NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 67 (August 13, 2009) |
*** NEWS IN BRIEF
Choe Yong-rim Named Chief Secretary of Pyongyang Party Chapter
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Choe Yong-rim, a candidate member of the Workers' Party politburo, has been named chief secretary of the party's Pyongyang chapter, a post that has been vacant for nine years, the North's state media confirmed on Aug. 6.
Reporting on a rally of Pyongyang Textile Mill workers on Aug. 5, the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) radio referred to Choe, who was present at the event, as "chief secretary of the Pyongyang party chapter."
He presided over a national meeting held in Pyongyang on July 27 to mark the 56th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in the same capacity, according to reports by the KCBS and Radio Pyongyang.
The 80-year-old Choe replaces Kang Hyun-su, whose "sudden death" in September 2000 left the position unfilled for nine years.
Under North Korea's party-centered political system, Choe assumes extensive powers to govern Pyongyang, known as the "capital of revolution" among natives.
His appointment comes after much deliberation by North Korean authorities, who have sought out the ideal figure to manage all aspects of Pyongyang's political, economic and cultural lives, according to sources.
Former chief secretaries of the city's party chapter have mostly been high-ranking officials, serving in positions higher than or equal to politburo candidate members of the party.
The new chief secretary was a long-time confidant of the late leader Kim Il-sung, whom he served three times as chief of staff, and remains close to the current leader, Kim Jong-il.
Choe is also secretary general of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), the country's rubber-stamp parliament.
Meanwhile, Thae Jong-su, one of the North's deputy premiers, has been appointed chief secretary of the South Hamgyong party chapter, according to state media.
On Aug. 8, the KCBS reported on a commemorative meeting, marking leader Kim Jong-il's visit to South Hamgyong Province and the report called Thae who delivered a speech in the meeting as chief secretary of the province's party chapter.
Thae, previously chief secretary of the North Pyongan party chapter in 1970, replaces the late Hong Song-nam, who died last April.
As the hub of North Korea's mining, machinery and chemical industries, South Hamgyong Province is the center of political attention. Given his past experience in both the political and economic spheres, the new chief secretary is widely regarded as fit for the job.
Thae served as a candidate member of the Workers' Party politburo in 1980, and in 1976 he managed a precision machinery factory in Hichon, Jagang Province. He has been serving as a deputy premier since October 2007.
N. Korea Plans to Build 100,000 Houses in Pyongyang by 2012
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will build 100,000 houses for Pyongyang citizens by 2012, the centenary of former leader Kim Il-sung's death, state media said on Aug. 7.
Constructors had a rally at a public square in Pyongyang that day to mark the start of the construction project, the North's Central Television Broadcasting Station said.
Speaking in the rally, O Su-yong, a deputy premier, said leader Kim Jong-il has instructed officials to build apartments for 100,000 households in the capital city by 2012. By that year, North Korea aims to construct Kangsong Taeguk, a great, prosperous and powerful country.
O called the construction plan a "holy struggle" to display the dignity and power of the military-oriented socialist country to the outside world. He asked the entire communist party, state and military to render full support for the project.
Also present at the meeting were Premier Kim Yong-il, Choe Yong-rim, chief secretary of the Pyongyang party chapter, another deputy premier Ro Du-chol and Pak Nam-gi, head of a department of the Party Central Committee.
Participants adopted a resolution on completing the construction in three years, according to the report.
Earlier on June 25, Choson Sinbo, the mouthpiece of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan, said North Korea plans to reconstruct old apartments built in the post-war rehabilitation era of the 1950s into 6-18 story apartment buildings in Pyongyang.
North Korea Calls for Need to Improve Inter-Korean Relations
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on Aug. 8 the two Koreas need to improve ties for an ultimate reunification, in a softening of its earlier statements that there is no hope in their relations.
Attributing the current tension to Seoul's "confrontational policy" toward the socialist neighbor, however, the North insisted Seoul first take measures to implement agreements signed between their leaders in 2000 and 2007.
Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February last year with a tougher position on North Korea. Pyongyang is especially angry at Seoul's reluctance to carry out the summit accords including several cross-border economic cooperation projects that require huge capital investment from South Korea.
"The improvement and development of North-South relations is a prerequisite to settling the problems of the Korean nation," Rodong Sinmun, mouthpiece of the Workers' Party, said in a signed article. "Only after improving our relations can we realize national (inter-Korean) reconciliation, unity, exchange and cooperation as well as smoothly settle the problem of reunification to fit the demand of the nation," said the article carried by Radio Pyongyang.
The two Koreas can remove the military tension and danger of war on the Korean Peninsula if they take "responsible measures" to implement the summit agreements, the newspaper claimed.
The article reflects a possible softening of Pyongyang's position toward Seoul. In November last year, the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said there remains no room for discussing the inter-Korean relations and reunification.
In January, the committee said there is no hope of correcting the worsening relations. North Korea's state media have so far focused on slandering the Lee Myung-bak administration with no more calls for the implementation of the summit accords.
N.K. to 'Closely Watch' How Regional Powers Treat Seoul's Rocket Launch
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on August 10 that it will "closely watch" how regional countries react to South Korea's imminent launch of a space rocket, claiming it has been unfairly punished for its own.
North Korea's long-range rocket test in April prompted the United States and other regional powers to turn to the U.N. Security Council, which then unanimously adopted a resolution of sanctions against Pyongyang.
"We will closely watch if the above-said parties will also refer South Korea's satellite launch to the UNSC," an unidentified spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said in a report carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency.
"Their reaction and attitude towards South Korea's satellite launch will once again clearly prove whether the principle of equality exists or has collapsed," he said.
The statement follows a rare upbeat signal in Pyongyang's frayed relations with Washington. U.S. former President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on August 4, who then pardoned two U.S. journalists after months of detention on charges of illegal entry.
South Korea plans to launch its first space rocket, the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1), within the month after it was twice delayed due to technical glitches.
North Korea launched a long-range rocket carrying a satellite in April, which was condemned by regional countries as a disguised test for its missile technology. While Pyongyang claimed the satellite successfully entered orbit, outside monitors found no such object in space.
Following the punitive U.N. resolution, North Korea withdrew from the six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program and began reprocessing its spent fuel rods used for making nuclear bombs. Pyongyang claimed the talks lost their merit, as the U.N. punishment breached its spirit of equality. The dialogue also involves South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
In May, Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test, prompting the U.N. council to intensify existing sanctions with a new resolution.
North Korea Opens Arirang Festival in Pyongyang
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on August 11 that its Arirang Festival, the world's largest gymnastics show mobilizing about 100,000 people, has opened in Pyongyang, drawing local and foreign audiences.
North Korea has intermittently held the extravaganza, named after Korea's famous folk song, since 2002, with colorful synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animations.
State media said this year's new additions spotlight the country's ongoing campaign to build a "great, prosperous and powerful nation" by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late founder, Kim Il-sung.
Footage from the (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station showed numerous people forming a "150-day Battle" slogan with flip cards. The 150-day battle is a labor drive that North Korea launched in late April to intensify industrial production over the span of 150 days.
The reports said the curtains were raised for the 80-minute show at May Day Stadium on August 10 night. It will be staged daily, except on Sundays, until mid-October, they said.
The stadium was packed with soldiers and workers, as well as foreign diplomats, international agency representatives, tourists and Koreans who live abroad, they said. The Arirang festival is a tourist attraction for outsiders, but it also serves as a powerful domestic propaganda tool to boost socialist patriotism.
North Korea skipped the show in 2003, 2004 and 2006 without giving reasons. Seoul officials say the country was hit hard by floods from summer monsoons in some of those years.
The country appears to have had no severe floods so far this year, they say.
Kim Jong-il Visits Northern Province While Hyundai Chief in Pyongyang
SEOUL, (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has inspected a naval university in the country's northern town, state media said on August 12, suggesting Kim may have been out of town while the chief of South Korea's Hyundai Group is in Pyongyang.
The early morning report by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) came as all eyes were on Hyun Jung-eun, the group chairwoman, as she was visiting Pyongyang to negotiate the release of a detained employee.
Hyun, initially scheduled to return home later in the day, extended her stay until Aug. 13. The reason for the extension, announced by her company Aug. 12 night, was not known, but it was widely believed she was waiting to be granted a meeting with Kim.
Hyun drove through the inter-Korean border on Aug. 10 at North Korea's invitation. A Hyundai employee, only identified by his family name Yu, has been detained incommunicado since late March on accusations of criticizing the North's political system and trying to persuade a local woman to defect.
The KCNA said Kim has inspected Kimjongsuk Naval University in Hamhung, South Hamghung Province in the country's north. The report did not say when the visit was made, but it is believed to have been on Aug. 11, considering the time the report came out.
"The navy of the DPRK (North Korea), a maritime country surrounded by seas on three sides, has a particularly important role to play not only at present but in the future," Kim was quoted as saying. The academy is named after his mother and wife of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.
Kim was accompanied by military top brass, such as Kim Yong-chun, (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) vice marshal and minister of the People's Armed Forces, Ri Yong-ho, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, and Kim Jong-gak, first-vice director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA, the report said.
Later in the day, the KCNA also reported that Kim Jong-il had watched a play with soldiers in a northern town, suggesting he may not have been in Pyongyang while Hyun was visiting the North's capital.