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U.S. Expresses Concerns over N.K.'s WMD Transactions with Myanmar

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States expressed concerns on May 20 over North Korea's possible proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Myanmar amid reports that the South Asian state is seeking the North's help to develop nuclear weapons.

   Joseph Yun, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, discussed the issue when he visited Myanmar for three days until May 20, the State Department said in a statement.

   Yun, the statement said, "conveyed U.S. concerns about Burma's military relationship with North Korea and called on the government to abide by its public commitments to uphold U.N. Security Council resolutions in that regard."

   North Korea has been subject to arms and economic embargoes under U.N. resolutions adopted after nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009 that ban the impoverished, nuclear armed country from trading in weapons of mass destruction, some conventional weapons and luxury goods.

   While in Yangon, the capital, Yun met with Burmese officials to "reiterate the United States' willingness to improve bilateral relations through principled engagement, while maintaining that progress would depend on the Burmese government taking meaningful, concrete steps toward democratic governance, respect for human rights, and the release of all political prisoners in line with the aspirations of the Burmese people and the international community," the statement said.

   Yun also met with Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders to discuss "how best to promote inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation to fulfill the needs and desires of all Burmese," it said.

   U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of possible nuclear proliferation to Myanmar from North Korea.

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concerns in July about North Korea's alleged proliferation of nuclear technology to Myanmar.

   "We know that a ship from North Korea recently delivered military equipment to Burma and we continue to be concerned by the reports that Burma may be seeking assistance from North Korea with regard to a nuclear program," Clinton said at the time.

   In June last year, a North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, changed course and returned home after being closely tracked by U.S. Navy vessels.

   North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun visited Yangon in July, prompting the U.S. to issue a statement calling on Myanmar to abide by an arms embargo and other U.N. sanctions against it.

   Robert Kelly, a nuclear engineer at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told a forum in Washington in April that Myanmar has not yet developed the technology for nuclear weapons, but may succeed with help from North Korea.

   Kelly dismissed as "poor, especially for high-tech activities such as missile and nuclear facilities" the quality of workmanship at the Myanmar factories, but did not preclude the chance of Myanmar succeeding.

   "All experts judge that many of these efforts will be unsuccessful and beyond Burma's reach," he said. "So the program is not an immediate military threat, unless there are big changes. These would include support from another country such as DPRK (North Korea) and a shift to more useful technologies such as gas centrifuges. And Burma has a chance of eventually succeeding, still probably only with outside help."


North Korea Reportedly Purged Senior Intelligence Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have purged a senior intelligence official, South Korean officials said on May 20, in what could be a case of infighting amid its power succession process.

   The alleged purge of Ryu Kyong, a deputy head of North Korea's state security agency and a key aide to leader Kim Jong-il, seems highly credible, an official said.

   Another official said Ryu will not keep his job. The two officials did not give any further details and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

   A local newspaper reported Ryu was arrested by Kim's security guards and secretly executed earlier this year, citing an unidentified source in North Korea.

   The news of the purge comes as Kim Jong-un, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's heir apparent son, arrived in China in a trip apparently aimed at winning formal support for the power succession from the key ally.

   The trip marks the younger Kim's first visit to China since he was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the North's ruling Workers' Party and a four-star general last September.

   It is not unusual for the communist country to execute senior officials.

   Last year, the North reportedly executed Pak Nam-gi, former chief of the planning and finance department of the ruling Workers' Party, over Pyongyang's botched currency reform in 2009 that caused massive inflation and worsened food shortages.

   North Korea also executed a former cabinet minister in charge of railways over the deadly explosion of a train station near the border with China in 2004.

   In the 1990s, North Korea executed a top agricultural official over a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.


American Red Cross Seeks to Link Koreans in U.S., North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The American Red Cross held talks with its North Korean counterpart in early April to arrange the reunions of families living in the U.S. and North Korea separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, a U.S. broadcast reported on May 20.

   The talks, the first of their kind, were proposed by the U.S. side at the request of the U.S. Department of State, Radio Free Asia (RFA) quoted Lee Cha-hee, secretary-general of the Steering Committee for Separated Family Reunions in the U.S., as saying.

   The move comes as U.S. Senator Mark Kirk sent a letter to the U.S. Department of State on March 30 requesting that the department help Korean-Americans to reunite their families in the North.

   In a related move, Senator Kirk on April 19 requested details on the talks and the North's response to possible reunions in a letter sent to the American Red Cross President Gail McGovern, according to RFA.

   Senator Kirk is the co-chairman of the Congressional Commission on Divided Families, an official government mechanism set up in 2007 to facilitate the reunions between Koreans in the U.S. and North Korea.

   The Senator also lauded joint efforts of the American Red Cross and Robert King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights. The envoy, before leaving for Pyongyang to assess food shortages, reportedly worked closely with the American Red Cross to arrange reunions.


U.S. Urges China to Do More for North Korea's Wider Openness

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States is urging China to play a firmer role in persuading North Korea to open up to the international community.

   Speaking to reporters in Tokyo on May 22, Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, said, "We value China's role in terms of engaging North Korea, and we ask them to take a very clear stand on encouraging North Korea to engage responsibly with South Korea and also with the international community," according to a transcript released Monday by the State Department.

   Campbell was responding to a question on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's ongoing trip to China, his third in a year. International travel is rare for the reclusive communist leader.

   Campbell would neither confirm nor comment on Kim's Chinese tour.

   "I have no comment about it, I have no details about it, and I'd refer you directly to China for further details or discussion of that matter," he said.

   Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao confirmed over the past weekend that China had invited Kim in order to help the North Korean leader understand China's development experience.

   Wen made his remarks when he met with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Tokyo for an annual three-way summit between leaders of the three Northeast Asian powers, South Korea, China and Japan.

   Kim's visit comes amid efforts by North Korea to expedite economic cooperation with China, its biggest benefactor, to muddle through economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations for its nuclear and missile tests years ago.

   North Korea is also reportedly suffering from severe food shortages due to floods and a harsh winter.

   Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will depart for Pyongyang Tuesday, leading a U.S. fact-finding mission on the food situation there.

   It is the first time that North Korea has agreed to admit a U.S. human rights envoy.

   Many experts say King's trip signals Washington's desire to resume food aid to the North, although a State Department spokesman said last week that King's trip "doesn't necessarily mean that we will provide food assistance."

   U.S. food aid to the North was suspended in March 2009 amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests and controversy over the transparency of food distribution.

   North Korea recently appealed to the U.S. and other countries for food.

   The United Nations also last month appealed for 430,000 tons of food for North Korea to feed 6 million people stricken by floods and severe winter weather. A U.N. monitoring team concluded a fact-finding mission in North Korea in early April.

   South Korea appears to be less willing to resume food aid. Critics say North Korea is exaggerating its shortages to hoard food in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late leader, Kim Il-sung, in April next year.

   The conservative Lee Myung-bak administration suspended food aid to North Korea due to the North's nuclear programs, a departure from Lee's liberal predecessors, who shipped more than 400,000 tons of food and fertilizer each to the North annually.

   Meanwhile, the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs remain in limbo over U.N. sanctions imposed after the North's nuclear and missile tests and two deadly border attacks that killed 50 South Koreans last year.

   South Korea has demanded North Korea's apology for the attacks before any resumption of the talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, and claims the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island was provoked by South Korean exercises near the sea border.

   In a toe-in-the-water approach toward the nuclear talks' resumption, South Korea and China recently called on North Korea to have a bilateral nuclear dialogue with South Korea and then another bilateral discussion with the U.S. ahead of any plenary session of the six-party talks. The North has not yet responded to the proposal.


Gov't to Reinforce Manpower to Cope with North Korea Cyber Attacks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The government will reinforce its manpower in charge of computer security and emergency planning to swiftly respond to potential North Korean cyber attacks and other forms of provocations, the home affairs ministry said on May 24.

   The Cabinet approved a presidential decree to increase the number of public officials in charge of computer security and emergency planning at 23 related government offices and agencies by 45, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security said.

   A presidential decree, however, does not require approval from the parliament to go into effect.

   Early May, South Korean prosecutors said North Korea's military intelligence organization was behind a cyber attack that paralyzed the computerized banking network of South Korea's National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, or Nonghyup. The attack followed the North's two distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on South Korea's major government and corporate Web sites in March and July of 2009.

   The Cabinet also endorsed a bill imposing no import duties on crude oil to be used for manufacturing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) until the end of this year to help stabilize the lives of the working class.

   Tensions persist on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's two deadly attacks on South Korea last year. The North sank a South Korean warship and bombarded one of its border islands, leaving 50 people, including two civilians, dead.

   In particular, the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island marked its first direct attack aimed at South Korean territory since the end of the Korean War.


U.S. Imposes Fresh Sanctions on North Korea: State Department

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on May 24 imposed sanctions on a North Korean firm and 15 other foreign firms for trading equipment and technology for the production of weapons of mass destruction.

   (North) Korea Tangun Trading Corp. of North Korea and other companies are accused of having "transferred to or acquired from North Korea, Iran, or Syria equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists (Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems," the State Department said in a statement.

   Tangun Trading has already been blacklisted by the U.S. government and the United Nations, along with scores of other North Korean entities and individuals, for their involvement in North Korea's WMD programs under Security Council resolutions adopted after the North's nuclear and missile tests.

   The new sanctions under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act will be effective for two years against Tangun, two Belarusian entities, three Chinese entities and one individual, five Iranian entities and one individual, two Syrian entities and one Venezuelan entity, the statement said.

   "These entities were sanctioned for the transfer to or acquisition from North Korea, Syria or Iran of goods, services or technologies controlled under the various export control regimes or otherwise have the potential to make a material contribution to the developments of WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems," James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, told reporters.