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

North Korea's New Leader Relies on Police Control: Report

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea maintains a labyrinth of pervasive security agencies and informants to control the country's 24 million people, a report said on July 19.

   The North has three main security agencies -- the State Security Department, the Ministry of Public Security and the Military Security Command -- and this internal security apparatus, built under former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, will continue to be a key element of new leader Kim Jong-un's political control, according to the 163-page report published by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

   The HRNK is a nongovernmental organization in Washington, campaigning for improving human rights conditions in North Korea.

   "For sixty years, the internal security apparatus has ensured the survival of the Kim family dictatorship," said North Korean leadership specialist Ken E. Gause, who wrote the report, "Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: and Examination of North Korea's Police State."

   "Whether or not North Korea collapses, evolves, or continues to muddle through will depend a great deal on the viability of this all-pervasive apparatus," he added.

   Gause, senior researcher at CNA Strategic Studies' International Affairs Group, based in Alexandria, Va., said it is still hard to figure out the North's intention behind the sudden dismissal of its top military commander, Ri Yong-ho, and the appointment of leader Kim Jong-un as "marshal" of the republic.

   "North Korea's intent is still up in the air," he said. "We will have to wait and see."

   He was speaking at a forum, co-hosted by HRNK and the Korea Economic Institute, to mark the launch of his report, a result of years of work.

   "In 2012, the North Korean regime finds itself faced with many problems that threaten internal stability," he said. "Not only is the country facing another year of food shortages, but Kim Jong-il's death raises many questions about the regime's stability at the top. The information cordon that once surrounded the country has deteriorated, and information about the outside world filters in through cell phones, DVDs and surreptitious radio and television monitoring."

   Roberta Cohen, co-chair of HRNK, said Pyongyang will be tempted to tighten internal security controls despite the new leader's push for some political reform.

   "Even if Kim Jong-un wanted to reform North Korea's political system, he will come up against security staff intent on purging, arbitrarily arresting and meting out inhumane treatment to all those perceived as threatening to the Kim family's continuance in power," Cohen said.


N. Korea Incites South's Civic Groups against Japan Military Pact

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently faxed letters to several civic groups in the South calling for joint action against Seoul's botched attempt to sign a military pact with Japan, a government official said on July 20.

   "North Korea is faxing letters to the South's organizations, calling on them to issue a joint statement regarding the military intelligence exchange agreement between the South and Japan," the official said.

   The government has confirmed at least five or six local civic groups received faxed letters from the North, he said, adding the communist country is expected to send more down the road.

   Experts interpreted the move as apparently aimed at instigating internal strife over the controversial military agreement with Japan, which still has unresolved historical disputes with the South.

   After tentatively approving the pact behind closed doors, Seoul postponed the final signing of the pact in late June after criticism erupted over the secretive handling of the pact with the former colonial ruler.

   During times of strained relations with the South, the North has often used faxing as a means of conveying the country's demands and opinions to local civic groups regarding key inter-Korean issues.


N. Korean Women Working in Chinese Hotel for Hard Currency

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea, eager to accumulate much-needed hard foreign currency, has dispatched an army of female workers to a landmark hotel in China's richest village, sources said on July 20.

   According to officials in Huaxi, Jiangsu Province's model city which amassed massive wealth thanks to its capitalistic economic drive, about 20 to 30 North Korean women began working as waitresses in the five-star Longxi International Hotel in early 2012.

   The skyscraper hotel drew much attention in and outside of China when it opened late last year for its massive investment of nearly US$500 million.

   The North Korean staff mostly in their early- or mid-20s are working at the hotel's North Korean restaurant as well as Chinese and Japanese restaurants for as much as 5,000 Chinese yuan ($785) in monthly salary each.

   North Korean officials are keeping them under surveillance while the hotel accommodates them in a separate section, the sources said.

   Experts said the female workers in the Chinese hotel are just part of more than 1,000 North Korean women working mostly in Korean restaurants across China, North Korea's closest ally and a key source of foreign currency income.

   The latest staff dispatch indicates North Korea is diversifying its export of workforce into foreign restaurants from its previous pool of Korean diners, experts said.

   The exported workers are widely believed to bring in much-needed hard cash to North Korea, now squeezed of foreign currency due to international economic sanctions imposed due to the communist country's unauthorized nuclear and long-range missile tests.

   According to Chinese government statistics, about 40,200 North Koreans visited China in the first quarter of this year, with about half of them being laborers.


JCS Chief Says Power Struggle Ignited N. Korean Military Shakeup

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on July 20 he believes North Korea's ex-military chief was removed from his posts in the process of a power struggle in the core of the Kim Jong-un regime.

   The top South Korean military officer raised skepticism of North Korea's surprise announcement on July 16 that Army chief Ri Yong-ho had been relieved of all his posts due to "illness."

   "There are many possibilities regarding Ri Yong-ho's fall from his post, including illness, mistakes in public or private, and a power struggle," Jung said during a meeting with reporters at the defense ministry. "There is a high possibility that (Ri) was sacked in the process of a power struggle."

   Regarding a local media report on a gun battle in the North after Ri's firing, Jung said the military has not yet verified the incident, without elaborating.

   On July 20, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in Seoul reported, citing some intelligence sources, that a gun battle broke out when the North Korean regime purged army chief Ri, leaving approximately 20 soldiers dead.
Citing South Korean government officials, the daily said the gun battle erupted when Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, director of the People's Army General Political Bureau, tried to detain Ri in the process of carrying out Kim Jong-un's order to sack him. It did not rule out the possibility that Ri, who has not been seen since his abrupt firing, was injured or died during the confrontation.

   "We are concerned that North Korea may launch a military provocation," said Jung, noting the North Korean military has not yet showed signs of a provocation. "Summer trainings are being held the same level as last year."

   Jung said he believes Hyon Yong-chol, who was promoted to the post of vice marshal on July 17, may have a "close connection" with the core of the reclusive regime, considering his quick rise to a high rank from a veteran field commander.

   Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, has worked to bolster his public image while rebuffing international pressure to abandon the country's nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang further ratcheted up its rhetoric against conservative President Lee Myung-bak and his administration after the socialist country's failed rocket launch in April.


6 North Korean Professors in Canada to Study Free Market

SAN FRANCISCO (Yonhap) -- Six professors of leading North Korean universities are staying in Vancouver to study capitalism at a Canadian university on a six-month program, the program director said on July 20, drawing fresh attention to the North's possible transition under its Swiss-educated young leader.

   The economics professors from three North Korean universities arrived in Canada earlier July to take courses at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the fall semester, which begins in September, after a two-month language course, Professor Park Kyung-ae, director of the Center for Korean Research, said.

   "They will mainly study international business, economics, finance and trade," Park told Yonhap News by phone, without giving further details of their identifications.

   The elite universities include Kim Il-sung University, the top university named after the country's founding leader, the People's Economics University and the Pyongyang Foreign Language College, Park said. All the institutions are located in the North's capital, Pyongyang.

   They are the second group of visiting professors to take the courses under the Canada-DPRK (North Korea) Knowledge Partnership Program, which Park helped launch at UBC last year.

   A group of six professors, five from Kimilsung University in Pyongyang, attended the program in the fall semester last year, which included meetings with CEOs of Canadian law firms, banks, insurance companies and energy firms.

   "There was no such long-term program related to North Korea in the past," said Park, who visited the socialist state in June. "The professors who completed last year's course did their best and had good relations with other professors and faculty members. As they successfully finished the course, we were able to continue the program this year as well."

   The rare exchange program, which started under late leader Kim Jong-il, recently attracted new media attention in light of the military reshuffle by his successor Kim Jong-un, who inherited a crumbled economy after decades of Stalinist management, and a starving population dependent on foreign food aid.

   Some analysts say the untested leader, believed to have studied in Switzerland, could take his country into a new direction with a more receptive approach to market principles. Others point to the country's failed rocket launch in April as indication Kim is likely to continue to isolate the communist regime from the outside world over its nuclear development program.


North Korea's Trade with China Jumps 28 Percent: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's trade with China jumped about 28 percent during the first five months of this year, a state-run think tank here said on July 20, proving the North's heavy reliance on its neighboring ally on the economic front.

   According to the data by the Korea Development Institute, the two allies' trade came to US$2.51 billion during the January-May period, up 27.9 percent from the same period a year earlier.

   The North's exports to China totaled $1.05 billion during the cited period, up 29 percent from a year earlier. Its imports also grew 27.1 percent on-year to $1.46 billion over the cited period. This resulted in $410 million in trade deficit for the North.

   China accounted for 89.1 percent of the North's total trade volume -- excluding trade with South Korea -- last year, which is much higher than the 52.6 percent tallied in 2005.

   This year's growth stemmed mostly from the North's expanded exports of anthracite coal, which jumped 58.2 percent on-year to $613.76 million, the report showed.

   Anthracite is the North's leading export item. It accounted for about 50 percent of shipments to China in recent months.

   The North imported $364.45 million worth of energy products. including crude oil, from China, the largest sector of imported goods from the country. Machinery came next at $132.48 million, the report showed.


U.S. Stresses No Hostile Intent on North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States government reaffirmed on July 20 that it has no hostile intent towards North Korea as it seeks peace and stability on the peninsula.

   "As a matter of longstanding policy, the U.S. is committed to the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and has no hostile intent toward the DPRK (North Korea)," a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on the customary condition of anonymity.

   The official was responding to a North Korean foreign ministry statement that it will "totally reexamine the nuclear issue,' hinting that it may avert its earlier announcement that it has no immediate plans for a nuclear test.

   Pyongyang also accused South Korea and the U.S. of attempting to demolish statues of its founding leader, Kim Il-sung, in North Korea near the Chinese border, citing testimony from a North Korean defector, Jon Yong-chol.

   Jon, who has returned to the North, claimed earlier this week that he took part in the plot in return for the promise of money from South Korean and U.S. authorities.

   The State Department urged Pyongyang to discontinue threats.

   "We believe strongly that North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations; such behavior will only continue to isolate the country and provide no real opportunity for engagement with the international community," the official said. "We continue to call on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations, including all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions and human rights conventions.”


North Korea Deploys Attack Helicopters Near Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has placed about 50 attack helicopters at air bases near the western sea border in response to South Korea's Air Force placement in the Yellow Sea, South Korean government sources said on July 24.

   North Korea's military has deployed the helicopters at two air bases near the South's Baengnyeong Island, located just south of the western maritime border, since May to prepare for ground attacks and high mobility drills, a senior military official said.

   The North's forward deployed helicopters number about 50, including the Mi-2 helicopters, which were produced in North Korea in the 1980s, and Russian-made models.

   The official analyzed Pyongyang deployed the attack helicopters on the frontline in response to South Korea's placement of assault helicopters and multiple launch rocket system in the northwestern islands.

   "We are closely watching (the North Korean military) as it could relocate (the helicopters) after troops at the rear ends complete their summer training," the official said asking for anonymity as he is not allowed to talk about military information to the media.

   Seoul and Washington have strengthened their joint intelligence gathering on the reclusive communist regime, following a series of top-level reshuffles in the North's military, according to military sources.

   Tensions further rose as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was granted the title of marshal, after the shake-up at the highest level of the North's 1.2 million-strong armed forces, one of the world's largest.

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