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2009/04/16 11:03 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 50 (April 16, 2009)


N. Korean Jet Crashed in East Sea Before Rocket Launch

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean supersonic fighter crashed into the East Sea a day before Pyongyang launched its long-range rocket, a government source said on April 9.

   The source, who declined to be identified, said the MiG-23 jet was lost on April 4 while conducting a reconnaissance flight near the Musudan-ri rocket launch site on the country's east coast.

   "The exact cause is not known, but it could have been a problem with the engine, since the fighter was not conducting any difficult moves at the time it fell from the sky," the expert said.

   He added that the plane may have been one of the forward-deployed aircraft sent to North Hamgyong Province ahead of the April 5 launch.

   The socialist country claims the Unha-2 rocket successfully reached orbit and deployed the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite, although most independent observers argue that the mission failed to meet its goal.

   The government source, meanwhile, said North Korean authorities dispatched an Mi-8 helicopter from Pyongyang with investigators to determine why the plane fell into the sea.

   The single-engine, variable-geometry aircraft is one of the more modern jets in North Korea's arsenal, although Russia retired MiG-23s in the early 1990s. Besides the loss of the MiG-23, the South Korean military said the North lost two MiG-21s earlier in the year.


Kim Jong-il Paves Way for Successor: Analysts

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had two aims in appointing his brother-in-law to the country's powerful military board, analysts said on April 10, to cement his standing and solidify a leadership that could function once he is out of the picture.

   Kim, 67, apparently now back in control after an alleged stroke last summer, considerably amplified the National Defence Commission (NDC) in a meeting of the newly elected parliament on April 9, increasing the number of its members to 13 from 8 and bringing in new members from outside the military.

   Most notably, Kim's brother-in-law and right-hand man, Jang Song-thaek, made it into the military board along with his own close aide.

   "Overall, the power of the NDC was strengthened," Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman, Kim Ho-nyoun, said in a briefing.

   Kim Jong-il came back into the public spotlight after the country's rubber-stamp parliament reappointed him as chairman of the NDC, in his first major appearance since his reported stroke in August.

   His movements at the meeting appeared easier and more brisk than those shown in photos months earlier. The North's state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station aired footage of Kim walking to his seat, clapping his hands and turning a page in a document at an assembly hall.

   After a months-long absence from public view, Kim wants to reassert his unmatched power and at the same time prepare a ruling system that will follow him,
Seoul analysts said Jang, who married Kim's younger sister, Kim Kyong-hi, in 1972 and currently is a powerful department director of the Workers' Party, is believed to be close to the leader's sons. He was increasingly spotted with Kim during the leader's field trips this year, an indication he may have been tasked with overseeing state affairs.

   "Jang's appointment definitely means the post-Kim era (is coming)," said Cha Doo-hyeogn, a North Korea expert with the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

   By placing Jang on the NDC, which has so far been dominated by military officials, the North Korean leader set up a comprehensive system that combines the party and the military and can legitimately help run the country when he is unable to, Cha said.

   Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea may start officially promoting Kim's successor after 2012, a target year for becoming a "powerful" nation and the centenary of the birth of Kim's father and the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.

   "Jang's foremost role for now will be stabilizing Kim's regime," Yang said. "At the same time, he may organize a loyal group for a successor so that the heir can be officially proclaimed after 2012."


Seoul Says North's Detention of S. Korean Worker 'Serious'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul views North Korea's prolonged detention of a South Korean worker as "serious" and will consider taking action should Pyongyang continue to refuse access to him, a spokesperson said on April 13.

   North Korea detained the employee of Hyundai Asan Corp. on March 30 in the border town of Kaesong, where a joint industrial complex developed by the South Korean company is located.

   "Our government considers North Korea's prolonged inquiry into our worker a serious situation," Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters.

   She called the detention "very unjust" and "inhumane" and warned that Seoul "will consider taking various measures" should no progress be made towards securing his release.

   Notifying Seoul of the detention, North Korean authorities claimed the worker had denounced Pyongyang's political regime and tried to tempt a female North Korean employee into defecting.
Seoul officials have not been able to confirm the charges as the North has ignored repeated fax messages calling for access to the as yet unidentified employee, an engineer with Hyundai Asan. The spokeswoman did not say what measures could be taken, amid concerns that Seoul has few options available for pressuring Pyongyang.

   Hyundai Asan President Cho Kun-shik has made daily visits to the Kaesong complex, about an hour's drive from Seoul, to pressure North Korea into granting access to the employee.

   Seoul officials say the detained worker should not remain isolated and that he has the right to be represented by an attorney under inter-Korean accords on joint economic ventures. The accords guarantee "basic rights" for South Korean workers detained by the North.

   North Korean officials said they were abiding by the agreements and ensured the safety of the worker during meetings with the Hyundai chief last week, but insisted there was no stipulation in the accords allowing for direct access to detained individuals.


More Than 10 N. Korean Firms Likely to Face U.N. Sanctions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea, the U.S and Japan have agreed to a draft list of North Korean companies to be subject to U.N. sanctions under a 2006 resolution brought back under international scrutiny after the communist nation's latest rocket launch, a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said on April 14.

   "We had consultations (with the U.S. and Japan) on the list," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding there is a consensus among the countries on the matter.

   The official would not provide details before a U.N. sanctions committee finalizes the list, but a ministry source told Yonhap News Agency that more than 10 North Korean companies are targeted.

   The source said the firms to be affected will include Korea Mining and Development Corporation (KOMID), Moksong Trading Corporation and Sino-Ki, all of which are already under U.S. sanctions for their involvement in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

   In response to North Korea's latest rocket launch on April 5, the 15-member U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement that calls for the implementation of Resolution 1718 aimed at tightening a wide range of sanctions on North Korean entities and goods.

   The resolution was adopted in 2006 after the North's missile and nuclear tests, but its implementation had been largely sidelined amid international efforts to denuclearize the communist nation through negotiations.

   The statement requires the sanctions committee to draw up a related list by April 24 for full-fledged sanctions.

   "Turkey, which chairs the sanctions committee, is expected to convene a meeting for related discussions within a few days," the official said.


Nine N. Korean Ships Subject to PSI in Int'l waters: Officials

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A total of nine North Korean ships are subject to possible inspection if they pass through international waters, as they are registered with countries affected by a U.S.-led anti-proliferation drive, Seoul officials said on April 14.

   Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) member nations can stop, interdict and seize ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction and related materials only if they are registered with PSI participants or countries who have signed a bilateral shipboarding pact with the United States.

   Among ships operated by North Koreans, only nine of them are registered with applicable nations -- Belize and Mongolia -- and thus are subject to PSI operations in international waters, government officials said on condition of anonymity.

   North Korea's other internationally-registered vessels are checked in with Cambodia, China and Honduras, which are not PSI members and do not have shipboarding pacts with the U.S., the officials said.

   "For other ships, there are no legal grounds to interdict them under the PSI," said one official who is well-versed in North Korean affairs.

   The ships are commercial vessels owned by North Koreans but have been registered in foreign countries for tax reasons, the officials explained. The total number of North Korea's foreign-registered ships is not known, they said.

   In territorial waters, however, PSI participants may examine any suspicious North Korean ship regardless of its registration.

   The PSI has 94 member states, including 15 core countries and about 60 irregular participants.

   As Seoul leans towards full participation in the initiative, an escalation from its previous status as an observer, North Korean-owned ships may soon be subject to interdiction in South Korean waters. Russia and Japan are already full participants.

   North Korea has warned it would regard South Korea's entrance into the PSI as a declaration of war.

   Seoul and Pyongyang signed a bilateral shipping treaty in 2005 to allow commercial ships to use their territorial waters. Under the agreement, they may stop and interdict ships suspected of carrying illegal materials but can only expel them in case of violation. The PSI grants the right to seize violators.