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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 97 (March 11, 2010)

N. Korean Executed for Calling S. Korea on Cell Phone: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean resident was publicly executed for talking to a North Korean defector living in South Korea via a Chinese cell phone, the Seoul-based Open Radio for North Korea (ORNK) reported on March 4.

   The resident, identified only as Jung, was reportedly a munitions factory worker in the northeastern city of Hamhung. He was executed in late January after a Chinese cell phone was found in his home, the ORNK said, citing a source in North Korea.

   Jung was accused of talking to the defector about current living conditions in the North, such as market prices for rice, the ORNK reported. The station allows individuals, student groups and private organizations to broadcast messages to North Korean people via shortwave radio.

   It noted that the North Korean authorities have recently toughened their crackdown on residents attempting to contact North Korean defectors in South Korea through Chinese cell phones.


IOC Says It Provided North Korean Olympic Athletes with US$115,000

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) provided US$115,200 worth of support for the training of North Korean athletes who took part in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, a Washington-based radio station said on March 7.

   From November 2008 through last month, the IOC provided monthly support of $1,500 to each of five North Korean athletes, two of whom participated in the Olympics that ended March 1, the international broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported, citing an e-mail from the committee.

   The socialist North sent figure skaters Ko Hyun-sook and Ri Song-chol to the Vancouver Olympics, but failed to win a medal.

   The impoverished Pyongyang, which relies on outside aid to feed its 24 million people, has won a total of two Olympic medals -- a silver in women's speed skating in 1964 and a bronze in women's short track skating in 1992 -- in its history.

   Establishing the Olympic scholarship program in the 1960s, the IOC provides cash support to impoverished nations like North Korea to encourage participation of all countries in the international sports event.

   The IOC is willing to support North Korean athletes again for the 2012 London Olympics, the committee said in the e-mail, adding it will accept applications from September this year.


China Hopeful North Korea Will Rejoin Nuclear Talks: Minister

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- China remains hopeful that North Korea will return to the six-party talks on its nuclear arms programs as long as its partners maintain their diplomatic efforts, China's foreign minister said on March 7.

   "As long as all the countries involved are resolute and remain patient, there is hope for the talks to resume," Yang Jiechi said in a press conference at the National People's Congress meeting in Beijing. He did not elaborate.

   China is host of the talks that Pyongyang boycotted after the United Nations imposed sanctions on it for its nuclear and missile tests. The talks also include South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.

   Pyongyang has since set preconditions on its return to the talks: lifting the sanctions and starting new talks toward a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   China has in recent months expanded its economic ties with North Korea, raising its profile as Pyongyang's top benefactor. South Korean and Chinese media speculate North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may visit Beijing as early as later this month, before his country announces its return to the six-nation talks.

   North Korea has been under pressure from U.N. sanctions that toughened after the country went ahead with its second nuclear test in May last year. Yang did not say on what conditions the North would return to the talks, but Pyongyang has said the sanctions must first be lifted, while talks aimed at forging a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War also be launched.


North Korea to Be Short 1.2 Mln Tons of Food If No Aid: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will fall short of producing the food it needs to feed its people by 1.2 million tons if it does not receive foreign assistance this year, a South Korean think-tank said on March 8.

   The state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) in Seoul said in a report that the North's food grain output is forecast to reach 3.80-4.00 million tons this year, larger than the 3.52 million tons estimated by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The total, however, falls far short of the 5.23 million tons the country needs to feed its people and livestock.

   Of the total requirements, 4.05 million tons are needed for food, 300,000 tons for animal feed, 170,000 tons for seeds and 122,000 tons for processed food.

   "The size of the shortage is based on conservative figures since it assumes the total population stands at 24.30 million and people eat less than the recommended daily intake of food," KREI said.

   The latest assessment on demand is based on a average North Korean consuming 1,600 kilocalories (kcal) of food per day, or 167 kilograms for the entire year, compared to the 2,130 kcal recommended by the World Food Program.

   It said based on this prediction, the North may be short by 1.20-1.40 million tons of food. Although the country usually imports 200,000 tons of food annually, that could reduce the shortage by a maximum 1.2 million tons.

   The report said the North may find itself unable to get assistance in making up this year's food shortfall due to Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and U.N.-imposed sanctions.

   Only China is expected to provide grain to its neighbor -- about 300,000 tons, the amount that it has provided in the past.


Seoul Closely Watching N. Korea's Opening of Port to China: Officials

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is keeping a close watch over North Korea's efforts to draw greater foreign investment to one of its ports, as the move might indicate Pyongyang is opening up to the outside world and signaling its return to stalled international nuclear talks, officials said on March 9.

   The North has agreed to give a 50-year lease on its Rajin port to Russia, and the country is also in talks with a Chinese company on extending its 10-year lease by another decade, according to an official from China's Jilian Province, currently in Beijing for the National People's Congress.

   The North's opening of the port on its east coast is significant for China as it will give the latter direct access to the Pacific, but it also means millions of dollars, at the minimum, in investment for the cash-strapped North.

   Officials at Seoul's foreign ministry said the North's opening of its port or its economy was a positive sign, but that it was too early to determine whether the move will also have a positive effect on international efforts to bring North Korea back to the nuclear negotiations.

   "We are trying to confirm the reports, though they appear to be true because they were based on China's official announcement," an official said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

   "We are trying to find out the exact details of the contracts (between North Korea and Russia and China)," the official added.

   North Korea has stayed away from the six-way negotiations since December 2008, and says it will not return to the negotiating table unless U.N. sanctions, imposed last year following the North's second nuclear test, are first removed.

   The ministry officials noted Pyongyang's latest efforts to draw in foreign investment may reflect the serious toll U.N. sanctions are imposing on the communist nation.

   Pyongyang is reportedly seeking to attract massive foreign investment under a 10-year economic plan that calls for the establishment of a national development bank with a capital base of US$10 billion, an ambitious, if not totally unrealistic, goal for a country with an estimated gross domestic product of only $40 billion.

   Another reason Seoul is closely monitoring the reported deals between North Korea and its allies is because the contracts could weaken or even violate the U.N. sanctions, designed to encourage North Korea behave as a normal state.

   "We will not be able to say whether the deal violates the U.N. sanctions until we look into the actual details of the contract on Rajin port and see how the actual investment is carried out," an official said, asking not to be identified.

   The official, however, noted China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has not done anything that might damage the purpose of the U.N. sanctions since it voted in favor of the sanctions.

   "It might take two or three years before the actual investment will take place, and China (or Russia) might have thought it would be OK because by then there will be progress in the denuclearization of North Korea" and thus the U.N. sanctions will have been removed, the official said.


North Korea Sets up Special Missile Division: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently established an independent military division in charge of deploying and operating intermediate-range ballistic missiles, a government source in Seoul said on March 9, a move indicating the North's determination to continue developing missiles with a range of over 3,000 kilometers.

   North Korea in 2007 rolled out its first -- and so far only, according to intelligence -- intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which is supposedly capable of reaching Russia, India and Guam.

   "We believe North Korea has set up a division under its (North) Korean People's Army General Staff charged solely with arranging and controlling new intermediate-range missiles," the South Korean government source said, requesting not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

   "We believe the operation of this separate unit indicates North Korea's intention to produce new IRBMs," the source said, adding the weapon poses a threat to the security of the Korean Peninsula as well as the U.S. 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan.

   The North is believed to have begun development of its IRBM -- based on a Russian-built SS-N-6, a submarine-launched ballistic missile -- in the late 1990s, and to have deployed it in a "road-mobile mode" in 2007.


France Faces Backlash against Plan to Open Office in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- France's move to improve relations with North Korea has stalled as South Korea, the United States, and Japan voice concerns that it will send the wrong message while Pyongyang continues to stay away from multilateral talks on its nuclear program, a South Korean government source said on March 9.

   France, the only European Union member without a normal diplomatic relationship with North Korea, launched a diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang last year, with President Nicolas Sarkozy sending a high-level envoy to the socialist nation last November.

   The efforts appeared to produce progress, as the North announced the following month that it approved France's plan to open a cultural office in its capital as part of broader efforts to eventually establish diplomatic ties between the two sides.

   "But no further progress is being made," the source said, citing information from the French government. "South Korea and France's other friendly nations including the U.S. and Japan delivered opinions that such a move may send a wrong message to North Korea at a time when it is refusing to return to the six-way talks."

   French officials appear to be waiting for an appropriate time to actually open the office, with a flurry of diplomatic efforts under way to bring the North to the negotiating table, the source added, requesting anonymity.


U.S. to Continue Pressing to Improve Human Rights in N. Korea: King

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on March 9 it will continue pressing to improve human rights conditions in North Korea, which considered among the world's worst violators.

   "We are very concerned about humanitarian issues there," Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, told reporters. "We will continue to press human right issues as we've done in the past."

   King met with a group of reporters while emerging from a meeting between congressmen and Lee Ae-ran, professor of food nutrition and culinary arts at Kyungin Women's College in South Korea.

   Lee, who defected from the North in 1997 and received a doctoral degree in South Korea in food nutrition last year, came here to receive the Award for International Women of Courage at the State Department on Wednesday.

   King noted that the State Department on Thursday will release its annual human rights country report, which he said has a detailed chapter on North Korea.

   "We continue to call attention to what's going on there, and continue to monitor the situation," the envoy said. "Our difficulty is it's very hard to get information. We are trying to get information to find out what's happening in North Korea."

   King's predecessor, Jay Lefkowitz, was never allowed entry into North Korea.

   Stepping down after a four-year tenure in January last year, Lefkowitz wrote a final report to urge President Barack Obama to emphasize human rights in the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization and link any aid to Pyongyang with human rights improvements.

   Since taking office in November, King has toured South Korea, Japan and China on fact-finding missions, but failed to visit North Korea.

   While in Seoul in January, King said that the U.S. will raise the human rights record in North Korea in future six-party talks.

   State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, however, said recently King will not be part of the U.S. delegation to the nuclear talks, in an apparent continuation of Bush administration policy to avoid jeopardizing the fragile multilateral forum.

   "To the extent that, at some point in time, once North Korea's taken steps that we've outlined (for the North's denuclearization), if there is a serious discussion about normalization with the United States, we would expect that human rights will continue to be part of that discussion," he said.