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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 115 (July 15, 2010)

North Korea Upgrades Venture Investment-governing Body

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently upgraded a government branch overseeing joint ventures and investments in an apparent effort to better lure capital from abroad.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 9 that the country's "Joint Venture and Investment Guidance Bureau was reorganized into the Committee of Investment and Joint Ventures of the DPRK."

   In North Korea, a bureau is a government branch that serves under a Cabinet body. Following the reorganization into a committee, the investment body has been effectively upgraded to supersede a Cabinet body in scale and capacity.

   Earlier this year, North Korea officially launched its State Development Bank, a move that is seen as aimed at attracting foreign capital to resuscitate its ailing economy.

   The State Development Bank, together with the (North) Korea Taepung International Investment Group, Pyongyang's state investment agency, is also expected to push ahead with a 10-year plan to rebuild the country's decrepit infrastructure, according to the Choson Sinbo in March.


N. Korea Proposes Military Talks with U.S. over Ship Sinking

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on July 9 offered to hold working-level military talks with the United States next week to set up a higher-level meeting over the sinking of a South Korean warship, Pyongyang's state media said.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the country sent a proposal to the U.S. military requesting that colonel-level officers from the two sides meet on July 13 to discuss setting up general-level talks on the March sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan.

   The North said it decided to hold talks with the U.S. military over the issue because South Korea had turned down its dialogue offer. The North said it "still regards the opening of the North-South military talks as the best way for settling the issue," according to the KCNA.

   The U.S. military had offered to hold military talks with the North in June to explain the outcome of a multinational investigation that found the socialist regime responsible for the attack that killed 46 sailors.

   The offer from the North was a counteroffer to the June proposal from the UNC, the KCNA said.

   North Korea claims it had nothing to do with the sinking of the warship Cheonan, and demanded that the South accept a team of North Korean inspectors to verify the results of the international probe. Pyongyang has also accused the South of fabricating the investigation's outcome.

   South Korea has rejected the North's demand, saying Pyongyang should first come clean on the disaster, issue an apology and punish those responsible.

   However, North Korea has delayed the military talks with the UNC, scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on July 13. The North's military "requested a delay in the planned colonel-level meetings with United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission representatives at Panmunjom for administrative reasons," the UNC said in a statement later in the day.

   One day later, the UNC said the colonel-level talks with North Korea to discuss the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the North have been rescheduled for July 15.


North Korea Says Detained American Attempted Suicide

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on July 9 that an American man it is detaining for illegal entry has attempted suicide and is being treated at a hospital.

   Aijalon Gomes, 30, was sentenced by a North Korean court in April to eight years in a labor camp for illegally entering the communist state across the Chinese border on Jan. 25.

   "Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a brief report. "He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital."

   The report said the suicide bid "recently" took place, but did not specify exactly when.

   The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea, has seen Gomes at the hospital, it added.

   Gomes, who had taught English in South Korea, entered the North after reportedly sympathizing with Robert Park, another American who was under detention in the North. He was set free in February.


N. Korea Criticizes S. Korean Minister for His Recent Remarks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on July 12 criticized South Korea's unification minister for making "reckless" remarks in which he held the North's leadership responsible for aggravating inter-Korean relations by making policy mistakes.

   In a lecture to a group of businessmen in Incheon on July 8, the South Korean pointman on North Korea, Hyun In-taek, said that "three major mistakes" by the North led to the current situation: cold-shouldering to the South's offer to help rebuild the North's economy, taking a hard-line approach to the new U.S. government and failing to understand its own economic state.

   "Hyon's reckless remarks are one more serious provocation to the DPRK (North Korea)," the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a semi-official organ that handles inter-Korean relations, said in its bulletin.

   "It was none other than Hyon who derailed the North-South dialogue and blocked visits and contacts between the North and the South," said the bulletin, carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.


N. Korea's Light Industries' Production Rises Sharply: Reports

SEOUL (Yonhap) - The production output in North Korea's light industries increased sharply in the first half of 2010 from a year ago, according to news reports.

   The Japan-based pro-Pyongyang newspaper Choson Sinbo, citing a senior official at the North's Ministry of Light Industry, reported on June 12 that the country's aggregate production in the light industry sectors had increased 50 percent in the January-June period compared to the same period last year.

   "With state investment in light industries having gone up, production has increased substantially. Various items produced at light industry factories are being supplied in department stores in Pyongyang," Han Cheong-soo, a director at the ministry, said in the interview with the Choson Sinbo.

   The Rodong Sinmun, the paper of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, also carried an editorial on the same day that underscored recent technical advancements in light industry factories and "a large growth" in the production potential of North Korea's light industries, according to the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station.

   The paper added that the modernization of areas, notably in the chemical and metal industries, was driving the rapid advancement of the country's overall light industry.

   The North's parliament in April increased the country's budget for light industries 10.1 percent this year from a year ago.


North Korea Says Upcoming Party Meeting Will Be Historic

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea stressed on July 13 the historical importance of its upcoming meeting of core ruling party delegates, urging the younger generation of party members to be as loyal to the leadership as their predecessors.

   In September, the socialist state will hold its first meeting of senior Workers' Party delegates in 44 years, a move that observers say may be aimed at paving the ground for leader Kim Jong-il to transfer his power to his third son, Jong-un.

   Kim, 68, made his first public appearance in a 1980 convention, considered to be more authoritative, and sealed himself as the successor to his father, Kim Il-sung, who founded the North and died in 1994.

   In an editorial, the Rodong Sinmun, the party's daily, heaped praise on party members who died loyal to the founder and called on new members to "follow suit."

   The paper, considered to be Pyongyang's main mouthpiece, also described the September meeting as one that will "shine as a notable event in the history of the holy Workers' Party."

   Late last month, the paper said that the party will expand its role and function through the meeting, stressing the importance of the central party organ that had once served as a venue for Kim Jong-il to rise up the power ladder when he was young.

   Kim is believed to be quickening his power transfer after suffering a stroke two years ago. Earlier this year, North Korea promoted Kim's brother-in-law as a vice head of the National Defense Commission, the highest seat of power. Jang Song-thaek is believed to be the central figure behind the succession process.