecting classified information, including photographs and the exact locations of the country's key military installations and weapons systems, and handing them over to North Korean agents in China.

   Her key mission included locating and possibly assassinating Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of North Korea's Workers' Party and the highest-ranking North Korean to defect to the South, but she failed, investigators said.

  (END)