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North Korea Reorganizes Ministry of Education into Education Commission

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has reorganized the Ministry of Education into the bigger and more comprehensive Education Commission, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on June 23.

   "A decree of the Presidium of the DPRK (North Korea) Supreme People's Assembly on reorganizing the Ministry of Education into the Education Commission was promulgated on Wednesday," the KCNA said.

   According to the KCNA, the Education Commission is also comprised of two smaller ministries, the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Common Education. But the agency did not elaborate on the details of the regime's plan.

   The Education Commission, which is equivalent to the Education Ministry under the South Korea's former government, is seen as North Korea's efforts to concentrate on cultivating more human resources by bolstering education policies in the country.

   North Korea's governmental department related to education was originally named the Education Commission until it was transformed into the previous Ministry of Education in September 1998. No information is yet available whether the current Education Commission shares the same characteristics as the former one.

   The Commission under the Cabinet is also the third one to be established in the socialist country following the commissions of state planning, and science and technology.


N. Korea Threatens Harsher Penalties against Detained U.S. Man

SEOUL (Yonhap) --North Korea threatened on June 24 to deal more severely with a U.S. national it is holding, citing what it called U.S. hostilities against the socialist country over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

   In April, a North Korean court sentenced Aijalon Gomes, a 30-year-old American, to eight years in a labor camp for illegal entry on Jan. 25. Gomes, who had taught English in South Korea, entered the North across the Chinese border after reportedly sympathizing with another American, Robert Park, who was under detention in the country. Park was set free in February.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on June 24 its authorities are considering additional measures against Gomes "from the perspective of wartime laws."

   "Only the question of how to aggravate the sentence remains" as the U.S. continues to side with South Korea in blaming North Korea for the sinking of the Cheonan corvette on March, it said.

   Forty-six sailors died in the sinking that North Korea denies any role in. South Korea is seeking international cooperation in punishing its communist neighbor after concluding that its warship sank in a North Korean torpedo attack.

   Gomes is the fourth American to be held in the North since early last year. Two American journalists were set free in August when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang. The pair were covering North Korean defectors when they were caught in March.

   The North's latest threat against a U.S. national comes on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, which ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

   North Korea argues it has developed nuclear arms to deter what it calls persisting U.S. threats against it. The U.S. fought on the South Korean side while China fought for the North in the war.

   North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, fined Gomes US$700,000 when it convicted him of illegal entry. Following the trial, Washington called on Pyongyang to release him, dismissing the North Korean sentence against him as "a gesture."

   The U.S. has handled the issue through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang as Washington and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic relations. North Korea claimed earlier this year it was also holding four South Koreans who had illegally entered its soil.

   Later in the day, the United States called on North Korea to release an American citizen held for illegal entry, demanding the case proceed untarnished by any controversy over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

   "We urge the North Korean government to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds," said Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department. "While he remains detained in North Korea, we expect the North Korean authorities to treat him in a humane manner consistent with the international human rights law. And finally we urge the North Korean government to separate its political rhetoric from this matter concerning a private American citizen."


N.K.'s Ruling Party to Meet in September Amid Speculation of Power Transfer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on June 26 it will hold a meeting of core party delegates in September for the first time in 44 years, a decision experts say could set the stage to transfer power from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son.

   The meeting, called by the Worker's Party's highest decision-making body, the Political Bureau, is the first of its kind to be held since 1966. Such a meeting is bound by party rules to convene every five years but has never been held since then. A party convention, which is more important than the delegates' meeting, was also last held in 1980.

   The upcoming session is "for electing its highest leading body reflecting the new requirements of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK)," the party's Political Bureau said in an announcement, carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.

   Experts in South Korea say that this year's meeting may probably aim to fill some seats in the Political Bureau that remain empty due to the deaths of elderly members and more importantly, to consolidate a hereditary power transfer.
Kim Jong-il is said to have suffered a stroke in August 2008, South Korean intelligence believes that the youngest of the leader's three sons, Jong-un, is being groomed to succeed him.

   The senior Kim, born in 1942, made his first public appearance in the 1980 party convention, sealing himself as the successor to his father and president, Kim Il-sung. In 1998, four years after his father's death, Kim Jong-il officially became the country's top leader as chairman of the National Defense Commission. Since then, political power has gradually shifted from the Workers' Party to the National Defense Commission.

   The Workers' Party commemorates the 65th anniversary of its founding this year.

   "We are now faced with the sacred revolutionary tasks to develop the WPK ... into an eternal glorious party of Kim Il-sung and further increase its militant function and role to glorify the country as a prosperous and powerful socialist nation," the party announcement said.

   Earlier this month, North Korea held a rare parliamentary session and promoted Kim Jong-il's only brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, as a vice head of the National Defense Commission. Jang, married to Kim's younger sister Kim Kyong-hui, is believed to be the central figure behind the succession process.

   Some forecast that Kim Jong-un may earn a key party position in the September meeting as his father did in 1980 to form a firm power base. The Swiss-educated son in his mid-20s has yet to reveal himself to the public.

   Should Kim Jong-un be named to an official party position, "it would seal technically and officially him as the next leader and prevent any legitimacy issue that may arise in the future," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.


North Korea Refuses UNC's Proposal to Discuss Ship Sinking

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on June 27 repeated its earlier proposal to send a team of inspectors to probe South Korea's allegations that the communist country was behind the March sinking of a southern warship, a proposal already rejected by Seoul.

   A South Korean-led multilateral investigation concluded in May that the 1,200-ton warship, the Cheonan, sank in a North Korean torpedo attack near the Yellow Sea border on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

   Denying any role in the sinking, North Korea had proposed that it send a team of inspectors to verify the South Korean conclusion. Seoul had rejected the North's proposal and took the case to the U.N. Security Council.

   Separately, the Seoul-based American-led U.N. Command (UNC) conducted its own investigation into the case, after which it proposed that the case be discussed at a Korean Armistice Commission meeting.

   North Korea also rejected the UNC's proposal, arguing that the body represents the United States and South Korea.

   "It is preposterous that they conducted the 'investigation' by using the 'Military Armistice Commission' though it was beyond its mandate and it was more absurd to put the 'result of investigation' on the table of the talks," an unidentified North Korean military representative said in a message reported by the country's news agency, KCNA.

   The Military Armistice Commission, set up to oversee the truce that ended the Korean War in 1953, has been in limbo since the early 1990s when North Korea unilaterally withdrew from the body after accusing it of being pro-American.

   In the message to the UNC, the North Korean military representative proposed holding working talks with South Korea to discuss its plan to send an on-site inspection team to probe the incident. Seoul had earlier turned it down.

   If any agreement is made at the working talks, the North Korean representative said, it could lead to higher-level military talks between the two Koreas, according to the KCNA report.

   "By origin, our intention was to dispatch our inspection group to South Korea from the very day the authorities linked the case with us and then open north-south high-level military talks to discuss the result of the inspection," the North's military representative said in
in the report.

   "If the South Korean authorities respond to our proposal, we will promptly come out for a working contact for the opening of the military talks."


N. Korea Accuses U.S. of Bringing Heavy Arms into Truce Village

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea accused the United States on June 28 of bringing "heavy weapons" into their truce village at the Demilitarized Zone, warning of strong military measures if they are not quickly withdrawn.

   The warning from the Panmunjom Mission of the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) came just after a foreign ministry statement that Pyongyang will bolster its nuclear arsenal "in a new way" to counter what it calls U.S. hostile policy and military threats.

   "The U.S. forces side introduced those weapons at around 7:25 a.m. on June 26," the North's Panmunjom Mission said in a message cited by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "The introduction of heavy weapons to the area around the conference hall where armed forces of both sides stand in acute confrontation is a premeditated provocation aimed to spark off a serious military conflict."

   Panmunjom is jointly guarded by forces from the U.S and the two divided Koreas. It is where the U.S.-led U.N. Command signed a truce with China and North Korea to end the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The U.S. "should withdraw all those weapons already introduced from the area at once," the message was quoted as saying. "In case it does not comply with the principled demand of the KPA side, (the North) will take strong military countermeasures in the said area."

   However, Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for the United States Forces Korea (USFK), said his side was checking the North's claim. The U.S. has 28,500 forces stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

   The U.S. "should withdraw all those weapons already introduced from the area at once," the KCNA quoted the mission as saying. "In case it does not comply with the principled demand of the KPA side, (Pyongyang) will take strong military countermeasures in the said area."


N.K. Says It Will Bolster Nuclear Deterrent in a 'Newly Developed Way'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on June 28 it will bolster its nuclear arsenal "in a newly developed way" to counter what it calls U.S. hostile policy and military threats toward the communist nation.

   The North also claimed in a separate statement that the U.S. has brought "heavy weapons" into a truce village that straddles the divided Koreas, warning of strong military action if they are not quickly withdrawn.

   North Korea has stepped up its fiery rhetoric against the U.S. in recent weeks after Washington sided with Seoul in condemning Pyongyang for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

   "The recent disturbing development on the Korean Peninsula underscores the need for the DPRK (North Korea) to bolster its nuclear deterrent in a newly developed way," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   The North did not elaborate on what the "newly developed way" means. The country runs nuclear arms programs based on plutonium and uranium.


North Korea Warns of Attack Ahead of S. Korea-U.S. Naval Drill

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on June 29 it would attack "the stronghold of invaders" if the United States provoked a war in the process of a joint naval drill with South Korea, as tension persists on the Korean Peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship.

   South Korea and the United States are planning joint naval exercises following Seoul's ongoing efforts to punish North Korea for the sinking through the U.N. Security Council.

   Last month, a South Korea-led multinational team of investigators blamed North Korea for the Yellow Sea sinking that killed 46 sailors. North Korea has denied any role in the incident.

   The Minju Choson, the North's Cabinet newspaper, said in an editorial released through the official Korean Central News Agency that a joint South Korean-U.S. drill runs the risk of war.

   "It is a clear fact that even a small accidental event during the joint drill can lead to an armed conflict and a full-scale war," the paper said.

   "We will bring about a complete victory by uprooting the stronghold of invaders as well as dealing with them with merciless penalties" if the U.S. provokes another war on the peninsula, it said.

   It did not say what the "stronghold" referred to, but the North has threatened to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire" in the past.

   Past massive South Korean-U.S. drills have almost always prompted the North's 1.2 million troops to be on alert and are believed to heavily drain the impoverished socialist country of its resources.

   South Korean officials here have said the U.S. plans to send the 97,000-ton USS George Washington, an Aegis-equipped destroyer and a nuclear submarine for the planned exercise. A 4,500-ton destroyer, a submarine and F-15K fighter jets are to participate from the Seoul side.

   Last week, China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing was "very concerned" about the planned drills.

   A neighbor and a strong ally to North Korea, China has yet to hold Pyongyang responsible for the ship sinking and opposes stringent punishment.


North Korea's World Cup Squad Returns Home from South Africa

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Crestfallen after three straight losses in their first World Cup appearance in 44 years, North Korea's players have returned home, brightening up at the sight of their families welcoming them with flowers and warm words, news reports said on June 30.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency and a pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Tokyo said that the players, including striker Jong Tae-se, arrived in the North Korean capital on June 29 and were greeted by a group of families and football officials.

   The team had carved out an impressive 1-2 performance against Brazil in its first group match but was routed by Portugal and the Ivory Coast in the other two games.

   Following the Brazil match, the Choson Sinbo reported that North Koreans were swept with a football fever. They were reportedly shocked and frustrated when they saw the team's 7-0 defeat to Portugal in the second game, aired live in the North.

   The paper said Wednesday that the players put on stony faces when they arrived amid rains but "regained their smiles after being welcomed by their families" and supporters crowding the airport.

   "Related officials comforted the players by saying 'work appreciated,'" it said. "The dominant voice is that the players will reap good results in the future if they use the confidence and experience gained from the advance to the World Cup."