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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 221 (August 2, 2012)

North Korea Resumes Sending Propaganda Leaflets after 12-year Break

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has sent balloons carrying leaflets across the border with South Korea for the first time in 12 years, the defense ministry in Seoul said on July 26, a move seen as stepping up bellicose rhetoric against Seoul under its young leader.

   Balloons carrying about 16,000 leaflets were discovered by soldiers near the border area from July 23 and July 26, which condemned Seoul's arrest of a pro-Pyongyang activist and its attempt to destroy the statue of one of its late leaders, the ministry said.

   It is the first time leaflets have been sent to the South via balloon in eight years since the two Koreas agreed to stop psychological warfare against each other near the border in a landmark 2000 meeting. In 2004, the rivals officially switched off loudspeakers and removed billboards along the border.

   "It seems that North Korea (sent the leaflets) to claim legitimacy of its regime," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said at a briefing. "Analysis is currently underway to figure out (North Korea's) intentions."

   Out of 10 kinds of leaflets, several leaflets accused South Korea and the U.S. of sending a defector to destroy the statues of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, warning "a war could take place" on the Korean Peninsula if Seoul overlooks "the big terror." Seoul and Washington flatly deny the accusations by the North.

   The leaflets also condemned Seoul's detention of Roh Su-hui, a pro-North Korea activist who was apprehended for visiting North Korea without government approval in violation of the national security law that bans unauthorized trips to the communist state.

   The latest move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 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.

   Pyongyang has frequently threatened retaliation for the South's anti-regime propaganda activities, including the launching of the leaflets, although no real actions have taken place so far.

   The two Koreas remain technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.


S. Korean FM Remains Cautious on Possible Change in N.K. Leadership

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan cautioned on July 30 against reading too much into recent reports on North Korea that indicate the new young leader may be breaking from past leadership models, saying it is premature to judge whether Kim Jong-un will change course.

   Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, took over North Korea after his father Kim Jong-il died in December. In July, the North's media reported a surprise removal of a hard-line army chief, represented Kim as a warm and fun figure and confirmed he is married.

   Some analysts and local news reports have speculated that the confirmation of Ri Sol-ju as Kim's wife was the latest sign of a possible shift from the leadership style of his father, who ruled the North for 17 years with an iron fist.

   The South Korean minister told a meeting with his aides that it was too early to judge the North's new leader.

   "We should not be swayed by those reports of images," the minister was quoted as saying by one of his aides who attended the July 30 meeting.

   "Though we should not downplay signs of a change in North Korea and hope such signs will bring a change, do not focus on images," Kim was quoted as saying.

   The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the minister's remarks meant officials must be careful in reading the North's carefully choreographed news reports.

   U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Sung Kim, shared a similar view on July 28.

   Asked about recent reports from North Korea during an interview with public broadcaster KBS, the ambassador replied, "We have followed developments in North Korea very closely, but I have to say that it's always difficult to assess the situation in Pyongyang because North Korea remains so opaque."

   "But I would note that, in general, changes in personnel, without changes in policy or direction, mean very little."

   "What we continue to hope for is that the new leadership in Pyongyang will make the right decision to rejoin the international community and help its people," the ambassador said.

   Also on Sunday, the North's state body rejected South Korean news reports of possible reform and openness by the young leader as a "silly dream."


North Korea Approves Hyundai Asan Officials' Commemoration Visit

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has agreed to allow a group of South Koreans to visit a mountain resort on its east coast this week for a memorial service for the late chairman of the country's now-suspended tourism business partner Hyundai Group, company officials said on July 31.

   Hyundai Asan, the conglomerate's North Korea business arm, said it received a notice from the North on July 29 that company officials may visit the Mount Kumgang resort to hold a memorial service for late Hyundai Group chairman Chung Mong-hun.

   Chung, who aggressively sought joint tourism and other business projects with North Korea, committed suicide in 2003 amid an investigation into suspicions that the government of then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung secretly sent a large amount of money to North Korea ahead of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000.

   Chung's ashes were scattered at the resort in accordance with his wishes.

   About 10 Hyundai Asan officials, including its chief Chang Kyung-chak, plan to make a one-day trip to the resort on Friday. Hyundai chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, the widow of the late chairman, will not join the trip, officials said.

   Seoul's unification ministry has approved the trip.

   The cross-border travel program to the scenic mountain, started by Chung's father and Hyundai conglomerate founder Chung Ju-yung in 1998, has been suspended since the North's 2008 shooting death of a South Korean woman tourist on the program.

   During the forthcoming visit, the officials will also inspect the facilities in the travel zone before returning to the South, the company said.
The cross-border tour program had served as a major source of hard currency for the impoverished North, and Pyongyang repeatedly called for resuming the project in the first years of its suspension.

   But the program has remained on hold as the North has rejected South Korea's demand that it first punish those responsible for the shooting, promise such an incident won't happen again and guarantee the safety of tourists before restarting the program.

   In what was seen as a softening of Seoul's demands, however, Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said at a parliamentary meeting last week that the government can revive the project if the North simply guarantees the safety of travelers there.

   On July 31, however, the North was negative about Yu's comments.

   In an article carried by its official Uriminzokkiri propaganda Web site, the North accused Yu of attempting to evade his responsibility for jeopardizing the project, claiming that the "responsibility entirely lies with the South's conservative administration."


S. Korea Snubs N.K.'s Apology Demand for Alleged Plot to Destroy Statues

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Aug. 1 rejected North Korea's demand for an apology for an incident in which the North claimed the South sent "terrorists" on a mission to destroy statutes idolizing its deceased founding leader in Pyongyang.

   North Korea has claimed since mid-July that it uncovered a group of its defectors sent by South Korea in cahoots with the United States to blow up statues and monuments dedicated to the late founding leader, Kim Il-sung.

   On July 31, North Korea demanded South Korea make an apology and threatened to punish those who were behind the alleged plot by identifying some North Korean defectors and South Korean activists by name.

   Responding to the North's demand, Park Soo-jin, a spokeswoman at Seoul's Unification Ministry in charge of North Korean affairs, told reporters that, "This is a case not worth responding to."

   "With regard to some North Korean defectors, North Korea has recently made groundless arguments such as charges of kidnapping and terrorism," Park said. "As we said before, it's completely not true."

   Thousands of statues and monuments devoted to the Kim family, including the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, dot the country. They are used to build a cult of personality for the dynastic family.

   North Korea claimed that those "terrorists" are actually North Korean traitors, including defectors to the South who confessed to taking part in attacks after being paid by Seoul and Washington.

   The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a semi-government and party organization that handles inter-Korean affairs, demanded Tuesday Seoul and Washington "make an official apology for the hideous politically motivated, state-sponsored terrorism against the dignity of its supreme leadership and sternly punish the prime movers."

   The North's committee also warned of "corresponding measures, including punishment of criminals involved in monstrous terrorism and other subversive and sabotage acts" in case its demands are not met.

   In an unusual move, the committee revealed the names of some North Korean defectors and South Korean activists for the threat of retaliation.

   They included Kim Song-min, a representative of the Radio Free North Korea; Pak Sang-hak, head of the Federation of the Movement for Free North Korea; Jo Myong-chol, the former director of the Unification Education Institute who became a lawmaker; and Kim Yong-hwan, a prominent South Korean activist who recently was released from China after nearly four months in detention for helping North Korean defectors, according to the committee's statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

   Kim Young-hwan was expelled from China on July 20 and recently said he was tortured by Chinese security agents while in custody there.

   The 49-year-old activist told Yonhap News Agency by telephone that he will not give in to the North's threat.

   "If my activities are intimidated by such threats, it would mean that I get drawn into North Korea's intention. I have no intention of doing that," Kim said.

   Pak of the Federation of the Movement for Free North Korea, who has played a key role in sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North, also said he would not be cowed.

   North Korea has a track record of attempting to silence critics or outspoken defectors in South Korea. Last September, the North dispatched an agent pretending to be a defector to kill Pak with a poison-tipped weapon.

   "There was a direct terror attempt against me in September last year," Pak said. "However, sending anti-North Korea leaflets will be continued in the future."