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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 216 (June 28, 2012)

1,052 N. Korean Asylum Seekers Granted Refugee Status Worldwide

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean asylum seekers who were granted refugee status in countries other than South Korea amounted to 1,052 as of the end of 2011, the Voice of America (VOA) said on June 20.

   By countries, 603 North Korean asylum seekers obtained refugee status in Britain, followed by 193 in Germany, 64 in Canada, 36 in the Netherlands, 31 in Belgium, 29 in Australia and 25 in the United States, the VOA said, quoting data by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

   According to the data, 490 North Korean asylum seekers applied for refugee status as of the end of last year.

   The number of North Korean asylum seekers who have been granted refugee status or have lodged an application for the status reached 1,542 by the end of 2011, up 347 from the previous year.

   The data excluded 126 North Koreans asylum seekers who entered the U.S. by the end of last year as they have already acquired permanent residence, the VOA said.


N.K. on U.S. List of Worst-human Trafficking Nations for 10th Year

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea remains on an annual U.S. list of the nations that could face sanctions for making little effort to combat human trafficking for a 10th consecutive year, according to the State Department's report on June 20.

   In its annual Trafficking in Persons report, the State Department ranked North Korea once again in "Tier 3" for countries with the poorest record of fighting human trafficking. A total of 17 nations were included in the 2012 list with Syria newly added.

   North Korea is a "source country for men, women and children who are subject to forced labor, forced marriage and sex trafficking," the report said.

   Since 2003, North Korea has been on the list of the Tier 3 countries that may "be subject to certain sanctions, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, no-trade-related foreign assistance," according to the department.

   Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, the director of the department's office to combat human trafficking, said, "One of the things that we've seen with North Korea repeatedly over the years is, again, this notion of state-supported forced labor.

   "And we are, of course, concerned not just about forced labor within the country, but also in recent years more and more labor exporting of North Korean, often, men, whether it's into the Middle East, whether it's into especially Russia and other places," CdeBaca told reporters.

   North Korea sends workers overseas along with its police officers, who keep the workers under surveillance and retaliate against them if they try to fight for their rights or if they try to leave, the ambassador said.

   "So, we continue to see the situation of forced labor and human trafficking in North Korea as very grave," CdeBaca said.


U.S. Senate Approves Farm Bill Banning Food Aid to North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Senate passed a bill on June 21 that includes a ban on giving North Korea food assistance without a presidential waiver.

   The five-year farm bill cuts agriculture subsidies and includes wording that prohibits North Korea from receiving food aid unless the president issues a national interest waiver.

   Under the amendment, which needs final approval from the Republican-led House, North Korea is only eligible for Food for Peace Act donations if the president grants a waiver.

   The amendment was submitted by Senate Foreign Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass. and ranking Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana.

   The U.S. halted its food assistance to North Korea in 2009 due to monitoring concerns.

   Washington announced a deal early this year to resume food aid to North Korea in return for Pyongyang's freeze of its nuclear and missile activities, but the deal was negated by the North's April 13 rocket launch.

   "So far, the U.S. administration has decided on whether to provide food aid to North Korea, based on its political judgment," a source said.

   "Although there is a clause of waiver in the Food for Peace Act, it would make it more difficult to give food assistance to North Korea if passed by the House," the source said.


N. Korean Overseas Workers Forfeit up to 90 Pct of Pay: Report

TOKYO (Yonhap) -- North Korean overseas workers are being severely exploited at the hands of the Pyongyang regime, a Japanese newspaper reported on June 24, saying the North's workers take home merely 10 to 20 percent of what they are paid by overseas employers.

   In a special report, the Asahi Shimbun said North Korean workers dispatched to a joint-venture sewing factory in the Czech Republic, for instance, are paid US$150 a month but their actual net income amounts to only around $30, with the rest seized by the regime in Pyongyang.

   Kim Tae-san, a 60-year-old North Korean who ran the North Korea-Czech joint sewing factory for three years from 2000, told the Japanese paper North Korean workers were able to save only 10 percent of their salaries.

   Kim said North Korean female workers at the Czech factory averaged $150 in monthly salary but $75 to $80 of that amount was forcibly remitted to the North's state coffers.

   In addition, $40 was deducted from their pay for accommodation, $1 for a compulsory subscription to the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North's ruling party, and another $2 for the purchase of flowers to be laid before the statue of Kim Il-sung, the late founder of the communist North, Kim said.

   In the end, only about $30 stayed in the hands of a female North Korean worker in the Czech Republic, he said.

   According to the Japanese paper, North Koreans working as woodcutters in Russia are also subjected to similar wage exploitation.

   A typical North Korean woodcutter in Siberia reportedly receives $500 as their monthly salary but their actual take-home pay amounts to $50 to $100, with the rest seized by the North Korean government for various pretexts, the paper said.

   Remittances from overseas North Korean workers worth several hundreds of millions of dollars a year, along with exports of mineral resources, are reportedly a key source of hard currency for Pyongyang, which suffered a trade deficit of $630 million last year due largely to U.N. economic sanctions.

   In the first quarter of this year, about 19,000 North Korean manual workers entered China, up 40 percent from the same period of the previous year. An estimated 40,000 North Koreans are now working in Russia and the Middle East, while another 3,000 are believed to be working in Mongolia.


Russia Agrees to Write off 90 Pct of N. Korea's Soviet-era Debt

SEOUL (Yonhap) --Russia has agreed to write off 90 percent of North Korea's Soviet-era debt of US$11 billion, the Russian finance ministry said on June 23 in its web site.

   According to the web site, a bilateral agreement, reached during Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak's reported visit to Pyongyang from May 31-June 2, also calls for investing the remaining 10 percent of the debt into joint education, medical and energy projects in North Korea.

   The site also quoted the official as saying that the agreement with North Korea will be presented to the Russian cabinet for approval late this month or next month after consultations among the relevant government ministries and agencies.

   Moscow has moved to invite North Korea to participate in a project to build a gas pipeline linking Russia and South Korea via the North, as well as in the connection of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Trans-Korean Railway.


S. Korean, Russian Envoys Discuss N. Korea's Nuclear Programs

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Russia's deputy chief nuclear envoy held talks in Seoul on June 26 and discussed the six-nation talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs and current events on the Korean peninsula, Seoul officials said.

   Ambassador Grigory Logvinov, who arrived in Seoul on June 25 for a three-day visit, met Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's chief envoy to the six-party talks and Cho Hyun-dong, director-general for North Korean nuclear affairs, the foreign ministry official said.

   The envoys "discussed the full range of North Korea and its nuclear issues," the official said on the condition of anonymity, declining to go into detail.

   Following North Korea's botched rocket launch in April, South Korean officials have said it would be difficult for the six-party talks to be resumed this year, citing upcoming presidential elections in both Seoul and Washington.

   Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, were frozen in April when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket.

   The North's failed launch ended a possible deal with the U.S. in which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for food aid by Washington. Such conditions had been considered necessary steps to reopen the six-party talks.
Concerns persist that North Korea may soon conduct a third nuclear test to make up for its failed launch. The North's previous two rocket launches in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests.

   Early June, North Korea said it has no plan for a third nuclear test "at present," an indication some South Korean officials say that Pyongyang is awaiting a "political decision" on whether or not to proceed.

   A high-ranking ministry official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, told reporters that it became more difficult for the outside world to predict North Korea's behavior under its new leader Kim Jong-un.


U.S. Wants Myanmar to Cut Ties with North Korea: Mitchell

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Myanmar should offer assurances that it has severed all illicit ties with North Korea if it wants a normalization of relations with the United States, a high-profile envoy said on June 27.

   "We have been quite consistent and direct in public and private about our continuing concerns about the lack of transparency and Burma's military relationship with North Korea," said Derek Mitchell, the nominee to become Washington's ambassador to Myanmar, also known as Burma.

   He was speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee more than a month after his nomination.

   Mitchell, a veteran diplomat with expertise in Asia, said if confirmed he would place a priority on Myanmar's suspected military ties with North Korea.

   He also vowed to "be clear that our bilateral relationship can never be fully normalized until we are fully satisfied any illicit ties to North Korea have ended once and for all."

   Mitchell has served as the U.S. special representative and policy coordinator for Burma since 2011.

   His nomination came amid a burgeoning thaw in relations between the two sides, spurred by reform measures by the Myanmar authorities that were highlighted by the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

   Making a historic trip to Myanmar in November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged leaders there to end all illicit contacts with North Korea.

   Myanmar is alleged to have been an importer of North Korean weapons.