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2008/09/18 10:58 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 21 (September 18, 2008)

   *** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

Seoul to Send Energy Aid to Pyongyang under Six-party Accord

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will deliver a portion of the energy assistance promised to North Korea under a six-nation nuclear disarmament deal by next month, despite the socialist country's recent backtrack on its pledge to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a government source said on Sept. 16.

   The government plans to ship 1,500 tons of round steel bars by Sept. 25, with an additional 1,500 tons to be sent next month, according to the source.

   The shipment is part of the 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent energy assistance that North Korea's five negotiating partners -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- promised to provide under the six-party deal signed in February last year.

   In return, Pyongyang shut down its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, promising to disable them completely.

   North Korea, however, has recently taken steps to reverse the disabling process, in protest against what it says is a failure by the U.S. to fulfill a pledge to remove the North from its list of state sponsors of terror.

   The South Korean government has decided to send the promised energy shipment as planned in order to avoid aggravating tensions, the source said, adding the decision was made after consultations with other parties to the six-way talks.

   "It is the government's current position that it will send promised materials as scheduled," the source said. The official did not rule out the possibility, however, that Seoul's position could change depending on steps taken by Pyongyang.

   Seoul has so far provided energy aid worth 116,000 tons of heavy oil, according to officials at the Unification Ministry, the top office on North Korea.

  
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N. Korea Requests Delay in Civilian Exchange Program

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has asked a South Korean civic group to delay its visit to Pyongyang, which was scheduled for this week to discuss food assistance.

   The Seoul-based Peace 3000, which planned to send a delegation of 110 people to visit a bean processing plant in Pyongyang, said on Sept. 16 the North Korean Catholic organization that invited them sent a fax earlier in the day asking to postpone for about 10 days.

   Originally, Peace 3000 wanted to send its delegation on Sept. 16 with their return scheduled on Sept. 21, but the North wanted the arrival date to be delayed until after Sept. 26. The civic group said it plans to send its members on the 27th.

   The fax said that important state events this month, including the 60th anniversary of the socialist country's founding and the fall harvest holiday, made it hard to work out details of the visit.

   The religious organization, however, warned that if the South tried to link the delay with "wild speculation," it could adversely affect inter-Korean rapprochement, with Seoul to be held responsible for all consequences.

   Rumors have circulated worldwide that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is incapacitated. Media in the North have not reported a public appearance by Kim since Aug. 14, when he reportedly inspected a military unit.

   His conspicuous absence from a parade last week fueled speculation about his illness.

   South Korea's intelligence agency said Kim suffered a stroke in the middle of last month, but has recovered well enough to brush his teeth by himself and stand if assisted. The finding has yet to be officially verified.

   Peace 3000 said that the cause of the delay could be attributed in part to the time it took to exchange details on the visit.

   "The use of fax machines made it hard to communicate properly, while the delay by South Korean authorities to issue permits to visit the North played a role as well," said a spokesperson.

   Compared to the two previous administrations, which took a conciliatory toward Pyongyang, the conservative Lee Myung-bak government has carefully screened visits and asked that civic groups refrain from attending or holding large-scale events in the North.

   The shooting death of a female South Korean tourist at the Mt. Kumgang resort on July 11 further frayed already tense inter-Korean relations.

   A government source, who declined to be identified, argued that the North's given reason for the delay seemed straightforward, and should not be over-analyzed.

   "Because a reason was stated, it would be prudent to take it at face value," he said.

   The official then said if there are no delays in the visit arranged by the Korean Sharing Movement, another civic organization, then there should be no reason to think that Pyongyang has ulterior motives.

   The Sharing Movement said its delegation wants to visit the North from Saturday through Tuesday to visit hospitals and medical facilities. It added that there should be no problem in getting an invitation from the North's National Reconciliation Council.

   In addition to the Sharing Movement and Peace 3000, as many as seven other groups have requested permission to visit the communist country during September and October.

  
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Koreas to Discuss Energy Aid under Six-party Framework

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Working-level officials of the two Koreas will meet at the truce village of Panmunjom on Sept. 19 to discuss providing remaining energy aid to North Korea under the framework of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks, the South Korean foreign ministry said on Sept. 17.

   South Korean officials expect the meeting, proposed by Pyongyang, will serve as a chance to assess the intent behind Pyongyang's recent threats to reverse its denuclearization process as well as North Korea's future plans following reports of its ailing leader.

   South Korea chairs an energy aid working group under the six-party framework.

   The meeting comes amid South Korean and U.S. intelligence reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is recovering from a stroke.

   Kim's notable absence last week at a parade marking his country's 60th anniversary fueled speculation over his health.

   North Korean media have not reported a public appearance by Kim since Aug. 14, when he reportedly inspected a military unit.

   Pyongyang began disabling its key nuclear facilities in November and provided a list of its nuclear programs in June as part of the six-nation agreement signed last year.

   In return, Pyongyang's five negotiating partners -- South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia -- promised to provide 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent energy assistance to the communist state. Nearly half of the agreed-upon energy aid has been delivered.

   During the latest round of six-party talks, all sides agreed to complete the disablement and energy shipments by October.

   Pyongyang, however, announced in late August that it had stopped disablement of its nuclear plants and has reportedly taken initial steps towards restarting its main plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon.

   The moves came in protest over Washington's refusal to remove Pyongyang from a list of state sponsors of terror, as the North has yet to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear declaration.

   The talks will be led by Hwang Joon-kook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North Korean nuclear issue bureau, and Hyon Hak-bong, deputy chief of the U.S. affairs bureau of the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

  
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Seoul Hands over Body of N. Korean Soldier Found in River

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Sept. 17 repatriated the body of a North Korean soldier via U.N. forces station at the joint security area, the Defense Ministry said.

   The soldier's corpse, clad in a North Korean army uniform, was found Sept. 2 in the Imjin River, which runs across the inter-Korean border. It was handed over by the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC), which oversees the armistice between the two Koreas.

   An autopsy was not performed, but South Korean officials believe he drowned as they did not find any external injuries.

   Bodies of North Korean soldiers or civilians often wash into the South via rivers that run through the divided Koreas. The corpse of another North Korean soldier found late July was also returned to the North in August through the joint security area, better known as the truce village of Panmunjom.

   "Col. Curt Taylor of the UNCMAC will first meet with North Korean representatives at the military demarcation line and guide them to the South Korean side (of the Panmunjom) where they will inspect the North Korean's body," an official at the public affairs office of the U.S. Forces Korea said.

   The United Nations Command is concurrently headed by the U.S. Forces Korea chief, who also heads the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

   The soldier's body will then be moved up to the demarcation line by the UNC honor guard to be picked up by North Koreans, the official said.

   Crossing the demarcation line without prior approval from the UNC or the other side of the border is a violation of the 1953 armistice, which effectively ended the Korean War but technically leaves the two Koreas still at war.

  (END)