NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 70 (September 3, 2009) |
*** FOREIGN TIPS
U.S. Welcomes Inter-Korean Dialogue for Family Reunions
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Aug. 26 welcomed a new inter-Korean dialogue to resume reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
"We encourage and support efforts that are aimed at issues like family reunification," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. "These are important and obviously very emotional issues. We encourage these kinds of contacts between North Korea and South Korea. And in more general terms, we encourage dialogue between the two, between North Korea and South Korea."
Officials of the two Koreas began a three-day meeting at the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort earlier in the day to discuss allowing hundreds of South Koreans to visit the resort on Oct. 3 during the traditional holiday of Chuseok to briefly meet with relatives living in the North.
Cross-border family reunions were suspended with the inauguration of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government early last year. Tens of thousands of aging South Koreans had taken advantage of the program that began after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.
Lee also suspended food aid and economic cooperation with North Korea, insisting the North first promise to end its nuclear programs. By contrast, his two liberal predecessors, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, provided more than 400,000 tons of food and fertilizer to the North every year without pre-conditions.
N. Korea Officials Visit Los Angeles to Discuss Food Aid
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A group of North Korean officials visited Los Angeles in mid-August to meet with U.S. relief organizations on the resumption of food aid to the North, diplomatic sources here said on Aug. 27.
Humanitarian food aid was suspended in March, when the North Korean government expelled officials of foreign nongovernmental organizations amid escalating tensions over the country's long-range rocket launch.
"I understand that North Korean officials visited Los Angeles last week to meet with officials of nongovernmental organizations which had provided food aid to the North," a source said, adding the delegation consisted of officials from the Korea-U.S. Private Exchange Society, which coordinates food and other relief projects for the North by U.S. NGOs.
Another source said, "The North Korean delegation made no contacts with U.S. government officials while staying in the U.S. for several days," adding that the delegation toured Operation USA and other relief groups and food and medical supply warehouses set aside for aid.
The visit comes during a thaw in North Korea's relations with the U.S. and South Korea in recent weeks as Pyongyang has made a series of conciliatory moves, including the release of two American journalists and a South Korean worker held in the North for months. North Korea also allowed the resumption of cross border tours and business projects, suspended since last year, and welcomed former U.S. President Bill Clinton and the head of a major South Korean conglomerate heavily invested in the North.
Just months ago, Pyongyang's relations with Seoul and Washington were at their lowest level in decades after the country conducted nuclear and missile tests, prompting tighter U.N. sanctions.
The World Food Program has said that North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons of food aid from abroad to feed its 24 million people this year.
South Korea's conservative Lee Myung-bak government has provided no food aid to North Korea, demanding as a quid pro quo that the North make progress in the six-party talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.
Over the past decade, Lee's liberal predecessors each year shipped about 400,000 tons of food and as much fertilizer to North Korea despite the regime's nuclear ambitions.
The U.S., which had provided more than 2 million tons of food aid to the North in the past decade, also suspended food aid in March when North Korea refused to issue visas to Korean-speaking monitors, whose mission was to assure that the food aid was not being funneled to the military and government elite.
The U.S. had delivered 169,000 tons of food to North Korea until March from May last year, when Washington pledged to provide 500,000 tons of food to help alleviate the North's chronic food shortage.
UAE Seizes North Korean Weapons Bound for Iran: Sources
NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- The United Arab Emirates has seized a ship carrying North Korean weapons to Iran in violation of a United Nations arms embargo imposed after Pyongyang's nuclear test in May, diplomatic sources said on Aug. 28.
The seizure comes at a sensitive time as North Korea has begun a series of conciliatory gestures to reach out to the outside world after months of provocations, including nuclear and missile tests that prompted international sanctions.
Despite the overtures, the U.S. has said that it will continue sanctioning the North unless it returns to the six-party talks and take steps for its denuclearization. Pyongyang wants bilateral talks rather than the multilateral forum, which it said is dead.
"The UAE government has notified the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee of its seizure of a North Korean ship heading to Iran in violation of a U.N. resolution," a diplomat said.
U.N. Resolution 1874, adopted after North Korea's second nuclear test in May that followed one in 2006, bans North Korea from conducting any nuclear and ballistic missile tests while imposing an overall arms embargo, financial sanctions and cargo interdiction on the high seas to prevent proliferation of North Korean conventional weapons, as well as missiles and nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
The sanctions committee will soon convene a meeting to discuss the issue, another source said.
The seizure is the first of its kind that effectively intercepted a North Korean arms shipment since the new U.N. resolution was imposed in June, although India seized a North Korean ship off its coast earlier this month only to find no weapons aboard.
In late June, a North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, returned home after being closely pursued by U.S. Navy vessels.
Signs of Fertilizer Shortage among N. Korean Rice Paddies
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Rice paddies in North Korea were more yellow than green this year, suggesting the country lacks fertilizer that could result in a poor crop yield, agronomists who recently visited the North said on Aug. 31.
North Korea's own fertilizer output is estimated at less than 500,000 tons a year, about a third of the 1.5 million tons the country needs for its grain farming, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. The shortage is now believed to be greater as South Korea has suspended its fertilizer aid for a second year.
"When rice paddies get enough fertilizer, a plant's leaves are deep green. But in the rice farms I saw, they were less green and more yellowish," Hahm Young-il, an agronomist who visited North Korea from Aug. 1-8 with World Vision aid workers in Seoul, said.
Rice plants that do not absorb enough nitrogen in summer produce low yields in the harvest season. The quality of domestic North Korean fertilizer and manure is also questionable, Hahm said.
"Their manure and fertilizer seemed to be of lower quality, maybe because the land is not privately owned," Hahm said. He added his observations could be anecdotal, having traveled in Pyongyang and the northern Ryanggang Province to support potato seed farms there.
Hong Sang-young from Korean Sharing Movement, a Seoul-based group that provides aid to North Korea, also said the fertilizer shortage was taking a toll on North Korean rice farms.
"But we couldn't bring up the subject with the North Koreans, because fertilizer is not what we can give," said Hong, who visited North Korea from Aug. 26-30 for medical aid.
Since 1999, the South Korean government has provided an average 300,000 tons of fertilizer worth 96 billion won (US$76.87 million) to the North every year to help ease the country's chronic food shortages. But the aid was suspended after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, linking inter-Korean aid and exchanges to progress in North Korea's denuclearization.
N. Korea Sets up 'Film Division' with Movie Director as Head
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's ruling Workers' Party has created a "film division" dedicated to making and distributing propaganda movies that strengthen national unity, according to sources familiar with North Korean affairs on Sept. 1.
The party established the division in February on a special order from the country's leader Kim Jong-il, multiple sources said, requesting anonymity.
Choe Ik-gyu, who was initially believed to have been named director of the party's propaganda department earlier this year, was in fact named as head of the film division, according to the sources.
Choe, a former film director and a close aide to Kim Jong-il, has previously served as the party's director of culture.
Media reports out of Pyongyang had said that Kim was seeking to fuel a "renaissance" in the country's propaganda film industry.
A group of filmmakers in North Korea, at Kim's guidance, gathered at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang in late July and agreed to make more films that "show the greatness of the Workers' Party and leader Kim Jong-il, as well as the superiority of North Korea's socialism," the Korean Central Broadcasting Station and Radio Pyongyang reported on July 31.
The participants quoted Kim Jong-il, known to be a film buff, as having called for a reinvigoration of the film industry that had peaked in the 1970s.
Kim called for the ignition of "the flames of a movie revolution in the Songun (military-first) era," describing movies as "the most powerful tool for public education," one participant said.
U.S. Reporters Released from N.K. Captivity Recount How It All Began
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Two U.S. journalists released after months of captivity in North Korea said on Sept. 1 they were "firmly" out of the socialist country when they were dragged back into it across an icy river by rifle-carrying soldiers.
"We didn't spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret," Laura Ling and Euna Lee said in a statement on the Web site of their San Francisco-based employer, Current TV.
"We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us," they said in the first account of the March 17 capture in their own words. "We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil."
"But we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained," they said.
Ling and Lee said they were turning back on their way to a house that their guide said was housing North Koreans preparing to be smuggled into China, when they heard yelling from across the frozen river.
"We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran," they said. "Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not."
The journalists, brought back home by former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Aug. 5, had been sentenced in June to 12 years in labor camp for "hostile acts" against North Korea.
"What did we do that was hostile?" they said, arguing they were convicted "not for trespassing but for our work as journalists."
"Totalitarian regimes the world over are terrified of exposure," they said, adding that they traveled to the region to "document a grim story of human trafficking."
They said they made contact with North Korean defectors, including women who found work in on-line sex trade or were forced into arranged marriages.
Their guide, a Korean-Chinese man, brought them to the Tumen River that marks the border between China and North Korea so they could "chronicle" smuggling operations, they said.
"When our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side,"
"To this day, we still don't know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly," they said. "But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today."
Ling and Lee defended themselves against claims they might have endangered those working to help North Koreans flee the country's repressive regime, saying they destroyed their materials.
"We furtively destroyed evidence in our possession by swallowing notes and damaging videotapes" during the early part of their detention, Ling, an ethnic Chinese, and Lee, an ethnic Korean, said.
"People had put their lives at risk by sharing their stories, and we were determined to do everything in our power to safeguard them," they said. "We took extreme caution to ensure that the people we interviewed and their locations were not identifiable.
"After arriving home, we were disoriented, overwhelmed and not ready to talk about the experience," they said. "We can't adequately express the emotions surrounding our release. One moment, we were preparing to be sent to a labor camp, fearing that we would disappear and never be heard from again."