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2009/03/12 10:58 KST


Civic Group to Build Rehabilitation Center for Disabled in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A Seoul-based welfare group said on March 5 that it will break ground for construction of a rehabilitation center for disabled North Koreans in Pyongyang in May.

   The joint project was initially scheduled to begin last year but was put off due to rising political tensions between the two Koreas, said Sue Kinsler, a Korean-American and lead organizer with the Lighthouse Foundation.

   "We reached a consensus with North Korea to go ahead with this unless there is a war," Kinsler, who visited Pyongyang in February, said.

   The organization anticipates that construction of the building, with one story below ground and four above on a space of 3,600 square meters, will cost about 5 billion won (US$3.24 million).

   Kinsler said organizers are raising funds from a number of sources, including the South Korean government, churches and private companies, to be able to complete the building by 2011.

   The rehabilitation center will provide disabled North Korean citizens with assessment tests of individual handicaps, treatment, occupational training and equipment such as leg braces, artificial limbs and wheelchairs.

   "In North Korea, autistic children and the mentally disabled are not classified by different levels of seriousness. And there are many people who have had their arms and legs amputated by explosives in the military," Kinsler said.

   She said a ground-breaking date of around May 10 will likely be confirmed during her next visit to Pyongyang on March 21.

   According to the latest North Korean data available, there are about 760,000 disabled people out of the country's 23 million population. Kinsler said, however, the actual figure is likely much higher, considering that an average 10 percent of every country's population suffers from physical handicaps.

   Safety equipment in North Korea is also scarce, and its military service system requires men to serve for 10 years, she noted.


N. Korea Sanctions S. Korean Firm at Joint Complex for Pollution

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The North Korean government has penalized a South Korean firm at a joint industrial complex in the North by banning local employees from working there, citing pollution at the site, Seoul officials said on March 5.

   The sanction issued in mid-February came amid mounting border tension. It marked the first time the North has punished a South Korean company since the Kaesong industrial complex opened in 2005.

   The joint complex in Kaesong, several kilometers north of the inter-Korean border near the west coast, is a major reconciliatory economic project built after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. It marries South Korean capital and technology with North Korea's cheap but skilled labor.

   Seoul officials said North Korea's management authorities issued an order barring local employees of Myungjin Chemical Co., an electronic plating firm, from returning to work, citing bad air quality at the factory.

   "The North first gave notice to the firm about air quality before it issued the sanction," an official of the Ministry of Unification said, requesting anonymity.

   The official could not say whether the penalty was politically motivated.

   Officials said the chemical firm still operates its automatic processing division, but its manual division, comprising some 20 percent of the entire operation, has been suspended.

   South Korean environmental experts will soon leave for Kaesong to survey the firm's work environment and decide whether it violates international standards, they said.

   More than 90 South Korean firms operate in Kaesong, producing kitchenware, watches, clothes and other labor-intensive goods with 38,200 North Koreans. Their combined output reached US$251.4 million won last year, up 36 percent from US$184.8 million won in 2007.


Kim Jong-il Ranks Second in 2008 N. Korean Media Appearance

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was only No. 2 in the communist country in terms of media appearances during 2008, topped by the country's ceremonial head Kim Yong-nam, data showed on March 5.

   Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), appeared 321 times in the country's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, last year, compared to 202 times for Kim Jong-il, according to the count by Seoul's Ministry of Unification.

   As the titular head of the nation, he represents North Korea on all state visits and summits and receives visiting heads of state, while Kim Jong-il is usually reported on for his public inspections, the ministry explained.

   Choe Thae-bok and Kim Jung-rin, the Workers' Party secretaries, came third and fourth with 106 and 103 appearances respectively.

   Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the SPA, was fifth with 87 appearances, followed by Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun with 86.

   Several new faces appeared in the ranking compared to 2007, the ministry said. Among them were Kim Thae-jong, vice department director of the Workers' Party Central Committee, who came in 9th with 62 appearances, Hyon Chol-hae, general of the (North) Korean People's Army (11th, 52) and Jon Yong-jin, vice chairman of the (North) Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (12th, 51).


U.N. Agency Protests N. Korean Threat against Commercial Jets

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.N. agency responsible for aviation safety has decided to send a letter of protest to North Korea for its recent threat against the safety of South Korean passenger jets, South Korea's foreign ministry said on March 10.

   The decision marks the first international response to the communist nation's announcement last Thursday that it could no longer ensure the safety of South Korean planes flying in its airspace. The threat, leveled in protest over an ongoing joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States, prompted several airlines to reroute their flight paths around the North's east coast.

   "The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decided unanimously to send the letter in a meeting of the board of directors on Monday," the ministry said.

   The letter, to be delivered formally to Pyongyang on March 12, stresses that the North's announcement is a "grave threat" to the safety and security of global civil aviation and travelers, according to the ministry.

   It also calls for Pyongyang to abide by ICAO-approved aviation rules and retract the threat.

   South Korea drafted the letter -- which was also backed by China and Russia -- among the 32 members of the ICAO board of directors, the ministry pointed out.

   South Korea denounced the North's threat in its own statement earlier.

   "Threatening civilian airliners' normal operations under international aviation regulations not only violates international rules but also is an act against humanity," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said recently.


North Korea About to Launch Rocket into Space As It Claimed

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The chief U.S. intelligence official said on March 10 that he believes that North Korea is about to launch a rocket into space as Pyongyang insists.

   The remark by National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair is the first such statement by any U.S. official amid conflicting reports about the nature of the rocket Pyongyang is threatening to launch.

   U.S. officials have said that the North's claim to shoot a communications satellite into space is a cover to test a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

   "It is a space-launch vehicle..." Blair told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "The technology is indistinguishable from an intercontinental ballistic missile, and if a three-stage, space-launch vehicle works, then that could reach not only Alaska, Hawaii, but also part of what the Hawaiians call 'the Mainland,' and what the Alaskans call 'the Lower 48.'"

   He said he "tended to believe that the North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they intend. I could be wrong, but that would be my estimate."

   North Korea has recently said it will launch a communications satellite as part of its space development program.

   The U.S. and its allies have warned that any launch of a satellite or missile will bring sanctions under a United Nations resolution banning any ballistic missile activity, although China and Russia have not been clear on whether they will join such a move.

   Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Maples also told the hearing that after a failed July 2006 test launch, "North Korea has continued development of the Taepodong-2, which could be used for space launch or as an ICBM," noting that North Korea "announced in late February they intend to launch a communications satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2."

   North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile in 2006 is widely believed to have been a failure due to its flight time of less than one minute, but its previous version flew over Japan and fell into seas off Alaska in 1998.

   North Korea insists the 1998 launch was to put a communications satellite into orbit. The State Department also described it as a failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit.


Bosworth Briefs Clinton about Asian Trip on Six-Party Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. pointman on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, on March 10 briefed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about his just-concluded trip to South Korea, China and Japan on resuming the six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the State Department said.

   "The purpose for the meeting today, of course, is for Ambassador Bosworth to brief the secretary on his recent visit to Asia," spokesman Robert Wood said in a daily news briefing.

   Wood said that the Barack Obama administration is still reviewing its North Korea policy and Bosworth's Asian trip is part of the process, but added, "I'm not sure how close we are to completing that review."

   While in Seoul, Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea, reaffirmed the Obama administration's willingness to promptly resume the six-party talks toward the North's "complete and verifiable denuclearization."

   He also visited Beijing and Tokyo last week to push for an early resumption of the multilateral nuclear talks, which are stalled over North Korea's refusal to allow international inspectors to take samples for its nuclear facilities, a key element for verification of North Korea's past and current nuclear activities.

   "And, of course, the objective of that visit was to get a sense, from various players in the region, as to the best way to go forward, with regard to getting North Korea to comply with its international obligations," Wood said.