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Album of Children's Songs Recorded in N. Korea Hits Stores in the South

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A new album of children's songs recorded in North Korea was released in Seoul on June 8 in a rare joint project that comes amid heightened cross-border tension.

   "Friends on a Journey," released by the major South Korean record label Loen Entertainment, presents 35 children's songs mostly written by Korean musicians in Japan and performed and recorded in North Korea, said Lee Cheol-joo, who led the project.

   It is the first time for children's songs composed by North Korean musicians to be officially released in South Korea, Lee noted.

   "Children's songs are the least ideological among lyrical music," he said. "The political situation between the South and the North is not good, but we hope to find peace through the power of cultural exchange."

   The project began 10 months ago, when Lee met an elderly Korean songwriter in Japan, Kim A-pil, who has a network in North Korea as a leading member of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The two agreed that children's songs written by first-generation Korean immigrants in Japan should be documented before they die and launched the project with North Korean musicians, Lee said.

   Major North Korean choirs like Pibada Opera Troupe and the Pyongyang Ryulgok Middle School student choir took part in producing the album.

   Some 150 songs were brought by CD from North Korea, and 35 of them were approved by the Unification Ministry in Seoul for a public release, Lee said.

   Songs mostly express sentiments of North Korean daily life with funny and happy lyrics, such as "Saekdong Jeogori" (the multi-colored, striped upper garment of traditional Korean clothing) and "Kkakkameori Dongsaeng" (little brother with a shaved head).

   South Korea halted most inter-Korean exchange projects after the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship in March near the western maritime border, for which it blames North Korea.


South Korean Firms Urge Gov't to Lift Ban on Trade with North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean companies called on their government on June 8 to suspend its ban on trade with North Korea, claiming they are on the verge of going bankrupt.

   The ban has been in effect since late last month, when Seoul announced a series of measures to punish Pyongyang for the sinking of a warship near their Yellow Sea border in March.

   The North claims it has no connection to the sinking, in which 46 seamen were killed. About 40 South Koreans whose companies sent parts to North Korea to be assembled into final products before the ban was imposed said they plan to meet with senior government officials later this week to formally state their case.

   The companies are "facing a chain of bankruptcies," one of them said following a meeting in Seoul, asking not to be identified. He said the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean exchanges, should suspend the ban so the companies can fulfill their existing contracts with local business partners.

   The business officials also fear that North Korea may refuse to ship their products that were already assembled because South Korea is restricting the flow of cash into the communist neighbor.

   Political relations between the divided countries are at one of the worst points in decades after the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan. A South Korean defense official said on June 8 that it has nearly completed setting up loudspeakers along the heavily armed border with North Korea to possibly resume propaganda broadcasts.

   North Korea has threatened to shoot down the loudspeakers if the psychological warfare resumes after a six-year lull. The fate of a joint industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong has also hung in the balance as inter-Korean ties unravel.

   Hundreds of South Korean vendors had engaged in consignment trade with North Korea, where labor costs are much lower, with vendors favoring factories in Pyongyang and the western port city of Nampho. Trade amounted to US$254 million last year.


South Korea Approves Shipments of Baby Food to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea said on June 9 it has approved two civilian shipments of baby food for North Korean infants in the first humanitarian aid to the communist neighbor since Seoul condemned Pyongyang for the sinking of its warship.

   South Korea last month banned trade with North Korea as part of its punishment for the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan near the Yellow Sea border. Forty six seamen died in the tragedy. The North denies any role in the sinking.

   Despite the tough measures aimed at hurting the North, South Korea has said civilian aid for infants would be exempted from the ban, as it was deemed purely humanitarian.

   Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said in a briefing that the powdered milk and other items totaling US$320,000 will be sent to the northeast and near Pyongyang late this month.

   North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its children suffer chronic malnutrition and a serious mortality rate.

   Inter-Korean exchanges flourished after a summit of leaders from the two Koreas in 2000. They slowed considerably, however, when a conservative government took office here in 2008 with a vow to get tougher on the North's provocative behavior and nuclear ambitions.

   The sinking of the South Korean corvette brought the relations to a screeching halt. Tension also runs high along the heavily armed border between the two countries.


S. Korea Completes Installation of Propaganda Speakers: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on June 9 completed the installation of loudspeakers along the border with North Korea, although it was not yet decided when to resume anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts, a military official said.

   The military has been setting up the instruments again since late May as part of the government's punitive measures against North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship in March.

   "Work to set up loudspeakers in 11 frontline areas was completed today, and it has yet to be decided whether to install more and when to resume propaganda broadcasts," the official, asking for anonymity, said.

   No particular movements were detected at North Korean guard posts near the places where the speakers were set up, the official added.

   Tensions have mounted along the heavily fortified Korean border after a team of multinational investigators concluded that the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk in a North Korean torpedo attack on March 26. The deadly attack left 46 South Korean sailors dead.

   North Korea, denying any role in the sinking, has threatened to strike down the loudspeakers if Seoul goes forward with the broadcasts.

   South Korea also brought the Cheonan case to the U.N. Security Council seeking an international rebuke of the communist country.
The two Koreas stopped decades of propaganda warfare in 2004 as their relations thawed following the first summit of their leaders in 2000.