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2009/01/15 10:30 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 37 (January 15, 2009)

   *** FOREIGN TIPS

N. Korea Tightens Ban on S. Korean Mobile Phones, GPS Receivers

SEOUL (Yonhap) - North Korea has tightened restrictions on South Koreans' mobile phones and car GPS receivers at a joint industrial complex, Seoul officials said on Jan. 7.

   More than 90 South Korean firms operate in the Kaesong industrial complex, just north of the Demilitarized Zone.

   South Korean electronic gadgets are prohibited in North Korea but the country had tacitly allowed South Korean businessmen to cross the border if they turn off their GPS receivers and entrusted their phones to the customs office.

   Since December, however, the North has been flatly turning away people carrying those devices, officials of the unification ministry said.

   "There is a list of banned items like mobile phones, newspapers and CDs. Before, they would confiscate them with some fines and let people go, but these days they categorically don't allow the people to enter," a ministry official overseeing the Kaesong complex said, requesting anonymity.

   The move appears to be part of a broader North Korean sanction against South Korea called the "Dec. 1 measure," which cut the number of South Koreans allowed in Kaesong by half and reduced border traffic in retaliation against Seoul's hard-line stance.

  
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Activists to Send N. Korean Currency with Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean activist groups will attach North Korean currency to anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent into North Korea, replacing US$1 bills, following rumors that citizens found with dollars are being punished, an activist said on Jan. 8.

   Seoul's National Intelligence Service confirmed that North Korean authorities routinely arrest and interrogate those who are found in possession of U.S. dollars. The agency declined to comment on what kind of punishment they may face.

   To prevent further arrests, Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and head of the Seoul-based Fighters for a Free North Korea, said his organization and another activist group will send North Korean notes in 5,000 won denominations -- the highest in the country -- when they fly a fresh batch of leaflets into North Korea next month.

   "North Korea can't do anything against those found with North Korean money," he said.

   The amount is just enough to purchase about 2kg of rice, officials and aid workers say, and is a little more than the average monthly salary for urban workers. A North Korean household needs at least 20,000 won a month to survive, they added.

   Park refused to elaborate on how he acquired the North Korean bills, except to say that they passed through China's border region with North Korea.

   The group plans to release balloons carrying about 300,000 leaflets near the inter-Korean border as soon as the wind direction shifts northward, possibly next month, he said.

   On Jan. 7, Park said North Korea is arresting citizens who possess $1 bills as a way of cracking down on those who pick up anti-Pyongyang leaflets, which often have currency attached to them.

   The North's spy agency, the State Security Ministry, issued the directive in early November to stop citizens from collecting the leaflets that criticize Kim Jong-il and his socialist regime, according to Park.

  
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N. Korea Sees Nukes as Safeguard: U.S. Commission

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea views its possession of nuclear arms as a viable deterrent against a nuclear attack, a U.S. defense commission said in a report on Jan. 8.

   The commission, led by former defense secretary James Schlesinger, focuses on global nuclear weapons management.

   "As a general proposition, I think that Pyongyang years ago might have had a higher probability estimate of a nuclear move against North Korea," said Schlesinger. "But as the decades have gone on and as we have not reacted in the way they might have anticipated to their development of nuclear capabilities, they might have been encouraged to believe that they were reasonably safe from a nuclear response."

   Schlesinger was a defense chief in the Nixon administration. He made the comments during a briefing on the report at the Pentagon.

   "I think that that probably is today's situation, that they have developed confidence -- perhaps misplaced confidence -- that the United States, if it were to go after their nuclear capabilities, likely would do so with conventional forces," he said.

   Schlesinger's remarks come one day after outgoing President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, depicted North Korea as "an early challenge" for the incoming Barack Obama administration.

  
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U.S. Completes Latest Food Aid Shipment to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States has delivered its latest batch of food aid to North Korea, broadcaster Voice of America reported on Jan. 10, quoting an unnamed U.S. official.

   The 21,000-ton shipment, pledged under a six-nation denuclearization deal last year, had been scheduled to reach North Korea last week but was delayed until Thursday due to bad weather.

   The U.S. shipped 143,000 tons of food aid to North Korea last year despite stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The aid was part of 500,000 tons of humanitarian food aid Washington has pledged.

   The latest food aid will be distributed to 25 regions throughout the socialist state under the watch of a group of civic organizations, the broadcaster added, quoting a U.S. State Department official.

   The World Food Program says North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons in additional food aid from abroad to feed its 21 million people this year, despite a decent harvest last year.

  
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Former N.K. Pointman on Seoul Said to Be Working at Chicken Farm

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's pointman on South Korea, who was earlier said to have been sacked for misjudgment, is said to be undergoing what sources called "severe" socialist training at a chicken farm, sources in Seoul said on Jan. 11.

   Choe Sung-chol, once a vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, the North's state organization handling inter-Korean affairs, was reported to have been dismissed in early 2008 for what sources called his misjudgment on South Korea's new conservative administration under President Lee Myung-bak.

   The report came amid renewed tension between the divided Koreas, following North Korea's decision late last year to enforce stricter border control, effectively halting visits by South Korean tourists to the socialist nation.

   Since Lee was inaugurated as South Korea's president in February last year, the relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang has hit its lowest point in over a decade.

   "I heard he (Choe) is undergoing revolution training at a large chicken farm in Hwanghae Province," a source said on Jan. 11, asking not to be identified.

   Political dissidents in North Korea are said to undergo so-called "training" at labor camps or mines.

   Choe, 52, became better known to South Korean officials and the public in 2007 when he closely escorted then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun throughout his visit to Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He is also known to have played a key role in arranging the summit.

   Seoul officials have acknowledged the dismissal of Choe but could not confirm his whereabouts or why he was sacked.

   "He has been undergoing training for about a year now, so it really is hard to tell whether he will be reinstated or not," another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "The possibility is about half and half, considering other cases in the past."

   North Korea observers say that officials who are sacked but retain their government position while undergoing labor training are sometimes allowed to return to work in less than six months. Those who are completely dismissed from their posts often disappear.

  
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N. Korea Opens Diplomatic Mission in Chinese Border City

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea has opened a consulate branch office in Dandong, a major Chinese city bordering North Korea, a source in Beijing said on Jan. 11.

   "The North Korean consulate-general in Shenyang recently established its branch office in Dandong and dispatched personnel there," said the source.

   "The move signals the North's intention to increase its product procurement from China through brisker border trade and strengthen its consular affairs amid a growing North Korean population in the Chinese border city."

   Dandong, a city in the Chinese province of Liaoning, is situated right across the Yalu River from Sinuiju in the northwestern part of North Korea. Approximately 70 percent of trade between North Korea and China is conducted through the Dandong-Sinuiju route.

   According to the source, the North Korean consulate branch office is the first foreign diplomatic mission to open in Dandong, which has a population of about 650,000.

   Bilateral trade and cooperation via Dandong are expected to further expand as China and North Korea celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year and kick off a "Year of Friendship."

   Two-way trade is estimated to have topped US$2 billion last year.

  
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Bush Urges N.K. to Agree to Verification Regime on Uranium Program

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President George W. Bush urged North Korea on Jan. 12 to agree to measures of verifying its nuclear operations, including an alleged uranium program.

   "In order to advance our relations with North Korea, the North Korean government must honor the commitments it made, to allow for strong verification measures to be in place to ensure that they don't develop a highly enriched uranium program, for example," Bush said in a final news conference, wrapping up his last eight years in the White House.

   "North Korea is still a problem. There is a debate in the intel community about how big a problem they are," he said. "But one of my concerns is that there might be a highly enriched uranium program."

   The outgoing president's remarks follow a similar concern raised by Vice President Dick Cheney in early January that North Korea may have a uranium-based nuclear program aside from its plutonium-producing reactor, which is being disabled under the six-party talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   "Iit looks like they have a continuing, ongoing program to produce highly enriched uranium, in addition to what they were doing in Yongbyon at their plutonium reactor," Cheney said.

   National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley touched on the issue days earlier, saying, "Some in the intelligence community have increasing concerns that North Korea has an ongoing covert uranium enrichment program."

   Bush and his aides appeared to be addressing criticism that the six-party deal has a major loophole due to the lack of a mechanism that might shed light on North Korea's alleged uranium program and nuclear proliferation to Syria and other rogue states.

   Cheney said last week he is "confident" that North Korea "helped the Syrians build a nuclear reactor, which is a major problem."

  (END)