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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 100 (April 1, 2010)

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Tours Plants near China Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il gave a field guidance trip to two machinery plants near the border with the communist country's ally China, Pyongyang's state media reported on March 25.

   The tour came amid growing signs that Kim's visit to Beijing is imminent. As is customary, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) failed to identify the locations of the plants and the date of the field guidance trip.

   The machinery plants -- the Chonma Electrical Machine Plant and the Taehungsan Machine Plant -- are believed to be near Sinuiju, a city on the country's northwestern border with China.

   "He underscored the need to wage a strenuous drive to push back the frontiers of science in all sectors for building a great prosperous and powerful nation," the KCNA said in the report, monitored in Seoul.

   On March 27, the KCNA reported that Kim, general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.

   He was accompanied by high-ranking party officials and cabinet members, including Kim Yang-gon, director of the WPK's United Front Department, who is in charge of managing Pyongyang's policy on South Korea and luring foreign capital from China and other countries.

   The KCNA also said on March 29 that the North Korean leader met with Liu Hongcai, new Chinese ambassador to Pyongyang and "had a warm talk with him." The report did not give further details.

   South Korean media have speculated in recent weeks that Kim may visit Beijing soon to discuss reopening stalled multilateral talks on his country's nuclear arms programs and to appeal for economic aid.

   China is the North's key ally and largest benefactor as well as the host of the six-way talks. North Korea's economic situation has worsened since its bungled currency reform in November and is in urgent need of external aid.

   A flurry of diplomatic efforts are under way to bring North Korea back to the nuclear disarmament talks, which were last held in December 2008. The meetings also involve South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia.


N. Korea Blasts Reported Plans to Study Regime Collapse in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 26 blasted reported U.S.-led plans to look into contingency scenarios in the communist nation, warning of "unprecedented nuclear strikes" against anyone trying to overthrow the totalitarian regime.

   A major South Korean newspaper reported on March 19 that state-run think tanks in South Korea and China will convene a meeting with the U.S. Pacific Command next month in Beijing to discuss ways to respond if North Korea collapses or mass defections take place there.

   North Korea denounced the plans as "a pipe dream of a lunatic wishing for the sky to fall."

   "Such a 'contingency' will take place in South Korea" rather than in North Korea, said an unidentified spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, monitored in Seoul.

   Anyone involved in overthrowing Pyongyang "will fall victim to the unprecedented nuclear strikes of the invincible army," the spokesman said.

   Discussions concerning a possible regime breakdown in Pyongyang abounded after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly suffered stroke in the summer of 2008, and as the country's food shortages have worsened under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear testing.

   Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, said on March 24 before a U.S. House committee hearing that the possibility of instability in North Korea merits attention.

   "Combined with the country's disastrous centralized economy, dilapidated industrial sector, insufficient agricultural base, malnourished military and populace, and developing nuclear programs, the possibility of a sudden leadership change in the North could be destabilizing and unpredictable," he said.


N. Korea Warns of Casualties if S. Korean Reporters Enter DMZ

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on March 29 that South Korea will lose human lives or face other "unpredictable" consequences if it allows journalists to enter the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the divided states as planned later this year.

   A group of 15 South Korean media outlets reached a tentative agreement last month with their government to report on military tension, wartime wreckage and the natural environment inside the four-kilometer buffer zone to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

   The war, in which U.S.-led U.N. troops fought for South Korea against North Korean and later Chinese troops, ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the border tensely guarded to this day.

   North Korea said in a statement released through the official Korean Central News Agency that the reporting activity is a "misuse" of the DMZ and warned "unpredictable" consequences would follow.

   "If the U.S. and the South Korean authorities persist in their wrong acts to misuse the DMZ for the inter-Korean confrontation despite our warnings, these will entail unpredictable incidents including the loss of human lives," said an unnamed spokesman for North Korea's military delegation to the truce village of Panmunjom.

   North Korea's army often raises tension by accusing South Korea of provocations along the border and warning of consequences. The latest warning comes as South Korean and U.S. naval ships were flocking to the tense western sea border with North Korea to salvage a corvette that sank last week with dozens of sailors on board.

   Initial media reports suggested North Korea might have been involved, but South Korean officials said that North Korean involvement seems increasingly unlikely, though it has yet to be ruled out.


North Korea Hints at Continued Uranium Enrichment

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on March 29 that it could build a light-water nuclear reactor and produce fuel for it on its own, accusing the United States of waiting for the communist regime to collapse, rather than engaging in negotiations.

   The statement from Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) appears to be a veiled warning that the North will continue to pursue uranium enrichment unless Washington changes its attitude.

   Enriched uranium is used as fuel for light-water nuclear reactors, while highly enriched uranium along with plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs.

   The KCNA said Pyongyang has responded to the U.S. posture with resilience -- firing a long-range rocket in the 1990s, conducting two nuclear tests and another long-range rocket test in the 2000s.

   "The DPRK will witness the appearance of a light water reactor power plant relying on its own nuclear fuel in the 2010s in the wake of mass-production of Juche iron and Juche-based vinalon cotton," the KCNA said in an English-language report.

   DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name. "Juche" is the socialist nation's primary ideology of self-reliance.

   North Korea has boycotted six-nation talks on its nuclear programs since December 2008. Pyongyang now demands the removal of U.N. sanctions imposed on the communist state for its nuclear test in May last year and the start of negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.

   The U.S. has said the North should first return to the negotiating table.

   "At present the U.S. administration finds itself in such a difficult internal situation that it can hardly take any sincere approach toward the DPRK-proposed negotiations for the conclusion of a peace treaty and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," the KCNA said.

   "(The U.S.) contends that its start of negotiations with the DPRK may create the 'danger' of betraying its weakness. However, for the U.S. to remain doing nothing would bring it the label of incompetence," it added.