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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 91 (January 28, 2010)

N. Korea Calls for Quick U.S. Decision on Peace Treaty

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 21 urged the United States to quickly decide whether to accept Pyongyang's demand for talks on signing a peace treaty to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The call came 10 days after the North's foreign ministry proposed that Pyongyang and Washington hold negotiations for changing the truce, which has left the two Koreas in a state of war, into a peace treaty.

   "The U.S. should make a decision to replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. "The conclusion of a peace treaty would mean the first step toward creating a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula."

   The establishment of a peace-keeping regime would lead to automatically solving other matters guaranteeing the peace process on the peninsula, the KCNA reported.

   Since no other country can replace the U.S. in talks to substitute the armistice for a peace treaty, the report said, there is no reason for the U.S. not to respond to the North's proposal for concluding a peace treaty.

   "The issue of concluding a peace treaty will find a smooth solution only if the U.S. has the political will to properly assess the changed situation and make a bold switchover in its policy toward the DPRK," the KCNA reported. DPRK is the official name of North Korea.

   The conclusion of a peace treaty is neither a matter of one party giving benefits to the other party nor an issue of one party offering a reward to the other party, it said, adding it will be conducive to the preservation of world peace.

   Following the Jan. 11 overture, North Korea's media have issued a series of commentaries stressing the need for a peace treaty between Pyongyang and Washington.

   Meanwhile, North Korea on Jan. 27 reiterated its demand for a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War amid tension that spiked after it fired artillery shells into its waters near the western sea border with South Korea.

   Minju Joson, a paper run by the North's cabinet, said a peace treaty is also essential for guaranteeing the success of six-nation talks on its nuclear arms programs, and described the U.S. call for the North to first rejoin the talks as "an act of insolence."

   "If a peace treaty is forged between the U.S. and North Korea and trust is built, measures for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula will be created, removing the threat of war," it said. "The reality shows that trust is needed to resolve the nuclear problem and other various problems."


N. Korean Media Hint at Hereditary Power Transfer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean media on Jan. 22 alluded to a three-generation, hereditary power succession in the socialist country, commenting on the leadership of its late founder Kim Il-sung and current leader Kim Jong-il.

   After Kim Il-sung died in 1994, the younger Kim came to power, with his first term in office beginning in 1998. The 68-year-old North Korean leader, who allegedly suffered a stroke in 2008, has reportedly tapped his third son, Jong-un, as his successor.

   In a commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the "1,000-ri journey for national liberation," Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North's ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), said, "The North Koreans take great pride in the leadership of the president and the leader," according to Uriminzokkiri, Pyongyang's official Web site.

   The 1,000-ri journey for national liberation refers to a 400-kilometer trip that the founding father made from Pyongyang to Manchuria in 1925 after hearing his father had been arrested by Japanese police. The North claims the journey led to the dawn of National liberation from Japan's colonial rule (1910-45) and the origin of the revolutionary cause of Juche, or self-reliance.

   According to the North's official Korean Central News Agency, Ri Yong-chol, first-secretary of the WPK's Central Committee, told a group of young participants on a study tour for the 1,000-ri journey that they should display the spirit of devotedly defending the leader while steadily inheriting the lineage of Mangyongdae and Mt. Paektu.

   Mangyongdae is Kim Il-sung's birthplace, while Mt. Paektu is the highest peak in the North and considered a sacred place by the socialist country.

   In 1975, one year after he was named as successor, Kim Jong-il initiated a program in which a group of exemplary youth and students selected from across North Korea learn about the route of the 1,000-ri journey.


Deceased N. Korean Sailors Honored for Saving Leaders' Portraits

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has poured honors on sailors who drowned while saving the portraits of the country's leaders when their cargo ship sank off the coast of China in November, the socialist state's official media reported on Jan. 22.

   Five died and 15 were rescued when the ship, the Jisong 5, sank in strong winds on Nov. 17 while heading toward the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian.

   The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored in Seoul, said the awards, including the title of Labor Hero and the Order of the National Flag 1st Class, were posthumously conferred on Jan. 21 on the late sailors for "defending the headquarters of the revolution."

   The headquarters refer to the portraits of late North Korea founder Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, who rules the country with a massive cult of personality built around his family.

   The country ranks the portraits and another one depicting Kim Il-sung's late wife, Kim Jong-suk, as the greatest treasures the armed forces and the people must safeguard in either war or peace.

   Praising the late sailors for their "heroic self-sacrificing spirit and the revolutionary comradeship in rough wind and waves," the regime delivered the medals to the bereaved and honored the survivors with medals, the KCNA said.

   The report did not say how the sailors managed to save the portraits but not their own lives.


N. Korean Economist Says Currency Reform Helped Fill State Coffers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A top North Korean economist said on Jan. 23 his socialist country secured a monetary base that will underpin efforts to raise living standards when it carried out a currency reform last year.

   Pyongyang said the currency redenomination, which knocked two zeros off its bank notes, was aimed at curbing inflation, while analysts said the regime was trying to emasculate a growing merchant class and reassert control over market activities.

   The revaluation, conducted in November, helped "implement socialist economic principles better and create a monetary base that can bring about a leap in the standard of living for people," Kim Chol-jun, chief economist at North Korea's Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview with Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Tokyo.

   In its New Year's message, North Korea vowed to boost light industries and agriculture and increase basic supplies in an apparent effort to bolster its new currency.

   Years of economic mismanagement have brought the North Korean economy to a near halt, leading the regime to attract outside assistance by offering to dismantle its nuclear ambitions under a six-nation deal.

   The talks, which group the Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China, have remained stalled for more than a year during which the North conducted its second nuclear test and launched a long-range rocket that could be converted into a ballistic missile.

   A ranking Unification Ministry official in Seoul told reporters earlier this month that the currency reform in the North "was still under way," suggesting the regime was taking steps to empower its new currency and state-run shops and crack down on unregistered trade.

   On Jan. 20, official media in Pyongyang reported that leader Kim Jong-il ordered the establishment of a state bank dedicated to development projects. The report came about two weeks after the North said it had upgraded the status of Rason, a free trade zone near the border with China and Russia, to that of a special city.


North Korea Slams Seoul Minister over 'Preemptive Strike' Remark

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 24 took direct aim at Seoul's defense minister for his remark that a preemptive strike against the North would be the only acceptable course of action in the face of an imminent nuclear threat, calling the comment a "declaration of war."

   On Jan. 20, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told a local defense forum that the South "would have to strike (North Korea) right away" if the North showed clear signs it was about to attack the South with nuclear weapons.

   An unidentified spokesman for the General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army released a statement on Jan. 24 saying it considers the minister's remarks an "open declaration of war" and warned that it may take "stern military actions," according to an English-language report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   The statement lashed out at the minister's "outbursts about the preemptive strike," arguing that the comments triggered a heightened state of tension, the report said. "Because of the (South Korean) defense minister's outrageous words of a preemptive strike, on the Korean peninsula there is a highly-tense situation being created that may trigger another Korean war at any time, it said.

   The spokesman also warned that the North's military "will take prompt and decisive military actions" against any attempt by the South to violate "our dignity and sovereignty."

   The statement came a day after the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, an organ that handles inter-Korean affairs, also blasted the Seoul defense chief for "deliberately worsening inter-Korean relations."

   The committee on Jan. 23 condemned the remarks by Kim and warned that the North would retaliate "with no hesitation" if the South deliberately arouses conflict, according to the KCNA.

   Kim made similar remarks in 2008, then as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shortly after Pyongyang test-fired several short-range missiles off its west coast. In a show of anger, North Korea kicked out a number of South Korean officials then working at inter-Korean project sites.


North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Inspects Top Court

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a rare trip to the socialist country's highest court, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Jan. 24.

   The undated visit was Kim's first inspection of the Central Court since September 1998, when his first term in office began. The trip is widely seen as a move to tighten his grip over North Korean society following a currency reform in November 2009.

   "The court has developed into a weapon of class struggle and one of proletarian dictatorship under the wise leadership and meticulous care of President Kim Il-sung," Kim was quoted as saying. Kim Il-sung is the North Korean leader's late father who founded the country.

   The leader underscored the need to steadily consolidate the state social system in North Korea by further strengthening the observance of socialist law as required by the Socialist Constitution, the KCNA said.

   "It is important to increase the function and role of the judicial organ in order to strengthen the observance of law for enforcing the socialist law," the KCNA quoted Kim as stressing.

   North Korea watchers in Seoul said Kim's rare visit to the top court seems to be designed to tighten control over the isolated country and fend off social unrest sparked by the Nov. 30 currency redenomination.

   It is believed that the currency overhaul has dealt a harsh blow to North Korea's middle class and sent consumer prices soaring, making life harder for the North Korean people.

   On Nov. 22, the KCNA reported that Kim inspected the People's Security Ministry, the North's top police agency, his first inspection of the agency since taking power in 1998. The undated visit came amid reports of rising social unrest caused by chronic economic woes and food shortages.