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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 92 (February 4, 2010)

North Korea Says American Held After Crossing Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on Jan. 28 it has detained an American man for illegally crossing its border with China in the second such incident in a month if confirmed.

   The report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the man entered the North on Jan. 25 and "is now under investigation by an organ concerned," but it did not identify him or his motive.

   "An American was detained for trespassing on the border" between China and North Korea on Jan. 25, the two-paragraph English-language report said.

   The United States Embassy in Seoul said it had no immediate knowledge of the report. If confirmed, the incident would mark the second crossing by a U.S. citizen into the socialist state after a Korean-American missionary named Robert Park entered it last month, calling for human rights in the North.

   Park, 28, remains under detention after walking into the North across the frozen Tumen River on Christmas Day, professing his intention to propagate "God's love." The U.S. has reportedly been trying to contact him through a foreign embassy in Pyongyang.

   It remains unclear whether the latest crossing reported by the North is linked to the previous one, which was first publicized by fellow missionaries and later confirmed by Pyongyang.

   In March, two American journalists crossed into North Korea from China while working on a story about human trafficking. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for charges including illegal entry, but were freed as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former U.S. President Bill Clinton in August.

   The reported crossing by an American comes amid heightened tension on the divided Korean Peninsula after the North has fired artillery shells toward its western sea border with South Korea.

   In a conflicting gesture, the North proposed to the U.S.-led United Nations command in South Korea on Jan. 27 that the sides resume the joint recovery of the remains of their troops who died in the Korean War.


N. Korean Cabinet Discusses Ways of Improving People's Lives

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's Cabinet recently convened an enlarged plenary meeting to discuss an action plan for implementing its economic tasks unveiled in the country's New Year policy goals, the North's official media said on Jan. 28.

   In its New Year joint editorial made public on Jan. 1, North Korea vowed to "bring about a radical turn in the people's standard of living by accelerating the development of light industry and agriculture."

   "Premier Kim Yong-il and other Cabinet members discussed ways of achieving this year's policy tasks, together with the implementation of the goals of the 150-day and 100-day campaigns," the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

   The 100-day campaign is a typical mass mobilization drive that began a few days after the closure of the 150-day battle on Sept. 16, 2009. The sanctions-hit North has been exhorting people to work extra hours and donate more to try to revive its lackluster economy.

   The 150-day campaign is known to have been spearheaded by Kim Jong-un, the third son and alleged heir of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il who chairs the National Defense Commission, the socialist country's top political body.

   According to the KCNA, Premier Kim reported that North Korea's industrial production surged 11 percent in 2009 from a year earlier, with significant achievements in the agricultural sector reported.

   Cabinet members also exchanged views on ways to sharply boost agricultural production and ensure a smooth supply of daily necessities for the North Korean people, the KCNA said.

   As is customary, the KCNA failed to disclose the venue and date of the Cabinet meeting.


North Korea, Vietnam Pledge to Promote Cooperation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea and Vietnam vowed to further boost their cooperation and friendship on the 60th anniversary of their establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties, Pyongyang's media said on Feb. 1.

   According to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Jan. 31 sent a congratulatory message to Nong Duc Manh, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, to mark the anniversary.

   "The bilateral relations are precious as they were provided personally by President Kim Il-sung and respected President Ho Chi Minh of the Vietnamese people," Kim was quoted as saying. "(I am) convinced the friendly and cooperative relations will be further developed in the future."

   Other senior officials of the two countries, including Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the North's Supreme People's Assembly, exchanged congratulatory messages, stressing the need for strengthened mutual friendship and cooperation.

   In addition, the Vietnamese government organized a rally in Hanoi on Jan. 28 in commemoration of the anniversary, while Pyongyang held a photo exhibition and a film screening session two days earlier.

   Le Van Cu, Vietnamese ambassador to North Korea, hosted a reception on Jan. 28 on the occasion of the anniversary, with Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and other senior officials attending, according to North Korean media.

   After establishing diplomatic relations in 1950, North Korea and Vietnam signed an agreement on military and economic aid in 1967. But their relations began to worsen following Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1979 and became further alienated after South Korea set up diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1992.

   Their relations were restored following Kim Yong-nam's visit to Vietnam in 2001 and a reciprocal visit by the Vietnamese president to Pyongyang a year later.


North Korean Leader Reiterates Vow to Provide Rice

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has said his immediate ambition is to end his people's dependence on corn for subsistence and feed them rice and wheat products, state media said Monday.

   "I'm the most heartbroken by the fact that our people are still living on corn. What I must do now is to feed them white rice, bread and noodles generously," he was quoted as saying in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party.

   The paper did not disclose when or where the reclusive North Korean leader made the remarks.

   The comments are another rare acknowledgment that the regime has failed to achieve sufficient living standards for its 24 million people, after Kim was reported last month as saying that "white rice and meat soups" were still a long-cherished dream for the general populace.

   They also come as the communist state pushes for economic revival after it concentrated resources on building nuclear arms and missiles and came under harsh international sanctions last year.

   Since the mid-1990s when an estimated 2 million people died of famine, North Korea has relied on international handouts that included massive corn aid. The country also suffers from a lack of energy, as it fails to generate enough hard currency to buy fuel.

   According to the Rodong Sinmun report, Kim urged North Koreans to keep their vow made to his father and North Korea founder Kim Il-sung and build a nation where its people do not know of such things as corn meals.

   The junior Kim, 68, took over the regime after his father died in 1994. Outside officials say he is working to engineer a back-to-back power succession for his third son, Jong-un, who was touted as having orchestrated North Korea's long-range rocket launch last year.

   Following the April 5 launch, which the North says was aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, Pyongyang went ahead with its second nuclear test in May, drawing an arms trade embargo and other penalties from the international community.


N. Korean Military Opposes Denuclearization under Truce

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan suggested on Feb. 2 that North Korea's military may be opposed to the idea of denuclearizing the socialist country under the framework of an armistice.

   "The (North) Korean People's Army has raised concern that the process of denuclearization will inevitably hit a snag if it is carried out under the armistice system," said the Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo.

   The pro-Pyongyang daily for the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan cited a proposal for North Korea-U.S. military talks made by the representative of the KPA's Panmunjom Mission. Panmunjom is the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula.

   South and North Korea remain technically in a state of conflict because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. The cease-fire was signed by the U.S. North Korea and China, but Seoul was not a signatory.

   Choson Sinbo further said that since the U.S. and North Korea are the warring parties, Pyongyang has no choice but to strengthen its nuclear deterrent, a tool of self-defense, unless "the fundamental question of war and peace is solved."

   "Washington and Pyongyang should put an end to the armistice system before discussing the issue of nuclear weapons without confining nuclear talks to the dismantlement of atomic facilities," the newspaper said, adding that in a sense, the North's proposal for talks on a peace treaty reflects the military's logic.

   In a statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency on Jan.11, the North's Foreign Ministry demanded that the sanctions be lifted and a peace treaty be signed to replace the armistice before it comes back to the six-way nuclear talks.

   The U.S., however, insists that North Korea should first return to the nuclear disarmament negotiations, which also involve South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Protesting U.S.-imposed sanctions, North Korea said in April 2009 that it would boycott the forum permanently. The last round of the nuclear talks was held in December 2008.