New Statue of N.K.'s Aging Leader Goes Public Amid Speculation over Successor
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A rare photo of a bronze statue depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was unveiled on July 16 by a South Korean activist group, evoking the image of a similar but bigger statue in Pyongyang of his deceased father, who had founded the communist state.
The photo, released by Open Radio for North Korea, shows Kim standing with his left hand positioned on his lower back. On one side is a photo of a statue of Kim's mother; on the other, his father, Kim Il-sung.
Shown on the front page of a North Korean military newspaper that called on troops to die for the family, the depiction of Kim Jong-il, dressed in an army uniform, looks much younger than the leader's current age of 68.
This is the first such photo to be seen outside North Korea, where a massive cult of personality surrounds the family. Until now, only plaster statues of Kim seated in a chair have been seen.
The new statue of Kim Jong-il draws heightened attention as observers believe that he could soon pass down power to his third son, Jong-un, in what would be the only back-to-back hereditary power succession in the history of the communist world.
In Pyongyang, a giant statue of Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, is billed as a must-see for both domestic and foreign travelers to the North Korean capital. His embalmed body remains in a public mausoleum, lying in a glass coffin.
Jong-un, thought to be in his late 20s, "probably led the work of creating and unveiling the statue" of Kim Jong-il, Open Radio for North Korea quoted an unidentified expert as saying.
Another unnamed expert told the station, which is mainly run by North Korean defectors, that the statue demonstrates the failing health of Kim Jong-il and his desire to be remembered positively.
Kim apparently suffered a stroke in the summer of 2008 and has looked noticeably gaunt in many public outings since.
The radio station, which posted the photo on its Web site, said the statue has appeared to "signal the end of the Kim Jong-il era," citing an unidentified expert.
WHO Says Amnesty Int'l Health Care Report on N. Korea 'Non-Scientific'
GENEVA (Yonhap) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) on July 16 criticized a recent report released by Amnesty International on North Korea's ramshackle health care system, saying it has little scientific evidence and does not correspond to the current situation in the country.
The WHO's remarks came a day after Amnesty International presented a new report, "The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea," on July 15 at a press conference held in Seoul, which underscored the plight of the North Korean people hit hard by the food shortages and poor medical care services.
The report, based on the interview with more than 40 North Korean defectors, whose departure dates range mostly from 2004-2009, and the medical staff who treated them, maintained that hospitals in the North conduct surgery without using any anesthesia, use unsterilized hypodermic injections, and do not clean the bed sheets regularly.
The spokesman for the WHO told reporters in Geneva that the report's claim most likely relates back to the North's situation in early 2000s, and is also "non-scientific" as it cites claims from people who do not currently reside in North Korea, and lacks persuasiveness and credibility.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, visited Pyongyang from April 26-29 to look around hospitals and medical care establishments amid an aggravating food crisis in the socialist country.
At that time, Chan, contrary to what Amnesty International has said, positively evaluated the medical care situation in North Korea, saying she was "impressed" by the improvement, such as an increase in the country's vaccination rate and a decrease in the number of infections in hospitals.
She added, "It is true the North's health care situation went through a difficult phase after 2001, but things have improved a lot over the past few years."
U.S. Court Orders N.K. to Pay $378 Mln in Compensation to Terror Victims
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.S. court has ordered North Korea to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to the victims of a terrorist attack on American citizens at an Israeli airport in 1972.
Judge Francisco Besosa at the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled that North Korea must pay US$78 million in compensation and additional $300 million in punitive damages to the families of Camelo Calderon-Molina and Pablo Tirado-Ayala, according to court records dated on July 16.
Calderon-Molina was killed and Tirado-Ayala was injured in the attack that killed 26 people and wounded more than 80.
The judge said that the courts usually impose "punitive damage of three times of a state sponsor's annual budget for the export of terrorism."
Because of a lack of information on North Korea's budget, "this court will adopt the typical punitive damage award of $300 million that has been awarded against the Islamic Republic of Iran because there is no reason to depart from settled case law regarding the amount of punitive damages in terrorism cases," he said. "Accordingly, the court will award punitive damages against defendants in the amount of $300 million to plaintiffs collectively to be divided equally."
In a default judgment of the case filed on March 27, 2008, the court said Calderon-Molina and Tirado-Ayala were attacked at Lod Airport, Israel, by the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine "with the material support of North Korea and the North's Cabinet General Intelligence Bureau."
The court "finds that plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated both the court's jurisdiction and the defendants' liability for their injuries by evidence that is satisfactory to the court," the ruling said.
"Three members of the JRA, disguised as regular passengers, who had just disembarked at Lod Airport on a flight arriving from Italy, recovered their luggage from the baggage carousal," it said. "They then removed automatic weapons and grenades from their luggage and began shooting and throwing explosives indiscriminately into the crowd of innocent civilians which included Camelo, Pablo and other passengers located in the terminal building."
The court said that Calderon-Molina's last act was "to shield a pregnant woman with his body, absorbing bullets that otherwise would likely have killed her and her unborn child."
"Pablo was wounded in the Lod Airport attack; for him and his family the attack became a watershed experience that negatively affected the quality of his life in significant ways, including severe psychological injuries which grievously disabled him and persisted for his entire life," the court said.
N. Korea Seeking Dialogue After U.N. Condemnation: S. Korean Gov't
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be gearing up to launch a diplomatic offensive to ease soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula after South Korea blamed the socialist state for the deadly March sinking of its warship, according to the South Korean government.
In a weekly newsletter seen on July 17, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said North Korea appears willing to "turn the critical mood around through active dialogue" after the U.N. Security Council on July 10 condemned an attack that sank the Cheonan.
North Korea denies any role in the sinking that left 46 South Korean sailors dead. Following the Council statement that came short of explicitly blaming North Korea, the communist state claimed it scored a diplomatic victory and displayed a willingness to resume dialogue with the outside world.
South Korea maintains it will not agree to any dialogue with North Korea unless Pyongyang admits to its attack on the Cheonan near their Yellow Sea border and punishes those involved in it.
The ministry newsletter also said the isolated North is deliberately refraining from publicizing certain parts of the Council statement to mislead its people into believing its claims.
Obama Not to Send Gov. Richardson to Pyongyang: State Dept.
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on July 19 dismissed reports that it is considering sending New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to North Korea to discuss a possible breakthrough in U.S. relations with the North.
"The U.S. is not considering sending Governor Richardson to North Korea," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
A senior Obama administration official, asking anonymity, also said, "The report is inaccurate. There is no consideration being given by the administration to sending Richardson to North Korea."
Reports said that Obama was considering sending Richardson to Pyongyang since the U.N. Security Council has concluded discussions on the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan.
North Korea reportedly invited Richardson in May at the height of the tensions over the incident.
The U.N. Security Council earlier this month issued a presidential statement condemning the attack on the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March, which killed 46 sailors.
The statement did not directly blame North Korea, due to opposition from China, North Korea's major ally and a veto-wielding council member, and focused more on the revival of the six-party nuclear talks.
North Korea denied involvement in the incident, declared the statement as "our great diplomatic victory" and called for a resumption of the six-party talks for its denuclearization and the signing of a peace pact to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, however, said on July 18 that it is not the right time to discuss the resumption of the six-party talks. He denounced North Korea for trying to use the nuclear talks to divert international attention from the Cheonan.
Both Seoul and Washington have called on Pyongyang to forswear further provocations and demonstrate its denuclearization pledge before returning to the nuclear talks, which the North has boycotted since early last year, when the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.
"We're always prepared to talk," Crowley said. "But there are some definite steps that we have to see from North Korea before that becomes possible. So I think we agree fully with the South Korean foreign minister that there are conditions and obligations that North Korea has to demonstrate a willingness to tackle before we'll consider having a follow-on conversation."
Cheonan May Signal New Era of North Korea Hostility: DNI Nominee
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea's torpedoing of a South Korean warship may signal the beginning of a new era in which the socialist state will again directly attack South Korea to achieve its political goals, the nominee for the chief U.S. intelligence post said on July 20.
"The most important lesson for all of us in the intelligence community from this year's provocations by Pyongyang is to realize that we may be entering a dangerous new period when North Korea will once again attempt to advance its internal and external political goals through direct attacks on our allies in the Republic of Korea," James Clapper, nominated as director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
The U.N. Security Council earlier this month issued a presidential statement condemning the attack on the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea in March, which killed 46 sailors, without directly blaming North Korea.
China, North Korea's major ally and a veto-wielding council member, greatly diluted the statement to focus more on the revival of the six-party nuclear talks. North Korea declared the statement "our great diplomatic victory."
"Coupled with this is a renewed realization that North Korea's military forces still pose a threat that cannot be taken lightly," said Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general. "The Cheonan attack reemphasizes the importance of the DNI's responsibility to coordinate the IC (intelligence community)'s analytic and collection efforts against the North Korean threat."
Clapper, currently undersecretary of defense for intelligence, was nominated last month to replace Dennis Blair amid a turf war among intelligence agencies.
North Korea's detonation of a second nuclear device and a series of long-range ballistic missiles last year led to U.N. sanctions, prompting the North to boycott the nuclear talks.
North Korea's Rice Productivity Reaches 70 Percent of South Korea's
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's rice productivity stood at a mere 70 percent of that of South Korea in 2009 due to the communist country's lack of fertilizer and farm equipment, the government said on July 20.
Citing a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the North's low productivity, coupled with less farmland, caused total rice output to stand at less than 40 percent than that of the South.
For every hectare of farmland, North Korean farmers produced 4.89 tons of rice last year, or 30 percent less than the 6.99 tons harvested by their southern counterparts.
In the 2008-2009 period, arable land used to grow rice in North Korea reached 590,000 hectares or 62.3 percent of 940,000 hectares in South Korea, the report said.
"Such unfavorable conditions caused the North to produce 1.86 million tons of the staple grain for the whole of 2009, which is equal to 38.4 percent of the 4.84 million ton produced in South Korea during the same period," the ministry said.
Such low output has been the main contributing factor in the communist country's chronic food shortage, the ministry added.
The USDA report claimed that the North's low productivity was mainly caused by inadequate supply of fertilizer, various farm equipment and general deficiency in farming techniques.
Pyongyang received fertilizer aid from outside the country, but support has dried up after the country detonated a second nuclear device in May 2009 and walked out of the six-party talks aimed at ending the country's nuclear program.
South Korea had shipped an annual average of 300,000 tons of fertilizers before relations deteriorated.
The foreign affair ministry, meanwhile, said the U.S. report highlighted the importance of developing fundamental support programs to help boost rice output in the North once inter-Korean conditions improve down the road.