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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 222 (August 9, 2012)

U.N. Urges Immediate Food Aid for Flood-hit North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A U.N. agency said on Aug. 2 that North Korea needs immediate food assistance as many of its people are in distress from recent flooding.

   The U.N. Resident Coordinator's Office (RCO) in Pyongyang issued the message after an on-site investigation of some heavily affected areas.

   The worst-hit regions are Anju City and Songchon County in South Phyongan Province, as well as Chonnae County in Kangwon Province.

   "Immediate food assistance is required for the people in those counties most affected by the flood," it said.

   Torrential rain countrywide and a cyclone in July resulted in the deaths of scores of people and left tens of thousands of others homeless, according to North Korean authorities.

   The RCO did not elaborate on the quantity of food aid the North needs.

   "Although flood damages have been observed in maize, soy bean and rice fields, it is difficult to quantify the possible yield losses at this juncture," the report said.

   It added crop production will be assessed during the upcoming Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission slated for September and October.

   The RCO also stressed that residents in the flood-devastated areas are in difficulty due to a breakdown of water supply systems.

   "Access to clean water and healthcare remain high priorities to avoid outbreak of diseases," it said.

   Further assessments in health, water, sanitation and hygiene are required over the coming days to establish exact needs, it said.

   The U.S. maintained a cautious approach.

   "The U.S. government has not received any requests for assistance, nor are we aware of any DPRK (North Korea) requests for aid from other states," a State Department official told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity. "We continue to be deeply concerned about the well-being of the people of the DPRK."

   The U.N. office for humanitarian affairs indicated that the U.N. will not ask countries to provide their own aid to North Korea.

   "At this stage there are no plans to have a member state briefing on the floods but to issue regular situation reports," Kirsten Mildren, a spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in an email.

   "The inter-agency team in DPRK is responding to immediate needs and there will be further assessments to assess the longer term crop damage."


U.S. Senate Passes Bill on North Korea Human Rights

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Senate has passed a bill calling for bipartisan efforts to address North Korea's human rights violations, sending it to President Barack Obama for signature, according to congressional officials.

   Shortly before leaving Capitol Hill on Aug. 2 night for a five-week summer recess, senators approved the legislation on extending until 2017 the authority of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2014. It is meant to put pressure on Pyongyang on the issues of human rights, democracy, refugee protection and freedom of information.

   It is the legal ground for the U.S. government's financial support for radio stations broadcasting to North Korea and the appointment of a special envoy on the North's human rights issues.

   The House of Representatives endorsed the legislation in May.

   Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee and who authored the legislation, welcomed the Senate move and reiterated her criticism of Pyongyang.

   "A regime that maims its own people with impunity cannot be trusted to keep its agreements with foreigners. Thus, solving the North Korea human rights issue is also a necessary part of addressing the North Korea security threat," she said in a statement on Aug. 3. "This new law extends for five years important United States efforts to promote human rights, freedom of information, humanitarian aid transparency, and refugee protection for the people of North Korea."

   Ros-Lehtinen emphasized that North Korea's new leader, 20-something Kim Jong-un, should free people held in political prison camps rather than tour amusement parks before state television cameras if he really wants to improve the livelihoods of people in the communist nation.


Kim Jong-un Orders Realignment of Some Military Bases: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un appears to have ordered a realignment of some military units, and South Korea's military is closely watching the North's move, a Seoul government source said on Aug. 3.

   South Korean intelligence authorities have judged that the North's recent forward deployment of attack helicopters near the tense Yellow Sea border with the South was part of the realignment, the source said.

   "Intelligence authorities detected circumstances that the North Korean military is realigning some of its units, including air and artillery forces," the source said on the condition of anonymity.

   In July, South Korean military officials said the North has deployed about 50 attack helicopters such as the upgraded Mi-2 and Mi-4 models to the Taetan and Nuchon air bases near the Yellow Sea border.

   North Korea apparently started realigning some military units after the North's leader, who took the helm after the death of his father Kim Jong-il last December, visited the units, the source said.

   "The judgment of intelligence authorities is that the realignment is highly likely to be ordered by Kim Jong-un," the source said, adding South Korea's intelligence officials are "keeping a close watch on movements by some special warfare and tank units."

   Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, sacked a hard-line army chief last month and was given a title of marshal, the highest functioning military rank, in what many analysts say is a move to further cement his grip on power.

   Some South Korean military officials raised tactical doubts over the North's military realignment.

   A military official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, "In terms of military strategy, it does not make sense that dozens of attack helicopters, which are vulnerable to an enemy's firepower, are moved to front-line units."

   Another military official said the North's military may be "adapting to the unilateral order by Kim Jong-un, instead of making its own decision."

   The Yellow Sea border has been the scene of deadly naval clashes between the two Koreas.

   In 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean corvette and shelled Yeonpeong Island, one of the South's five islands near the border, killing a total of 50 South Koreans.


U.N. Agency to Send Food Aid to flood-hit North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations' aid group said on Aug. 4 it will send 336 tons of emergency food aid to flood-ravaged North Korea.

   The World Food Program (WFP) "is sending a first batch of emergency food aid to flood-hit areas" in the southern part of the communist country, the agency said in a news release.

   Tropical storms and subsequent floods swept through the North in July, leaving at least 88 people dead and more than 60,000 homeless as well as destroying farmland, according to WFP.

   The move came after the North filed a request for emergency aid this week, and the U.N. Resident Coordinator's Office in Pyongyang called for immediate assistance after an on-site investigation.

   The aid will provide victims there with "an initial ration of 400 grams of maize per day for 14 days," the WFP said, adding it also has plans to conduct "a comprehensive assessment of the food situation and prospects for food production" in September.

   Meanwhile, Seoul's unification ministry said on Aug. 4 it is not considering offering aid to the North, though its stance is to help vulnerable North Koreans on purely humanitarian grounds if necessary.


Kim Ok Spotted in Beijing for Apparent Doctor Visits: Sources

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- The rumored fourth wife of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently flown to Beijing on several occasions apparently to visit doctors, informed sources said Aug. 5.

   "Kim Ok has been seen at the Beijing Capital International Airport on several occasions and we understand the visits are to treat the woman's diseases," a source said, asking anonymity. "We've heard that Kim Ok, who is in her early 50s, has various ailments."

   The de facto first lady during the waning years of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's reign was recently seen attending official functions in Pyongyang despite rumors of illness or a possible ouster.

   North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un, a son of Kim Jong-il, recently removed the head of the North's 1.2-million strong military in an apparent move to consolidate power.

   Kim Ok, a former secretary to Kim Jong-il, is said to have started playing first lady in 2004 after the late leader's wife Ko Yong-hui died of breast cancer. Ko is the mother of the current North Korean leader, believed to be in his late 20s.

   Kim Ok accompanied Kim Jong-il on his visits to China and Russia and attended the late leader's meetings with South Korean business representatives.


North Korea's Power Consumption Per Capita at 1970s Levels

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Power consumption in North Korea remains at 1970s levels, data showed on Aug. 6, an indicator of economic hardships in one of the world's most impoverished nations.

   The North's per capita electricity consumption amounted to 819 kilowatt hours in 2008, below the yearly average of 919 in 1971, according to the data compiled by the South's Statistics Korea.

   Power consumption in the North had been on the rise until the early 1990s, from 1,114 kilowatt hours per person in 1980 to 1,247 in 1990. But the uptrend was reversed in the mid-1990s when the North's economy began crumbling due to mismanagement and natural disasters.

   The yearly per capita consumption fell to 912 kilowatt hours in 1995 and 712 in 2000. During the so-called "Arduous March" period from the mid-1990s, around 2 million North Koreans reportedly died from hunger.

   In the 2000s, power consumption has been fluctuating, with its peak being reached in 2005 when a person used an average of 817 kilowatt hours for the year. But it has yet to regain the level of three decades ago, according to the data.

   South Korea's per capita power consumption reached 9,510 kilowatts in 2011, the data showed.

   "Consuming about 800 kilowatt hours of electricity per year per person means that the person scarcely uses power. He lives merely with his light on, as you say," said an official of the Korea Electric Power Corp in Seoul.

   The total amount of the North's electricity consumption per year amounted to 13,463 gigawatt hours in 1971, 19,201 in 1980, 25,111 in 1990 and 16,334 in 2000, 19,292 in 2005 and 18,121 in 2008, the data showed.

   During the period, the North's population rose from 14.6 million in 1971 to 23.9 million in 2008, according to the data.

   Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Program said in its report published last May that some 26 percent of the North Korean households have access to electricity as of 2009.


N.K. Foreign Minister Bawls at Chinese Counterpart over Media Report

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea's top diplomat spoke in an unusually high-pitched tone to his Chinese counterpart during bilateral talks last month as he protested a Chinese media report critical of Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, a source familiar with the issue said on Aug. 6.

   North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun held talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi for about an hour on July 11, ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Cambodia, also known as ARF.

   "During the talks, Pak raised his voice at Yang, calling on him to clarify the government's position regarding the Global Times editorial. The meeting almost turned into a venue for quarrel," a source from China familiar with the issue told Yonhap News Agency.

   Beijing is Pyongyang's key socialist ally.

   The Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper under the People's Daily, said in its June 2 editorial that China should express objection to North Korea codifying nuclear weapons possession in its constitution.

   The paper raised concern that the North's move could lead ultimately to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan taking similar steps, triggering a chain reaction of nuclear armament in Northeast Asia.

   In its revised constitution, the socialist North proclaims itself as a nuclear armed state, according to its full text monitored by Yonhap News Agency in May on the North's "Naenara" Web site.

   The editorial by the Global Times, one of China's leading newspapers, was the first unofficial response from China about the issue, as the Beijing government has remained silent on it so far.

   When Pak urged Yang to make it clear if the Chinese government shares the same opinion with the newspaper on the matter, the atmosphere "turned sour, causing China to fail to even raise the agenda on its territorial disputes in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries for which it has sought support from the North," the source said.

   While media of the two countries did not mention the incident, with Pak not speaking to reporters after the talks, the state-run Xinhua News Agency only said the meeting served as a venue for recognizing the importance of promoting their relations.

   The source also said there has been little progress in relations between the two countries under the North's new leader Kim Jong-un, who took the helm of the country after his father's death in December.

   But chances are that exchange and cooperation could become more active, experts say, citing that Kim Jong-un met with Wang Jiarui, the head of the International Liaison Department of China's Communist Party, in Pyongyang on Aug. 2, during which Wang stressed the Chinese policy to strengthen the long-time ties between the two countries.