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

ABU Grants Olympic Broadcasting Rights to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A non-government organization dealing with Olympic broadcasting rights for North Korea said on July 26 it will allow the North to air the international sports events across the country.

   The decision came after Kim In-kyu, the president of South Korea's public broadcaster KBS and chief of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), returned from a three-day visit to the North over the broadcasting issue.

   Kim said the four-men ABU delegation he led struck an agreement with the North's Radio and Television Broadcasting Committee under which the organization will provide the North with support to produce and broadcast TV programs on the events while the North pays for the rights.

   How much the North will pay was not revealed.

   According to the deal, the North Korean committee will dispatch a staff of six to London and air the games for a minimum of 200 hours, he said.

   The deal came after three local broadcast firms locally sharing the broadcast rights over the Korean Peninsula -- KBS, MBC and SBS -- entrusted the ABU to decide whether the Olympics could be broadcast in the North.

   The North has dispatched 56 athletes in 11 events to the international competition, including male and female soccer, marathon, table tennis, wrestling, judo and weightlifting.

   In addition to the forthcoming Olympic games, the ABU will also allow North Korea to use broadcast rights for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, according to the delegation.

   Also included in the deal were broadcast cooperation plans between the ABU and the North as well as between the two Koreas, it said.

   Under the deal, the non-profit organization will help the North smoothly transfer to digital broadcasting from its current analogue signal-based transmissions and the divided countries will exchange television documentaries.

   In response to speculations that Kim may have carried a diplomatic message from the South Korean government on his visit North, he said, "The visit in my capacity as the ABU chief was only aimed at discussions of cooperative measures on sports broadcasting.

   "I only met officials related with the broadcasting committee."


First North Korea-West Joint Film to Premiere in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The first film jointly produced by North Korea and Western producers will be screened for the first time at the upcoming international film festival to be held in Pyongyang in September, a news report said on July 26.

   The film titled "Comrade Kim Goes Flying," will premiere at the 2012 Pyongyang International Film Festival set to be held for eight days starting Sept. 20, according to the Washington-based Radio Free Asia.

   As the North's first romantic comedy feature film, the movie was produced by the socialist country in partnership with Belgian producer Anja Daelemans and British-run travel agency Koryo Tours' official Nick Bonner. The film was shot in Pyongyang with North Korean cast and crew, according to the report.

   The biennial festival also plans to screen feature films including "Mr. Bean," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," and a South African movie titled "Cry, The Beloved Country," the report said, citing Koryo Tours, which runs tour programs to the North for the film fest.


N.K. Military Chief Fired for 'Uncooperative Attitude' towards Leader

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's former military chief Ri Yong-ho was dismissed earlier July because of his "uncooperative attitude" towards leader Kim Jong-un's drive to tighten his grip on the North's military, a South Korean lawmaker said on July 26, citing information provided by the South's spy agency.

   North Korea announced Ri's dismissal in mid-July in a surprise move that fueled speculation about a possible power struggle in the communist regime. Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, inherited the military-backed regime following the death of his father and longtime leader Kim Jong-il last December.

   The latest analysis came during a parliamentary interpellation session attended by the director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), Won Sei-hoon, according to the lawmaker who took part in the closed-door session.

   Kim Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek are strengthening their roles as the young leader's guardians by respectively providing mental support and policy advice, said the lawmaker who quoted the NIS on condition of anonymity.

   It is also the spy agency's assessment that the North's three-generation hereditary power succession has been completed with Kim's promotions to the top levels of the socialist country's ruling Workers' Party, government and military, the lawmaker added.

   Following Ri's dismissal, the North announced its leader had been given the title of marshal, the highest functioning military rank.

   The NIS noted it took three years for former leader Kim Jong-il to complete his inheritance of power from his own father, the North's founding leader Kim Il-sung.


N. Korea Disables Key Functions in New Mobile Phones: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has disabled video camera and memory card functions in new mobile phones, a news report said on July 28, in what appears to be Pyongyang's latest move to tighten control over the flow of information within and across its borders.

   The North also removed the Bluetooth function, a protocol that allows mobile phone users to exchange data over short distances, and blocked subscribers from using mobile phones beyond the city where they are registered, Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing a Japanese journalist familiar with the issue.

   "Mobile phones have played a big role in spreading information," said Ishimaru Jiro, the publisher of Rimjin-gang Magazine, which is written by undercover journalists inside the North, according to RFA. With the technological restrictions, however, the new mobile phones "have lost key functions for the spread and proliferation of information inside and outside North Korea," he said.

   Pyongyang took the new measures last October when it issued a new first four digit number to new subscribers, RFA said, in an apparent move to differentiate more than 1 million subscribers with phones equipped with camera functions and memory cards.

   North Koreans can purchase phones using the previous four digit number and equipped with camera functions and memory cards, but the North has raised their price to about US$1,000, putting them out of reach for ordinary citizens, RFA said.

   North Koreans earn an average of 3,000 to 5,000 won a month. The North Korean won is traded at around 3,500 won to $US1 in North Korean markets, though the official rate is 100 won to one dollar, according to North Korean defectors in South Korea.

   The North's move appears to be designed to wean North Koreans off phones with high-technology and eventually restrict any free flow of information and foreign news and materials, which the North sees as a potential threat to its stability.

   Besides the sanctioned mobile phones, some residents near the border with China are believed to be using Chinese mobile phones to keep in touch with relatives and friends in South Korea and China, thus becoming a key source of North Korean news to the outside world.


N. Korean Visitors to China Rise Drastically Since Last Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean visitors to China increased drastically since then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's tour of the North's biggest socialist ally early last year, Chinese government data shows.

   The data on the entry of foreigners obtained on July 29 by Yonhap News Agency showed that 152,000 North Koreans entered China in 2011, a sharp rise from 116,000 the previous year. Out of the total, 114,000 were businessmen and laborers.

   The comparable figures were 116,000 in 2010, 103,000 in 2009, 101,000 in 2008, 113,000 in 2007 and 110,000 in 2006.

   The sharp rise is attributed to the visit to China by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in May 2011, apparently to enhance bilateral economic cooperation.

   The Beijing government said at the time that Kim was invited "so he could have the chance to grasp the developments in China and make the most of them for the development of North Korea."

   The number of North Korean visitors to China will likely increase further this year as China has received 88,000 North Koreans for the first six months this year alone.

   The statistics comes amid reports North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over from his father Kim Jong-il after the senior Kim's sudden death in December, might soon come up with measures for economic reform.

   The young Swiss-educated leader has often stressed the need to catch up with global trends in upgrading the country's industries.


U.S. Says North Korea Religious Freedom Deplorable

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government said on July 30 that North Korea's continued crackdown on religious freedom is "deplorable," but it sidestepped a question on the possibility of change under Pyongyang's new leadership.

   "North Korea continues to be on our countries of particular concern list. The situation is really deplorable," Suzan Johnson Cook, ambassador at large for religious freedom at the State Department, said at a press briefing on the update of its International Religious Freedom Report.

   The report covers a range of nations notorious for oppressing religious freedom, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea.

   But it does not address whether there is any sign of change in North Korea's stance on the issue since its power transition half a year ago, as it is based on an assessment in 2011.

   Cook was responding to a question about whether there is a sign of change in the North's religious freedom issue as it is ruled by a young new leader known to have been educated in the West.

   Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, took over power in December, when his father, Kim Jong-il, died.

   Cook said the U.S. continues to "press and urge" Pyongyang to improve its record.

   "They're not really focused on religious freedom at all," she said. "So we're asking them to really work on all of their universal human rights, including religious freedom."

   The department's report, meanwhile, noted Pyongyang's harsh punishment against people who are involved in religious activities.

   "The government continued to repress unauthorized religious groups, and dealt harshly with those who engaged in religious activities it deemed unacceptable," the report said, echoing earlier assessments.

   "Reports by refugees, defectors, missionaries, and nongovernmental organizations indicated that religious persons who engaged in proselytizing in the country and those who were in contact with foreigners or missionaries were arrested and subjected to harsh penalties," it said.

   The report, however, admitted to the difficulty of obtaining detailed and accurate information on what is going on in the secretive socialist country.


U.S. Cautious about Aid for Flood-hit North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States remained cautious on July 31 about the possibility of providing humanitarian aid for North Korea, pounded by heavy rain.

   A State Department official said the U.S. government is not directly involved in the U.N.'s on-site assessment of flood damage in the secretive communist nation.

   “Only DPRK (North Korea)-based U.N. staff traveled to flood damaged areas to assess conditions," the official told Yonhap News Agency on the customary condition of anonymity. "At this time, there are no plans for a separate U.S. assessment.”
“We continue to be concerned about the well-being of the people of the DPRK," the official added. "Our longstanding humanitarian policy towards the DPRK remains unchanged.”
Several days of downpours battered Pyongyang, the capital, and other regions, according to the country's state media, which said dozens of people were killed and tens of thousands left homeless.

   The U.N. said its staff, based in North Korea, visited the two worst-affected areas.

   Earlier July 31, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed concern for the North Korean people.

   "Obviously, for North Koreans who are suffering, you know, our hearts go out to them. But I don't have anything specific on assistance," he said when asked to comment on the floods in the North.


U.S. 'Concerned' about N.K.'s Inertia in Fighting Money-laundering

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government expressed concern on July 31 about North Korea's refusal to improve its regulatory system against money laundering and terrorism financing.

   "The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) remained concerned about the DPRK's (North Korea's) failure to address the significant deficiencies in its regulatory regimes," the State Department said in its annual report on terrorism.

   The FATF, based in Paris, is an inter-governmental organization designed to develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.

   The Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 revealed that Pyongyang "engaged the FATF to discuss its anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regulatory regimes."

   While the FATF welcomed the initial engagement, the report said, there were no further contacts.

   It was among the fresh issues covered by the report on North Korea, with most of others similar to those in previous publications.

   The report reiterated that North Korea is "not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts" since the bombing of a Korean Air flight in 1987 in which 115 people were killed.

   In 2008, the U.S. removed Pyongyang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism amid some progress in nuclear talks.

   On South Korea, the report said the country's security authorities have maintained close cooperation with their American counterparts in combating terrorism.

   It said the FBI conducted a joint investigation with South Korea's state intelligence agency and police into an international terrorism subject who had relocated to South Korea.

   The South Korean authorities "provided information and monitored the subject until he departed the country."