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2009/02/26 11:07 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 43 (February 26, 2009)


N. Korea Deploys Medium-range Missiles, Bolsters Special Forces

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has completed the deployment of brand-new ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam and expanded its special forces after examining U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, South Korea said on Feb. 23.

   The defense ministry also said in its latest assessment of the socialist country that the North has recently bolstered its naval forces, reinforcing submarines and developing new types of torpedoes.

   The 2008 defense white paper, published after weeks of delay, terms the North's 1.19-million-strong military an "immediate and grave threat," as tension runs high along a western sea border.

   North Korea last month nullified all cross-border military agreements and warned of an armed clash near the Northern Limit Line -- the scene of deadly naval battles in 1999 and 2002. The line was unilaterally drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which technically continues to this day because it ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North, which recently reorganized and reinforced its special forces after reviewing U.S. conflicts in the Middle East, according to a South Korean official.

   "After examining the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, North Korea appears to have developed new strategies that can complement its shortfalls while reinforcing its strengths," said Shin Won-sik, deputy of policy planning at the Ministry of National Defense.

   The number of lightly-equipped special forces soldiers who focus on swift infiltration to strike U.S. and South Korean forces from behind has increased 50 percent to 180,000, Shin said.

   "Their aim appears to be to blur the line between friend and foe once a conflict erupts," he said at a briefing, suggesting the North would engage in guerrilla warfare to make up for its lack of advanced weaponry. "North Korea deems it very important to be able to quickly cause disarray among its enemies.

   The biennial policy report put the amount of plutonium the North has secured at about 40 kilograms and said Pyongyang has finished the development of its intermediate-range ballistic missiles that began in the late 1990's.

   The missiles were deployed as of last year and can travel up to about 3,000 kilometers -- enough to threaten U.S. bases in Guam, India and part of Russia -- while carrying warheads of up to 650 kilograms, according to the paper.

   Sources say North Korea deployed the missiles through computer simulation without a test-fire, which signals the country has advanced missile simulation technology.

   The publication did not specify the number of medium-range missiles the North has deployed "for operational use," but the assessment comes as Washington warns Pyongyang to stop honing its missile technology.

   U.S. and South Korean officials say the North appears to be preparing to test-fire its longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2, on its east coast.

   The multi-stage rocket has an estimated range of over 6,700 kilometers, theoretically putting Alaska and Hawaii within striking distance.

   A Taepodong-2 missile crashed soon after takeoff in a July 2006 test, but the North appears to have since "taken complementary measures," the report said.

   "It can be concluded that the striking distance could be improved if a warhead gets less heavy or a third-stage rocket is additionally installed," it added.

   North Korea has expanded the warhead capacity of its short-range missiles across the board, the report said, while the number of its soldiers has increased by 20,000 from 2006. South Korea has 655,000 troops.

   The North's multiple rocket launchers, which experts believe have a range of hundreds of kilometers and are capable of dodging counter artillery, increased to 5,100, an increment of 300, the report said.

   "The North is increasingly deploying missile equipment that can move around" to avoid counter fire, it said.

   Weapons experts say North Korea is believed to have some 600 Scud missiles and about 100 Rodong missiles -- retrofitted Scuds. It has also developed the Taepodong-1 which can fly up to 2,500 kilometers.

   The Taepodong-2 missile has been designed to carry a nuclear warhead, experts say. But intelligence sources play down the likelihood of the North having obtained the needed technology.

   The North has also completed the integration of its naval commands through an advanced electronic network, the report said, while strengthening its capabilities in cyber warfare.

   Supplies to the military have been guaranteed priority despite a moribund economy, and the troops are staying "on the highest alert" after threatening conflict near the NLL, according to the report.

   "There are still many underground tunnels" that have yet to be discovered that run under South Korean territory, Shin said, while the North continues to deploy more of its tanks to the front lines.

   Relations between the divided Koreas deteriorated after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office last year with a tougher stance on the North, drawing a bitter reaction from Pyongyang.

   North Korea operates 300 munitions factories while storing up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, the white paper added.


Inter-Korean Trade Dips 20 Percent in January

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between South and North Korea declined 19.6 percent in January from a year earlier, apparently hit by the slumping South Korean economy and frayed Seoul-Pyongyang relations, the South's official data showed on Feb. 22.

   Inter-Korean trade reached US$113 million in January, down from $140.5 million a year ago, marking the fifth straight monthly fall, the data made available by Unification Ministry in Seoul said.

   "The decline in inter-Korean trade appears compounded by several factors like the slowing economic downturn and frozen relations between the two Koreas," the ministry said in the data.

   Inter-Korean relations have chilled since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office a year ago, pledging to get tough on North Korea.

   The South Korean economy is sharply slumping, due to tumbling exports and sluggish domestic demand. South Korea is widely expected to post negative economic growth this year, the first annual contraction since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.


N. Koreans Sue for Portion of S. Korean Stepmother's Inheritance

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In a rare legal battle involving the divided Koreas, four North Koreans recently filed a lawsuit with a South Korean court claiming a portion of the wealth left behind by their deceased South Korean father, court officials said on Feb. 24.

   The father, identified only by his surname Yoon, came to South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, leaving his first wife and five children behind in the North and having never met them again before his death in 1987. Only one of the five children accompanied Yoon to the South.

   Yoon remarried a South Korean woman, identified only as Kwon, and had four more children, according to the officials from the Seoul Central District Court.

   In the lawsuit filed with the help of a South Korean activist, Yoon's four North Korean children demanded that they receive a part of the 10 billion won (US$6.6 million) Kwon inherited from her deceased husband following his death.

   The unidentified activist, a member of a South Korean relief group, said he decided to help the North Koreans initiate their legal claim in the South after learning of their circumstances during a recent visit to the North.

   Meanwhile, the Seoul court said that it would look into whether the North Korean nationals have the right to take legal action in South Korea if they can prove their filial relations to Yoon.

   Most scholars here have said that a North Korean resident is entitled to stand before a Seoul court.

   In 2005, a grandson living in Pyongyang of famed author Hong Myong-hui, who wrote the popular novel "Hwangjini" about a courtesan, sued a South Korean publishing company for breaching publication rights. After mediation by the court, the company gave $10,000 to the grandson and secured publishing rights for the novel in the South.