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2008/11/27 10:58 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 31 (November 27, 2008)


Seoul to Repatriate N. Koreans who Drifted South

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea sent six North Koreans back to their home country on Nov. 21, a day after their boat drifted into southern waters off the east coast apparently due to a mechanical glitch, officials said.

   "The boat was sent back to the North by the end of the day," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

   The six North Koreans were discovered aboard a 15-ton wooden boat by South Korea's coast guard the previous night.

   "Related authorities confirmed through a joint investigation their wish to return to the North," Kim said.

   He noted the two Koreas had discussions on repatriating the North Koreans via the maritime communications channel, one of the few remaining inter-Korean contact links.

   The North cut off Red Cross telephone links with the South last week in protest against what it describes as Seoul's "confrontational" policy toward Pyongyang.


Obama Avised to Send Special Envoy to Pyongyang on Nuclear Issue

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was advised to send a special envoy to North Korea within 100 days of his inauguration to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, a progressive U.S. think tank has recommended recently.

   "During the first 100 days of the new administration, the president should send a special presidential envoy to Pyongyang to deliver a simple message," the Center for American Progress Action Fund said in a policy recommendation book titled "Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President."

   "The envoy should make it clear that the efforts of the Bush administration in 2008 to resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program through the so-called Six Party process involving all of North Korea's neighbors, as well as the direct bilateral talks the outgoing administration finally engaged in, are still on track," said the think tank, headed by John Podesta, head of Obama's presidential transition team who was White House chief of staff under the Bill Clinton administration.

   The policy recommendation is in line with Obama's campaign pledge that he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without any conditions attached.

   Obama has dismissed criticism of the idea of his meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader, saying Bush's reluctance to deal directly with North Korea resulted in the North's nuclear armament.

   Reports and analysts have said Obama will likely send a prominent figure as his special envoy to Pyongyang soon after his inauguration on Jan. 20 to prepare for a possible visit there himself to make a breakthrough in the on-and-off multilateral nuclear talks that began in 2003.

   South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Nov. 16 supported Obama's meeting with North Korean leader Kim to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions, saying, "It would be better for President-elect Obama to meet with Chairman Kim Jong-il personally if it is helpful to North Korea's abandonment of its nuclear weapons."

   The blueprint called for the incoming administration to "make clear to the North Koreans that further development and improvement of the relationship between North Korea and the United States is high on the new administration's agenda, and that the new administration's core objective is to make further progress on the nuclear issue."


U.N. Committee Approves Resolution on N.K. Human Rights Improvement

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- A United Nations committee on Nov. 21 approved a draft resolution calling for improvement in human rights in North Korea.

   The resolution, initiated by South Korea, the European Union, Japan and 48 other countries, was approved 95-24, with 62 abstentions at the Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural issues.

   The resolution is the first of its kind initiated by South Korea, which had been reluctant to endorse or initiate any resolution on North Korea's human rights records for fear of provoking the isolated communist neighbor with which Seoul is seeking eventual reunification.

   The former liberal South Korean government of Roh Moo-hyun zigzagged on the sensitive issue. It abstained on a vote for a similar resolution in 2005, voted for it in 2006 -- soon after North Korea's detonation of its first nuclear device, then stepped back to abstain last year.

   The conservative Lee Myung-bak government, which was launched in February this year, has said it will take issue with North Korea's human rights record and pledged not to pursue inter-Korean cooperation projects unless Pyongyang abandons its nuclear arsenal.

   The draft resolution urged North Korea to "respect fully all human rights and fundamental freedoms" by "immediately putting an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights."
It also called for the North to "address the issue of impunity and ensuring that those responsible for violations of human rights are brought to justice before an independent judiciary."

   Also included in the recommendations are "tackling the root causes leading to refugee outflows and prosecuting those who exploited refugees by human smuggling, trafficking and extortion, while not criminalizing the victims; and by extending its full cooperation to the Special Rapporteur on the issue and to other United Nations human rights mechanisms."

   The resolution, however, dropped language supporting the joint declaration made at the end of an inter-Korean summit on Oct. 4 last year.

   The U.N. General Assembly will likely endorse the resolution at a vote next month.

   Pak Dok-hun, deputy chief of North Korea's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, said before the voting, "We strongly oppose the resolution as it is a product of a political ploy to forcibly change North Korea's regime and ideology."

   Pak called on other nations to join forces with it to reject "any attempt by the United States and other Western states to politicize the human rights issue."

   The North Korean diplomat denounced South Korea for manipulating to drop the clause on support for the Oct. 4 joint declaration in this year's resolution, while categorizing the South's vote as an act against unification.


N. Korean Named Asian Women's Football Coach of the Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Asia's football governing body said on Nov. 21 it has voted a North Korean the women's football coach of the year.

   Kim Kwang-min, who led his team to this year's Asian Cup title, received the award at a ceremony organized by the Asian Football Confederation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Nov. 20 evening, its Web site said.

   "It is a special feeling, a big honor," Kim, 46, was quoted as saying. "We are the best women's team in Asia and our goal is to go on further and win the Olympic and World titles."

   North Korea are a powerhouse in women's football. They became regional champions in the Asian Cup tournament in June. The country also won the 2006 FIFA under-20 women's World Cup and the under-19 AFC tournament last year.


Inter-Korean Trade Drops 23 Percent amid Chilled Ties

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between South Korea and North Korea decreased 23.2 percent last month year-on-year apparently due to worsening ties between the two sides, a South Korean ministry said on Nov. 23.

   Inter-Korean trade volume totaled US$160 million in October, 23.2 percent down from $210 million a year ago, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul's policy on Pyongyang.

   It was the first time that trade across the heavily-armed border recorded a double-digit reduction on a yearly basis in recent months.

   South Korean officials ascribed the decline to the economic slowdown in the South and its worsening relations with the North.

   "The reduction in inter-Korean trade volume appears to reflect the domestic economic situation, including hikes in foreign exchange rates and the suspension of tours to Mt. Kumgang," a ministry official said.

   South Koreans' daily tour program to the scenic mountain on North Korea's eastern coast, once a major source of hard currency for the cash-strapped nation, came to a halt following the July 11 killing of a female South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier there.

   Tensions have been mounting since the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration in February. Lee has insisted on reciprocity in inter-Korean relations and rebuffed the so-called Sunshine Policy of his two liberal predecessors, who favored engagement with the North.