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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 224 (August 23, 2012)

Seoul Approves Christian Charity Group's Visit to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A Christian relief organization on Aug. 17 visited North Korea to discuss humanitarian aid to the socialist country.

   Three World Vision officials including vice chairman Park Chang-bin crossed the border through the Dorasan transit office in Paju on Aug. 17 and held a one-day meeting in Kaesong with a North Korean organization dealing with non-governmental aid, an official from the relief group said.

   But, the meeting between two sides failed to reach an agreement on how to deliver shipments of food because of the issue of monitoring, the official said.

   Earlier, Seoul's Unification Ministry on Aug. 16 said Seoul approved the Christian charity group's visit to North Korea.

   The ministry noted a total 13 non-governmental organizations have given humanitarian relief aid to the North on 22 occasions so far this year, valued at 4.1 billion won (US$3.6 million).

   Meanwhile, a North Korean official told a visiting civilian relief group that the communist country suffered "considerable damage" due to heavy downpours and floods last month, an official at the relief group said on Aug. 19.

   "During the consultations with the North's side, a North Korean official told us that there was considerable damage from floods," the official told Yonhap News Agency by telephone.

   According to North Korean media reports, more than 100 people were killed and "tens of thousands" of people were left homeless last month due to torrential rain. The impoverished country has appealed for emergency aid from the international community, including the United Nations.

   World Vision has planned to send 1,000 tons of flour to feed women and children in North Korea, but differences with the North over how to monitor the food delivery have hampered the plan, according to the official.

   The two sides plan to hold additional consultations through fax messages, the official said.


N. Korea Releases Water from Border Dam into River Flowing to S. Korea

EUIJEONGBU/SEOUL, South Korea (Yonhap) -- North Korea released water from a border dam into a river flowing to South Korea, prompting officials in the South to evacuate campers along the river, but no damage or casualties were reported, officials said on Aug. 18.

   The North began discharging water from its Hwanggang Dam into the Imjin River on Aug. 17. Water levels of the river began rising sharply at around 2:20 a.m. to as high as 5.24 meters at 8:20 a.m. Saturday before beginning to fall, officials said.

   It usually takes about eight to nine hours for discharged water to reach the Pilseung Bridge, a water level measurement point in the cross-border river in the South.

   Dozens of campers along the river have been evacuated, officials said.

   Officials said they believe the North opened the dam as rain raised dam water levels.

   An official at the unification ministry in Seoul, which handles relations with the North, said the North did not give prior notice before the latest release.

   In September 2009, North Korea abruptly released water from the dam near the western part of the inter-Korean border without notifying South Korea, causing a flash flood that killed six people.


South Korea to Strengthen Retaliation against North Korea Attack

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea will mount a much deeper and stronger counterstrike than any before in the event of North Korea launching an artillery attack, a senior military official said on Aug. 21, as Pyongyang toughens its rhetoric against ongoing annual military drills in the South.

   South Korea and the United States on Aug. 20 began an annual military exercise that will run through Aug. 31, mobilizing some 56,000 South Korean troops and about 30,000 U.S. soldiers. The Combined Forces Command said it informed the North the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is "defensive in nature," but Pyongyang decries it as "drills for a war" against the North.

   During the largely computer-simulated exercise, the joint forces practice counterattack procedures that have been strengthened in the wake of the North's deadly artillery attack on a South Korean border island in 2010, the senior official said.

   "The military will immediately strike the sources of attack, its supporting and commanding forces as well as corresponding targets in the event of an attack," the official said, asking anonymity as he is not authorized to talk about military information. "It is an expression of our intention to devastate the source of attacks and its surroundings if the North provokes again, in a bid to prevent it from launching an additional attack."

   South Korea has strengthened its rules of engagement after two deadly attacks by the North in 2010, and now calls for an immediate strike against "the sources of attack as well as its supporting forces" if attacked.

   North Korea has increased its hostile rhetoric, with leader Kim Jong-un visiting and lauding an army unit responsible for the 2010 artillery strike. Kim told the soldiers to prepare for "sacred war" should "even a single shell" hit the country's territory, according to state media.

   The Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed here to deter against the North Korean threat.