Cheonan's Sinking Is Part of North Korea's Succession Strategy: Gates
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea's attack on a South Korean warship is part of its succession strategy as leader Kim Jong-il's youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, seeks support from the military, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said.
Speaking at the Marines' Memorial Theater in San Fransisco on Aug. 12, Gates said, "One of the main worries I have about North Korea is that they appear to be starting a succession process, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Kim Jong-il's son, who wants to take over, has to earn his stripes with the North Korean military," according to a transcript released on Aug. 13 by the Defense Department.
The chief U.S. defense official said, "My worry is that that's behind a provocation like the sinking of the Cheonan. So I think we're very concerned that this may not be the only provocation from the North Koreans."
An international team concluded in May that the North torpedoed the South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea in March, but Pyongyang denies involvement. South Korea wants the Military Armistice Commission of the U.N. Command in Korea to take up the case.
Gates complained that China, North Korea's staunchest ally, is reluctant to sanction North Korea due to concerns over a regime collapse, which might force millions of refugees to flood into China.
"What worries the Chinese ... is the prospect of instability in North Korea, of the collapse of the regime, which would send millions of North Korean refugees across their border," he said. "I think that's one of the reasons why they are unwilling to put much pressure on that regime, because maybe they believe it's very frail."
Gates described North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and their proliferation as "a very, very tough national security problem (for the U.S.)."
"North Korea continues to try and smuggle missiles and weapons to others around the world -- Burma, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas," he said. "They continue with their development of long-range missiles and their nuclear program."
U.S. Expected to Announce Details of New N.K. Sanctions Late August
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Details of fresh U.S. sanctions on North Korea are expected to be announced late this month at the earliest as it will take more time than expected to finalize procedural preparations, government sources said on Aug. 14.
Washington has been putting together fresh sanctions on North Korea to punish the socialist nation for the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March and to force the regime to give up its nuclear weapons programs.
Robert Einhorn, a senior State Department official overseeing sanctions on North Korea and Iran, said in Seoul early this month that the new measures will be carried out in the next several weeks and target North Korean companies and individuals involved in illicit activities.
But Seoul's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said in a media interview last week that the new sanctions are expected to come in two weeks, raising speculation that they would be unveiled as early as this week.
"My understanding is that the announcement is being delayed as it takes time to finalize an internal review and make administrative preparations," a government source said. "I think the announcement will be possible after we get to the end of this month."
Einhorn had been expected to travel to China late this month to seek Beijing's cooperation in carrying out the new sanctions. But the planned trip is also expected to be put off until early next month as the announcement of new sanctions is delayed.
A multinational investigation concluded in May that North Korea was behind the sinking of the warship Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang, however, has denied any responsibility, rejecting the outcome of the investigation as a "sheer fabrication."
U.S. Official Visited N.K., But Failed to Free Citizen Held for Illegal Entry
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.S. consular official and two doctors visited North Korea last week to see an American citizen held for illegal entry, but failed to win his release, the State Department said on Aug. 16.
Spokesman Philip Crowley was discussing Aijalon Gomes, 30, of Boston, who was sentenced in May to eight years in a labor and reeducation camp and fined about US$700,000 for illegal entry on Jan. 25.
"We did have a State Department team visit Pyongyang last week," Crowley said. "It was a four-person team: one consular official, two doctors and a translator. We requested permission to visit Mr. Gomes. That permission from the North Korean government was granted."
While the team was in Pyongyang on Aug. 9-11, "We requested permission to bring Mr. Gomes home," Crowley said. "Unfortunately, he remains in North Korea."
North Korea said last month that Gomes was hospitalized after an attempted suicide, and some reports said he was on a hunger strike.
The U.S. team visited Gomes "in a hospital," the spokesman said.
Crowley repeated calls for North Korea to release Gomes.
"We continue to talk to North Korea to obtain the release of Mr. Gomes, and we will continue to talk to North Korea about what we can do to get them to release him on humanitarian grounds," he said.
Crowley denied that the U.S. team discussed any other issues.
"The basis of the trip was simply our ongoing concerns about Mr. Gomes's health and welfare while the team was in Pyongyang," he said. "We have had conversations directly with North Korea on this issue, and we will continue to have that direct conversation with North Korea as needed."
Gomes, who taught English in South Korea, is the fourth American held in the North since early last year.
He reportedly sympathized with another American, Robert Park, 28, who was released in February after crossing the Chinese border on Christmas Day to draw international attention to North Korea's poor human rights record.
Two American journalists were set free last August, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang. The journalists were on a reporting tour covering North Korean defectors when they were caught in March 2009.
Novel Prize-winning Writer Muller Says N.K. Has Become 'Horrible Monster'
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Herta Muller, a Romanian-born German and Nobel Prize-winning novelist, said on Aug. 16 that her first visit to South Korea instantly reminded her of the dictatorship in the North, a country once viewed as exemplary for communist Romania.
Muller, in Seoul for an international comparative literature gathering, recounted how former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu "unfortunately" tried to emulate North Korean founder Kim Il-sung from his personality cult to a hereditary transfer of power.
"For Ceausescu, Kim Il-sung was an example. He visited North Korea many times to emulate the North," Muller said in a press meeting at the Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association held at Chung-Ang University.
"North Korea made its culture serve its government. When it built a large stadium, that was for the sake of the government. Ceausescu copied a lot of what North Korea did, unfortunately," she said in German.
Born into a German family in western Romania, Muller is noted for her works depicting the lives of the German minority under the repressive Ceausescu regime, such as in her 2009 novel, "Everything I Possess I Carry With Me," which describes the deportation of German Romanians to Soviet gulags to provide labor. In 1987, she was allowed to emigrate to West Germany. She still lives in Germany.
The Ceausescu government was overthrown by a revolution in 1989, and Ceausescu and his wife were executed. But North Korea went on with its dictatorship and hereditary succession to become a "horrible monster," she said.
North Korean Media Unveils New Main Battle Tank
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean TV station recently aired rare footage of the socialist regime's new main battle tank, coming under close scrutiny by South Korea's intelligence agency, an intelligence official said on Aug. 17.
The North's new tank, named "Pokpung-ho," was believed to have been developed in the 1990s based on the Soviet Union's T-72 tanks and underwent performance trials in 2002, according to South Korean defense ministry officials.
No photographs of the North Korean tank previously existed in public circulation, but the North's Korean Central TV Station recently broadcast the footage of the Pokpung-ho, which means "Storm Tiger" in Korean, the intelligence official said.
"We are analyzing the footage of the Pokpung-ho aired by the North's Korean Central TV Station," the intelligence official said on the condition of anonymity. The official didn't say exactly when the North aired the footage.
The new tank showed higher performance in terms of firepower and maneuverability than the North's previous main battle tank called "Chonma-ho," said the official, citing the footage.
The North's new tank is believed to be equipped with either a 125mm or 115mm main gun, similar to that of the T-90 main battle tank of the Russian Army, according to the South's defense ministry officials.
The number of deployed tanks is unknown, but only one North Korean tank unit is believed to possess the advanced tanks, ministry officials said.
The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
North Korean Military Plane Crashes in China, Killing Pilot: Source
SHENYANG, China (Yonhap) -- A North Korean airplane that appeared to be a Soviet-era jet fighter crashed in a Chinese border area, killing the pilot aboard who may have been attempting to defect to Russia, intelligence sources in Shenyang said on Aug. 18.
The crash took place in Fushun Prefecture in the province of Liaoning on Aug. 17 afternoon, the sources said, adding the pilot was the only person aboard the plane when it crashed.
"The pilot died on the spot," one source said, adding the Chinese authorities were able to identify the nationality of the airplane only after the crash.
According to Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, the plane had two occupants, with one of them ejecting by parachute prior to the crash.
The other occupant who died may have failed to eject, it said.
Chinese authorities had confirmed that a small aircraft flew into their territory but did not identify its origin. Photos of the wreckage purportedly taken by a Chinese resident and uploaded on the Internet showed the North Korean flag on the tail of the plane.
Another source said that the plane is believed to have lost its direction while flying to Russia after escaping North Korea. China has a repatriation pact with North Korea, which may have led the pilot to choose Russia as his destination.
Some experts said the plane appeared to be a MiG-15, a model widely deployed during the 1950-53 Korean War but now used mostly for training. South Korea's military said it was more likely a MiG-21, citing a radar detection of the North Korean aircraft leaving an air base near the border with China.
"Radar images show the North Korean aircraft took off from the air base in Sinuiju," an official in Seoul said, based on images captured by the Air Force's Monitor Control and Reporting Center (MCRC) that monitors activities of North Korean aircraft.
"According to the images, it appears to be a MiG-21," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
Fushun is about 200 kilometers away from the Sinuiju air base. The number of North Korean soldiers defecting from their impoverished homeland has increased in recent months as food shortages deepen, observers say.