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2009/07/23 11:11 KST


Five N. Korean Officials Face Travel-Ban, Have Assets Frozen

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- The United Nations Security Council has imposed a travel ban on and frozen the assets of five North Korean officials for their involvement in the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, informed sources in New York said on July 16.

   The sanctions on North Korean personnel, the first of its kind, came three days before the deadline for listing North Korean officials, companies and goods under a council mandate. The council adopted a resolution in early June to sanction North Korea for its nuclear test on May 25.

   The five are Ri Je-son, director of the General Bureau of Atomic Energy; Yun Ho-jin, director of Namchongang Trading Corp.; Ri Hong-sop, former head of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center; Hwang Sok-hwa, a senior official of the General Bureau of Atomic Energy; and Han Yu-ro, director of Korea Ryongaksan General Trading Corp.

   Ri Je-son is said to be in charge of North Korea's nuclear programs while representing the North in dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

   Yun Ho-jin was caught smuggling 22 tons of high-strength aluminum pipes out of Germany in 2003.

   He insisted that the pipes were destined for a Chinese aviation firm, but the IAEA suspected that they might be for centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

   Hwang Sok-hwa and Ri Hong-sop are senior nuclear scientists.

   Ju Kyu-chang, a member of the North's all-powerful National Defense Commission, and several other prominent North Korean officials and nuclear scientists, however, were not included in an apparent compromise with reluctant China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally.

   The Security Council also listed five North Korean firms subject to sanctions under Resolution 1874, adopted on June 12. They are the General Bureau of Atomic Energy, Hong Kong Electronics, Namchongang Trading Corp., (North) Korea Kyoksin Trading Corp. and (North) Korean Tangun Trading Corp.

   The companies bring to eight the number of entities to be sanctioned under U.N. resolutions addressing the North's nuclear and missile tests.

   Three North Korean firms, including the (North) Korea Mining Development Trading Corp., the (North) Korea Ryonbong General Corp. and Tanchon Commercial Bank, were listed in late April as targets for financial and trade sanctions after the council adopted a statement against the North's rocket launch earlier in the month.

   Aside from the five North Korean officials and firms, the council also banned the trade to and from North Korea of graphite for electrical discharge machining and aramid fiber, used in nuclear weapons and missiles.

   The listing of the five North Korean officials is a compromise between China and the U.S. and its allies, a source said, noting the U.S. wanted to sanction at least eight North Korean officials.

   It is not clear how effective the new sanctions will be on North Korea, already one of the world's most heavily sanctioned countries.

   "The sanctions on personnel should be largely symbolic," said one diplomat, requesting anonymity. "North Korean nuclear scientists rarely travel abroad, and they usually do not have overseas bank accounts."

   Those sanctioned may also carry fabricated documents to launder their identities, another diplomat said.

   Pak Tok-hun, deputy chief of North Korea's U.N. mission in New York, reacted angrily, calling the sanctions "unfair" but saying they will not harm his country.

   "You know how many countries have conducted nuclear tests and launched satellites?" he asked. "It is absurd to say some countries can do, others should not."

   Pak said North Korea "will not accept Security Council resolutions against the North and any sanctions under the resolutions," adding, "Sanctions will not resolve any problems."

   He said the sanctions infringe on North Korean sovereignty, but are ineffective.

   "We will not be damaged by such sanctions," he said. "We will live our own way regardless of sanctions as we've lived under sanctions for more than a half century."


North Korea Faces Worst Crisis Since 1994: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea faces the worst crisis in more than a decade since its founding father Kim Il-sung died in 1994, due to a protracted conflict with the international community over its nuclear ambitions, a report said on July 17.

   The North will not have enough food to feed its people and its economy will decline in the second half of this year if Pyongyang fails to resolve the nuclear issue, according to the report by the Korea Development Institute (KDI), a South Korean state-run think tank.

   The report comes amid growing tension on the Korean Peninsula following the North's second nuclear test in May, which drew condemnations and fresh sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.

   Last year, the communist country also suspended cross-border tours to Mt. Kumgang after a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by North Korean soldiers while vacationing there. She had wandered into a restricted area. The North also detained a South Korean worker at the troubled inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong in late March, accusing him of criticizing its political system.

   "With all of these factors combined, the current difficulties confronting North Korea can be compared to conditions back in 1994, when Kim Il-sung died and a nuclear crisis was sparked" the KDI said in the report, which assesses trends in the socialist country.

   "In the past, the focus was on nuclear disarmament but now it has shifted to a head-on confrontation, with the North demanding it be recognized as a nuclear power and the other five countries (in the six-party talks) unwilling to tolerate the request," it added. "It will be much more difficult to reach a breakthrough (than it was in 1994)."

   Pyongyang has vowed to boycott the six-party talks -- which are aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, and also involve South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan -- in protest of the U.N. sanctions.

   The KDI cited the renewed U.N. sanctions and strained inter-Korean relations as reasons for its bleak outlook for the North Korean economy in the second half. Uncertainties surrounding leader Kim Jong-il's health were also mentioned, amid rumors he has developed pancreatic cancer.

   "The international community's sanctions will have the most immediate impact on the North Korean economy," the KDI said, adding that the chilled relations between Seoul and Pyongyang will also seriously affect its trade.

   Despite reports of a good harvest in the North last year thanks to favorable weather conditions, the KDI worried that a food shortage would still impact many North Koreans "depending on their social status and where they live."

   The KDI earlier predicted that the North'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.


U.S. Envoy Urges North Korea to Reengage in Dialogue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A senior U.S envoy urged North Korea on July 18 to take "serious and irreversible steps" to end its stand-off with the U.S. and other regional powers, saying it is a precondition for a "comprehensive package" of incentives.

   Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, also emphasized that it is important to have patience and keep the door open to dialogue with North Korea while enforcing U.N. sanctions on the socialist nation for its provocative actions.

   "I would say at this juncture the most important quality that the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and Russia can demonstrate is patience," he told reporters after a closed-door meeting with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon in Seoul. Campbell flew into South Korea from Japan earlier in the day for his first trip to South Korea since assuming the post last month.

   He pointed out that U.S. officials have made clear that, "If North Korea is prepared to take serious and irreversible steps the U.S., South Korea, Japan, China and others will be able to put together a comprehensive package that would be attractive to North Korea. But in this respect, North Korea really has to take some of the first steps."

   All of the countries are participants in the six-way talks aimed at scrapping the North's nuclear program. The last formal session of the Beijing-based negotiations was held in December.

   North Korea announced after a long-range rocket launch in April that it would quit the often-troubled talks. The North conducted a second nuclear test in May, prompting the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution imposing a robust set of sanctions against Pyongyang.

   In the latest measure against the North, a U.N. Security Council committee imposed a travel ban on five North Korean officials and froze the assets of five more entities for their involvement in missile and nuclear weapons development.

   "We believe there have to be consequences," Campbell said, citing the U.S. efforts to implement the resolution. "We're looking at a full range of particular steps designed to put pressure on North Korea."

   He said sanctions are already proving to be effective. He said the recent retreat of a North Korean cargo ship, the Kang Nam 1, is an example.

   The Kang Nam 1 was suspected of carrying illegal weapons to be exported to Myanmar. After being trailed by a U.S. Navy destroyer, the ship reversed course and returned to North Korea. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted after the North's nuclear test on May 25, authorizes member countries to take measures to stop the North's arms trade.

   Campbell said the resolution sent a message to North Korea and "caused some pain to the leadership." He added North Korea should change its course, as it has chosen "lies, greater tensions, greater hardship for its people, more isolation and a lack of engagement in the international economy."

   Speaking about a proposed five-way meeting without North Korea, Campbell said it is unlikely to be held in the near future.

   "I think the U.S. and South Korea have explored the option of a five-party meeting at some point. Preparations need to be taken for such a meeting. I'm not sure we'll be ready to do it in Phuket" when a regional security forum is held there, he said.


Lee Urges More Attention to Human Rights Conditions in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak on July 20 asked the new chief of the country's human rights watchdog to pay more attention to conditions in North Korea, his spokesman said.

   "We must pay more attention to protecting human rights, since Korea's reputation in the international community has significantly improved," Lee was quoted as saying in a ceremony appointing Hyun Byung-chul, the new head of the National Human Rights Commission.

   "There is also a need to pay special attention to human rights conditions in North Korea," he said, according to his spokesman.

   Lee, who took office in February last year, broke away from past administrations who refrained from raising the sensitive issue. The commission has a team which draws up reports on North Korea.

   "Never look away when it is about human rights, and pay equally special attention to both domestic and international issues," the president said.

   Han is the first watchdog chief to be appointed by the Lee administration.

   Lee on Monday also appointed new heads of the National Tax Service and the National Statistical Office.


S. Korean Soldier Sent to N. Korea May Have Been Executed

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean soldier heard condemning his government on North Korean radio broadcasts after disappearing during the Vietnam War may have been executed by a firing squad for trying to escape the socialist state, a Seoul official said on July 21.

   Army Ssg. Ahn Hak-soo was on his final furlough when he failed to return to his unit fighting alongside U.S. troops in the 1964-75 war against communist Vietnamese forces.

   Hundreds of thousands of South Korean soldiers took part in the war from 1964-1973. Ahn was labeled a defector on South Korean records until April this year, as he had been heard making anti-Seoul speeches on North Korean radio months after he disappeared in September 1966.

   Army Col. Oh Myoung at the Ministry of National Defense said his team, which went on a fact-finding mission to Vietnam last year, found concrete evidence leading them to believe that Ahn was captured by North Vietnamese forces and sent to North Korea against his will.

   "A ransom of US$3,000 was offered for every South Korean soldier captured at the time," he told reporters, citing details that pointed to cooperation between North Vietnamese forces and North Korea.

   But Oh said a North Korean commando captured in 1976 while operating on a remote South Korean island told intelligence authorities here that Ahn tried to flee.

   "The commando heard that Ahn was executed by a firing squad after failing to escape," Oh said, citing a military document that has been declassified only recently because of its sensitivity.

   "It is not 100 percent reliable intelligence, but it supports the fact that Ahn was no longer heard after the possible execution," he said.

   The Unification Ministry in Seoul had concluded in April that Ahn should be considered one of tens of thousands of South Koreans kidnapped by North Korea.

   Following on its heels, the Ministry of National Defense ruled in June that Ahn be re-classified as a prisoner of war instead of a deserter and defector.

   Ahn is not the only South Korean veteran on record who went AWOL in Vietnam. Sgt. Park Seong-ryeol was also found speaking on North Korean radio while two others -- a captain and a staff sergeant -- remain unaccounted for to this day, Oh said.

   "We do not rule out the possibility that they, too, ended up in North Korea," he said.

   Nearly 5,000 South Korean soldiers died while about 10,000 others were wounded in the Vietnam War.


N.K. May Have Information on Underground Network Aiding Refugees

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea may have secured information on an underground network helping refugees flee the impoverished socialist state from two American journalists seized along the Chinese border in March, a U.S. expert on Korea said on July 22.

   Speaking to a forum in Washington, Larry Niksch, an Asia specialist for the U.S. Congressional Research Service, said, "Apparently their cellphones when they were captured have the names of the people in the network, so the North Koreans knew these journalists were colluding with this underground network."

   Niksch was discussing Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for the San Francisco-based Internet outlet Current TV, who were sentenced by a North Korean court early last month to 12 years in a labor camp for an unspecified "grave crime" and "illegal border crossing."

   The North Koreans "probably have contacted the so-called membership of the underground railroad, this network in North Korea and China that helps refugees get out of North Korea and ultimately get out of China," the researcher said.

   Niksch predicted North Korea will demand "a high price" for the release of the two Americans, saying, "These women have committed hostile acts against North Korea, coming across North Korean territory being photographed with their cameramen inside of North Korea."

   "The regime's attitudes towards these women are more hostile than was the case in the two incidents in the 1990s," he said.