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2009/07/09 11:30 KST


N. Korea Berates S. Korean President 1,700 Times This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has heaped scorn on South Korean President Lee Myung-bak some 1,700 times this year, a daily average of 9.9 times and an increase from last year, a South Korean official said in a state-run magazine on July 6.

   The figure is a reflection of how inter-Korean ties have eroded since Lee took office in February last year with a vow to link cross-border rapprochement with North Korean efforts to denuclearize.

   North Korea, which remains technically at war with the South and conducted its second nuclear test in May, has lashed out at Lee, accusing him of aligning with U.S. hardliners to topple its regime.

   "Some of the epithets North Korea used to refer to President Lee are so blatant that I can't even quote them here," said Lee Chan-ho, chief analyst of cross-border ties at the Unification Ministry.

   In his article written for the July edition of the National Defense Journal, Lee said North Korea's official media denigrated the South Korean president a total of 1,705 times as of June 22 this year.

   "What's worse is that North Korea is using indescribably abusive language to slam the prime minister as well as the foreign, defense and unification ministers," he said.

   North Korea criticized the South Korean president an average 7.9 times last year, the analyst said. The total for all of 2008 was 2,146 times.

   Lee said Pyongyang has recently stepped up its rhetoric to stir anger among South Koreans while their president suffers some of his lowest support ratings ever amid social and economic woes.

   "North Korea is sharpening its efforts to spur our people into joining anti-government movements," he said. Lee added the isolated country released 33 official statements containing criticism of South Korea's leadership in between May 1 and June 22.

   "The figure would be much higher if we combined the fire-breathing editorials in various North Korean media, including Rodong Sinmun," a newspaper published by the ruling Workers' Party, he said.

   Lee said the rise in acerbity is partly attributable to the North's efforts to unite its people.

   "North Korea is forcing its people to step up their loyalty by exaggerating the enemy threat," just as it did ahead of its May 25 nuclear test, he said.

   "(The rhetoric) is also aimed at pressing our government to change its stance by fueling divisions in South Korean society," he said, calling it "an infringement upon our sovereignty and a typical, divisive move."

   Even though North Korea has called previous South Korean leaders names in the past, its denigration of the incumbent president is the most frequent and is "sometimes downright silly," Lee said.


N. Korea to Suffer Food Shortage This Year: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is expected to suffer from a food shortage of up to 840,000 tons this year as foreign countries withhold humanitarian aid, a South Korean government report said on July 2.

   The Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Korea Development Institute in Seoul said North Korea's total grain production may reach around 4.29 million tons this year, which falls short of the minimum 5.13 million tons needed to feed its 20-plus million people.

   The report was based on estimates released by the United Nations World Food Program. It said the isolated country may be able to produce 3.34 million tons of grain on its own, import 500,000 tons from abroad and receive aid amounting to 450,000 tons, which would bring the total to 4.29 million tons.

   "The calculation is based on an average North Korean consuming 1,600 calories per day, which is 75 percent of the 2,130 calories recommended for a healthy person by the World Health Organization," the assessment said.

   It also said that if the total took into account the 330,000 tons of grain that Pyongyang declined to accept from the United States in March, the shortfall may top 1.17 million tons.

   The Korea Rural Economic Institute and other similar think tanks here gave more optimistic projections, saying North would be short 560,000 tons.

   To overcome the expected shortfall, government experts said the only viable option is for South Korea to provide aid. Seoul is unlikely to do so, as inter-Korean ties have become especially icy since North Korea's second nuclear test in May.

   "The government's position on providing humanitarian aid remains unchanged from the past, but policymakers must consider public opinion, which is not favorable to the North at present," said a finance ministry official.

   He said Seoul has set aside 426.4 billion won (US$338.6 million) in its budget this year to provide food assistance to North Korea, with a further 291.7 billion won worth of funds that can be used to offer fertilizer support.


N. Korea Approaches Malaysian Bank for Myanmar Arms Deal: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea sought to receive payment via a Malaysian bank for a suspected arms shipment to Myanmar, a source said on July 4.

   But a scheduled visit by a U.S. envoy to Malaysia this past weekend was to focus on ways to cut off the transaction, according to the source. The suspected shipment was being carried by the Kang Nam, a freighter that was headed to Myanmar but turned around and re-entered North Korean waters after being trailed by a U.S. Navy destroyer.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il "will have a hard time collecting his money," the high-level source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source declined to identify the bank due to diplomatic concerns.

   Philip Goldberg, the U.S. coordinator for the implementation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that punished North Korea for its May 25 nuclear test, arrived in Malaysia on Sunday, July 5.

   The visit comes after the White House said late last month that U.S. President Barack Obama discussed North Korea and financial regulations with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razakon by phone.

   UNSC Resolution 1874, which reinforced sanctions that were imposed after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, bans Pyongyang from exporting any type of weapons -- light or heavy.

   According to another source in Seoul, the Kang Nam is believed to be carrying small Soviet-era arms such as AK-47 rifles and RPG-7 anti-tank launchers.

   AK-47s and RPG-7s are two of the most widely traded Soviet-era weapon types that North Korea is capable of producing on its own.

   "Kim appears to have received earnest money for the shipment, but it is a small sum compared to the payment held up in Malaysia," the source said.

   Resolution 1874 bans states from making financial transactions with North Korea that could help the communist state build its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

   The U.S. slapped financial sanctions on a Macau bank in 2005 to freeze US$25 million worth of North Korean assets, effectively cutting off Pyongyang's access to the international financial system.

   Banco Delta Asia was also accused of helping North Korea launder money it had acquired by circulating sophisticated counterfeit US$100 bills called "supernotes."


U.S. Will Continue to Track N. Korean Vessels: Navy Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Navy's top admiral indicated on July 6 his forces will continue to track North Korean ships suspected of carrying weapons banned under a U.N. resolution.

   The resolution, passed last month, punishes North Korea for its May 25 nuclear test and calls on U.N. member states to seek inspection of suspicious North Korean vessels.

   "As circumstances arise in the future, we will continue to support the resolution," U.S. Admiral Gary Roughead said in a roundtable meeting with journalists in Seoul. "We will conduct operations in support of that."

   A North Korean freighter, the Kang Nam, sailed back home on the same day after apparently failing to reach Myanmar while being tracked by a U.S. Navy destroyer.

   "What recently happened with the Kang Nam is a very effective way of stopping proliferation," Roughead said, adding that the U.S. Navy is working to build a "maritime domain of awareness."

   "Even though we had a ship in proximity to the Kang Nam, there are many other means by which we monitor, track and account for contacts of interest," he said. "It's more than just one ship on one ship."

   "Every dimension of the United States Navy is part of building that maritime domain of awareness picture," he said. "That is what our forces in the western Pacific are here to do."

   Roughead declined to comment on how his forces would react if North Korean ships reacted violently, saying divulging that kind of strategic information could provide Pyongyang "an undue advantage."

   "I think it is incumbent on all who sail on the seas to do all they can to minimize events like that," he said. "Our commanding officers and sailors are trained and exercised to be able to control events and situations."


KCNA Poser on Twitter Says Account Intended for S. Koreans

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The owner of an account on a popular U.S.-based social networking service that initially claimed to be run by North Korea's state news agency said the hoax was aimed at giving South Koreans a glimpse of first-hand news from their socialist neighbor.

   The micro-blogging site Twitter, run by a U.S. venture start-up of the same name, is a widely used platform employed by media outlets such as CNN to send out real-time news in 140 characters or less.

   An account with the address http://twitter.com/kcna_dprk began sending out English news headlines by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 24 and has since gained over 4,300 "followers" who subscribe to receive the news feeds. Over 600 updates have been posted since the account was launched.

   However, in an e-mail interview with Yonhap News Agency, the owner said no one behind the account was affiliated with the KCNA, but are "unofficial activists" with Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), an international journalists' organization, and writers for the satirical German-language Web site "Stupedia.org."

   "We are unofficial activists from RSF and we were told that in South Korea, there is no possibility to read North Korean news," the owner of the account said, refusing to disclose his or her identity.

   All North Korean-run Web sites are blocked in the South and can only be accessed through special government authorization.

   The individual said that the account was intended for South Koreans to be able to get a first-hand glimpse of news from North Korea.

   "Yes, this was my intention," the person said when asked whether South Koreans were kept in mind when deciding to create the account.

   "In our opinion, everyone should have the chance to form (their) own opinion. So we created a KCNA Twitter account," the person said, adding the name KCNA was chosen to give an authentic flavor.

   Impersonation has been a challenge for Twitter, which earlier this year suspended a bogus account set up in the name of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The U.S. company has recently introduced "authenticity badges" to fight identity theft through its services.

   In an e-mail response to questions from Yonhap News Agency, RSF clarified that the account in question was not created on its "initiative" but said it was an interesting effort.

   "These people might think the same thing as we do here at RSF. We fully regret that the North Korea's state news agency is not accessible in South Korea," RSF said.


Hyundai Asan Confident Tours to N. Korea Will Resume

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The top executive of a South Korean company that operates tours to North Korea said on July 7 he was confident cross-border tourism will resume, despite heightened tension on the peninsula following the North's recent nuclear test.

   Hyundai Asan Corp., a unit of Hyundai Group, has been grappling with financial woes for months since its two major tour programs to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang and the ancient city of Kaesong were halted.

   "Although there are temporary ups and downs, I'm confident of seizing the chance to resume (the tours)," Cho Kun-shik, president of Hyundai Asan, told his employees on the one-year mark since the Kumgang program stalled.

   Tours to the east coast mountain were suspended in July last year after a 53-year-old South Korean woman was fatally shot by North Korean guards while vacationing there. She had wandered into a restricted area.

   Another tour to the city of Kaesong, an ancient capital, was also closed late last year amid escalating tension.

   Cho's remark echoed a comment made on July 5 by Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun, who said she will not give up on the group's business projects in North Korea.

   But the future of cross-border economic dealings, including a joint industrial park in Kaesong, has become increasingly murky as North Korea has ratcheted up tension.

   North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May and has test-fired a slew of missiles, drawing condemnations and fresh sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.


N. Korea Suspected to Be Behind Cyber Attack: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have orchestrated the recent cyber attacks that disrupted dozens of South Korean Web sites, including that of the presidential office, parliamentary sources said on July 8, citing informal reports by the top spy agency.

   The National Intelligence Service (NIS) suspects North Korea or its sympathizers may have been behind the Internet attacks on government agencies, banks and Internet portals, which was first detected on the evening of July 7, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

   The spy agency briefed some of the lawmakers on an individual basis or showed written reports that mentioned North Korea as the suspected source of the attacks.

   The NIS will report to the parliamentary intelligence committee on July 9 with its analysis, they added.

   The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks caused a number of Web sites, including the homepages of the foreign and defense ministries as well as the presidential office, to crash or respond slowly for hours.