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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 219 (July 19, 2012)

North Korea's Key Youth Body Holds First Conference in Decade

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean key youth organization held on July 12 its first conference in 10 years to revise its rules and vow its allegiance to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the North's media said.

   The previous conference of the Kimilsung Socialist Youth League was held in March 2002.

   During the meeting held at the People's Palace of Culture in Pyongyang, participants decided to pledge their loyalty to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and change the titles of posts in the youth league committees, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   According to the decision made at the conference, "first-secretary" and "secretary" of youth league committees at all levels were renamed "chairman" and "vice chairman."

   The conference was attended by Choe Ryong-hae, who has been on the fast track for promotion under the Kim Jong-un regime, and Kim Ki-nam, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea among others.


North Korea Launches Air Route to Mount Kumgang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has launched an air route from China to the scenic Mount Kumgang on its east coast, Pyongyang's official media said on July 13.

   A group of Chinese tourists led by the manager of the Yanbian Chunwoo International Travel Agency flew into Pyongyang on July 12 from the northeastern Chinese city of Yanji, according to the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North's ruling Workers' Party.

   Chinese media said the air route to Mount Kumgang will operate from Yanji every Monday and Friday, carrying tourists on either a four or five-day tour.

   The route does not go directly to the resort, but requires passengers to take a connecting flight in Pyongyang to the eastern port city of Wonsan. A five-day tour costs about 4,500 Chinese yuan (US$706) per person.

   It is the first time North Korea has operated a regular flight to Mount Kumgang, although Chinese tourists have previously traveled there on chartered flights.

   In June, Chinese media said the same travel agency launched the first cruise program from China to Mount Kumgang.

   The tours are a key source of income for the impoverished North.

   A tour program for South Koreans was suspended following the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean soldier near the resort.


N. Korea Launches First Multi-purpose Vaccination Project

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has launched its first multi-purpose vaccination project recently with funds provided by international organizations, including UNICEF, part of which was contributed by South Korea, according to its state media and officials in Seoul.

   The North held a ceremony on July 12 to launch the Pentavalent Vaccine project aimed at inoculating children against five diseases -- diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B and haemophilius influenza type b -- before beginning the project at two hospitals in Pyongyang, the North's official KCNA reported on July 15.

   During the ceremony, the North's health minister, Choe Chang-sik, thanked international organizations for their support for the project, saying close cooperation between the U.N. Children's Fund, the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) helped realize the project.

   A UNICEF official said the organization funded the vaccination project with money collected from South Korea and other donor countries, and Seoul's contribution represents a large portion of the fund.

   According to an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry, Seoul provided UNICEF with US$5.65 million from its inter-Korean cooperation fund last year for the purposes of purchasing vaccines and other medical supplies, and $900,000 of it is earmarked for vaccination-related purchases.


Hyon Yong-chol Named Vice Marshal of N. Korean Military

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea announced on July 17 that it has promoted Army Gen. Hyon Yong-chol to the post of vice marshal, one day after unexpectedly announcing the dismissal of the previous vice marshal and well-known confidant of its leader Kim Jong-un.

   "Hyon Yong-chol was awarded the title of vice marshal of the (North) Korean People's Army," said the KCNA, the socialist nation's state media KCNA.

   "A decision on awarding the title was made by the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) and the National Defense Commission on July 15," it added in a brief dispatch, monitored in Seoul.

   Little known to the outside world, Hyon is widely assumed to be in his early 60s and to have served in a field army in charge of border defense.

   How exactly old Hyon is or where and what university he is from are barely known to the local press and even to government officials.

   He is one of several figures who became emerging stars under the Kim Jong-un regime, among them is Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA).

   Hyon was promoted to a four-star general in September 2010 when Kim Jong-un was also awarded the same rank in the North's first clearest signal over the power transfer to Kim Jong-il's youngest son.

   The follow-up personnel decision came one day after the North made a unexpected announcement over the dismissal of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, well known for his key role in paving the way for the young leader to take over power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December last year.

   Meanwhile, North Korean state media confirmed later on July 18 the appointment of Hyon as military chief, a post Ri was removed from.

   Media outlets including Radio Pyongyang said Hyon attended a military rally organized to celebrate Kim Jong-un's appointment as marshal and referred to him as chief of the military's general staff.

   Hyon, who participated in the rally as a panelist, said Kim's new title reflected the conviction and will of the military and the people to trust and follow their leader.


Kim Jong-un Given Marshal Title to Solidify His Power

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on July 18 that its young leader Kim Jong-un has been awarded the title of marshal, the top commander of the North's 1.2-million-strong army.

   "A decision was made to award the title of Marshal of the DPRK (North Korea) to Kim Jong-un, supreme commander of the Korean People's Army," the KCNA said in a brief report.
The announcement comes after North Korea said on July 16 its army chief Ri Yong-ho had been removed from all his posts and a little-known general, Hyun Yong-chol, was promoted to the rank of vice-marshal.

   One hour before the report, the KCNA said that it will make an "important announcement" at noon.

   The abrupt departure of Ri is being interpreted by senior officials in Seoul as the first political purge by Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be reconfiguring the North's power structure in order to solidify his power he took over following the death of his father Kim Jong-il last December.

   The promotion indicates another step the North took to equip Kim with top titles the young leader needs for his leadership, analysts said.

   "Kim Jong-un was given the title he deserves as the firmly-seated North Korean leader and the supreme commander," said Paik Hak-soon, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. "The title awarding came at a time Kim is solidifying his power."

   He was on track to win the title, Paik said, adding the decision may have been made in link with the promotion of Hyun to the position of a vice marshal of the army.

   For now, the decision seems like only an internal matter, a government official said on condition of anonymity. "(Late leader) Kim Jong-il was also awarded the title one year after becoming a supreme commander," he said.
The South detected no unusual moves from the North's army following the announcement, another government official said.