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2009/03/05 11:04 KST


U.S. Depicts N.K. As Dictatorship with Continued Human Rights Abuses

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Feb. 25 described North Korea as a "dictatorship" where citizens are subjected to arbitrary detention, executions and disappearances without due judicial process.

   The description came in its 2008 Human Rights Report released by the State Department. The volley at North Korea also came a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the regime of "tyranny" while traveling to Seoul as part of her four-nation Asian tour, her first overseas trip as top U.S. diplomat.

   "The government's human rights record remained poor, and the regime continued to commit numerous serious abuses," the report said. "The regime subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives. Citizens did not have the right to change their government. There continued to be reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and political prisoners."

   The report described North Korea as "a dictatorship under the absolute rule of Kim Jong-il, general secretary of the Korean Workers' Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission." "Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening, and torture occurred," the report said. "Pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions in some cases, and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prisons."

   The report also cited a lack of freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, citizens' movement and worker rights.

   This year's report did not present rankings, although last year's version designated North Korea as part of the world's 10 worst human rights violators along with Myanmar, Iran and Syria among others.

   China, meanwhile, has been under criticism for repatriating North Korean refugees under a secret agreement with North Korea, while recognizing North Korean defectors as economic immigrants rather than refugees.

   "There continued to be reports of severe punishment of some repatriated refugees," the report said. "There were widespread reports of trafficking in women and girls among refugees and workers crossing the border into China."

   Most North Korean defectors cross the border with China to seek shelter, mostly in South Korea, which has received more than 15,000 North Korean defectors since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The U.S. has also taken about 70 North Korean refugees since the North Korean Human Rights Act was enacted years ago to help promote democracy in North Korea.


N. Korea Seems to Have Stopped State-sponsored Drug Trafficking

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have stopped state-sponsored drug trafficking, but continues to counterfeit brand cigarettes and remains a large source of phony U.S. currency, the State Department said on Feb. 27.

   "Drug trafficking with a connection to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (or North Korea) appears to be down sharply," the department said in the 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

   The report cited "no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years, but there still is insufficient evidence to say for certain that state-sponsored trafficking has stopped at this time."

   North Korea, however, continued to release counterfeit cigarettes, the report said.

   "The continuing large-scale traffic in counterfeit cigarettes from DPRK territory suggests that enforcement against notorious organized criminality is lax," it said. "It is also possible that a lucrative counterfeit cigarette trade has replaced a riskier drug trafficking business as a generator of revenue for the DPRK state."

   The report also noted small-scale drug trafficking along the North's border with China.

   North Korea, in the meantime, continued releasing supernotes, high-quality counterfeit US$100 bills, the report said, noting that they "continue to turn up in various countries, including in the United States."

   "There are reports, for example, of recent supernote seizures in San Francisco, and a very large supernote seizure in Pusan, South Korea," the report said. "Supernotes are uniquely associated with the DPRK, but it is not clear if recent seizures are notes which have been circulating for some time, or if they are recently issued new notes."

   On South Korea, the report saw no major problem in narcotics production, but warned against South Korea serving as a transshipment location.

   "South Korea has become a transshipment location for drug traffickers, anomalously, due to the country's reputation for not having a drug abuse problem," the report said. "This, combined with the fact that the South Korean port of Pusan is one of the region's largest ports, makes South Korea an attractive location for illegal shipments coming from countries which are more likely to attract a contraband inspection upon arrival."


Christian Leaders Call on Government to Increase Budget for N.K.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A coalition of some 900 leaders from the Christian church in South Korea called on Feb. 27 for the government to raise its annual budget set aside for humanitarian aid and other assistance for North Korea amid strained cross-border ties.

   "The government should allocate 1 percent of its total annual budget to be spent for humanitarian aid and development assistance for North Korea, which should be enacted into law by the National Assembly," said a statement signed by Christian leaders from the Christian Council of Korea (CCK), the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) and other prominent organizations.

   South Korea's total government budget for 2009 is set at 284.5 trillion won (US$208 billion), with North Korea-related expenditures earmarked at around one trillion won, according to government officials in Seoul.

   The group also called on President Lee Myung-bak to honor summit agreements signed between leaders of both sides during the previous liberal South Korean governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun in 2000 and 2007, respectively.

   "The government should be reminded to honor the former agreements... which are basic principles to abide by and further develop," the statement said.

   Pyongyang has threatened to effectively cut off all military and political ties with South Korea. Unlike his predecessors, who provided generous rice, fertilizer and energy aid to the North regardless of its nuclear and missile programs, Lee has adopted a harder line.

   The incumbent conservative government has said that it supports the "spirit" of the summit accords but that it will be difficult to fully implement them. Fulfilling the accords would cost Seoul more than 14 trillion won, by some estimates.


Bosworth Has No Immediate Plans to Meet N. Korean Officials

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. pointman on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, has no plans to meet with North Korean officials during his three-nation Asian trip this week, the State Department said on March 2.

   "Not as far as I know," deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a daily news briefing. "That's what I know today."

   Bosworth, special representative for North Korea, Monday embarked on a nine-day trip to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to discuss resumption of the six-party talks, stalled over North Korea's refusal to accept a protocol for verification of its nuclear facilities.

   He will fly into Beijing on March 2 and then go to Tokyo on March 5 before wrapping up his trip in Seoul, where he will stay for four days from March 6.

   In a separate statement, the State Department said that Bosworth will meet with "senior Russian officials in Seoul Saturday in addition to senior Republic of Korea (ROK) officials."

   Russia is a member of the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions, along with the two Koreas, the U.S., China and Japan.

   Last week, Bosworth did not rule out a meeting with North Korean officials while in Asia, saying it depends on the North Koreans.

   Bosworth's trip also comes as North Korea threatens to launch a communications satellite into orbit, which South Korea and the U.S. see as a cover to launch a long-range missile capable of reaching the continental U.S.

   Duguid urged the North to refrain from launching the rocket.

   "Any such launch would be a violation of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and would increase tensions unnecessarily," the spokesman said. "We ask that the North Koreans consider that and not increase tensions in the Korean Peninsula at this time."

   He would not say if the U.S. would join the U.N. Security Council in punishing the North for any such a missile launch.

   "The U.N. Security Council will decide what happens when a resolution is violated," he said. "We'll see what happens should there be a launch."

   Bosworth last week met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss his upcoming trip to Asia "for consultation with our allies and partners in the six-party talks to discuss the problem of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs."

   Sung Kim, special envoy for six-party talks, will accompany Bosworth to the Asian tour.

   Explaining his trip to Pyongyang as a private citizen in early February, Bosworth said on Feb. 27 that North Korea was "quite inclined toward continued dialogue with the United States and a continued commitment with the people of the region in the six-party talks."

   While receiving Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei in Pyongyang late last month, the North Koreans reportedly expressed willingness to attend a fresh round of the six-party talks.


U.S. House Approves Bill for Energy Aid to North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has set aside US$2.5 million for energy aid to North Korea this year despite stalled six-party talks over how to verify its nuclear facilities.

   The enabling legislation, formally known as the 2009 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which passed through the House last week, pegs the release of the funds on North Korea's fulfillment of its obligation under a six-party deal to disable its nuclear infrastructure.

   "None of the funds made available under the heading Economic Support Fund in fiscal year 2009 may be made available for obligation for energy-related assistance for North Korea unless the secretary of state determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations that North Korea is continuing to fulfill its commitments under the six-party talks agreements," the bill says.

   The bill also calls for allocation of up to $8 million for broadcasting into North Korea and $931 million in assistance to North Korean refugees.

   Washington suspended heavy fuel oil shipments to North Korea in December when North Korea refused to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear facilities.

   Under the six-party deal, the five other partners, including South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, are to provide 1 million tons of heavy fuel or its equivalent in equal shares to the North in return for the North's disablement of its nuclear facilities in the second phase of the denuclearization process. About 600,000 tons have so far been delivered.

   The third and final phase calls for North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear programs in exchange for a massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by Washington and Tokyo and establishment of a peace mechanism to replace the current armistice on the Korean Peninsula.

   The Barack Obama administration is attempting to revive the deadlocked multilateral nuclear talks. Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea, is in Beijing on the first leg of his three-nation Asian tour that will also bring him to Seoul and Tokyo.


U.N. Consulting with N.K. on Resumption of Dialogue Channel

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United Nations said on March 3 that it is consulting with North Korea on sending a U.N. delegation to the isolated socialist state to revive a dialogue channel suspended four years ago after the resignation of a special envoy for North Korea.

   "The United Nations has been working with the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to revive the dialogue channel between the DPRK, which was suspended four years ago following Mr. Maurice Strong's resignation," Marie Okabe, deputy spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said at a daily news conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York, according to a transcript released by the U.N.

   "The dialogue is proceeding smoothly through the Department of Political Affairs," she said. "No particular program for a visit to the DPRK (North Korea) has been set at this point and the consultation is ongoing."

   The spokeswoman was responding to a report that North Korea canceled a planned visit to Pyongyang this week by a U.N. delegation led by Lynn Pascoe, U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs.

   The report came at a sensitive time. North Korea is about to launch a rocket, purportedly to orbit a communications satellite, a move the U.S. sees as a cover for a test launch of a ballistic missile capable to reaching the mainland U.S.

   Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea, arrived in Beijing on March 2 on the first leg of his three-nation Asian tour, which includes South Korea and Japan, to discuss the stalled six-party talks and North Korea's missile threat.

   Upon arriving at a Beijing airport, Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, said he would discuss not only the multilateral nuclear talks but also the missile threat while meeting with officials in Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo.

   U.N. Secretary-General Ban said in January that he would send a high ranking official to the North to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program, humanitarian aid to the impoverished North and other issues.

   Ban, former South Korean foreign minister, has said that he will do his utmost to facilitate the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions and improve human rights record in the reclusive communist state, pledging soon to appoint his own special envoy for North Korea to negotiate his possible trip to Pyongyang.

   Bilateral contact between the North and the global body has been severed since 2005 when Maurice Strong, then Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy for North Korea, resigned after his involvement in a lobbying scandal.

   In an apparent conciliatory gesture, Ban sent a congratulatory message to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the 60th anniversary of the communist state's founding in September last year.

   North Korean leader Kim reciprocated by sending a New Year's greeting card to Ban -- the first since Ban's inauguration in January 2007.