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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 220 (July 26, 2012)

South Korea Recently Allows Seafood Imports from North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has recently allowed fish imports from North Korea, government officials said on July 22, a first since it imposed sanctions on the socialist state following its deadly military provocations in 2010.

   Forty tons of scallops, an amount worth US$100,000, were shipped through the Port of Sokcho on the eastern border in mid-June upon the request of three South Korean firms, said officials at the unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

   It is the first time the South Korean government has approved North Korean imports since it banned most new investments in the socialist neighbor under its sanctions imposed over the North's sinking of a South Korean warship in March 2010.

   The three firms were allowed to receive the goods as they succeeded in negotiations with their North Korean trading partners, ministry officials said. They noted the decision does not violate the May 2010 sanction that bans new investment as the payments were made before the sanction took effect.

   "The government approved (the imports) taking into consideration North Korea's supply capacity, effects on the market and possibilities of conflicts between the companies," a ministry official said. "As they did not send money to North Korea after the sanctions, the decision does violate the sanctions."

   Seoul blames Pyongyang for the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the artillery shelling of the front-line island of Yeonpyeong, which killed a total of 50 South Koreans.

   Despite lingering tensions and economic sanctions, the two divided Koreas continue to maintain their joint industrial complex in the North's western border city of Kaesong, which serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the North.

   Trade between South and North Korea reached $1.71 billion last year, down 10 percent from 2010, according to government data.


N. Korea Angry at S. Korean Journalists for Covering Practice

LONDON (Yonhap) -- North Korean table tennis officials here on July 23 reacted angrily to South Korean journalists who attempted to take pictures of their practice ahead of the upcoming London Olympics, in the latest display of strained ties between the two countries.

   North Korean table tennis players had practice at ExCeL South Arena, which will also serve as the venue for the Olympic competitions from July 28 to Aug. 2. As South Korean photographers began to capture the players in action, an official threw a towel toward them and yelled, "Don't shoot."

   "Why can't you Koreans understand Korean language?" said the North Korean official. "You're not supposed to shoot us before the tournament. If you keep doing this, we will not sit idly by."

   Athletes' training sessions are open to members of the press. When South Korean journalists complained to the local organizing committee, however, an official said the North Koreans' refusal to allow journalists to cover their practice should be respected.

   North Korea sent 51 athletes in 11 sports, including table tennis, judo, weightlifting and archery, for the July 28-Aug. 12 Olympics.

   The two Koreas have marched together in opening ceremonies at previous Olympic Games, lastly at the 2004 Athens Summer Games. However, under strained relations in recent years, the Koreas haven't discussed a joint march for this year's Olympics.

   The Koreas remain technically at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.


Recent Radical Changes in N. Korea Not Signs for Looming Reform

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's recent radical changes under new leader Kim Jong-un should not simply be taken as signs for a looming reform drive, Seoul's unification minister said on July 24.

   Speculations over the North's drive to open up to the outside world have risen since the young new leader included Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and other American culture in public events.

   The dismissal of army chief Ri Yong-ho last week further fueled expectations that the removal of the strong opponent of economic reform may help open up the reclusive country.

   Bucking these speculations, however, Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said in a forum on Jeju Island that "(they) do not need to lead to a hasty conclusion for the shift to a people-first policy from the military-first politics, or for a reform or opening-up."

   "Likewise, the Mickey Mouse performance should not necessarily mean a signal for reform and opening-up," the ministry quoted Yu as saying at the forum.

   The appearance of one swallow does not mean a full-blown spring, he added.

   Rather, the recent changes seem to be part of the power transition process still underway since the death of the North's late leader and Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, the minister said.

   "Seen from the outside, the North is well into the power transfer without difficulties," Yu said, "but (the new regime) fundamentally needs more time before gaining stable control."

   Due to the dismal state of the North's economy and international sanctions which are disheartening citizens, the new leader may need more efforts to consolidate his power than what it seems from outside, he added.

   Still, the South has hopes that the North will change and a willingness to wait and help, Yu said.