U.N. Command, N. Korea to Meet Again Aug. 9 over Ship Sinking
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The American-led United Nations Command (UNC) and North Korea agreed to hold another working-level meeting early next month to arrange general-level dialogue on the sinking of a South Korean warship, an official for the UNC said on July 30.
The agreement was reached at the end of the third round of working-level military talks attended by colonels from the UNC and North Korea on July 30, the official said, adding that the meeting was held for about two hours at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
"The two sides tentatively agreed to hold a fourth round of colonel-level meeting on Aug. 9," the UNC official said, indicating the meeting produced little progress for general-level talks. The official declined to give further details.
The two sides first met on July 15 to prepare for general-level talks, which have served as a measure to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula since 1998.
At a previous meeting, however, the North repeated its denial of responsibility for the sinking. For the UNC, it proposed a task force to jointly assess whether the sinking violated the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
A team of multinational investigators concluded in May that a North Korean torpedo fired from one of its submarines sank the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
The July 30 meeting came two days after South Korea and the U.S. closed out joint large-scale military exercises, the first in a series set to play out in the coming months, off the South's east coast to deter North Korea from future provocations.
The UNC, which monitors the Korean War armistice, is led by the top U.S. commander in the South. The U.S. stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea.
Kim Jong-il Inspects Industrial Facilities on Eastern Coast
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspected industrial facilities in Hamgyong Province in the country's northeastern region for two days in a row, the country's media said on Aug. 3.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) had reported a day earlier that the 68-year-old leader looked around fertilizer, machinery and metal casting factories and a gas facility construction site in the province.
The KCNA, as usual, provided no other details, including the date of the trip. It quoted the leader as stressing the need to increase production at those factories he visited and to reduce construction time for new plants.
Kim was accompanied by Kwak Pom-gi, chief secretary of the South Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, and his brother in-law Jang Song-thaek.
Earlier, Kim Jong-il inspected industrial facilities in the northwestern province of Jagang that borders China, the KCNA said on July 31.
According to the KCNA, the visit came three days after the 68-year-old leader attended a concert. The KCNA, as usual, provided no other details, including the date of the trip but released a photo of the leader during his visit to the industrial facilities.
N. Korea Lashes out at S. Korea's Planned Military Drill
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea repeatedly condemned Seoul's anti-submarine naval exercises this week, saying it will physically respond to the drills to take place off the west coast of the divided Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean Navy is conducting five-day anti-submarine drills near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea in a show of force after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for the deadly March 26 sinking of its Cheonan warship in the area.
The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party of Korea, in an editorial on Aug. 1, criticized Seoul's military exercises planned throughout the year, claiming that the North was prepared to engage in "all-out war" and even a "nuclear war."
The paper also said that the current exercise, along with joint drills with the U.S. scheduled for later this year, are "not a mere showoff of deterrence" but a declaration of war on the Korean Peninsula.
On Aug. 3, the North's military command overseeing the border warned in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency that the planned drills amount to an "undisguised military intrusion" and will be met with a physical response.
"The Command of Forces of the Korean People's Army in the western sector of the front made a decisive resolution to counter the reckless naval firing projected by the group of traitors with strong physical retaliation," it said.
North Korea denies the validity of the Yellow Sea border guarded by South Korean forces because it was unilaterally drawn by a U.S. general at the conclusion of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce.
The North's military claimed the planned South Korean drills are a "reckless politically motivated provocation to preserve" the Northern Limit Line, warning it will "return fire for fire."
The warnings come as a senior U.S. official is in South Korea to discuss a fresh set of measures to tighten diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to claim responsibility for the Cheonan and abandon its nuclear arms programs.
North Korea denies its role in the sinking that claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors. Last week, South Korea ended its joint naval exercises with the U.S. in the East Sea, which also served as a warning against future provocations by the socialist nation.
Torrential Rains Drench N. Korea, Hundreds Reportedly Dead
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Heavy monsoon rains have pounded North Korea in recent weeks, reportedly claiming over 100 lives and leaving thousands of farms flooded and dozens of homes, roads and bridges destroyed.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station reported July 28 that this year's summer rainfall was the heaviest in 50 years, recording 324 millimeters from July 12-19 to leave farms flooded and over 120 homes and bridges destroyed.
Citing a "credible source" in North Korea, Radio Free Asia, a Washington-based radio station, reported Aug. 3 that some 120 people in South Hamgyong Province, including some 40 students, died last month in floods caused by heavy rains.
The impoverished communist regime is said to lack the ability to handle heavy rains because of deforestation and inadequate flood control. About 500 people are presumed to have died in the downpour of August 2007, and 900,000 others are believed to have been displaced. A month later, a typhoon left 1,600 more people homeless.
The North has not reported any casualties or damages caused by the rains.
South Korea's unification ministry said July 29 that a joint inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean bordertown of Kaesong has not suffered major damage from the recent heavy downpours.
"The Kaesong Industrial Complex has a good drainage system, and it didn't suffer any damage," a ministry official said. "Not many North Koreans have missed work because of the rain."
There have been concerns that rains in the North may lead to the spread of contagious diseases due to the country's poor sanitation system. The Unification Ministry official said Seoul has no immediate plans to provide relief.
N. Korea Warns of 'Physical Retaliation' against S. Korean Drills
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on Aug. 3 that it will deliver "powerful physical retaliation" against South Korean naval exercises planned to hold in the yellow sea later this week, while escalating the already high tension on the divided Korean Peninsula.
Beginning on Aug. 5, the South Korean Navy will stage five-day anti-submarine drills near the Yellow Sea border with North Korea in a show of force after Seoul blamed Pyongyang for the deadly March 26 sinking of its Cheonan warship in the area.
The North's military command overseeing the border warned in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) that the planned drills amount to an "undisguised military intrusion" and will be met with a physical response.
"The Command of Forces of the (North) Korean People's Army in the western sector of the front made a decisive resolution to counter the reckless naval firing projected by the group of traitors with strong physical retaliation," it said.
The North Korean command also said in the statement that all vessels, including civilian ships, should avoid sailing the waters near the Yellow Sea border while the South Korean drills last.
North Korea denies the validity of the Yellow Sea border guarded by South Korean forces because it was unilaterally drawn by a U.S general at the conclusion of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce.
The North's military claimed the planned South Korean drills are "reckless politically motivated provocation to preserve" the Northern Limit Line, warning it will "return fire for fire."
The North Korean move comes as a top U.S. non-proliferation official was in Seoul discussing new sanctions to be imposed on Pyongyang for its involvement in the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
A South Korea-led multilateral probe concluded in May that a midget North Korean submarine infiltrated South Korean waters near the yellow sea border and fired a torpedo. North Korea has denied the charges.
North Korea Launches Arirang Gymnastics Festival
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has begun its two-month-long mass gymnastics extravaganza Arirang Festival with slogans praising its leader Kim Jong-il, official media reported on Aug. 3.
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.
The North's official Korean Central Television Station said the festival kicked off on Aug. 2 at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang "with cheerful tones and slogans paying homage" to Kim, the 68-year-old leader who runs a massive cult of personality around his family.
One day later, the TV station said that Chinese tourists marveled when North Korea's mass gymnastics show featured a new chapter praising the ideological allies' ties that have continued "generation after generation."
"'Chapter 5 Friendship Arirang' displayed in an artistic frame the Chinese-North Korean friendship ties developing generation after generation after being formed between (North Korea founder) Kim Il-sung and the old generation of Chinese revolutionaries," the station quoted one Chinese tourist as saying.
The media also said the show drew a group of Chinese tourists on its opening day, mesmerizing them and prompting them to look back on the ties between the two countries.
Last year, the festival drew about 1.4 million people from home and abroad, according to the socialist state's official media.