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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 117 (July 29, 2010)

North Korea to Begin Arirang Gymnastics Festival in August

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on July 22 it will begin its Arirang festival, a two-month-long mass gymnastics extravaganza, early next month.

   Named after the famous Korean folk song, the festival has been held almost annually since 2002. The 80-minute show features synchronized acrobatics, gymnastics, dances and flip-card mosaic animation. Performed by about 100,000 people, it is believed to be the largest gymnastics show in the world.

   Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's official Web site, said on the same day the festival will open at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang in early August.

   Last year, the festival drew about 1.4 million people from home and abroad, according to the socialist state's official media.


U.N. Command Proposes Talks with N. Korea on Armistice Violation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) said on July 23 it has proposed to North Korea to jointly discuss whether the deadly sinking in March of a South Korean warship constitutes a violation of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War nearly six decades ago.

   The proposal, made at a working military meeting at the border village of Panmunjom, came as North Korea refuses to acknowledge its responsibility for the sinking of the 1,200-ton Cheonan that left 46 sailors dead.

   A South Korean-led multinational probe has already concluded that a midget North Korean submarine torpedoed the warship near the Yellow Sea border. North Korea has rejected the outcome as a "sheer fabrication."

   "The UNC Military Armistice Commission proposed to convene a joint assessment group to assess the cause of the armistice violations that led to the sinking" of the South Korean Cheonan warship, the UNC said in a statement.

   Later in the day, North Korea said in a news report that its delegation again demanded a North Korean team be allowed to visit South Korea and inspect the results of the Seoul-led multinational probe that has incriminated it.

   "Our side said as follows while pressing the U.S. side for raising the issue of armistice violation that runs counter to our active efforts to objectively and scientifically verify the cause of the (Cheonan) incident," the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

   North Korea, the KCNA report said, demanded a group of up to 30 inspectors from the its all-powerful National Defense Commission be allowed to visit South Korea for up to five days or longer.

   "The U.S. side must provide all related data and evidence demanded by the National Defense Commission inspection team," it added.

   South Korea earlier had rejected the North's demand, saying the issue should be handled within the framework of the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the three-year Korean War.

   The July 23 meeting, attended by colonel-level officers, was the second of its kind in the mid-July. Another colonel-level meeting is scheduled for July 29, the UNC said, primarily aimed at setting up general-grade officers' meetings.

   The UNC is led by the commander of the 28,500-strong U.S. military stationed in South Korea.


Kim Jong-il Dispatches Air Force to Rescue Residents Stranded in Monsoons

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il dispatched his country's air force to save dozens of people stranded by flash floods, its official media reported on July 23, as monsoons began to pound the socialist state that is considered vulnerable to damages from such heavy rains.

   According to the North's official Korean Central Broadcasting Television Station (KCBSTV), at least 283 millimeters of rain -- the heaviest in the country -- hit the northwestern area of Unsan between July 21 to 22. Forty people, including 10 women, were stranded on a hill sieged by swelling water when the "Dear Leader" ordered air force troops to fly there to rescue the residents, the station reported.

   "Four airplanes carrying out his great love flew without hesitation" to Unsan and two other areas also troubled by floods, saving a total of 68 people, including children, it said.

   The report did not elaborate how air force equipment, including helicopters, was used in the operations. It did, however, say that those trapped in Unsan were "pulled up one by one" while air force pilots flew back and forth to save a woman and two children that had failed to board the planes.

   Those rescued "looked up toward the skies over Pyongyang and shouted 'hail to Dear General' at the top of their voices to salute him with gratitude," the station said.

   The impoverished North is said to lack the ability to deal with heavy rains due to years of deforestation and poor investment in flood control. In 2007, more than 450 people were believed to have been killed and some 150 others injured in heavy rains in August, while a typhoon in September left more than 1,600 people homeless and over 100,000 hectares of farmland damaged.


North Korea Says It Will Answer U.S. Sanctions by 'Physical' Means

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea vowed to strengthen its nuclear deterrence in response to Washington's newly envisioned sanctions on Pyongyang for allegedly torpedoing a South Korean Navy corvette.

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Seoul last week that Washington will impose new sanctions on Pyongyang as punishment for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March. The U.S. has reportedly identified some 200 bank accounts linked to North Korea and was expected to freeze about half of them suspected of being used in weapons exports.

   Seoul, Washington and other allies blame Pyongyang for the torpedo attack on the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan in March that killed 46 sailors near the Yellow Sea border, but the North has denied responsibility.

   On July 24, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted an unidentified North Korean foreign ministry spokesman as saying that the country plans to "strengthen its nuclear deterrence and take a strong response as the U.S. imposes new sanctions" on Pyongyang.

   The spokesman said that his country is prepared for "dialogue and war" and highlighted that Pyongyang will "remain unfazed by military threats and sanctions."

   In a related move, the North's National Defense Commission issued a warning on the same day that it will "start a retaliatory sacred war" of its own at "any time necessary" in response to a four-day joint South Korea-U.S. naval drill in the East Sea that ended on July 28.
Diplomatic sources in Washington said Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, is expected to arrive in Seoul next week with a delegation that includes officials from the defense and treasury departments and the National Security Council.

   The visit is part of the delegation's anticipated trip through Japan, Malaysia and Singapore as Washington seeks these countries' cooperation in tightening the financial noose around North Korea.

   North Korea has proposed to send its own team to South Korea to verify the outcome of the international probe into the Cheonan's sinking blamed on a torpedo fired by a North Korean mini-submarine, which Seoul has rejected.


N.K. Marks Inter-Korean Cease-fire Anniversary, Renews Vow for Nuclear Deterrence

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea observed the anniversary of the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War but tensions, even after 57 years, still remained high, with the North vowing to renew their nuclear deterrence amid imminent new sanctions.

   The North's official Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a "national meeting" was held at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium to observe the 57th anniversary of the cease-fire of the Korean War on July 26, the eve of the anniversary.

   The two Koreas are still technically at war, as the conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

   The report said that the event was attended by senior party, military and government officials, war veterans and their families, as well as officials in various areas including science, education and culture.

   In the meeting, Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and minister of the People's Armed Forces, lauded what he called a "victory" in the Korean War. "People won a shining victory in the war, honorably defending the glorious DPRK (North Korea) and the gains of the revolution."

   In an apparent response to Washington's plan to slap new sanctions on North Korea following its alleged attack on a South Korean Navy warship, Kim warned that his country will "further bolster its nuclear deterrence in a new advanced manner," calling it a "legitimate sovereign right."

   U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Seoul last week that Washington will impose new sanctions on Pyongyang's leaders as punishment for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March.

   Seoul, Washington and other allies blame Pyongyang for the torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors near the Yellow Sea border, but the North has denied responsibility.


North Korea to Use 'Strong Deterrent' in Lieu of Dialogue: Paper

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will go ahead with a "strong deterrent" based on its self-defensive policy if it determines the United States has abandoned its intent to resolve the March sinking of a South Korean warship through dialogue, a pro-Pyongyang daily said on July 26.

   The warning by the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper published by a group of pro-North Korean residents in Tokyo, comes as South Korea and the U.S. are holding massive maritime drills in the East Sea in protest of the sinking blamed on North Korea.

   Forty-six South Korean sailors died in the sinking that the North denies any role in. the Choson Sinbo, considered aligned with the regime in Pyongyang, said the drills only raise military tensions and do little to stop the North from "continuing to strengthen its nuclear deterrent."

   "The military drills that run counter to an atmosphere for dialogue is highly likely to instantly turn around the mood" that appeared to thaw after the U.N. Security Council recently urged talks over the sinking, the paper said in a commentary.

   The warning further raises speculation that the North may be considering conducting its third nuclear test after two in 2006 and 2009. The isolated country, believed to have enough plutonium to create at least six atomic bombs, claims it is developing nuclear arms to defend itself against U.S. plots to topple its regime.

   In a related development, the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, warned that the U.S. will pay "a high price" if Washington continues to raise tension.

   On July 25, the North's National Defense Commission, the highest seat of power, warned the country will start "a retaliatory sacred war" to counter the drills while the foreign ministry issued a similar threat.


North Korea's Top Diplomat Meets Lao Leader, Foreign Minister

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After wrapping up a trip to a regional security forum, North Korea's top diplomat traveled to Laos and met with the country's top leaders, including his counterpart, to discuss bilateral cooperation.

   Pak Ui-chun, North Korean foreign minister, paid a visit to Lao President Choummaly Sayasone on June 26, the KCNA reported two days later.

   The minister's trip took place after his attendance at the previous week's ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi, in which top diplomats from 26 countries and the European Union expressed "deep concerns" over the sinking in March of a South Korean warship.

   In the meeting, Sayasone said he was pleased with the great achievements made by the North Korean people and also praised the "wise leadership" of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, according to the KCNA.

   Bouasone Bouphavanh, prime minister of Laos, also met with Pak and noted that the two-way relationship was "steadily growing stronger" under Kim's leadership and that Laos supports the reunification of the two Koreas, according to the KCNA.

   Pak also held a meeting with his Lao counterpart Thongloun Sisoulth on the same day, in which both sides exchanged the latest information on each others' situations and ideas to boost bilateral relations, according to a separate KCNA report on July 27.