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2009/03/26 10:33 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 47 (March 26, 2009)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 2)

N. Korea, China Start Ceremonies for 'Year of DPRK-China Friendship'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state media reported relatively quickly and in detail the opening of its "friendship year" with China on March 18 as the two sides seek to take the opportunity to promote traditional ties.

   The countries designated 2009 -- which marks the 60th year of their diplomatic ties -- "the year of DPRK-China friendship" and reportedly plan to hold a series of celebratory events throughout the year, as well as organizing visits by delegations representing all social fields. DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.

   "'The year of DPRK-China friendship' was opened with due ceremony at the opera theater of the state theater in Beijing on March 18," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said that day.

   The ceremony was attended by North Korea's Premier Kim Yong-il who was on an official state visit to China and Wen Jiabao, premier of the Chinese State Council, the agency said.

   In his speech to the ceremony, Wen expressed his belief that friendly ties would continue to develop with greater vitality and bear ever richer fruit, the report said.

   Kim was quoted as saying the traditional friendship was the common treasure of both nations and that it is the consistent stance of the North's communist party and government that relations should be further developed.

   The North will work closely with China to make festivities to mark the anniversary a success, he stressed.

   Following the leaders' speeches, more than 2,000 people from both countries watched an hour-long gala featuring folk songs and dances from both countries, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

   A ceremony to close the "friendship year" will be held in Pyongyang around Oct. 6 with ranking officials from the two governments attending, according to other news reports.


N. Korea Says Dialogue Impossible Until Human Rights Issue Dropped

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will not talk to South Korea or the United States until they stop accusing the communist nation of being a human rights violator, the North said on March 20, adding inter-Korean relations are already at a point where "war may break out at any moment."

   "There can be no 'human rights' issue in the DPRK (North Korea) in the light of the nature of its socialist system or its mission and aim, as it is the most dignified socialist system centered on the popular masses, which was chosen by the (North) Korean people themselves and is being protected by them as their faith," an unidentified spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland said in a statement.

   The statement, carried by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), comes after Seoul said earlier that day it has co-sponsored a United Nations resolution condemning North Korea's human rights abuses.

   Officials at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said the resolution will likely be put to a vote next week.

   The U.S. State Department also labeled North Korea one of the world's worst human rights violators in its annual human rights report published earlier this month.

   "There is the human rights issue in South Korea where even the people's elementary right to existence, to say nothing of their political right, is being ruthlessly violated," the spokesman for the North Korean organization said.

   The spokesman also claimed Seoul and Washington are making false accusations while "not uttering even a word" about their own human rights violations, saying, "This is, indeed, a shameless and ridiculous act."

   "There can be neither dialogue nor the normalization of the inter-Korean relations as long as the Lee group kicks up the 'human rights' ruckus against the DPRK," it added, referring to Seoul's Lee Myung-bak administration.

   In a related development, Pyongyang recently rejected a U.S. offer to provide humanitarian food aid and expelled American aid groups that have been working to help the impoverished nation feed its population of 24 million.


North Korea Says It Is Holding, Investigating Two Americans

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state news agency said on March 21 that the country detained two Americans earlier this week and is investigating them for allegedly intruding into North Korean territory illegally.

   The Korean Central News Agency report, monitored in Seoul, said that authorities detained two Americans on March 17 while they were "illegally intruding the territory of the DPRK (North Korea) by crossing the DPRK-China border."

   The report came as two female reporters from Current TV, an American Internet outlet, were reportedly taken by North Korean soldiers along the Tumen River on the Chinese border while filming the North Korean side early this week.

   The brief report added that authorities were "investigating the case," but did not disclose the identities of the two detainees.

   Robert Wood, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said on March 19 in Washington that authorities will contact North Korea and China to secure the release of the two journalists.

   On March 24, the spokesman said: "We have formally requested through our protecting power in Pyongyang, the Swedish Embassy, that the Swedish government be provided with consular access to these two Americans." "The North has assured us that the detainees will be well treated," he added.

   The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang handles consular affairs involving American citizens as the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with the reclusive communist state.

   The detention of the journalists comes amid mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea's announcement it plans to launch a rocket in early April to send a satellite into orbit. South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities suspect the launch is a cover for a ballistic missile launch.

   The detention is the third of its kind since 1994, when North Korea detained a U.S. pilot whose military chopper was shot down after straying into North Korea.

   Two years later, another American citizen, Evan Hunziker, were held for three months on suspicion of spying after swimming in the Yalu River bordering North Korea and China.

   Then U.S. congressman Bill Richardson flew to Pyongyang to successfully negotiate their release. Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, is now governor of New Mexico.


North Korean Premier Winds Up Visit to China

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean Prime Minister Kim Yong-il returned home on March 21, wrapping up his five-day visit to China.

   Kim visited China to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea.

   Meeting with his counterpart, Wen Jiabao, and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Kim discussed ways to enhance bilateral ties and resume the six-way talks aimed at solving North Korea's nuclear standoff with the United States.

   The six-way talks involve South and North Korea, China, Russia, the U.S. and Japan.

   Kim was accompanied by economy-related ministers including Minister of Metal Industry Kim Tae-bong, Minister of Agriculture Kim Chang-sik and Minister of Trade Ri Yong-mu, reflecting North Korea's interest in economic cooperation with China.


Ginseng Cosmetics Sales Picking Up in N. Korea: Official Web Site

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Anti-aging skin care products, especially those made using ginseng, are growing fast in popularity in North Korea, the country's official Web site said on March 25.

   The cosmetics brand "Scent of Spring," produced by the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory in the North Korean city from which it takes its name -- near the border with China -- has won several medals in international events and has been acknowledged as "the best" by many Western countries like Britain, France and Germany, Uriminzokkiri claimed.

   The products were previously also sold in South Korea.

   "Riding on the development of society, various anti-aging cosmetics are making inroads into the market, and public interest in them is increasing day by day," the Web site said.

   "Those who want to live in the bloom of youth are demanding natural cosmetics of better quality that would make their skin beautiful," it said, "The 'Scent of Spring' is gaining favor with customers as an ideal natural cosmetics brand."

   The Web site said the ingredients are extracted from Kaesong ginseng, a herbal root and the country's representative product, which is thought to improve health and boost energy.

   The skin care line "vitalizes dermal fibroblasts, keeps the skin tender and moist, energizes blood circulation in the skin and prevents wrinkles," it said.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a field tour to the Sinuiju factory, one of the largest in the country along with the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory in the capital, in November.

   Scent of Spring cosmetics were available in South Korea last year. A Seoul-based Internet shopping mall that sells North Korean products, NK Mall, had directly imported the ginseng skin toner, according to staff member Choi Dong-ho. Sales were suspended this year, he said.

   "Those who knew about it bought it. We didn't promote it much because cosmetic products are only a minor part of our sales," Choi said. He could not give sales figures.