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2008/10/30 10:56 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 27 (October 30, 2008)


UN Agency Warns of 'Humanitarian Crisis' in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food shortage has drastically worsened in recent months due to insufficient international aid, with the country's northeastern region facing "a humanitarian emergency" unless aid is received, a U.N. agency said on Oct. 23.

   "The drastic deterioration of the food security is causing the populations in North Hamgyong, Ryanggang provinces and some counties in South Hamgyong to suffer acute food and livelihood crises, and should urgent food assistance not be provided, this could lead to a humanitarian emergency," the World Food Program (WFP) said.

   In the September issue of the report, titled "Operational Priorities," the WFP called for additional emergency aid from the international community, saying its food reserves earmarked for hungry North Koreans will soon dry out.

   "A significant shortfall of 146,709 metric tons of commodities is expected for the next six months, with immediate pipeline breaks in blended foods and oil due to delayed confirmation of shipments and limited contributions from other donors," the report said.

   It said around 2.7 million people on the west coast will run out of food in early October, while 1.4 million residents on the more vulnerable east coast will face a complete pipeline break in aid in November.

   The WFP last month said North Korea will slip back into famine unless given aid worth about US$500 million in the next 15 months and has formally asked South Korea to contribute up to $60 million for its campaign in North Korea. South Korea has yet to respond to the appeal.

   North Korea this year did not request annual humanitarian aid shipments of about 400,000 tons of rice from the South as inter-Korean relations soured after the conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in late February.

   Lee has proposed talks with the North to send 50,000 tons of corn, but the North has not responded to the offer amid the chilled ties.

   North Korea, in the meantime, claimed a bumper fall harvest of 4.6 million tons this year, a UNICEF official said. The figure is well above the average yearly crop of 4 million tons.

   "Two days ago, the North's ministry of agriculture estimated the country's fall harvest would reach 4.6 million tons, the best crop in recent years," said Gopalan Balagopal, representative of the U.N. agency's Pyongyang office, at a Seoul forum. The U.N.'s relief groups, however, believe the figure to be an overestimate, he said.

   Aid groups had said the North would face its worst food shortage since the late 1990s, when up to 3 million people are believed to have starved to death, in part due to major flooding in 2007. Pyongyang has so far relied on international food aid to help feed its population of 23 million.


Australia Mulls Energy Aid for N. Korea to Help Nuclear Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Australia may contribute energy aid promised to North Korea under a nuclear disarmament deal signed last year, officials in Canberra were quoted as saying by a local newspaper on Oct. 24.

   "There has been some discussion with the U.S., Japan, and Australia about DPRK (North Korea) assistance," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Stephen Smith, who was quoted in an article that appeared in the Australian.

   The North's dialogue partners at the six-way talks promised to deliver one million tons of heavy oil or equivalent aid in return for Pyongyang's disabling of its main plutonium-producing facilities. Australia is not party to the six-way talks, which comprise the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

   Japan has balked at delivering aid, calling for the North to first make sincere efforts to fully account for the fate of the Japanese civilians it kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.

   The related nations have been searching for a way to make up the shortfall of 200,000 tons of fuel oil.

   Other candidates to offer assistance to North Korea in lieu of Japan include the European Union and New Zealand.

   A South Korean nuclear negotiator neither confirmed nor denied the media report.

   "Nothing has been decided. We still have time to discuss an alternative," the official said on condition of anonymity.

   An outside donor, if accepted, will be able to get involved in the process of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, although it will not formally attend the six-way talks.

   "For example, it will be debriefed on the development of the negotiations," he said.

   Australia and the EU have openly sought to make contributions to efforts to denuclearize the North and break its isolation.


E.U., Japan to Submit N. Korea Human Rights Resolution to U.N.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The European Union and Japan plan to submit a joint resolution pressing North Korea to improve its human rights conditions to the United Nations next week, a U.S. report said on Oct. 25.

   Quoting an official from the French mission to the U.N., the Voice of America said the North Korea resolution will be submitted by Oct 30 to the U.N. Third Committee, which deals with social and humanitarian issues.

   Since 2003, a non-binding resolution on North Korea's dismal human rights conditions had been adopted annually by the U.N. human rights council, and starting in 2005 by the higher authority of the U.N. General Assembly.

   The report quoted a spokesman for the South Korean mission to the U.N. as saying that Seoul will vote on the resolution the same way it did last year.

   The U.N. committee is expected to vote on this year's resolution in late November before passing it on to the U.N. General Assembly, the report said.


N.K. Delegation to Visit New York for Seminar: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A North Korean delegation will visit New York for an upcoming seminar early next month, but it is not clear whether North Korean delegates will meet with U.S. officials there, the U.S. State Department said on Oct. 27.

   "We understand that a delegation from North Korea will travel to the U.S. later this fall for meetings with U.S. NGOs," the department said in a statement. "State Department participation in the meetings has not been determined at this time."

   Ri Gun, director general of the American affairs bureau of the North's Foreign Ministry, will visit New York at the invitation of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy soon after the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 4, a diplomatic source said.

   Ri, former deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York, doubles as deputy head of the North Korean delegation to the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

   Ri's U.S. counterpart is Sung Kim, special envoy on the six-party talks, who accompanied chief U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill to Pyongyang in early October to present a face-saving measure for North Koreans on the disputed verification of its nuclear declaration submitted in June.

   Pyongyang had been reluctant to allow inspectors unfettered access to their nuclear facilities, though soon after Hill's visit it agreed to allow international monitors to inspect facilities for verification of the nuclear list.

   Critics of the agreement say the U.S. made too many concessions by accepting the North's phrasing of access to undeclared sites based on "mutual consent."


N. Korea Intensifies Control of S. Korean Dailies Sent to Kaesong

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has begun to step up its censorship of South Korean newspapers delivered to firms operating in the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex, apparently to prevent workers there from reading reports on their leader Kim Jong-il's health, officials said on Oct. 27.

   "The North began to allow South Korean dailies to pass through customs on Oct. 20 only after cutting out articles critical of the country," a Unification Ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

   About 30 copies from nine different papers cross the inter-Korean border every day for delivery to the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, a civilian administrative body of South Korean firms located in the complex, according to the official.

   The North is strictly enforcing customs regulations barring the entry of overseas publications critical of Pyongyang, the official said.

   It is not known exactly what types of articles have been censored by the North, but officials say the measure could be related to recent reports that Kim is ailing.

   The 66-year-old North Korean leader reportedly suffered a stroke in mid-August and is now recovering after undergoing brain surgery.

   South Korean newspapers had reported in detail speculation on Kim's health and who might assume power in the event of his death, along with information on Kim's family.

   South Koreans are forbidden to carry the newspapers when they leave the office, but some have received warnings from North Korean authorities for violating the rule, according to the Unification Ministry official.

   More than 33,000 North Koreans are currently working for 79 South Korean factories in the Kaesong complex, located just north of the world's most heavily armed border.

   The measure came after North Korea angrily threatened to cut all ties with South Korea, citing anti-Pyongyang leaflets flown regularly to the North by Seoul-based civic and North Korean defector groups.

   The two Koreas ceased propaganda activities along their heavily armed border in 2004, but the groups have continued to send the leaflets, in spite of North Korean threats and requests from Seoul to cease their actions. The groups' aim is to help expedite the collapse of the secretive regime.


N. Korean Leader well Enough to Get Back to Work: Intelligence Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be quickly recovering from a stroke he reportedly suffered and is well enough to resume his ordinary duties, South Korea's intelligence chief was quoted as saying on Oct. 28.

   North Korea's high-profile leader has been absent from the public eye since Aug. 14, with foreign doctors reportedly entering the country that month to conduct a medical operation. The socialist state has been denying reports of its leader's illness.

   The outside world, including Seoul and Washington, has been keenly interested in the 66-year-old leader's health due to his country's ongoing nuclear ambitions.

   "Although not completely fit, he appears well enough to perform his daily duties," National Intelligence Service Director Kim Sung-ho was quoted as saying by opposition party lawmaker Park Young-sun during a closed-door parliamentary session.

   "We also believe Kim's eldest son made a trip to France last week," the intelligence chief added, concerning recent reports that Kim Jong-nam visited Paris to meet a neurosurgeon for his ailing father.

   Concerns over Kim's health ran especially high after Pyongyang began to backtrack from a multinational aid-for-denuclearization deal, halting disablement of its main nuclear reactor in mid-August.

   The issue took a positive turn earlier this month as North Korea said it will resume the nuclear disarmament process, hours after Washington removed it from a list of terrorism sponsoring states.