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North Korea Announces Removal of Senior Official, Citing Age

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea announced on May 14 it relieved a navy admiral and senior member of its highest decision-making body of all his posts, citing his advanced age.

   North Korea rarely announces the removal of an individual official based on age. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a single-paragraph report that Kim Il-chol, 80, was relieved of all his posts as a member of the National Defense Commission (NDC) and first-vice minister of the People's Armed Forces.

   The announcement raised questions among North Korea observers, as two other NDC members, Jo Myong-rok and Jon Pyong-ho, are both older than Kim -- 82 and 84, respectively.

   Kim served as minister of the People's Armed Forces from 1998-2009. Cho Myung-chul, a North Korea researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul, speculated Kim may have been disgruntled over his demotion.

   Kim met with then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 when he visited Seoul as part of a high-ranking military delegation. His last public appearance was in April this year, when he attended the funeral of a ranking Workers' Party official.

   Kim joined the 13-member NDC, chaired by North Korea's top leader Kim Jong-il, in 1998. The KCNA report, which cited "Decision No. 06 of the NDC" issued on May 13, did not say who will succeed him.


Pyongyang International Trade Fair Opens

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The 13th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair opened in the North Korean capital city on May 17, featuring industrial products from a dozen foreign countries, including China, Germany, Russia and Switzerland, according to a report by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   Singapore, Australia, Austria, Italy, Indonesia, Cuba, Poland and Taipei of China also displayed their products at the trade fair that was under way at Pyongyang's Three-Revolution Exhibition center, the KCNA report said.

   The opening ceremony was attended by North Korean trade officials, delegations of foreign countries and representatives of foreign embassies in Pyongyang, it noted.

   "Speakers hoped that all the participants would achieve successes through multi-faceted economic and technological exchange and brisk trade during the fair," said the KCNA report, adding a reception was given at the Pyongyang Koryo Hotel after the opening of the fair.
The spring fair, the North's largest trade fair, has been held since it began in 1998. An autumn fair was added to the annual event in 2005.


N.K. Unexpectedly Calls Rubber-stamp Parliament into Session

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will open its rubber-stamp parliament for the second time in less than two months, a session analysts say is likely to be joined by leader Kim Jong-il, who recently returned from a trip to China amid rising tension on the Korean Peninsula.

   The socialist state's official media reported on May 18 the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) will convene on June 7, exactly a month after Kim returned from his summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.

   The last session, which was skipped by Kim, convened on April 9.

   The 687-member assembly has not opened twice in one year since 2003. Even then, each session was held by a separate group of representatives, a Unification Ministry official here said.

   "The (South Korean) government will closely monitor the upcoming session," the official said, asking not to be named.

   "This should be seen as an extraordinary session at an extraordinary time," Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, said. "Kim will likely be present to oversee it."

   Paik was referring to heightened tensions between the divided Koreas since a South Korean warship sank on March 26 near the western sea border with North Korea.

   A ranking South Korean defense official said May 18 that investigators have found evidence that points to a North Korean attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan. Forty-six of the ship's crew members died when the ship split in half.

   "The parliament will also declare its support for economic cooperation projects Kim has brought from China," Paik said, adding that North Korea fears sanctions on it will tighten if Seoul and Washington conclude Pyongyang is to blame for the ship sinking.

   The coming session also comes as North Korea remains reluctant to return to stalled six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs.

   Pyongyang says it will rejoin the aid-for-denuclearization talks only if Washington agrees to launch separate talks toward a peace treaty to formally close the 1950-53 Korean War and the United Nations lifts its sanctions on the country.

   The six-nation talks include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. Kim pledged to work with China to create "favorable conditions" for their resumption in his summit meeting in China, but Seoul and Washington say it depends on the outcome of the investigation into the ship sinking.

   Pyongyang held its first session of the newly elected SPA last year, reappointing leader Kim Jong-il to another five-year term as head of the National Defense Commission, the highest seat of power.


Senior N.K. Official Rebuffs Involvement in Sinking of S. Korean Naval Ship

SEOUL (Yonhap) A senior North Korean official claimed on May 17 that North Korea was not involved in the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship off the west coast in late March, pledging to respond with belligerence if its regime is threatened by the South Korean government.

   In a speech delivered at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the 1980 pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju City in the South, Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the North's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, denounced the South Korean government for fabricating suspicions against the North.

   "The South was attempting to escalate confrontations by falsely linking the sinking of its warship to the North," Yang said in a report carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) monitored in Seoul, calling the South“the puppet military fascist clique.”
He also stressed that North Korea“will never stand idle by against hostile provocations from South Korea.”
It marks the first time that a North Korean senior official has commented on the incident, although the socialist nation had publicly denied its involvement some time before.

   On April 17, North Korea officially denied involvement in the March 26 incident the first time, claiming, "The military warmongers are getting more undisguised in their moves to link the accident with the North though it was accused by their fault."

   And also North Korea on May 19 denounced South Korea, accusing it of trying to use the sinking of a South Korean naval ship to push inter-Korean relations to catastrophe.

   Citing an indictiment by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of (North) Korea, the KCNA said that the "South Korean puppet group" is using the sinking as a "golden opportunity for pushing the North-South relations to a catastrophe."

   However, the South Korean foreign minister said May 19 the cause of the deadly sinking of a warship "came to clear light," calling North Korea's involvement "obvious."


Kim Jong-il Visits Hog, Potato Farms in Ryanggang Province

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il recently gave field guidance to some areas of the country's northern Ryanggang Province, including counties of Taehongdan and Paekam, where he also inspected a large potato and hog farm, according to the North's official news media.

   In his visit to Paeksan Pig Farm in Taehongdan County, Kim highly appreciated the devoted efforts made by the officials and employees of the farm. Noting that the hog farm is a modern pork production center, he was very pleased that one more valuable structure has been built for the population of the county, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on May 19.

   Then he visited the Taehongdan Potato Process Factory, honored with the title of the Three-Revolution Red Flag. Kim pledged to turn the region into the nation's leading potato-producing area and urged boosting the production of varieties of tasty processed potatoes meeting the people's needs.

   He also stressed it is necessary to deepen research into potato processing and raise the level of employees' technical skills.

   Two days earlier, the KCNA said Kim visited a potato farm in the area of Tokpho, Paekam County in Ryanggang Province. The area is the second to be constructed in the province since Kim vowed to make a "Revolution in Potato Farming" more than 10 years ago. The first one was built in the mountainous Taehongdan County in the same province.

   During his recent field guidance, Kim also visited other regions of the province, including Hyesan City and Samjiyon County near Mt. Paektu, where various factories are being operated or are under construction.

   Upon his visit to the Lake Samji, Kim looked around the Samjiyon Grand Monument, and emphasized the need of North Koreans' revolutionary spirit, prompting the people to "firmly preserve and carry forward and develop the revolutionary traditions."

   The exact dates of Kim's visits to the province were unavailable, as is customary, although it is presumed the trip would have taken place after he returned home from his five-day trip to China from May 3-7.