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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 99 (March 25, 2010)
*** NEWS IN BRIEF

North Korea Hits Back at U.S. Human Rights Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 18 lambasted the United States for its recent report on human rights conditions in the communist country, saying "the report severely distorts the real situation of the North and many other countries."

   The U.S. State Department issued its 2009 Human Rights Report on March 11, claiming North Korea's human rights record remains "deplorable" under an "absolute" dictatorship by reclusive leader Kim Jong-il.

   In a statement monitored in Seoul, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that no country across the globe recognizes the U.S. report, which "seriously does violence to their human rights situations."

   "The U.S. report is nothing but an obtrusive lecture by a backward country in terms of human rights," the KCNA alleged. "It is preposterous for Washington to act the human rights judge, which has been mandated by none."

   The KCNA said that the North Korean army and its people will strengthen its own socialist system, based on its military-first policy.

   The U.S. report came after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted Lee Ae-ran, a North Korean defector, the Award for International Women of Courage in an apparent effort to draw international attention to North Korea's dire human rights situation. Lee, a professor of nutrition and culinary arts at Kyungin Women's College in South Korea, was among 10 prize recipients on March 10.

  
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North Korea Slams South Korea for Blocking Resumption of Border Tours

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on March 19 that it will take stern action against South Korea if Seoul continues to block the resumption of suspended tour programs to the communist country.

   Tours to Mount Kumgang, a scenic mountain resort on the North's east coast, and the ancient city of Kaesong have been put on ice since July 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot dead after straying into a military zone near the resort.

   "A criminal maneuver to obstruct the reopening of the Kumgang and Kaesong tours can never be tolerated," said the General Scenic Spots Development Guidance Bureau, a North Korean agency in charge of the Mount Kumgang tour.

   "If South Korea blocks the resumption of the tour programs to the last, we will take stern measures," the bureau said in a statement carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency. "The South Korean authorities should look the seriousness of the situation in the face and act prudently."

   The statement came a day after Pyongyang threatened to confiscate real estate owned by South Koreans inside the scenic mountain resort and seek a "new business partner" if the South rejects its offer to restart the tour by April.

   In a faxed message to the ministry and Hyundai Asan Corp., operator of the suspended tour project, the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a state agency in charge of cross-border exchanges, said it will look into all of the real estate inside the Mount Kumgang district beginning March 25.

   The committee called on the owners of the real estate and related officials to visit Mount Kumgang by the day of the planned probe, adding all assets of those who fail to meet the deadline will be confiscated, and they won't be able to visit the mountain again.

   Dozens of South Korean firms hold some 360 billion won (US$310 million) worth of land and buildings in the special tourist zone, including Hyundai Asan's two hotels, Emerson Pacific Group's golf course, and other facilities, according to data by the Seoul government.

  
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North Korean Parliament to Convene on April 9

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), will hold its annual session for this year on April 9, the communist country's state news agency reported on March 20.

   "The second session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK will be convened in Pyongyang," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. "A decision of the SPA Presidium on convening the session was promulgated on March 18."

   DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.

   The SPA, which usually meets once a year, is widely regarded as a body rubber-stamping bills proposed by the ruling Workers' Party headed by its leader Kim Jong-il.

   The KCNA failed to disclose agendas for the upcoming parliamentary session, but analysts in Seoul predicted the North Korean legislature will deliberate the country' budget for this year and personnel issues involving the cabinet and the National Defense Commission, or the North's top political body.
The SPA meeting comes as the isolated country is grappling with the fallout from its bungled currency reform, which has reportedly made people in several regions to starve to death and sparked social unrest.

   In light of the North's current situation, the analysts said, attention is on whether the parliament will take economic measures and conduct a personnel shakeup.

   In late November, North Korea knocked off two zeros off its banknotes and shut down street markets in a bid to rein in inflation and a fledgling free market economy. The currency change, however backfired, sending consumer prices soaring and worsening its food situation.

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North Korea Identifies Detained U.S. Citizen

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 22 disclosed the identity of an American citizen whom it has detained since late January for illegal border crossing, saying he will stand trial.

   "The organ concerned of the DPRK decided to indict for trial Aijalon Mahli Gomes, male U.S. citizen, born on June 19, 1979 and residing in Boston, Massachusetts State, who illegally entered the country as his crime has been confirmed," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a one-paragraph report.

   DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   On Jan. 28, the KCNA said in a brief report that an American man had illegally crossed its border with China on Jan. 25 and was under investigation by an organ concerned.

   At that time, the agency did not identify him.

   On March 14, North Korea allowed Swedish diplomats stationed in Pyongyang to meet the American. The Swedish mission in Pyongyang handles consular affairs for the citizens of the U.S., which does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea.

   The incident followed one in December, in which a Korean-American missionary named Robert Park crossed into the North to call for the improvement of human rights there. Park was released early last month.

   Separately, two American journalists were released in August, months after they were detained for illegally entering the North via China while reporting on North Korean defectors. The release came soon after former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

  (END)