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

European Parliament Passes Resolution Condemning N.K. Human Rights Conditions

BRUSSELS (Yonhap) -- The European Parliament adopted a resolution on July 8 urging North Korea to improve its human rights conditions and for the European states to step up their monitoring of the situation in the socialist state.

   Expressing concern over "the grave, widespread and systematic human rights abuses" in North Korea, the parliament urged the EU to support the establishment of a U.N. commission to assess human rights violations in the country.

   It also urged the EU member states to sponsor a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly demanding that the North's "crimes against humanity" be subject to international jurisdiction, including the country's systematic extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and political prison camps.

   The last time the legislative body adopted a similar resolution was in 2006.

   In particular, the resolution called on the European Commission to add a clause in a free trade agreement with South Korea to monitor the rights of North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The complex houses manufacturing plants run by South Korean businesses who produce price-competitive goods using cheaper North Korean labor.

   Addressing the dismal human rights conditions of North Korean refugees in China, the European Parliament demanded the issue be raised at EU-China high-level talks to stop Beijing from arresting and returning North Korean refugees to their home country.

   The resolution came just three weeks after another resolution calling on China and Russia to join efforts to rebuke Pyongyang over the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan. Forty-six sailors died in the March 26 attack which a multinational probe in May concluded Pyongyang was responsible for.


Senior N. Korean Officials Visit Truce Village to Pay Tribute to Late Founder

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group of high-ranking North Korean officials huddled on July 8 in front of a monument on their side of the truce village straddling the tense border with South Korea, paying tribute to the socialist state's late founder, Kim Il-sung, an official in Seoul said.

   The visitors included Kim Yang-gon, the North's point man on the South, and Won Tong-yon, a ranking member of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, which handles inter-Korean affairs, a Unification Ministry official in Seoul said, asking not to be named.

   "It was confirmed that they laid a wreath and paid homage to President Kim Il-sung for about 30 minutes" in the morning at the monument where his handwriting is inscribed, the official said.

   Kim, whose son, Jong-il, is now ruling the socialist state, died 16 years ago on this day, and his last handwritten signature was etched into the monument, erected at Panmunjom in 1995.

   North Korea has held a ceremony in front of the monument every year since Kim died in 1994. The monument contains a message deploring the division and calling for reunification.

   North Korea marks the anniversary of the death of the late founder with a variety of events, including lectures, movies on his activities and visits to memorials honoring him.

   Kim, elevated to Eternal President after his death, began the massive cult of personality that now surrounds his son and his family. Observers say Kim Jong-il, 68, is now working to transfer his power to his third son in what would be the first back-to-back hereditary succession in a communist country.


U.S. General Sees Risks of Further North Korean Provocations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.S. military chief in South Korea said on July 9 he was concerned about further North Korean provocations over the next several years and urged regional powers to put pressure on the North to stop such threats.

   "The thing that I am worried about is that provocations from North Korea would be escalating very quickly," Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, told an audience at a security seminar in Seoul.

   "Kim Jong-il has said North Korea will be a great and powerful nation by 2012," Sharp said, referring to Pyongyang's top leader, adding that he believes the only way for Kim to "get to that point is through military provocations and threatening neighbors."

   The general, who leads the 28,500-strong American troops stationed in South Korea, said he sees "more and more provocations between now and 2012."

   Regional powers should be prepared to convince North Korea not to attempt such provocations, Sharp said, calling now the time "we really need to do that."
As demonstrated by the North's deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March, future provocations from the North would be carried out with its unconventional armed capabilities, said Sharp.

   Some North Korea watchers say the naval attack indicates instability of the Pyongyang regime that appears to be in the process of transferring power from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Jong-un. The senior Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

   The North's father-to-son power transfer is widely expected to take place in 2012, according to the experts, the year the country has vowed to turn itself into a "great, powerful and prosperous nation." The year marks the centenary of the birth of the nation's founder and Kim Jong-il's father, Kim Il-sung.

   Sharp's comments came as the North has been stepping up its rhetoric against South Korea and the U.S. over diplomatic efforts to rebuke Pyongyang at the U.N. Security Council for the March 26 attack on the Cheonan that killed 46 sailors.

   North Korea has repeatedly denied its responsibility for the attack, threatening that any punishment attempts against the nation would trigger war.


Geopolitical Risks on Korean Peninsula on Rise: S&P

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Global credit rating firm Standard & Poor's (S&P) said on July 13 it is weighing the North Korean risk factor more in its assessment of South Korea's sovereign credit ratings now than a decade ago.

   S&P has maintained South Korea's sovereign credit rating at "A" since it raised its rating by one notch in 2005. The current rating is the agency's sixth highest investment level, but is still two notches below that which the country held before the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 and one step lower than what S&P's rival firms give to the country.
"I think just for us this is a potentially somewhat bigger risk than it was in the 1990s," David Beers, S&P's global head of sovereign and international public finance ratings, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. "Consequently, we put more weight on it than we used to do."

   The analyst said the North's torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March is a clear illustration of the unpredictability of the Korean Peninsula.

   South Korea blamed its socialist country for the March 26 attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan that left 46 sailors dead. The North has denied any responsibility for the incident.

   "It highlights the improbability of the regime of Pyongyang ... a reminder of unpredictability and insecurity of the regime, that's not easy to ignore," Beers said. "I think they're not without a price".

   A change of regime in the North, "which may be imminent," is also another risk factor that has caused S&P to hold down South Korea's rating at that level, he said.

   Beers also cited South Korea's aging demography as another negative element affecting its credit ratings.

   "Korea population is aging more rapidly than its peers," he said, adding that the government will come under heavier fiscal burden as the aging population may force more spending in health care and social security programs.

   The recent interest rate hike of the Bank of Korea does not affect S&P's credit view on the country as the agency sees rate decisions only as a short-term factor, he said.

   "In terms of the economic issues, we think about them from a credit rating perspective. it's more of a short-term issue, it's not an issue that has an impact on our rating," Beers said.


N. Korean Foreign Minister to Attend Security Meeting in Hanoi: Sources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's top diplomat will attend an annual Asian security meeting in Vietnam later this month, making his first trip to the session in two years, diplomatic sources in Seoul said on July 13.

   One source said Pak Ui-chun, the North's foreign minister, is planning a three-nation swing through Southeast Asia this month, including a stop in Myanmar, before traveling to Hanoi for the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on July 23, hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

   Another source said it wasn't immediately clear whether Pak had accepted an invitation from the Vietnamese government but added, "Organizers in Vietnam are preparing for the forum assuming Pak will be there."

   Pak didn't attend last year's meeting, held in Thailand only two months after North Korea's nuclear test, and the North was instead represented by vice foreign minister-level ambassador Pak Keun-gwang.

   Foreign ministers of 27 members, including South Korea and the United States, will gather for the annual security meeting, which has previously served as a venue for discussions on North Korea. This year's session will take place just weeks after the U.N. Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning the attack that led to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26.

   Without directly blaming North Korea for the sinking that killed 46 sailors, the statement said the Security Council "deplores" the attack and that such an incident "endangers peace and security in the region and beyond."

   North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking and has accused South Korea of fabricating the outcome of an international probe that placed the blame on the communist state. South Korea's efforts to censure North Korea in Hanoi will set up a second round of the diplomatic duel between Yu and Pak.
At the 2008 ARF in Singapore, South Korea wanted to address the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier earlier that year at the Mt. Kumgang resort north of the border. But references to the incident were left out of the final statement after North Korean protests. Seoul's botched campaign was slammed for being "diplomatically amateurish."

   Foreign ministry officials here said Pak could also have a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Top diplomats from other members of the six-party talks -- China, Japan and Russia -- will also be in Hanoi, officials added.

   The 27 ARF members are Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, East Timor, the U.S. and Vietnam plus the European Union.