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

North Korea Denounces President Lee's Liberation Day Message

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has denounced President Lee Myung-bak's message on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the nation's liberation from the Japanese colonial as "rubbish."

   "The speech made by Lee on the occasion of Korea's liberation anniversary was just rubbish by the traitor who eroded the meaning of the holy day of the historic country's liberation," a spokesman for the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK (North Korea) told the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Aug. 16.

   The North's comment, which came just a day after the South Korean president delivered his message, was an unusually quick reaction. Last year the North made a response on Aug. 19 through the Choson Sinbo.

   Calling the president a "traitor," the spokesman said Lee made an "admonitory" speech calling for exploring change (in North Korea). "He (Lee), steeped in the idea of confrontation with his fellow countrymen to the marrow of his bones, went to the lengths of saying that he would keep watching on it," the North Korean spokesman said.

   In the Aug. 15 message President Lee said "Pyongyang has also come to a situation where it has to look straight at reality and consider a transformation. We will carefully watch for possible changes."

   On Lee's remark that denuclearization is a prerequisite to inter-Korean cooperation, the North's spokesman said Lee himself exposed the nation to the danger of a nuclear war.

   "Even though he loudly called for someone's denuclearization, he brought extended nuclear deterrence to South Korea, exposing the nation to the constant danger of a nuclear war," the spokesman said.


North Korean Athletes at London Olympics Receive Heroes' Welcome

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean athletes who enjoyed near-record performances at the London Olympics this summer were feted with a heroes' welcome in their nation's capital, the North's state media reported on Aug. 16.

   The North's Korean Central TV said the athletes were greeted at Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport by senior government figures, including Kim Ki-nam, a Workers' Party secretary, and Kim Yong-jin, vice premier of the North's Cabinet.

   North Korea won four gold medals in London, tying its record for most titles won at a single Olympics, set in Barcelona in 1992. The North, which also won a bronze medal each in weightlifting and wrestling, ranked 20th in the medal standings in London.

   The news report said An Kum-ae, the gold medalist in women's under-52 kg judo, was at the head of the delegation as they disembarked from the plane, met by hundreds of family members, friends and Pyongyang residents who "enthusiastically welcomed" the Olympians. Aside from An's gold, three other gold medals came from weightlifting.

   The report said more residents lined up Pyongyang streets as the athletes left the airport on a bus, and that the athletes acknowledged the crowd in return.

   The athletes later visited statues of their two former leaders, founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, on Mansudae Hill to pay tributes, before holding a press conference.

   Separately, the KCNA credited the athletes' sense of patriotism and their respect for Kim Jong-un, the country's leader and marshal, with giving them mental fortitude.

   At a Cabinet-hosted banquet, Kim Yong-jin stressed the need for the athletes to "exalt the resourcefulness and dignity of the country and the nation and devotedly uphold the dear respected Marshal Kim Jong-un with gold medals," the KCNA said.

   The report said Kim Un-guk, a weightlifting champion who set a world record in men's 62 kg class, replied that the athletes were able to win gold medals because they wanted "to be true to the behests of leader Kim Jong-il and live up to the profound love and trust shown by Marshal Kim Jong-un."


North Korean Delegations to Visit Russia: KCNA

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean delegations on Aug. 17 visited Russia, the North's official news media said, where they are thought likely to discuss economic cooperation with their ally.

   Delegations from the DPRK (North Korea)-Russia Friendship Association and the General Bureau of Diplomatic Corps Affairs left North Korea to visit the Amur Region, the KCNA said in a brief dispatch.

   It did not elaborate on the purpose of the Russia visit.

   North Korea watchers in Seoul said the delegations may discuss economic cooperations between the two countries, including agricultural cooperation.

   The allies have been in talks over an agricultural deal in which the North borrows part of the Amur region to produce farm products with North Korean labor.


Kim Jong-un Visits Front-line Artillery Unit ahead of Joint Exercises

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid a visit to the front-line artillery unit responsible for the country's 2010 deadly bombardment of a South Korean island, extolling service members as heroes and telling them never to tolerate enemy aggression, state media said on Aug. 18.

   The visit to the unit on the North's border island of Mudo near the tense western sea border came days before South Korea and the United States are to launch their annual joint exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian. The computer-assisted exercises, set for Aug. 20-31, will involve some 56,000 South Korean troops and about 30,000 U.S. soldiers.

   "He solemnly declared that if the enemy dares recklessly preempt firing and even a single shell drops on the territory of the DPRK (North Korea), the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) should lead the battle to a sacred war for national reunification, not confining it to a local war on the southwest region," the North's official KCNA said in an English-language dispatch.

   "He also ordered it to turn the west sea into a graveyard of the invaders," it said.

   The North's unit shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing two civilians and two soldiers. It marked the North's first attack on South Korean soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, though the sides have fought naval skirmishes.

   The socialist nation claimed at the time that it acted in self defense in response to a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States in waters near the western sea border. The region has been a source of military tensions, as Pyongyang does not recognize the boundary.
Kim said the area "is not only biggest hotspot on the Korean Peninsula but a very sensitive area on which the world attention is focused and where the interests of many countries are intermingled," according to the KCNA.

   The young leader, who rose to power after his father Kim Jong-il died in December, accused the South and the U.S. of "threatening peace and stability of not only the DPRK but of the region and the rest of the world" with "provocative war drills in those waters of the sea."

   "He ordered the servicepersons of the detachment to be vigilant against every move of the enemy and not to miss their gold chance to deal at once deadly counter-blows at the enemy if even a single shell is dropped on the waters or in the area where the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised," the KCNA said.

   Kim proposed to award the artillery unit "the title of hero" and the "title of heroic defense detachment" for demonstrating the mettle" of the country's armed forces during the 2010 battle, and expressed great satisfaction with the unit's combat posture, the KCNA said.

   "The enemy troops on Yonphyong (Yeonpyeong) Island recklessly fired shells at the islet without knowing from where the deadly blows were dealt and they were hit hard by the telling shells fired by the service personnel of the detachment here with towering hatred," Kim said during the visit, according to the KCNA.

   Kim gave the service members a pair of binoculars, an automatic rifle and a machine gun as gifts, expressing the expectation and belief that they "would register laudable feats in the sacred struggle for defending the country," the KCNA said.

   Earlier, Kim also visited the defense detachment on the nearby island of Jangjae.


N. Korea Appoints Metal Industry Minister Jon Sung-hun as Vice Premier

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Jon Sung-hun, North Korea's minister of metal industry, was appointed as a vice premier of the Cabinet according to a decree of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly on Aug. 18, the KCNA said.

   The KCNA, however, did not reveal if Jon will retain his post as metal industry minister or resign from the position.

   With Jon's appointment, the number of vice premiers in the North Korean Cabinet led by Premier Choe Yong-rim, increased to 11.

   It is noteworthy that all four key officials who led the economic reforms of the North Korean Cabinet in 2003 have been appointed to top economic posts again. They are Pak Pong-ju, first-vice director of the Light Industry Department of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), Vice Premier Ro Tu-chol, WPK secretary Kwak Pom-gi and Jon.

   The North's Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) appointed Pak, then minister of chemical industry, as premier in September 2003 and replaced two vice premiers with Ro and Jon.

   The quartet spearheaded a series of economic reform measures, including follow-ups to the 2007 July 1 economic management improvement measures.

   The four had faded from prominence since the latter half of 2005 when North Korea strengthened the planned economy, but returned to the political scene again when Kim Jong-un took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il late last year.

   Jon, born in 1951, is a graduate of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and was appointed vice minister of the metal industry of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea in April 1998.
He served as the minister from September 1998 to September 2003 and served as vice premier of the Cabinet until April 2009.

   Jon was later dismissed as vice premier and was confirmed as minister of metal industry again in January of this year.

   He is a three-term (10th to 12th) representative of the SPA and visited South Korea to attend the first meeting of the Joint South-North Korean Economic Committee in December 2007.


N. Korea Repeats Threats against South-U.S. Military Drills

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea threatened use of force on Aug. 21 as the country ramped up its vitriolic campaign against the ongoing joint military exercise by the South and the U.S.

   The North has long denounced the annual military drills, which kicked off in South Korea on Aug. 20 for a 12-day run.

   The annual war game mobilized some 56,000 South Korean troops and about 30,000 U.S. soldiers this year. The Combined Forces Command in Seoul said it informed the North the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is "defensive in nature," but Pyongyang has insisted it is "drills for a war" against the North.

   "The war drills ... prove that the U.S. is the harasser of peace and provoker of a war in the new century that upsets the stability on the Korean Peninsula," said a statement by the Panmunjom Mission of the Korean People's Army, carried by the KCNA.

   "As it has become clearer that the nation's sovereignty and peace which are more valuable than one's own life can be guaranteed only by arms, the army and people of the DPRK (North Korea) will take physical counteraction any moment, unhindered, to safeguard its sovereignty and peace," the English-language statement reads.

   "The DPRK can not but take the resolve to use force," the North noted, referring the military drills as "an actual war scenario."

   Seoul vowed earlier in the day that it will take much stronger actions than usual in the event of North Korea launching an artillery attack during the war exercise. The two Koreas have often fired artillery shells near the sea border a few days prior to the start of the annual military event.


North Korean Magazine Suggests First Wage Hike in Decade

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A major North Korean magazine has unusually highlighted the importance of wage hikes, a sign which could indicate an impending wage increase as part of a reformist drive in the teetering economy.

   "Under a socialist system, prices of mass consumption products and services are set to match the labor income level of workers," North Korea's quarterly magazine Economy Research said in its second publication for this year, obtained by Yonhap News Agency.

   "Socialism's labor wage system can only become effective when wages are (high) enough to guarantee citizens' materialistic living standards and the prices of goods and services are regulated to the level (high) enough to push up the quality of the components (of the goods and services)," the magazine said.

   The magazine's emphasis on wage levels is widely interpreted as a call for wage hikes in the socialist country, where dire inflation of the price of rice and other necessities is battering the economy and citizens.

   Average North Korean workers are reported to take home about 3,000 North Korean won every month while one kilogram of rice, the staple of North Koreans, costs 5,000 won.

   Wage hikes are reportedly one part of the North's ongoing reformist efforts, known as the "June 28 new economy management system," and which is believed to also include ditching the rationing system.

   Seoul's National Intelligence Service has also said recently the North is seeking to raise wages as part of its economic management reform.

   In its previous reformist efforts in 2002, the North hiked wages and rice prices to match market levels, but severe inflation, stemming from increased currency flows, caused the reform to fail.

   "The magazine article heralds a wage hike by highlighting the importance of adjusting wages to levels matchable to living expenses," said Lee Yong-hoon, an analyst at SK Research Institute.

   Given recent news reports about the June 28 reform, the North could initiate the reform drive as early as the second half of this year, Lee said.