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2009/10/29 11:18 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 78 (October 29, 2009)


Fires Break Out Across North Korea: NASA Image

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Multiple fires broke out in the northeastern part of North Korea recently, sending a plume of smoke to the East Sea between the North and Japan, a picture released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Oct. 21 shows.

   The true-color image, captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite Oct. 15, shows big plumes extending eastward and covering the skies of northeastern North Korea and part of the East Sea.

   "The smoke plumes blow uniformly eastward, some of the individual plumes coalescing into a single large plume over the sea," the caption of the image said. "Red outlines indicate hotspots associated with active fires, although not all the fires have visible hotspots."

   North Korean media have not yet reported the fires.

   South Korean intelligence officials said that they were not sure about the nature of the plumes.

   "We are still trying to analyze it," an official in Seoul said. "One possibility is forest fires. But we are not certain about what it is, what caused it and what it looks like at the moment."


North Korea Employs 3,000 Workers in 20 Nuclear Facilities

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea employs 3,000 workers in 20 facilities dedicated to developing the country's nuclear program, a South Korean lawmaker said on Oct. 22.

   Rep. Lee Mi-kyung of the main opposition Democratic Party, citing a report submitted by the Unification Ministry, claimed the country runs 20 nuclear facilities -- 11 in a nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, and nine uranium-related mines and facilities in Pyongsan in North Hwanghae Province and Sunchon in South Pyongan Province.

   The Yongbyon nuclear facility was disabled under a deal reached in 2007 with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China. But the North announced earlier this year that it would reverse the process to protest the U.N. condemnation of its April 5 long-range rocket launch.

   Seoul estimates the North employs 3,000 workers throughout the country's nuclear facilities, including some 200 scientists and key research personnel, according to Lee.

   "The government needs to set up a concrete plan on how to manage the North Korea's nuclear facilities, its scientists and overall resources" in case of a regime collapse, Lee said.

   She insisted that Seoul create a plan for North Korea modeled on the U.S. management of the Soviet Union's nuclear facilities and scientists following the fall of the USSR.


U.S. Blacklists N. Korean Bank for Involvement in Iran Missile Sales

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Oct. 23 blacklisted a North Korean bank and its president for their involvement in proliferation of ballistic missiles to Iran.

   The Department of the Treasury issued a statement and "designated Amrog River Development Bank as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction under Executive Order 13382 for being owned or controlled by North Korea's Tanchon Commercial Bank."

   The Treasury described Tanchon as "the financial arm of the U.S. and U.N.-designated North Korean company Korea Mining Development Corporation," saying it "plays a role in financing KOMID's sales of ballistic missiles and has also been involved in ballistic missile transactions from KOMID to Iran's Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the U.S. and U.N.-designated Iranian organization responsible for developing liquid-fueled ballistic missiles."

   KOMID is North Korea's premiere arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.

   Tanchon, a Pyongyang-based commercial bank, is already being sanctioned by E.O. 13382 and the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 adopted after North Korea's rocket launch in April.

   E.O. 13382 freezes the assets of designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with them.

   Kim Tong-myong, Tanchon's president, was also designated for acting on behalf of Tanchon, the statement said, noting Kim "has held various positions within Tanchon since at least 2002" and "has also played a role in managing Amrog River bank's affairs using the alias Kim Chin-sok."

   "As long as North Korea continues to try to evade sanctions and obscure its illicit proliferation transactions, we will take steps to combat that activity and protect the integrity of the international financial system," said Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.


N. Korea Completes Construction of Top Missile Base: Officials

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has completed the construction of its largest and most sophisticated missile base on the west coast, laying the groundwork for improved intercontinental ballistic missiles, senior officials in Seoul said on Oct. 26.

   The Dongchang-ri base has been under construction for several years, deepening outside concerns that North Korea is continuing to develop its capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction.

   "The construction is as good as finished," one South Korean official said, asking for anonymity because he was speaking on matters of intelligence. "The necessary facilities are all there."

   Another official said North Korea has been testing missile parts such as boosters at the site, located about 200km northwest of Pyongyang and only 70km west of the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

   "It's a leap in North Korea's ballistic missile development," the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity and adding the construction ended "only recently."

   Analysts say the Dongchang-ri base is about three times larger than the Musudan-ri site where North Korea launched a long-range rocket in April, claiming that it put a satellite into space.

   The launch on the east coast drew condemnations worldwide. The U.S. and South Korea denounced it as a thinly veiled test of a Taepodong-2 missile, which is technically capable of reaching the western U.S.

   Less than a month later, North Korea went ahead with its second nuclear test, triggering U.N. sanctions tougher than those imposed after the first one in 2006.

   In June, South Korean officials said North Korea transported an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, by train to the Dongchang-ri site from a munitions factory near Pyongyang, fueling tensions already high from the nuclear blast.

   Nam Sung-wook, who heads a research institute affiliated with South Korea's spy agency, said in July that the Dongchang-ri site would allow for testing of missiles with a range of over 3,000km.

   The officials said the newest base is for ICBMs, which can fly at least 5,000km. The long-range rocket which the North fired in April is believed to have flown at least 3,000km.

   North Korea has test-fired a range of short-range and mid-range missiles this year. The country, which has in recent months shown willingness to return to talks on its nuclear program, is believed to have up to 1,000 ballistic missiles, including 700 Scuds.


N. Korea Likely to Complete Power Succession Next Year: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea expects North Korea will complete its father-to-son power succession as early as next year if its leader Kim Jong-il remains healthy enough to oversee it, an intelligence official said on Oct. 26.

   Kim Jong-il, 67, suffered a stroke last year but has recovered enough to reassert his power over his country, which continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs, according to the U.S. and South Korea.

   The ailment prompted Kim -- who also inherited power from his father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung -- to hasten a power succession to his third son, Jong-un, a process which has slowed since his recovery but not been terminated by any means, the official said.

   "The question is, can he retain his vigor until it is completed," the official said, declining to be identified citing the political sensitivity of the matter.

   Strokes are characterized by a relatively high rate of relapse. South Korean media say photos released by Pyongyang show Kim's physical movement has been slightly compromised.

   "The highest echelon is already with Kim on the succession. At this rate, he should be able to persuade the entire political leadership to accept Jong-un as his successor within next year," the official said.

   Sources in South Korea have said a series of elaborate propaganda campaigns have been under way this year to portray Kim Jong-un as a young commander capable of leading the communist country.

   In a recent photo released by official North Korean television, Kim Jong-il and his entourage watch a performance during which the title of a song praising Jong-un is displayed above the stage.

   If North Korea succeeds in the power transfer, it will be the world's only communist dynasty to have engineered a back-to-back hereditary succession.

   The North conducted its second nuclear test in May this year, inviting U.N. sanctions tougher than those imposed after the first one in 2006.

   But the country has in recent months taken conciliatory gestures toward the outside world, signaling a willingness to return to multinational talks aimed at denuclearizing it through economic and diplomatic benefits.

   Analysts have said Kim Jong-il may have used this year's nuclear and missile testing to unite the regime and create a political setting conducive to his power succession.