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30 N. Korean Officials Either Executed or Killed: Amnesty Int'l

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Thirty North Korean officials, once involved in inter-Korean talks, are believed to have been executed either by firing squad or killed in staged traffic accidents, a human rights advocacy group said on May 24.

   Amnesty International raised the suspicions in its annual report, citing unconfirmed reports in July. The alleged purge suggests that North Korea used the officials as scapegoats for soured inter-Korean ties.

   Tensions still persist on the Korean Peninsula over the North's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010. North Korea has also ratcheted up military threats against South Korea in recent months.

   It is not unusual for the socialist country to execute its officials.

   In 2010, 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.

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

   In January, the North's State Security Ministry detained over 200 officials in apparent preparation for a power succession following the December death of North Korea's long-time leader Kim Jong-il, Amnesty International said, citing unconfirmed reports. Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, assumed power.

   The London-based rights group said some of the detained officials "were feared executed, while others were sent to political prison camps."

   The annual report estimated that up to 200,000 prisoners were held in horrific conditions in six sprawling political prison camps, citing "credible reports."

   Thousands were also imprisoned in at least 180 other detention facilities, the annual report said, without elaborating.

   North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The North has denied accusations of its alleged rights abuses, however, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.


U.S. Envoy to Visit Brussels for Discussions on N.K. Human Rights

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.S. envoy will travel to Brussels to discuss North Korean human rights with the European Union, the State Department announced on May 25.

   Amb. Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will participate in the European Parliament subcommittee on the human rights situation in North Korea on May 29, the department said in a press release.

   King also plans to meet with officials from the European Parliament, the European External Action Service, nongovernmental organizations and countries that share their deep concerns about the human rights situation in the socialist nation, it added.

   King is scheduled to return to Washington on May 31 after the three-day trip.

   Earlier, the department issued a far-reaching report on the human rights record in 199 nations, including North Korea, which it graded as "extremely poor."


U.S. Concerned about Reported Drought in North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on May 29 it continues to be concerned about the plight of North Koreans amid reports of severe drought in the impoverished socialist nation.

   Food aid, however, is out of the question unless Pyongyang shows seriousness about fair and transparent distribution, a State Department spokesperson said.

   "The United States wants to assist the North Korean people, including by providing nutritional assistance, but we cannot do so when we no longer have confidence that the DPRK (North Korea) will follow through on its implementation commitments to ensure that nutritional assistance reaches those in need," the official told Yonhap News Agency on the customary condition of anonymity.

   The official was responding to an inquiry over whether a recent news report that some North Korean regions are stricken with grave drought may lead Washington to rethink food aid.

   If true, it would apparently aggravate the food situation in a nation where many of the 24 million people suffer chronic food shortages.

   The North has long depended on hand-outs from the international community.

   Two of the major donors -- South Korea and the U.S. -- have suspended shipments of food, however, in response to the North's provocations.

   As a result of high-level talks, the U.S. agreed in February to send 240,000 tons of "nutritional assistance," which excludes rice, to the North. In return, Pyongyang vowed to halt some of its nuclear activities and refrain from nuclear and missile testing.

   But the North fired a long-range rocket in April in defiance of international warnings. The U.S. immediately shelved plans for food aid.

   “The United States remains concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people and committed to achieving the goals set out in the 2005 Joint Statement," the official said. "By reneging on the commitments that were announced on Feb. 29, North Korea has demonstrated bad faith and has made it clear that it has chosen provocation over peace and isolation over integration into the international community.”


U.S. Military Denies Parachuting into North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The Pentagon on May 29 dismissed a news report that U.S. commandos have infiltrated North Korea on intelligence-gathering missions.

   "It was misreported that there are U.S. boots on the ground in North Korea," George Little, spokesman for the Department of Defense, told reporters.

   He was responding to a report by The Diplomat, which quoted Brig. Gen. Neil Tolley, commander of U.S. special forces in South Korea, as saying that troops from the allies parachute into the communist nation for reconnaissance.

   There have been long-time rumors that the South and North Korean militaries send spies across the border.

   The two sides remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire, not a formal peace treaty. As a legacy, the U.S. has 28,500 troops in South Korea.

   "My understanding is that the general's comments were contorted, distorted, misreported and that, you know, there is in no way any substance to the assertion," the Pentagon secretary said.

   He added the U.S. and Washington work closely "on a regular basis, on a daily basis, to develop all the information we can to assess North Korean intentions and capabilities."

   "That is a fundamental responsibility we have. That's very important, and we'll continue to do that," he added.

   In Seoul, meanwhile, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) denied The Diplomat's report.

   "Though special reconnaissance is a core special operations force mission (SOF), at no time have SOF forces been sent to the North to conduct special reconnaissance," USFK spokesman Col. Jonathan Withington said in a statement.


U.S. to 'Never' Accept N. Korea as Nuclear State: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States made clear on May 30 that it will never recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

   "The United States has long maintained that we will never accept North Korea as a nuclear power," a spokesperson for the State Department told Yonhap News Agency.

   The official's comments came in response to a report that North Korea revised its constitution to describe itself as a nuclear power.

   Earlier in the day, a North Korean Web site, monitored in Japan, carried the full text of the socialist nation's amended constitution.

   It shows three new sentences that highlight the works of its late leader Kim Jong-il, including "the transformation into a nuclear power."

   The contents of the website, named "Naenara (my country)," have not been officially confirmed. It is also unclear when North Korea rewrote its constitution.

   Pyongyang has carried out two underground nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, and has sought to be acknowledged as a nuclear state by the international community.

   The department official said, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, North Korea should comply with its international obligations under a 2005 agreement and U.N. Security Council resolutions that call on it to abandon all nuclear weapons.

   "The leadership of the DPRK (North Korea) has a very stark choice," the official said. "They must take a hard look at their policies, stop provocative actions, put their people first -- ahead of their ambitions to be a nuclear power, and rejoin the international community.”