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2009/03/19 10:36 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 46 (March 19, 2009)


Clinton Urges N.K. Not to Launch Missile, Proposes Missile Talks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 11 urged North Korea not to launch a ballistic missile, proposing to hold talks on North Korea's missile program as well as six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear ambitions.

   Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Clinton stressed the "need to have a conversation about missiles," adding, "We would like to see it be part of the discussion with North Korea."

   Clinton's suggestion for missile talks came just hours after Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, backed away from assuring any intent to intercept North Korea's missile launch.

   National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair also told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 10 that he believes North Korea might be intending to launch a peaceful space payload, although other U.S. officials see the North's claim as a cover for launching a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

   Clinton stopped short of saying what the United States would do if North Korea actually launches the missile, which the North claims to be a rocket to orbit a communications satellite.

   "I think that our partners in the six-party talks are concerned about the missile launch," she said. "They are willing to address it, if it does happen, with us, in a variety of ways, including the Security Council. But I don't want to talk about hypotheticals."

   Clinton noted that five parties of the six-party talks have been outspoken in their opposition to the North Korean missile launch and have attempted to dissuade it from proceeding.

   "We believe that the missile launch, for whatever purpose it is stated to be aimed at, is in violation of the Security Council resolution," Clinton said. "We are still working to try to dissuade the North Koreans."


N. Korea Sent Former Military Chief to Western Sea Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently appointed its former military chief as head of an army corps that oversees the western inter-Korean sea border, government sources said on March 12.

   General Kim Kyok-sik, who was replaced by Ri Yong-ho as chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in a military reshuffle on Feb. 11, was transfered to the KPA's 4th Army Corps, whose mission includes guarding the sea border in the Yellow Sea, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

   The appointment, apparently made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has prompted speculation about his motives regarding the contested area.

   Two bloody skirmishes occurred along the western sea border in June of 1999 and 2002, killing scores of South Korean soldiers and an unknown number of North Koreans.

   The western sea border, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), was unilaterally drawn by U.S.-led U.N. forces after the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea insists it should be redrawn further south.

   Tension spiked after the North said on Jan. 30 that it is scrapping all peace accords with the South and will no longer respect the NLL. South Korea has since put its military on heightened alert.

   The government sources dismissed speculation that the appointment may be a prelude to a provocation by the North along the sea border.

   "There is no evidence to say that Kim (Jong-il) had specific intentions sending the general to the NLL area," one of the sources said.

   They also noted that the general was removed from the North's rubber stamp parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly, in Sunday's elections as a possible sign of his demotion.


S. Korea to Back N. Korea-U.S. Talks on Missile: Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's foreign minister said monday his government would support the U.S. if it opts to directly engage North Korea to try to stop its menacing missile program.

   The U.S. has long identified North Korea as one of the world's most active missile proliferators and is now watching warily its plan to launch a "rocket." Many outside experts believe the north's move is a cover for a new long-range missile to be test-launched.

   In its waning days in 2000, the former U.S. government of President Bill Clinton actively engaged North Korea on its missile program but the negotiations broke down as Pyongyang reportedly demanded a prohibitively high compensation.

   "We regard such talks as necessary," Yu Myung-hwan said in his monthly press briefing when asked about South Korea's position on the matter. "We were very involved in the U.S.-North Korea missile negotiations around the end of the Clinton administration. There had been close consultations between South Korea and the U.S. on the issue."

   Yu's comments came amid media speculation that Pyongyang is ultimately seeking to resume direct talks with Washington on its missile activity.

   The North has already given notice to related global agencies that it will launch a rocket carrying a "communication satellite" some time between April 4-8.

   South Korea and its allies view it as a cover for a long-range missile test, pointing out the launch technology can be used for inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

   The minister said the secretive nation's missile program poses an even greater threat, as it conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

   "Developing long-range missile capability after a nuclear test is literally (the development of) weapons of mass destruction ," he said.

   Yu said his country and its allies are currently concentrating efforts to persuade the North not to go ahead with a rocket launch.

   "We are trying to assure North Korea that a long-range rocket launch will not serve its national interest," he said.


U.N. Envoy Urges N.K. to Stop Punishing Defectors

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea maintains a "shoot on sight" policy for people caught trying to flee the impoverished socialist country, a United Nations human rights envoy said in his latest report on conditions in the North, citing unidentified sources.

   Vitit Muntarbhorn, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights, was to report the results of his findings later March 16 to the 10th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council underway in Geneva.

   "Some sources report a 'shoot on sight' policy with regard to those who seek to leave the country clandestinely, and violence used against pregnant women forcibly returned to the country," he said in the report made public on the agency's Web site before his presentation.

   "Over the past year, the situation facing asylum-seekers has become more stringent. More restrictions have been imposed on departures from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and entry into neighboring countries," he said, using the North's official name.

   Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor, appealed for international attention on the North's human rights abuses.

   "The overall picture of human rights implementation in the country is nonetheless grim, and the situation remains dire and desperate," he said. "The predicament ensuing from the broad range of systematic and widespread human rights violations in the DPRK (North Korea) requires urgent attention at all levels, from national to international."

   He urged North Korea to improve its food distribution system, saying poverty of the urban poor and people in remote areas is expected to continue despite improved climatic conditions in 2008.

   It is estimated that total food production for the period 2008-09 will be 4.21 million tons, with a cereal deficit of 836,000 tons, despite possible commercial imports of 500,000 tons, according to a joint report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. in late 2008.

   "Some 8.7 million people are food insecure and thus need help. Given these conditions, there is also a need for consistent nutritional assessment of the people at risk," Muntarbhorn said.


N. Korea Removes over 75 Pct of Used Fuel Rods: U.S. Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has removed more than 75 percent of the used fuel rods at its atomic facilities, a U.S. report showed on March 15, a sign that progress has been made towards denuclearization despite hang-ups in multilateral talks.

   According to the report by the Congressional Research Service, the North has removed 6,100 out of 8,000 used fuel rods as of the end of February with efforts underway to fully disable nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex.

   The report comes as the six-party talks on the North's atomic programs have been stalled since December, when North Korea refused to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear facilities.

   Tensions have mounted on the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang said it will launch a "satellite" early next month, a move that neighboring countries suspect is a ruse to test-fire a missile.

   The socialist country on March 13 again sealed the border crossing to an inter-Korean industrial park, the second time in a week. Hundreds of South Korean workers remained stranded at the complex, and the cross-border delivery of goods and raw materials has also been suspended.

   Despite these developments, the report noted that progress has been made in disabling nuclear facilities.

   South Korean officials visited the North in January to discuss purchasing unused fuel rods but failed to reach an agreement, the report noted, adding the destruction of the rods will not begin until all of the spent ones are removed.

   Removing the rods is one of the few remaining steps that Pyongyang has to take to disable the Yongbyon complex under a 2007 aid-for-denuclearization deal with the other six-party members -- South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.


N.K. Refuses to Accept Further Food Aid from U.S.: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has refused to accept humanitarian food aid from the U.S., the State Department said on March 17, amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea's planned rocket launch and ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.

   "North Korea has informed the United States that it does not wish to receive additional U.S. food assistance at this time," spokesman Robert Wood said. "We will work with U.S. NGOs and the North Korean counterparts to ensure that food that's already been delivered -- or food that's already in North Korea -- is distributed to the intended recipients."

   He was referring to nongovernmental organizations.

   The suspension of food aid comes as North Korea is threatening to orbit a satellite, which the U.S. and its allies see as a cover for testing a ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland U.S.

   Talk is rife over possible further sanctions on the North after the launch, scheduled for early April, although China and Russia have shown restraint.

   The U.S. has delivered 169,000 tons of food to North Korea since May, when Washington pledged to provide up to 500,000 tons to help alleviate the North's chronic food shortage.

   "The last shipment of U.S. food aid, which was nearly 5,000 metric tons of vegetable oil and corn-soy blend, arrived in North Korea in late January, and is being distributed by U.S. NGOs," Wood said.

   The spokesman said he had no idea what caused the North Koreans to reject further food assistance, hinting that the North's reluctance to issue visas for Korean-speaking monitors at the World Food Program might have played a role.

   "I know that was still an issue that was trying to be worked out," the spokesman said. "Whether or not that is the reason -- the real reason that the North decided to do what it's doing, I don't know. I'd have to refer you to them."

   North Korea has been refusing to issue visas to Korean-speaking monitors, whose mission is to assure that the food aid is not being funneled as suspected to the military and government elite.

   The spokesman said the U.S. is ready to deliver the remainder of the promised food aid.

   "As you know, the food situation in North Korea is not a good one, and so we're very concerned about it," he said. "And one of the things I also want to mention is that we have aimed to implement the U.S.-DPRK food aid program according to the terms agreed to by the United States and the North Korean government in May 2008."