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2009/06/04 10:31 KST


Inter-Korean Border Traffic Remains Normal Despite N.K. Warning

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of South Korean workers traveled to North Korea on May 28 and commercial vessels from the North continued to ply waters south of the border, Seoul officials said, despite stiff warnings from Pyongyang's military.

   Amid heightened border tensions and elevated surveillance over North Korea, inter-Korean overland and sea traffic continued as usual, said Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.

   North Korea said on May 27 it would no longer guarantee the safety of civilian ships and South Korean and U.S. naval vessels operating along the western sea border, a possible warning of military action.

   The threat came in response to South Korea's participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a U.S.-led campaign aimed at interdicting ships and planes carrying weapons of mass destruction.

   "North Korea, while continuing to denounce the full participation in the PSI, is observing routine procedures according to the maritime agreement," Lee said, referring to the 2005 pact in which the two Koreas opened their sea routes to cut travel time and fuel costs.

   Two North Korean civilian boats were passing through South Korean waters, and fax communications between the maritime authorities of the Koreas proceeded as usual, Lee said.

   About 10 Chinese-registered ships carrying South Korean fisheries imports sailed without incident in North Korean waters, the official said. No South Korean ships, however, were currently north of the border as they make trips only on a weekly basis due to a decrease of humanitarian aid shipments, she said.

   Over the land border, more than 340 South Korean workers traveled to a joint industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong, the last bastion of inter-Korean economic cooperation. The joint venture, just an hour's drive from Seoul, hosts more than 100 South Korean firms producing clothes, kitchenware, electronic equipment and other labor-intensive goods, employing over 40,000 North Korean workers.

   "North Korean workers don't seem to know about the military warnings, maybe because their media is strictly controlled," said Ok Sung-seok, president of clothing company Nine Mode Co. that employs about 200 North Korean workers in the Kaesong complex.

   But anxiety was growing among his peers, Ok said. Following several production disruptions in March, when North Korea suddenly sealed the border to protest a joint South Korea-U.S. military drill, managers at the complex are wary of what more friction might mean for business.


S. Korea Refrains from Spending on North Amid Political Limbo

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The Seoul government, engaged in a deepening political deadlock with Pyongyang, has executed only 1.8 percent of its yearly budget for economic aid to North Korea during the first four months, its data suggested on May 31.

   According to Unification Ministry data, the government spent only 26.91 billion won (US$21.48 million) out of its inter-Korean cooperation fund worth 1.5 trillion won during the January-April period.

   The Seoul government suspended its decade-long rice and fertilizer aid to the North after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, taking a tougher stance on the North's nuclear program and withdrawing his liberal predecessors' unconditional aid policy.

   Lee has urged Pyongyang to come to the dialogue table to resuscitate frozen relations and revive economic exchanges, but Pyongyang has rebuffed the call, citing Lee's "confrontational" policy.

   Prospects for inter-Korean talks further dimmed last week as North Korea conducted its second nuclear test.

   Seoul's aid budget for North Korea includes rice and fertilizer shipments worth 800 billion won, facility construction of cross-border railroads along the east coast, and loans for local businesses investing in North Korea, including more than 100 firms operating at a joint industrial park in the North's border town of Kaesong.

   South Korea spent 674.4 billion won in government-level economic aid for North Korea in 2005 and 715.73 billion won in 2007. The budget dropped to 231.2 billion won last year.


N.K. Notifies Institutions of Nomination of Kim Jong-un as Successor

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean authorities have notified the country's key institutions that their leader Kim Jong-il has designated his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor, a source on North Korean affairs said on June 1.

   "The authorities notified the North's Workers' Party, the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and the Cabinet shortly after its latest nuclear test on May 25," the source said on condition of anonymity.

   The notification came more than four months after Kim Jong-il was reported to have designated Jong-un, 25, as his successor and delivered a directive on the nomination to the Workers' Party leadership on January 8.

   The latest notification is interpreted as the North's move to officially have the junior Kim recognized as the leader's heir apparent in North Korean society.

   Because the notification was made immediately after the nuclear test, it appears the North intended to highlight Jong-un's leadership.

   The source also said the North notified its overseas missions, requiring them not to reveal the notification to the outside.

   The decision by the elder Kim, 67, comes earlier than expected and was likely driven by his poor health after suffering a stroke last August.

   If actualized, the junior Kim's succession would be the second father-to-son power transfer in the socialist country, unprecedented in modern history.

   Jong-un was born to Kim's third wife, Ko Yong-hi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in 2004. Jong-un was educated at the International School of Berne and is known to be a fan of NBA basketball. After his return to Pyongyang in his late teens, the North has kept him under a shroud of secrecy, and very little is known about his character.


N. Korea Bans Navigation in Mid, Upper Yellow Sea: Sources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently prohibited vessels from entering the mid and upper parts of the Yellow Sea, prompting South Korea to monitor the region for possible signs of a provocation, intelligence sources said on June 1.

   North Korea routinely sets up entry-prohibited areas in its western waters for military training purposes, but the latest ban is unusually long in duration -- lasting until the end of July, or nearly two months, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

   The authorities "are keeping watch over the region, believing the ban could be a possible sign that there may be a provocation," one of the sources privy to North Korean intelligence said.

   South Korea's military is on a heightened alert after the North's May 25 nuclear test and a subsequent series of short-range missile firings over the East Sea.

   Pyongyang has also warned of military strikes against South Korean and U.S. naval ships operating along the volatile western sea border, the site of two bloody skirmishes in 1999 and 2002 that claimed scores of lives on the South Korean side and heavier casualties for the North.

   The inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea, considered a powder keg on the peninsula, served as the de facto maritime demarcation line after it was unilaterally drawn by the U.N. Command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea rejects the demarcation and demands it be redrawn further south.

   The sources could not confirm exactly when the ban was put in place, whether before or after the North's May 25 nuclear test, only saying it came "recently."


U.S. Urges N. Korea to Free American Journalists Held Since March

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on June 1 called on North Korea to free two American journalists detained since March for allegedly crossing the border with China illegally while reporting on North Korean refugees.

   Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood also said that the Swedish ambassador in Pyongyang, Mats Foyer, met with Euna Lee and Laura Ling of Current TV, a San Francisco-based Internet news outlet, earlier in the day for the third time since their detention on March 17.

   "My understanding is that the Swedish ambassador, who is our protecting power in Pyongyang, visited with the two journalists today; had a separate visit with each of them," Wood told a daily news briefing. "There's not much I can say about the visit, because there are privacy considerations."

   Wood said their release is "a high priority for the president and secretary, and we're going to continue to do all we can to see them back with their families."

   "They need to release these two Americans," he said. "We're going to continue our efforts to try to gain their release."

   The Swedish Embassy handles consular affairs involving American citizens in North Korea as Washington does not have diplomatic relations with the North.

   North Korea has said that the reporters will be put on trial Thursday on charges of illegal entry and "hostile acts."

   The journalists face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of espionage.

   Wood said he hopes North Korea will not link the fate of the American journalists to the ongoing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea's second nuclear test, short-range missile launches and threats to nullify the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   "The whole nuclear issue is a separate one," Wood said. "We've made very clear -- and other countries, as well, have spoken to this issue -- that these two journalists need to be released. And that's what our efforts are geared toward right now."


N. Korea May Launch Ballistic Missile After One or Two Weeks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be preparing to test-launch a long-range ballistic missile, an intelligence official in Seoul said on June 1, noting the launch could take place in one or two weeks.

   "We believe the North could launch the missile at any time after one or two weeks," the official said, asking not to be identified.

   The assessment comes as the communist nation is believed to have moved a missile to its new launch site in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, which has a built-in launch pad, the official added.

   The missile is in the process of being assembled at a facility at the Tonchang-ri site, another source said on condition of anonymity.

   According to him, "The North is believed to have manufactured a set of three long-range rockets. One of them was launched on April 5, the other is in Tongchang-ri, and the other is being kept in a Pyongyang arms research center."

   The report comes after officials here earlier said an intercontinental ballistic missile was spotted last week on a cargo train for shipment.

   The North's alleged move comes amid efforts by the U.N. Security Council to place economic and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang for its latest nuclear test that took place on May 25.

   North Korea is prohibited from any nuclear or long-range missile tests, as well as trade of heavy arms, under a 2006 U.N. security resolution adopted after its first detonation of a nuclear device that year.

   Pyongyang said last week it will reject any U.N. resolutions and take "stronger self-defensive countermeasures" if the world body tries to take punitive action.


Detained S. Korean Worker Transferred to Pyongyang: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have moved a South Korean worker who was detained at an industrial park just north of the border in March for criticizing the communist country to the nation's capital, a senior Seoul official said June 2.

   The detainee's reported transfer to Pyongyang added to growing concerns over the safety and fate of the engineer of Hyundai Asan Corp., the developer of the joint park, who was not allowed access to South Korean officials during his detention in Kaesong.

   North Korea has given no word about how its investigation of the detained worker, identified by his family name Yu, will proceed. On June 4, the North will hold a trial for two U.S. female journalists who were arrested along the border with China in March and moved to Pyongyang in April to be tried for illegal entry and hostile acts.

   The Hyundai worker appears to have been moved from Kaesong, a few kilometers from the inter-Korean border and home to a South Korean-developed industrial park where he was detained, the senior government official said, following a local media report on Tuesday that said Yu had been transferred to Pyongyang.

   "The question is where he was sent, and he was more likely sent to Pyongyang," the official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

   North Korea sent a message to the South on March 30 saying it detained Yu on that day on charges that he "malignantly slandered the dignified system of our republic and tried to incite defection" by a female North Korean employee at the joint park.

   North Korea repeated similar accusations on May 1 after its negotiations with South Korea to set up government-level talks broke down due to agenda differences. Pyongyang refused to discuss the matter of Yu.

   More than 40,000 North Korean workers, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, are employed at the joint park that hosts over 100 South Korean firms producing clothes, kitchenware, electronic equipment and other labor-intensive goods.

   Seoul's Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean exchanges, said it could not confirm whether Yu was moved to Pyongyang. Spokesman Chun Hae-sung said his ministry has so far "indirectly learned Yu has no health problems and had been staying in the vicinity of Kaesong" until recently.