NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 68 (August 20, 2009) |
*** NEWS IN BRIEF
North Korean Leader Seen Frequently in Recent Days
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been in the public eye frequently in recent days, apparently to dispel renewed speculation about his health.
Kim engaged in six public activities in the week starting Aug. 13, according to North Korea's state-run media reports.
The deteriorating health of the 67-year-old leader again made international media headlines following the state media's release of several images of the leader on July 8 that showed him looking gaunt and frail. The images were followed by newspaper reports that he has only one to five years to live due to diabetes and the after-effects of a stroke that he reportedly suffered in August last year.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Aug. 13 that Kim visited the Songdowon Youth Open-air Theater in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, without mentioning the date of the visit.
In a closely followed report, the KCNA said Kim enjoyed art performances given by an art group comprised of servicemen's families and servicepersons of a company under a sub-unit of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 974. The news agency, however, did not give the location of the military unit.
During the visits, Kim "indicated important tasks which would serve as guidelines in managing and operating" the renovated 3,000-seater theater, and stressed the need to intensify "the mass art activities," according to the KCNA.
On Aug. 16, he met with Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group, at Mt. Myohyang, located a two-hour drive from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
The meeting was held "in an atmosphere of compatriotic feelings," according to the KCNA. The two agreed to resuscitate stalled tourism projects and reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The following day, the KCNA said Kim gave on-site guidance to the newly built Pothonggang Shop, a grocery store that appears to be located in Pyongyang. In a separate report released the same day, the news agency said Kim gave field guidance to the Pukchang Thermal Power Complex and the February 8 Jikdong Youth Coal Mine, both in South Pyongan Province.
He demanded efficient management of the facilities to maintain a stable supply of the country's electricity, the media said.
On Aug. 18, the KCNA said the leader inspected the renovated Kujang Fish Farm in Kujang, North Pyongan Province and called for a brisker nationwide campaign to raise more fish.
The last three facilities Kim visited are not far from the mountain resort where Kim met with Hyun Jeong-eun.
N.K. Marks Liberation Day with Call to Build Kangsong Taeguk
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea praised its leader's military-first rule on Liberation Day, Aug. 15, and called for the people's increased role in the national campaign to build a Kangsong Taeguk.
"The DPRK (North Korea) led by Kim Jong-il is an invincible socialist power fully demonstrating its dignity and might thanks to Songun," Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the Workers' Party, said in an editorial dedicated to the 64th anniversary of Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910-1945.
Songun, or military-first politics, is the North's ruling philosophy that has been in place since leader Kim Jong-il gained power after his father and the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, died in 1994. North Korea is now gearing up for a campaign to transform itself into a strong, prosperous and powerful nation, called Kangsong Taeguk in Korean, by 2012, the centenary anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth and the year current leader Kim Jong-il will celebrate his 70th birthday.
"The wishes of the President (Kim Il-sung) will be translated into a brilliant reality thanks to the Songun leadership of Kim Jong-il, who is successfully carrying forward the cause of building a rich and powerful country," said the editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The daily called for "dynamically accelerating the general march for opening the gate to a great prosperous and powerful nation full of confidence and optimism ... and thus bringing about a great surge and great innovations unprecedented in the history of the country," according to the KCNA.
Minju Joson, the organ of the Cabinet, also published a commemorative editorial, claiming North Korea is sure to emerge victorious in the drive for building a thriving nation "as long as there is the wise leadership of Kim Jong-il."
No national meeting was held in North Korea to mark the Korean liberation anniversary this year.
N. Korea on Alert for S. Korea-U.S. Military Drill
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The North Korean army on Aug. 17 ordered its troops to be on "special alert" as South Korea and the U.S. were preparing to start an annual joint military drill.
Denouncing the drill a "grave threat" to peace, the North also vowed to retaliate against any provocation with a "merciless and prompt annihilating strike at the aggressors with all offensive and defense means including nuclear deterrent."
South Korea's military said, however, they found no sign of abnormality with the KPA in spite of the reported alert.
The two allies staged the Ulji Freedom Guardian exercise beginning Aug. 17 for an 11-day run. North Korea has typically blasted such joint drills as a preparation for war, while the allies say the exercises are purely defensive.
"The entire army, all the people and the whole country shall be put on a special alert from Aug. 17," the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army said in a report carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The North also ordered its army of 1.19 million regular troops, as well as all reserve forces, to "make an immediate strong attack on perpetrators of any hostile act of intruding the sky, land and seas of the country." All the people should bring about a new advance in the 150-day campaign to expediate the construction of a thriving nation "in tense and mobilized posture," the report said.
Defining the exercise as a "blatant challenge and grave threat to the peace on the Korean Peninsula and the rest of Asia," the North said it will use "nuclear deterrent" as a means of defense should the U.S. and South Korea "commit even the slightest military provocation" to violate the North's sovereignty.
North Korea's angry reaction to the joint military exercise between the South and the U.S. is typical, but its call for more military production over the drill is unusual. Analysts say this shows North Korea is utilizing the tension to get firmer control on the people. The North is reportedly mobilizing even housewives and university students in the campaign that is scheduled to finish in the middle of next month.
The report followed a statement issued a day earlier by a spokesman for the North's Panmunjom Mission of the Korean People's Army that criticized the joint military drill as a "maneuver for a nuclear war."
"The maneuvers for a nuclear war projected by the U.S. imperialists and the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors are by no means a demonstration of military muscle of a defensive nature," the statement said.
"Through these nuclear war exercises the American master and his servant seek to openly call for escalating their 'sanctions' and 'pressure' upon the DPRK," it said. DPRK is the abbreviation of the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which is currently under international financial sanctions and a trade embargo for its second nuclear test in May.
"Should the U.S. imperialists and the Lee Myung-bak group threaten the DPRK with nukes, it will retaliate against them with nukes," the spokesman warned. "If they tighten 'sanctions' and push 'confrontation' to an extreme phase, the DPRK will react with a merciless retaliation of its own style and an all-out war of justice," he said.
The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland repeated the criticism the following day, calling the exercise "absolutely intolerable."
"They were prompted by a dangerous scenario to provide a military backing to their persistent campaign for 'sanctions' on the DPRK," the committee said in a statement covered by the KCNA.
This year's exercise involves about 56,000 South Korean soldiers and about 10,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea and overseas.
In a speech marking the 64th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japanese colonial rule on Aug. 15, President Lee proposed talks for arms reduction with North Korea. He also offered massive economic aid, but tied it to North Korea's denuclearization, a condition already rejected by the North.
N. Korea to Send Party Secretary to Kim Dae-jung's Funeral
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will send a secretary of its ruling Workers' Party to Seoul on Aug. 21 to pay respects to the late former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Aug. 19.
"Upon authorization of Kim Jong-il, chairman of the DPRK (North Korea) National Defence Commission, a special envoy group led by Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), will visit Seoul from August 21 to 22 to mourn over the death of ex-President Kim Dae-jung," the KCNA said in a one-sentence dispatch from Pyongyang.
Former President Kim died on Aug. 18 from multiple organ failure about a month after he was hospitalized for pneumonia. He was 85. A state funeral will be held on Aug. 23 at the National Assembly in central Seoul.
Kim Ki-nam, one of the closest aides to Kim Jong-il, handles propaganda and history education, but has also accompanied the North Korean leader on his outdoor activities.
The KCNA report did not release the names of other delegates to the funeral.
Earlier in the day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent a message of condolence on the death of the former South Korean president.
"Upon hearing the sad news that ex-President Kim Dae-jung passed away, I express my deep condolences to Mrs. Lee Hee-ho and other bereaved family members," the KCNA quoted Kim as saying in the message. Lee is the wife and former First Lady to the late president.
"Though he passed away to our regret, the feats he performed to achieve national reconciliation and realize the desire for reunification will remain long with the nation," he said.
The two leaders held the historic first inter-Korean summit in 2000, which paved the way for political reconciliation and cross-border economic and social exchanges.
N. Korean Eye Clinic Heals 'Thousands' with S. Korean Support
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Thousands of North Koreans have recently received treatment for cataracts and other eye afflictions at a modern eye hospital set up with financial support from a South Korean charity group, the North's media said on Aug. 13
The Pyongyang Lions Eye Hospital opened in Pyongyang in 2005 with US$8 million donated by the South Korean branch of the Lions Club International, a charity organization, and other member clubs from around the world. It has since built a nationwide program to train eye doctors and provide surgery.
The Rodong Sinmun, organ of the ruling Workers' Party, said "thousands of workers" regained their vision between June and July after undergoing surgery at the clinics. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered the clinics to provide preventive care against cataracts and glaucoma," it said.
"Ophthalmology workers in hospitals in Pyongyang and other provinces are briskly providing intensive eye checkups and surgery under the coordinated baton of the Health Ministry," the paper said in an article carried by the official Web site, Uriminzokkiri.
The Pyongyang hospital is equipped with 76 beds on four floors, according to the Lions Club.