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2008/10/09 10:56 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 24 (October 9, 2008)


N. Korea Criticizes Seoul Government Almost Daily: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Pyongyang has leveled criticism against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak 78 times since he took office in February and against his administration nearly every day, a ruling party legislator said on Oct. 5.

   North Korea's state-run media outlets targeted Lee directly 78 times in blasting South Korea, calling him a "sycophant" and a "traitor," according to Rep. Chin Young of the Grand National Party (GNP).

   Chin cited his analysis of Pyongyang's statements and reports, obtained from Seoul's Unification Ministry, between Lee's inauguration on Feb. 25 and Aug. 24.

   North Korea refrained from criticizing the South Korean administration on only 29 of the observed 182 days, according to the analysis.

   Lee, a former CEO of a Hyundai construction firm, was elected on a conservative ticket after 10 years of liberal governance.

   President Lee has sought "denuclearization, opening and US$3,000" in North Korea policy, meaning Seoul will help North Korea attain a per capita income of $3,000 within a decade if it denuclearizes and adopts an open policy for its society and markets.

   The policy was denounced by the North 14 times, the lawmaker said.

   The North's criticism peaked over the summer, when South Koreans took to the streets protesting a government decision to resume U.S. beef imports. Beginning with a May 7 statement branding the decision a "criminal act," North Korea issued statements blaming the Lee administration or supporting the demonstrators 40 times, the analysis showed.


N. Korea Fifth-greatest Danger to U.S.: Pew Survey

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Americans feel less threatened by North Korea than they did a year before, a U.S. public survey showed on Oct. 5, amid last-ditch talks to secure the communist state's denuclearization.

   Only six percent of the 2,982 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in early September said North Korea represented the greatest danger to the U.S., a sharp decline from last year's 17 percent, according to the center's Web site.

   North Korea represented the fifth-greatest danger to the U.S., according to respondents, following Iran (21 percent), China (16 percent), Russia (14 percent) and Iraq (13 percent).

   In a Pew survey conducted in February last year, Americans considered the North the third-greatest threat. That figure was likely influenced by North Korea's detonation of its first nuclear device months earlier.

   North Korea recently presented its nuclear declaration to the U.S. and destroyed its nuclear cooling tower, signaling a major breakthrough for the six-party nuclear talks, which have progressed sluggishly over the past five years.

   But the talks hit another snag as North Korea began restarting its nuclear facilities disabled under a multilateral aid-for-denuclearization deal, citing the U.S.'s failure to remove the North from its terrorism blacklist.

   U.S. chief nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang last week in an attempt to break the deadlock over a verification protocol on the North's nuclear facilities.


N.K. Bought $65 Million in Weapons under Seoul's Previous Government

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has purchased US$65 million worth of weapons from overseas suppliers over the past five years, a report showed on Oct. 6, implying the generous aid provided by Seoul's previous administration may have ended up strengthening Pyongyang's military.

   Between 2003 and early-2008, Pyongyang spent an average of $13 million each year in buying the latest arms from countries including China, Russia, Germany and the Slovak Republic, according to a government report to a ruling party lawmaker. China has been providing North Korea with such items as used armored vehicles and military uniforms, the report showed.

   "The government believes North Korea has reinforced its armed forces by a notable extent during this period," said Rep. Kwon Young-se of the ruling Grand National Party.

   Kwon called for more caution in providing aid to North Korea and enhanced monitoring of aid distribution, saying, "The report shows North Korea focused on developing its military capacity despite the shortage of food."
Transparency in the distribution of aid in the North has been a persistent question for many here over the past decade, with critics claiming most of the food is being used to feed the North's military and the country's elite instead of starving civilians, who are its intended recipients.

   Previous South Korean administrations led by liberal leaders Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun sent approximately 400,000 tons of food to the North every year, but were blamed for not demanding proper monitoring of the distribution. Direct food relief shipments have been suspended this year after the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in February.

   Last month, the U.N. World Food Program asked Seoul, as well as other countries, to contribute up to $60 million in food aid, citing the fact that the North is currently experiencing its worst food shortage in nearly a decade.

   Seoul's incumbent government remains undecided on whether to provide the food aid amid a chill in inter-Korean ties and Pyongyang's recent retreat from a 2007 aid-for-denuclearization deal with South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The conservative Lee government is against what it calls an "unconditional flow of aid" to the North, firmly linking the handouts with Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.


U.S. Group Seeks Cooperation with N.K. Defectors' Organizations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Members of a conservative U.S. research organization group recently visited Seoul for talks with local groups on how to render support to North Korean defectors, officials said on Oct. 6.

   Two Asian affairs officials of the International Republican Institute (IRI), whose board of directors is chaired by U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, made the trip on Oct. 1-5, they said.

   The Americans met executives of two leading organizations -- the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea and the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights -- and discussed the possibility of running a joint education and other programs for the defectors and helping build a network among local groups representing the defectors, the officials said.

   The IRI has regularly sent a delegation to Seoul over the past two years to hear opinions from the civic groups working to improve human rights and promote democracy in the communist state.

   "I got the impression that the IRI is trying to give more attention to the North Korea issue," said Kim Yoon-tae, secretary-general of the North Korean Democracy and Human Rights. "This visit appears to be aimed at finding out if there are programs that it can run jointly with South Korean groups for North Korea defectors," he added.

   Over 14,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War after fleeing their communist homeland to escape famine and political oppression.

   The U.S. Congress in late September extended the North Korean Human Rights Act which expired at the end of that month to finance another four years of efforts to help North Korean defectors settle in the U.S. and promote democracy in the reclusive communist state.

   The revised law calls for "activities to support human rights and democracy and freedom of information in North Korea," as well as assistance to North Koreans living outside the country and broadcasts to the North.


N. Korea's Foreign Debt Estimated at US$18 Billion

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is believed to be suffering from serious economic woes, with the country's external debt estimated to be US$18 billion, a lawmaker said on Oct. 7.

   North Korea owes a total of $18 billion to 30 different countries, including Russia and China, said Kwon Young-se of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), citing estimates from the Unification Ministry.

   The amount is almost equal to North Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) for last year, which totaled 24.7 trillion won ($18.4 billion).

   South Korea has loaned roughly 1.19 trillion won to the North, equivalent to nearly five percent of Pyongyang's total foreign debt.

   In comparison, the South's overseas debt stood at 264.2 billion won, almost one-third of its GDP of 901 trillion won for last year.

   "North Korea's foreign debt is the result of the accumulation of unpaid trade bills and loans that it received from socialist states in the 1950s and 60s and from the Western world in the 70s to develop its economy," Kwon said.

   "The volume of foreign debt is expected to continue to rise due to the interest added to unpaid debts, although that can fluctuate depending on the result of negotiations with foreign creditors," he added.


N. Korea Fires Two Short-range Missiles in Yellow Sea: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired two short range missiles in the Yellow Sea adjoining China on Oct. 6 as part of its routine military training, a defense source in Seoul said on Oct. 8.

   "We understand that North Korea fired about two missiles in the Yellow Sea in the afternoon of the seventh (of October)," the source said. "It seems that the missiles were fired as part of a routine drill."
The missile launch, the first since March when a North Korean naval vessel fired three Styx missiles in the Yellow Sea, comes amid a flurry of diplomacy to break a new deadlock in the multilateral denuclearization talks.

   U.S. chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill last week made a three-day visit to Pyongyang, but apparently failed to agree to a verification regime as North Koreans would not accept U.S. demands for unfettered access to the North's nuclear facilities.

   Washington has yet to lift Pyongyang from a terrorism blacklist, citing lack of an agreement on the verification protocol, prompting the North to restart its nuclear facilities disabled under a six-party deal.

   "North Korea had designated an off-limit zone for vessels in the Yellow Sea before it fired missiles," the source said. "North Korea appears to have fired KN-02 or Styx missiles into the international sea from North Korean waters."

   The North's short range missile launch follows recent reports that North Korea has tested an intercontinental missile engine, that could possibly reach the U.S. west coast, at its new launch site under construction on its west coast.

   South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee told a parliamentary committee in mid September that the new launch site is about 80 percent complete.

   The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution in 2006 demanding that the North "suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program," and abandon its missile program in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."

   The resolution was issued soon after North Korea test fired a long-range missile in a break from its voluntary moratorium on missile testing imposed in 1998 to defuse international criticism after parts of a ballistic missile fell into the sea off Alaska.

   Alarmed by the North's surprisingly robust missile capabilities, the Clinton administration sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang to arrange a summit meeting between Clinton and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   Pyongyang and Washington agreed to a summit on the North's missile and nuclear issues, but Clinton failed to visit Pyongyang, citing a lack of time in the waning months of his term.