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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 96 (March 4, 2010)
*** NEWS IN BRIEF

N. Korea Vows to Resolve Food Shortage in Farmer Rally

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea pledged on Feb. 25 to resolve its food shortage this year by putting top priority on agriculture, the North's state TV station reported.

   The (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station said that senior North Korean officials and agricultural workers made the pledge at a national meeting, the first such gathering since February 2006.

   North Korea had held such a meeting in January or February between 1974 and 1994. But the annual event was stopped in 1995 when severe floods and droughts hit the socialist country, causing millions of people to starve to death in subsequent years.

   In a joint New-Year editorial, North Korea vowed to try to improve the livelihoods of people this year by jump-starting its farming and light industry, but it is reportedly suffering from the negative effects of last year's currency denomination.

   The North Korean broadcaster said the meeting was attended by Vice Premier Kim Yong-il, Ri Yong-mu, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Choe Thae-bok, a secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, model farmers and other provincial officials.

   Vice Premier Kwak Pom-gi underscored the need to successfully honor the plan for agricultural production by putting spurs to it once again this year and smoothly settling the food shortage of the country.

   "All the officials and working people in the field of agriculture should make efforts to bring about a decisive turn in agricultural production this year," he was quoted as saying.

  
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N. Korea Questioning Four S. Koreans for Illegal Entry: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on March 26 it was questioning four South Korean nationals for their illegal entry into the socialist state, a new thorn in relations between the divided countries if confirmed.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) monitored in Seoul, reported that North Korean authorities have "recently detained four South Koreans who illegally entered it."

   The brief English language report did not identify those held or say how they entered North Korea, which remains technically at war with South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. Their border is tightly sealed and among the world's most heavily fortified.

   The Unification Ministry in Seoul said it was checking the report, adding none of the 1,054 South Koreans reported staying in the North as of March 26 morning were in custody there.

   "The only area we could suspect as a route for the South Koreans to enter North Korea is its border with China if our nationals did cross it," a ministry official told reporters, declining to be identified because of the speculative nature of his comments.

   Choi Seong-yong, a Seoul-based activist, claimed South Koreans crossed into the North Korean border town of Namyang from Tumen in China "several days ago to meet Kim Jong-il."

   Choi cited unidentified informants, downplaying the possibility that those said to be detained could be North Korean defectors helping others flee the country.

   "North Korea would not even have reported such an incident because defectors are considered no more than traitors," he said by phone.

   The reported crossing, if confirmed, would mark the first illegal entry by a foreigner into the North after Robert Park, a Korean-American missionary and human rights activist, walked in across the frozen Tumen river along the Chinese-North Korean border in December. Park was released earlier February.

  
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N. Korea, China Ink Deal on Bridge Construction over Yalu River

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea sealed an agreement with China on the joint construction, management and preservation of a new bridge over the Amnok (Yalu) River, the North official media reported on Feb. 26.

   The inter-governmental agreement was signed in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, without giving further details.

   The deal was signed by Pak Kil-yon, vice minister of foreign affairs, and Wu Hailong, China's assistant foreign minister, the KCNA said. The Amnok River link the two socialist neighbors.

   The government of China's Liaoning province reportedly plans to pick a bidder for the construction of the 20.4km-long, four-lane bridge in October this year.

   The agreement came after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered hefty economic aid to North Korea during a visit to Pyongyang in October last year, to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral ties.

   China is North Korea's staunchest ally and largest benefactor as Pyongyang has been hit by a chronic food shortage and a reportedly botched currency reform.

  
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N. Korean TV Airs First Report on Vancouver Olympics

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state-run TV station on Feb. 28 broadcast the country's first report on the Vancouver Winter Olympics, but it didn't mention the performances of its two athletes.

   Ko Hyon-suk and Ri Song-chol competed in women's speed skating and men's figure skating, respectively, at the 17-day long event that drew to a close on Feb. 28. Ko finished fifth in the women's 500 meters, while Ri placed 25th in the men's short program.

   During its regular evening news program monitored in Seoul, the (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station aired a three-minute report on the results of ski jumping, other major event, and their gold medalists.

   But the broadcaster failed to comment on the participation of the two North Korean athletes as well as the track records of the South Korean delegation.

   North Korea sent six athletes to the 2006 Winter Olympics, but North Korean media made brief reports on the closing of the event without covering the performances of its athletes.

   South Korea clinched 14 medals at the Vancouver Olympics, finishing fifth in the overall medal standings. Seoul sent 46 athletes to compete in skating, Alpine skiing, luge and bobsleigh events as well as the biathlon, and collected six gold, six silver and two bronze medals.

  
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N. Korea Urges S. Korea to Respect Cooperative Pacts

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean media on March 1 urged South Korea to respect past bilateral agreements designed to push forward economic cooperation, bashing the Seoul government for failing to uphold the pacts.

   Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, said in a front-page article marking 91st anniversary of the March 1 independence movement that Pyongyang is fully committed to the June 15 communique and Oct. 14 declaration agreed upon by the two Koreas.

   The two deals, reached in 2000 and 2007 under successive South Korean liberal administrations, call for the Koreas to work together to improve ties and strive for peaceful reunification and prosperity.

   South Korea's conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, which was inaugurated in February 2008, has been less keen on the two declarations, which have been criticized for pledging economic cooperation without getting the socialist country to halt its nuclear programs.

   The North has conducted two known nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the second last year, despite strong warnings from the international community.

   The paper, in addition, lashed out at South Korean conservatives for fueling inter-Korean tensions and claimed they were in league with foreign elements.

   Uriminzokkiri, or "Between Our People," North Korea's official Web site, hailed the June 15 communique and the Oct. 14 declaration as crowning achievements of North Korea's reunification policy. It also claimed that the main reason why inter-Korean relations have not made headway is because of the attitude of policymakers in Seoul.

   The outlet also said that the incumbent South Korean government is hindering official cross-border talks and civilian exchanges between the two countries.

  
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N. Korea Warns U.S.-S. Korea Military Drill Impedes Denuclearization

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on March 2 efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula would remain in limbo if South Korea and the United States go ahead with their joint military drill next week.

   The statement by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) comes as North Korea appears to slowly move back to stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programs.

   North Korea, which claims it has developed atomic weapons to deter what it calls U.S. aggression, routinely blasts the annual South Korea-U.S. exercise as a precursor to invasion.

   The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drill will run from March 8-18 this year, mobilizing tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops and a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Seoul and Washington say it is purely defensive, while Pyongyang has taken no aggressive actions over the exercise in the past.

   "Denuclearization will not progress a single step further as long as the U.S. nuclear threat against North Korea remains," the North said, arguing the drill demonstrates the importance of ending wartime tension between the two countries.

   North Korea has in recent months bolstered its longstanding campaign toward a peace treaty that would replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   It says talks aimed at signing a peace treaty should be launched and U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear testing be lifted before it returns to the six-party denuclearization talks.

   "The reality shows how important and urgent it is to sign a peace treaty to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula and why it is justified for us to have a nuclear deterrent against the endless U.S. military threat," the North said.

   Earlier on Feb. 25, the (North) Korean People's Army said in a statement that the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercise would prompt the North to mobilize what it claims to be its nuclear deterrent if necessary.

   "We will react to them with our powerful military counteraction, and if necessary, mercilessly destroy the bulwark of aggression by mobilizing all the offensive and defensive means including nuclear deterrent," North Korea said in the statement released through the KCNA on the same day.

  
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N. Korea's State Investment Group Pushing 10-year Infrastructure Plan

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state investment group is pushing ahead with a 10-year plan to set up the country's economic infrastructure, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan said on March 2.

   In late January, Pyongyang established the (North) Korea Taepung International Investment Group, which will be in charge of launching the State Development Bank to draw foreign investment as part of efforts to revive its faltering economy.

   "Under the 10-year blueprint, development projects dealing with food problems, railways, roads, ports, electricity and energy will be conducted simultaneously, independent of state spending," Choson Sinbo quoted Pak Chol-su, the group's permanent deputy director-general and president, as saying in an interview.

   Within five years, roads linking Pyongyang with Sinuiju on the border with China and other major cities will be improved drastically, on which the simultaneous development of each area will depend, Pak told the newspaper.

   In the field of electricity, the group and the bank will draw up a two-phase plan -- five years and 10 years -- to build power stations and power-transmission networks, Pak said.

   The official further told the Choson Sinbo that the planned state development bank, to be initially capitalized at US$10 billion, will have 25 subsidiaries under its wing, which will be tasked with funding development projects according to a state investment law.

   "These moves are focused on paving the way for building a powerful nation in 2012 and North Korea will manage its economy based on the principle of state ownership," Pak was quoted as saying. "The Korea Taepung International Investment Group is different from companies in a capitalist country because it aims to fulfill the goal of state development by utilizing the international financial market."

   North Korea is committed to building "a Kangsong Taeguk (great, prosperous and powerful nation)" in 2012, the birth centennial of its late founder Kim Il-sung.

  (END)