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2009/07/02 10:45 KST


U.S. Monitoring Several N.K. Ships for Possible WMD Proliferation

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on June 24 it is closely monitoring several North Korean ships for allegedly carrying weapons of mass destruction for possible proliferation, although it was tailing only one at the moment.

   "We have been interested in this one ship, but we've been interested in, frankly, multiple ships," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said, adding, "It's the only ship that we have tracked like this."

   Morrell was talking about the Kang Nam, the North Korean ship that the U.S. military has been shadowing since its departure from a North Korean port early last week, possibly on its way to Myanmar.

   He would not discuss where the ship was headed.
"I'm not going to get into where it is and where it's going," he said. "You know, obviously we have some notions of that, but I don't think it's productive for us to discuss it."

   It is illegal under international law to inspect cargo on the high seas unless the flag state consents.

   The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1874 after North Korea's nuclear test on May 25, but it does not allow the use of force to implement the sanctions, due mainly to strong opposition from China, North Korea's closest ally.

   The spokesman said that the U.S. has not yet interdicted or tried to "hail and query" the Kang Nam.

   "I think that's a decision that will have to be made at some point, and not necessarily just by us or this government," Morrell said. "But that is a decision I think we will likely take collectively with our allies and partners out there and make a determination about whether we choose to hail and query this particular ship and, if we make that decision, when and where to do so."

   He said he did not expect any decision soon.

   "I would urge everybody just to take a deep breath and to not hyperventilate about this particular ship," he said. "We are in this for the long run."

   The spokesman said that the U.S. was monitoring the North Korean ships even before the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1874 following North Korea's nuclear test on May 25. The resolution imposes an overall arms embargo and tougher financial sanctions than those under previous resolutions in 2006.


Only 22 Percent of S. Koreans Say N. Korea Trustworthy

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- About one-fifth of South Koreans think North Korea is trustworthy, a poll said on June 25, the lowest level in a decade amid heightened tension over the socialist state's recent belligerent acts.

   The survey by Hyundai Economic Research Institute, a Seoul-based private think tank, showed 22.2 percent of the 623 respondents felt that North Korea could be trusted as a "partner for dialogue."

   The percentage of those who thought North Korea trustworthy saw its highest of 52.3 percent in 2000, when a historic inter-Korean summit was held between then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   Since then, the figure has continued to fall. In 2002, it stood at 34.1 percent and slid to 24.3 percent in October last year, according to the institute.

   As for the future of an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, 75.3 percent said the project should be continued.

   Earlier in the day, a group of South Korean firms operating at the troubled Kaesong Industrial Complex appealed for emergency funding from their government, saying they are in deep financial straits because of dwindling orders.

   Concerns have grown over the fate of the Kaesong complex after Pyongyang unilaterally nullified in May all agreements it signed with South Korea in 2004 and demanded major hikes in rents and wages for its workers.

   South and North Korea have met three times to discuss their differences over the joint venture, though no agreement was reached.

   Some analysts say the North's recent belligerence, including a test of a long-range rocket followed by its second nuclear test on May 25 and signs of more missile launches, stems from efforts by the ailing North Korean leader to lay the groundwork for a transfer of power to his youngest son.


Egypt's Orascom Reports Profit from N. Korean Mobile Service

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Egypt-based mobile operator Orascom Telecom earned US$312,000 in first-quarter sales this year from its mobile service in North Korea on surging demand among the communist nation's upper class, a company press release said on June 25.

   More than 19,200 people have signed up for Orascom's mobile phone service as of March since it began with 5,300 subscribers last December, according to the firm's report on its first quarter earnings in 2009.

   Named Koryo Link, the joint venture Orascom set up with the North reported $4.46 million in sales during the first quarter, with operating profit amounting to $312,000, the report said.
Naguib Sawiris, the firm's chief executive, said in an international conference in Seoul last week that the number of subscribers surpassed 40,000 in April and is expected to break the 100,000 mark by the end of this year.

   North Korea's subscription rate increased 138 percent in March due to a two-week promotional campaign offering free minutes and discounts on the mobile handsets. To cope with increasing demand during the promotional period, Koryo Link temporarily set up a second retail shop in downtown Pyongyang, which has a population more than 2 million, Orascom said.

   Considering that the average user's fee per one North Korean user is two to eight times higher than in other countries including Egypt, "the demographics of the mobile subscribers appears to be mostly concentrated in the upper class," the report said.

   North Korea first started mobile phone service in Pyongyang in November 2002, but banned it after a deadly explosion in the northern Ryongchon train station in April 2004.

   Launching the third generation mobile phone network in Pyongyang on Dec. 15, Sawiris vowed to develop and open up the isolated country. The giant Arab firm also opened a joint bank with North Korea the same month.


Amnesty Calls for 'Urgent Action' for S. Korean Worker Detained in N.K.

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amnesty International urged members around the world to send appeals to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to release a South Korean worker who has been detained incommunicado for months.

   The London-based rights watchdog called for "urgent action" over the South Korean, identified by his family name Yu. The Hyundai Asan Corp. employee, 44, was detained in a North Korean industrial park in March on charges of "slandering" the North's political system and trying to persuade a North Korean female employee to defect.

   "He has been held incommunicado since then, putting him at risk of torture or other ill treatment," Amnesty International said in a statement issued on June 26.

   North Korea has said an investigation is underway and refused to grant access to Yu. In government-level talks last month, Pyongyang only said Yu is "well with no problems." Seoul officials will continue to press North Korea on Yu's case in a new round of talks on Thursday, but prospects for his early release appear dim.

   Amnesty said North Korea appears to be using Yu as a "pawn" in its negotiations with South Korea over the future operation of the joint park. Pyongyang has demanded a hefty raise in wages and rent at the park in the North's border town of Kaesong that hosts more than 100 South Korean firms.

   "It is not clear when the North Korean authorities will finish their investigation," the statement said. "Yu's incommunicado detention for over 80 days appears excessive."

   The statement also noted the detention of two U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a San Francisco-based Internet news site, as another case of North Korea's human rights abuses. The Americans were detained in March after crossing the border with China and sentenced this month to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and "hostile" acts.

   Amnesty urged its members around the world to send appeals to the North Korean leader and other top officials to release Yu "immediately and unconditionally unless he is charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offense and tried promptly in proceedings which meet international fair trial standards."

   It also demanded North Korea should reveal where he is being detained and give him access to his family and a lawyer.


N. Korean Economy Grows 3.7 Percent in 2008: BOK

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 3.7 percent in 2008 from a year earlier, due mainly to one-off factors, posting the first yearly growth in three years, South Korea's central bank estimated on June 28.

   The socialist country's GDP, the broadest measure of economic performance, rebounded into positive territory after posting two years of negative growth, the Bank of Korea (BOK) said in a report. Its economy shrunk 2.3 percent in 2007, after declining 1.1 percent the previous year.

   In 2008, the South Korean economy grew 2.2 percent. It was the first time in a decade that the North's economy grew faster than South Korea's GDP.

   "North Korea's growth last year came as favorable climate conditions increased crop production and foreign countries granted energy aid to Pyongyang. It does not seem that the North's economic momentum has improved," the central bank said in the report.

   The BOK published the economic growth estimate of the North based on data provided by the National Intelligence Agency, South Korea's spy agency, and other institutes specializing in North Korean studies.

   The North's agricultural sector expanded 8.2 percent annually in 2008, following a contraction of 9.4 percent for 2007, according to the BOK.

   Due to increasing exports by the North, the gap between the two Korea's economies narrowed last year.

   North Korea's nominal gross national income (GNI) stood at 27.3 trillion won (US$21.31 billion) in 2008, 2.7 percent of South Korea's GNI of 1,030.6 trillion won. In 2007, the GNI of the North stood at 2.5 percent of the South, which is Asia's fourth-largest economy.

   Exports by the North climbed 22.8 percent on-year to US$1.13 billion in 2008 while its imports jumped 33.2 percent to $2.69 billion, according to the BOK.

   Inter-Korean trade gained 1.2 percent on-year to $1.8 billion, although South Korean shipments to the North slumped 14 percent to $888.1 million due to a cuts in government aid and private assistance to Pyongyang.

   The value of North Korean products shipped to the South reached $932.3 million, up 21.8 percent from the previous year, thanks mainly to goods made at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

   The factory park, located just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas, is home to about 100 South Korean companies. It has recently been thrown into turmoil by unilateral wage and rent demands from North Korea.


N. Korea Offers Non-governmental Meeting with S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has proposed a rare non-governmental meeting with a South Korean organization to discuss joint projects amid chilled ties, activists in Seoul said on June 30.

   The North Korean Committee for the June 15 Joint Declaration, which was established after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 to promote the implementation of the summit accords, sent a letter to its South Korean counterpart to propose a meeting between late July to early August in Shenyang, China, they said.

   "Celebrating the ninth anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration, we propose a working-level meeting to discuss solidarity issues aimed at implementing North-South statements at an agreed date," the North Korean committee said in the letter.

   The offer came as a rare gesture from the North, but it remains to be seen whether the South Korean government will approve the trip. Seoul issued restrictions on civic and humanitarian aid organizations visiting or communicating with North Korea after the North's long-range rocket test in April.

   The first summit between then President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il paved the way for a flurry of diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries that technically remain at war. South Korea bolstered its economic assistance pledges in the second summit in 2007 between then President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim, promising to build roads, factories and modernize North Korea's dilapidated industrial infrastructure
Taking a tougher stance on the communist neighbor, President Lee Myung-bak has said he supports the summit accords but emphasized that the two sides should first review whether they are economically viable.

   The South Korean committee said it is an "unconventional case" that the North first offered a meeting, even as the conflict between two sides seems to be escalating.

   "Considering the strained inter-Korea relations, we cannot guarantee that meeting with North Koreans will be approved, but it is worth trying to talk to each other," a leading member of the committee said, requesting anonymity.

   "The government has not received approval request from the (South Korean committee), but it will be reviewed as soon as it arrives," said an official at the Unification Ministry.