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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 116 (July 22, 2010)

N. Korea Warns of Dam Water Discharge Near Border with S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea informed South Korea on July 18 that it may release a large amount of water from a dam near their tightly controlled border in a bid to prevent floods, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said.

   "North Korea notified us today through a military communication line that it may release water from a dam in the upper stream of the Imjin River after 8 p.m. tonight in case of continued heavy rains," the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said.

   The warning has prompted South Korea to take steps to stave off any damage from the discharge.

   Officials at a new dam just south of the inter-Korean border have been ordered to closely watch any sudden rise in water levels overnight as it takes seven to eight hours for water released from the North Korean dam to reach the South Korean side, they said.

   According to the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs in Seoul, North Korea appeared to have started discharging 1,000 tons of water per second from one of its border dams.

   Last September, the North unleashed about 40 million tons of water from the dam without prior notice, triggering a flash flood that killed six South Korean campers just south of the border.

   The new Gunnam dam, specifically designed to capture any flash flood from North Korea, began operations at the beginning of the month, 14 months ahead of its original schedule. The dam can hold up to 70 million tons of water, and its water level currently stands at only 6.8 percent of maximum storage, according to the officials.

   Torrential rains have pounded the Korean Peninsula for the past few days, raising the water levels of major rivers. The peninsula is currently in the grip of the summer rainy season.

   In working-level talks in October, the South demanded an apology from the North and called for its relevant authorities to provide details of planned dam discharges in advance including its name, the amount of water to be released, and the reason for the discharge.

   The North accepted the request in the talks, expressing regret over the fatal accident and conveyed a message of condolence to bereaved families.

   Still, South Korean officials warned against any "overinterpretation" of Pyongyang's water discharge notice. They said the North's notification could be a gesture aimed at thawing the frigid relations between the divided states.

   South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a briefing on July 19 that his government had looked at the North Korean notification of the dam discharge plan "as it is."

   "The government believes it is not appropriate to overinterpret it in many ways under the current inter-Korean circumstances," he said.

   According to the North's Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 19, heavy rains, spawned by a subtropical anticyclone and a seasonal low pressure system, pounded much of North Korea in the past four days.

   The KCNA, however, did not say whether the downpour, which measured up to 332 millimeters in some areas, resulted in any casualties or property damage.

   The KCNA report, citing weather information available from noon on July 16 until 9 a.m. on July 19, said the precipitation was 332mm in Jangpung, 287mm in Kaesong, 274mm in Pangyo, 252mm in Kaepung and 251mm in Sepo.

   More than 100 millimeters of rain poured in the capital Pyongyang and its nearby city Nampho, the report said. Other areas that received similar amounts of rainfall include North and South Pyongan, North and South Hwanghae, Kangwon, Jagang and South Hamgyong provinces, it said.


Influx of Goods from Kaesong Industrial Park Stays Consistent

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The volume of goods brought into South Korea from a joint factory park in North Korea has remained unchanged despite Seoul's trade ban slapped on Pyongyang in May in retaliation for its deadly attack on a South Korean warship, the Seoul government said on July 20.

   The volume of products transported from the Kaesong industrial park stood at 6,953 tons in June, compared to 7,004 tons a month earlier when South Korea banned trade with North Korea and cut the number of South Korean workers staying in the North Korean border town, the Unification Ministry said in a release.

   "There has been little difference in the amount of manufactured products brought in since the May 24 measures," which the South imposed after a multinational investigation found the North responsible for the March sinking of the Cheonan, it said.

   Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said currency conversions for the data were not immediately available.

   North Korea has denied any responsibility for the attack in the Yellow Sea that left 46 sailors dead. About 121 South Korean firms operate in Kaesong, employing 44,000 North Korean workers -- the last remaining major symbol of detente between the divided countries.

   According to the ministry that handles cross-border affairs, the amount of goods brought into South Korea for the first half of this year nearly doubled compared to the same period last year. The figures signaled the Kaesong factory park continued to grow even though the relations between the Koreas have soured since 2008.

   But many of the Kaesong companies have complained of falling orders and are seeking rescue funds, arguing the deteriorating political relations are increasingly becoming a liability for their businesses.