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2009/10/22 10:49 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 77 (October 22, 2009)


N. Korea Warns of Naval Clash Despite Widening Thaw with S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Just a day after expressing regret for causing a flash flood that killed six South Koreans last month, North Korea renewed its warning on Oct. 15 of a naval clash off the west coast where skirmishes turned bloody twice in the past.

   Accusing South Korea of repeatedly sending warships into its territorial waters, North Korea said Seoul is deliberately trying to raise tension and prevent ties thawing between the divided states.

   "It is clear to everyone what consequences the third skirmish in the West Sea of Korea will entail," the North's Navy said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   Clashes in 1999 and 2002 led to the deaths of dozens of sailors on both sides, South Korean military officials say, denying their Navy has intruded north of the Northern Limit Line.

   North Korea refuses to respect the 1953 truce line that was drawn by an American general at the end of the three-year Korean War.

   "The Navy of the (North) Korean People's Army will not sit idly by while the South Korean military authorities try to turn the phantom line into a maritime military demarcation line," the North said. "They should bear in mind that warnings are bound to be followed by actions."

   The bellicose rhetoric came only a day after talks with South Korea in which the North expressed regret over a flood that swept six South Korean campers to their deaths on Sept. 6.

   The unannounced pre-dawn surge at the Imjin river, which flows across the heavily armed inter-Korean border, was triggered when the North opened a dam that it later said had reached its maximum level.

   It is rare for the North to express regret over its actions.

   North Korea accepted South Korea's proposal to hold Wednesday's talks on joint flood control after it test-fired a salvo of advanced short-range missiles off the east coast on Monday -- its such first action in three months.

   Relations between the Koreas have deteriorated since President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul with a pledge to tie reconciliation to the North's efforts to denuclearize.

   North Korea threatened the safety of foreign vessels sailing near the de facto Yellow Sea border early this year, calling Lee a traitor trying to topple the regime in Pyongyang.

   North Korea then conducted its second nuclear test in May, a month after it launched a long-range rocket that neighbors believe was built with the technology used in creating a ballistic missile.

   But the country, slapped with tougher U.N. sanctions, has in recent months taken a conciliatory gesture toward the outside world, agreeing to reunions of Korean families separated by war and nudging the U.S. toward bilateral dialogue.


N. Korea Demands Nuclear Powers Take Lead in Disarmament

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea called for the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons and urged the United States to end its atomic threatening of Pyongyang for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at a recent U.N. meeting, the North's state media said on Oct. 18.

   The North's Korean Central News Agency and other state media carried the remarks by an unidentified delegate at the Oct. 12 meeting of the First Committee of the 64th UN General Assembly.

   North Korea "demands total and comprehensive elimination of nuclear weapons in the world," the North Korean official said at the meeting in New York, according to the reports.

   "When the states with the largest nuclear arsenals take the lead in nuclear disarmament, it will positively influence the newly emerged nuclear weapons states in various parts of the world and also contribute to total elimination of nuclear weapons on this globe," he noted.

   North Korea has hinted at rejoining the six-party talks it quit earlier this year after holding bilateral dialogue with the U.S. In addition, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said to visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier this month that his country wants to have better relations with South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.

   The six parties involved in the talks are the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   The North Korean speaker at the U.N. meeting reiterated the country's demands to the U.S. to end its hostile policy toward it and replace the 1953 armistice of the Korean War with a peace treaty.

   "If the Korean Peninsula is to be denuclearized, the U.S. should terminate its nuclear threat to the DPRK (North Korea) and definitely roll back its hostile policy toward the latter.

   "Replacing the Korean Armistice Agreement with a peace arrangement is essential for peace and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula and peace and security in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world," he said.


North Korea Urges South Korea to End 'Confrontation' Mindset

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on Oct. 19 that it wants to improve relations with South Korea and urged Seoul to depart from the "conception of confrontation."

   The commentary by Rodong Sinmun, a major North Korean newspaper published by the Workers' Party, was in contrast to the frequent accusations and military warnings hurled by the North's media earlier this year at Seoul's conservative Lee Myung-bak government.

   "If Koreans miss the chance and hesitate to take any action, obsessed with the conception of confrontation, the north and the south will neither get reconciled nor united," the paper said in the commentary carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   North Korea sharply raised regional tension with its nuclear test in May, but it shifted toward diplomacy in August following meetings between leader Kim Jong-il and high-profile U.S. and South Korean visitors.

   Kim Jong-il also told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that his country would rejoin six-party denuclearization talks that it quit earlier this year if progress in bilateral talks with Washington is made.

   In late September, the Koreas held reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War for the first time in two years. In return, Seoul is expected to soon provide small-scale food aid to the North.

   The commentary urged the Lee government in Seoul to respect and implement the past summit accords reached between its liberal predecessors and the North Korean leader. Lee has been withholding action on the costly summit accords, saying Pyongyang should first sit down with the current Seoul administration for dialogue.

   "When Koreans handle all the problems in the spirit of 'By our nation itself,' bravely doing away with the old idea of confrontation, there will be an epochal turn in the work for improving the north-south relations and accomplishing the cause of national reunification," the paper stated.


N. Korea's No. 2 Leader Meets with World Church Council Leader

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, met with a delegation from the World Council of Churches in Pyongyang on Oct. 19, state media said, as the visitors made a religious and humanitarian trip to the North.

   The delegation of the Geneva-based ecumenical organization, led by General Secretary Rev. Samuel Kobia, arrived in the North on Oct. 17 on a four-day trip to meet with government officials and support humanitarian work there.

   Kim, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, "met and had a talk" with the delegation at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, the (North) Korean Central News Agency said. The one-sentence report did not say what the two parties discussed.

   The visit comes amid North Korea's diplomacy to reach out to South Korea and other regional powers, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests.

   North Korean church leaders are also expected to attend an international meeting the world council will host in Hong Kong with an aim to promote reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The North Koreans are expected to hold talks with South Korean participants on the sidelines of the three-day event that will open this week Wednesday.

   Last week, Franklin Graham, son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, visited North Korea on a humanitarian mission. Graham, head of Samaritan's Purse, said he hoped to "help improve better relations" between North Korea and the United States.

   The socialist nation has four publicly accepted churches -- Pongsu Church, Chilgol Church, Changchun (Catholic) Church and Jongbaek (Russian Orthodox) Church. All were established after 1988 amid international criticism of its alleged restrictions on religious freedom.


North Korea Wraps up Arirang Gymnastics Festival

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has wrapped up its Arirang festival, a two month-long mass gymnastics extravaganza, media outlets reported on Oct. 20.

   The festival drew about 1.4 million people from home and abroad since it opened in August at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, according to the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station, a North Korean radio network.

   The 80-minute show was held daily except on Sundays after opening on Aug. 10.

   North Korea has held the festival, named after the famous Korean folk song, almost annually since 2002. It features synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animation. Performed by about 100,000 people, it is believed to be the largest gymnastics show in the world.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-il watched the show with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier this month when he visited Pyongyang to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the allies forming diplomatic relations. Kim "highly appreciated" the festival, the radio report said.


Kim Jong-il Visits Salmon Farm, Newly-built Houses

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently visited newly-built apartment houses in Pyongyang and a salmon farm, state media said.

   Kim said the new flats built in the city's western district of Mangyongdae serve as "a model and standard for building dwelling houses to be used by all the people in a great, prosperous and powerful nation," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Oct. 21.

   North Korea is building a total of 100,000 houses in Pyongyang for completion by 2012, the centenary of the late leader and state founder Kim Il-sung's birth.

   Kim Jong-il "set forth on the spot important tasks that would serve as guidelines for building Pyongyang into a more magnificent and modern city," the KCNA said.

   "It is important to lay out streets, build roads, distribute buildings of diverse styles in a peculiar manner under long-term plans as required by the developing reality, and properly distribute educational, health, sports, cultural and welfare establishments and services," he was quoted as saying.

   The North Korean leader has also visited a newly-built salmon farm where he praised researchers for contributing to the nation's economic growth by increasing production of marine products, the KCNA said on Oct. 20.

   "To actively conserve and propagate marine resources is a noble patriotic work for developing the national economy and improving the people's standard of living," Kim told the workers at the Salmon Breeding Institute, according to the KCNA. He also ordered construction of more salmon farms, the report said.

   "Our country has favorable conditions for salmon breeding as it has many rivers and lakes and is surrounded by seas," he said.

   The report did not give the location of the "ultra-modern" salmon farm or when Kim made the visit.

   The report came three days after he appeared at a Russian ensemble performance.

   After watching the performance by the Academy Ensemble of the Russian Ministry of Interior, Kim held a "friendly talk" with the ensemble's chief, Victor Yeliseev, and Russian ambassador Valery Sukhinin, said the KCNA.

   The performance was given at a North Korean theater to mark the 64th birthday of the Workers' Party, it said. The KCNA, however, did not say when or where the show was held.