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2009/02/19 11:03 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 42 (February 19, 2009)


N.K's Poor Health to Pose Burden to S. Korea After Reunification

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The widespread malnutrition in North Korea caused by famine in the 1990s will likely burden South Korea once the two Koreas are reunified, a U.S. government report has said.

   "If reunification occurs, South Korea will face costs not only of incorporating an economic void, but also those of a huge health-care burden," said the report of the National Intelligence Council released recently.

   The report, titled the Strategic Implications of Global Health, also said that South Korea may have to "look to other countries or to multilateral organizations to help defray expenses" for health care in North Korea, which has a health-care system ranked 167th out of 190 countries by the World Health Organization.

   Poor health is also "weakening military readiness because capable new recruits are in short supply," it said.

   The report attributed the poor health of North Koreans to famine in the 1990s, when years of floodings and poor harvests are said to have caused millions of North Koreans to starve to death.

   "Economic crisis and famine of the 1990s fueled breakdown of a once-efficient health-care system," it said. "Lack of medicine, equipment, sanitation, and reliable energy supplies make quality health care virtually unobtainable outside of Pyongyang."

   The famine of the 1990s also destroyed "absolute state control of food rationing, internal movement of citizens, and information as North Koreans were compelled to defy state restrictions in their struggle for survival and as those who had escaped to China in search of food and work returned with news of the outside world," according to the report.


N. Korean Nuclear Weapons More for Deterrence Than for War

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea will not likely use its nuclear weapons unless it feels its security is at risk, the chief U.S. intelligence official said on Feb. 12.

   "Pyongyang probably views its nuclear weapons as being more for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy than for war fighting and would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances," the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, said in a report presented at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing.

   "We also assess Pyongyang probably would not attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or territory unless it perceived the regime to be on the verge of military defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control," Blair said in the report, titled "Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community."

   Blair's remarks come amid speculation that the new Barack Obama administration might focus on preventing nuclear proliferation by North Korea rather than on the North's nuclear dismantlement, as the U.S. lacks adequate measures to press for the North's denuclearization after exhausting all options during nearly two decades of negotiations since the North Korean nuclear crisis began in the early 1990s.

   The North detonated its first nuclear device in 2006 and Obama and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said North Korea has several nuclear weapons, although the Obama administration maintains a policy of not acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, regardless of its possession of a nuclear arsenal.

   "The North's October 2006 nuclear test is consistent with our longstanding assessment that it had produced a nuclear device," the report said. "Prior to the test, we assessed that North Korea produced enough plutonium for at least a half dozen nuclear weapons."

   The report also expressed concerns over North Korea's uranium-based nuclear program.

   "The Intelligence Community continues to assess North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability in the past," it said. "Some in the Intelligence Community have increasing concerns that North Korea has an ongoing covert uranium enrichment program."


S. Korea to Beef Up Early Warning System Against N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea needs to strengthen its early warning system with regard to North Korea, the country's new spy chief said on Feb. 12, calling for full preparations against security threats.

   "We need to beef up an early warning system to cope with any moves by North Korea," Won Sei-hoon, the head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), told his staff. "We also have to fully prepare for any terror and international crimes."

   Won, a former minister of public administration and security, was appointed by President Lee Myung-bak last month to head the spy agency.

   With no peace treaty signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the two Koreas are still technically at war.

   During a parliamentary confirmation hearing earlier this week, Won also said he will strive to keep politically neutral and restructure the agency's organization for more efficiency.


North Korea Has Population of 24 Million: U.N. Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has slightly increased in population, topping 24 million last year, a United Nations report said on Feb. 14, despite ongoing food shortages reportedly taking the lives of hundreds of people each year in the hunger-stricken country.

   The number of people in the communist state reached 24.05 million as of October last year, an increase by nearly 200,000 from the previous year, the U.N. Population Fund said in a preliminary report. North Korea's population is still less than half of the 48 million in South Korea.

   About 3.2 million people lived in the country's relatively well-off capital of Pyongyang, while 702,000 resided in military facilities. The impoverished country, which depends largely on outside food aid, has the world's fourth-largest military and an arsenal of long-range missiles, including one believed capable of reaching Washington.

   North Korea has about 600,000 more females than males, with 12.3 million women and 11.7 million men, the report said.

   It was the first time since 1993 for the international body to conduct a comprehensive census on North Korea. The final report with more precise numbers is to be disclosed at the end of this year.


N. Korea Welcoming Native English Teachers with Open Arms

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is calling on Britain to send more English teachers, hoping to enhance the nation's international cooperation by raising the English proficiency of its youths, a chief British organizer said on Feb. 13.

   The British Council in Beijing, which operates the English teacher trainer program for North Korea, increased the number of its teaching staff in Pyongyang from three to four last month, following North Korea's requests to expand the program, said Grahame Bilbow, education director at the British embassy in China.

   The language of a country often berated as "enemy" has reportedly become the most important foreign language in North Korea over the past decade, replacing Russian after the fall of the Soviet Union.

   Last September, North Korea moved up the start year of English education to the third grade from the sixth, Seoul officials said.

   "The DPRK government continues to support this program, and we take this as evidence that they give importance to raising the standard of English in DPRK schools and universities," Bilbow said in an email interview with Yonhap. DPRK is the acronym of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   With access to native English speakers scarce in the communist state, North Korea asked Britain for assistance after the two countries established diplomatic relations in 2000. The British Council started the teacher trainer program two years later.

   British instructors, recruited among those who have a diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language with at least three years of work experience, teach a small group of elite university students and local English teachers who will later be deployed to provincial education universities and schools.

   Bilbow said the program is now available at three of the top North Korean universities in Pyongyang -- Kim Hyong Jik University, the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and Kim Il Sung University. About 150 students and in-service teachers are taking the courses at each university, he said.

   The program, the only one offered in the North by native English speakers, has the full support of the Pyongyang government, Bilbow said.

   In a show of such support, Choe Thae-bok, chairman of the North's parliament, Supreme People's Assembly, told a visiting British parliamentary delegation last week that his granddaughter was learning English from British native speakers and asked the delegation to help enlarge the program, according to Radio Free Asia on Feb. 10.

   "In DPRK, exposure to the wider English language teaching community has been scarce, though the project has done much to bridge the gap," Bilbow said.

   "In time, it will mean improved English language education which in turn will allow DPRK citizens to access the educational resources and opportunities that are available to competent English users worldwide," he said.


N. Korea Begins Practice for Arirang Festival: Tour Agency

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea plans to host its Arirang Festival, the world's largest gymnastics show designed to attract foreign tourists, from August to mid-October and has already begun preparations for the mass spectacle, a tour agency said on Feb. 17.

   Pyongyang has intermittently held the annual festival, named after Korea's famous folk song, since 2002, mobilizing some 100,000 people for synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animations.

   The months-long show, also held in 2005 and 2008, is believed to bring in badly-needed foreign currency and promote the regime's socialism.

   "Info from Pyongyang is that there are practices starting -- although it is still very cold there so not full scale, I think," Simon Cockerell from Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which exclusively operates tours to North Korea, said in an email.

   Koryo's U.S. branch in Alabama said on its website that this year's festival will be held from Aug. 1 through Oct. 10, the same dates as the last couple of years. Small groups now practice the moves until they are expanded to full scale rehearsals just before the event starts, Cockerell said.

   "People practice even when the mass games (aren't) confirmed," he said, "But it is definitely sign that they will go ahead though and therefore we are offering a full range of tours," Cockerell said.

   The 90-minute extravaganza is performed every evening except Sundays.

   North Korea skipped the festival in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007 without giving reasons. Seoul officials say some of these years were when the country was badly hit by floods from the summer monsoon season. In 2006, Pyongyang conducted its missile tests in July and a nuclear test in October.


Nuke Threat Makes N. Korean Missile More Alarming: Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top diplomat emphasized on Feb. 18 that North Korea's missile program poses a serious threat to international security due to its ability to launch a nuclear bomb.

   Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan also said that Pyongyang would still face stern punitive measures from the United Nations even if it launches a satellite, and not a missile as feared.

   "North Korea's missile is not a mere conventional weapon," Yu said at a meeting with foreign envoys in Seoul. "The combination of its long-range missile and nuclear capability will have a very serious impact on the world's peace and security."

   Recent satellite images have shown that North Korea appears to be preparing to launch a long-range missile from a base on its east coast, according to South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials.

   North Korea indirectly confirmed the move on Feb. 16 by stating that it has a right to pursue "peaceful space activity," a term Pyongyang used in 1998 when it flew a rocket over Japan. At the time, the North said it was part of an effort to send its first satellite into orbit, while its neighbors labeled it a long-range missile launch.

   The minister said North Korea is expected to follow a similar pattern this time around, adding that whether it is a missile or a satellite, a rocket launch of any kind would still violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 -- adopted in 2006 -- which prohibits Pyongyang from conducting a missile test.

   "It it hard to tell a missile from a satellite in terms of technology," Yu said.

   The minister also urged Pyongyang to return to the six-way talks on its atomic weapons program and agree on proposed ways to inspect its nuclear sites.