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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 120 (August 19, 2010)

N. Korea Enacts New Laws to Facilitate Economic Exchange with Other Countries

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea announced on Aug. 13 that it has enacted new laws to facilitate trade with other countries, improve labor rights and protect the interests of economic entities under state supervision.

   "The adoption of the laws provides a definite legal guarantee for improving the labor protection work, developing economic cooperation and exchange with other countries," the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report monitored in Seoul.

   The KCNA did not go into further specifics, but added that the laws seek to protect "the economic interests of the industrial establishments, organizations, individuals and foreign investment companies belonging" to the chamber of commerce.

   The laws were "recently adopted" by the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament, the report said, adding that "principles" concerning labor matters were also set.

   North Korea is considered one of the most hostile environments for economic activity, mismanaging its heavily centralized economy and struggling to feed its own population.

   In an effort to improve living standards for its people, the socialist regime, however, has stressed the importance of expanding trade with other nations and rebuilding light industries this year.

   A botched currency reform late last year has also weighed on the North's economy. The country suffers from chronic energy shortages as well.


North Korean Organ on South Korea Declares 2012 'Year of Unification'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean organ that handles inter-Korean matters recently urged all Koreans at home and abroad to come together to make 2012 the year that starts unification of the divided peninsula.

   The Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF), the semi-official organ that handles inter-Korean affairs, issued on Aug. 13 a statement commemorating the 65th anniversary of Korea's independence from Japanese colonial rule, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   In the statement, DFRF said that "the time has come for the North and South and all those (Koreans) abroad" to come together and work to make 2012 a "historical year that opens the front gate in the unification of the homeland."

   North Korea has implemented a series of military and economic campaigns to become a "Kangsong Taeguk" -- a great, prosperous and powerful nation -- by 2012, the centennial of Kim Il-sung's birthday.

   The call was made just two days before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak proposed that his country introduce a special reunification tax, saying that the day would "definitely come" when the South and North become one.

   Experts, citing Germany's experience, say the capitalist South will have to shoulder astronomical costs if it reunifies with the impoverished socialist North.

   The DFRF insisted that "the entire people must achieve unification as early as possible" and that it could only be achieved by upholding the agreements from the past two inter-Korean summits.

   South and North Korea have held two summits since the war ended in a truce. President Roh Moo-hyun met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2007 in Pyongyang, while Roh's predecessor Kim Dae-jung met him in 2000.


S. Korean Pastor Postpones Planned Return from Unauthorized Visit to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean pastor, who has been on an unauthorized trip to North Korea, has delayed his planned return home until Aug. 20, according to Pyongyang's state media on Aug. 14.

   Rev. Han Sang-ryol had planned to come back to the South via the heavily armed border on Aug. 15, Liberation Day, which marks Korea's independence from Japan's colonial rule. He has been in the North since June 12, reportedly giving speeches denouncing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

   On Aug. 14, the North's Red Cross notified its South Korean counterpart that Han will return home on Aug. 20 through the border village of Panmunjom, according to Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency. The KCNA gave no reason why the planned return has been postponed.

   The North's Red Cross "asked the South Korean Red Cross to inform the relevant institution of this so that it may take necessary measures," the KCNA said.

   Officials in Seoul said Han will be arrested as soon as he steps on South Korean soil.

   The two Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. Under Seoul's anti-communist National Security Law, South Koreans are banned from visiting the North without prior government approval.


North Korea Levels Up Military Threat Ahead of South Korea-U.S. Drill

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Aug. 15 threatened to respond to an imminent joint South Korea-U.S. military drill with "the worst-ever military punishment."

   "Now that the uproar of the reckless military drill aiming at our republic has heightened to an extreme ... our military and people will wield the iron hammer of a merciless response," the General Staff of the (North) Korean People's Army said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "Our military's reaction will be the worst punishment anyone has ever experienced."

   The North's remarks came as South Korea is set to launch on Aug. 16 its two-week joint military drill with the U.S. The annual war game "Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG)" is aimed at maintaining security and the South-U.S. defense posture on the peninsula and involves some 56,000 South Korean soldiers and 30,000 U.S. forces stationed locally and operating outside the country.

   The North defined the latest joint drill as a substantial war threat by the South, saying "the war game commotion including the UFG indicates real action aiming for full-blown military aggression."

   The socialist regime has aired military threats since the South blamed the North for the deadly March sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean crew members on the sea border between the two Koreas.

   The North and South remain technically at war after their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.


North Korea, Laos Hold Vice Prime Ministerial Talks in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The vice prime minister of Laos on Aug. 17 met with his North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang and discussed ways to bolster bilateral exchanges.

   Somsavath Lengsavath, standing vice prime minister of Laos, held a meeting with Ro Tu-chol, deputy premier of the DPRK, at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, according to the KCNA. Lengsavath arrived in the North a day earlier.

   The KCNA said that both sides "exchanged views on the matter of boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and other issues of mutual concern."

   Pak Ui-chun, North Korea's foreign minister, in late July traveled to Laos and met with Lao President Choummaly Saynasone and his counterpart to exchange views on boosting two-way ties, according to the KCNA.