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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 226 (Sept. 6, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

North Korea Makes Its Debut in Paralympic Games with Sole Participant

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea made its debut in Paralympic Games this year which opened in London on Aug. 29. Although its sole participant, Rim Ju-song, failed to advance to the final round, North Korea seems to be encouraged by the first participation in the Paralympics which were inaugurated 62 years ago.
The 16-year-old double amputee competed in the men's 50-meter freestyle swimming Group B preliminary as a wildcard entry but was eliminated after finishing sixth with a time of 47.87 seconds.

   Rim's record was far behind the records of the five swimmers who finished ahead of him at between 29.98 seconds and the latter half of 33 seconds.

   The undaunted Rim, however, did not lose his spirit. He said in a press conference after the preliminary competition that he would try to win a gold medal at the next Paralympics in Brazil.

   Rim did not even know how to swim before he went to China for training this spring, according to an official of the Green Tree, which sponsored his participation at the games. Rim started intensive training in May. North Korea had planned to send six athletes in four sports to the London Paralympics but all except Rim failed to qualify.

   Rim won his London Paralympics ticket after finishing within 10th place in three international swimming competitions held in Germany at the end of June.

   In a press conference held after his preliminary round, Rim said, "I was first nervous but feel good after finishing the competition.

   "People will get to know more about the Paralympics with my participation" Rim added, vowing "I will practice hard to win a gold medal in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro."
North Korea attached meaning to simply participating in its Paralympics debut. The communist country, which earned provisional membership of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in 2011, decided to participate in the London Paralympics only in July of this year.

   North Korea sent a 24-member athletic team led by Kim Mun-chol, vice head of the Central Committee of the Federation for the Care of the Disabled of (North) Korea, to the London Paralympics.

   North Korea has recently exerted effort to improve its image of maltreating disabled people, implementing measures to take care of disabled citizens, which critics say is designed to obtain international aid.

   In another interview with foreign news media, Li Pun-hui, a former North Korean table tennis star and a member of the North Korean Paralympics team, said North Korea's participation offers inspiration to others involved in North Korea's nascent disabled sports programs. "Healthy or disabled, if you have the will to succeed, there is no obstacle in your way," Li said.

   Defectors from the North and North Korea human rights watchers have reported the country bars disabled people from living in the capital city of Pyongyang, housing them in group homes elsewhere.

   Responding to questions by some foreign reporters, a North Korean team doctor denied allegations that disabled people reside in group homes in restricted areas. He said the allegation is not true and all people, including the disabled, live together.
It was only in the early 21st century that North Korea started to improve its treatment of disabled people. In 2003, North Korea legislated a law to offer free medical care and special education for disabled people and, in 2009, Pyongyang assured the United Nations its disabled were receiving proper care and schooling.

   North Korea also released statistics about its disabled population for the first time in 2011, saying there were 1.87 million disabled people in the country.

   North Korea established the (North) Korean Sports Association of the Disabled (KSAD) in January 2010 and vigorously sought to join the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in a bid to take part in the 2012 London Paralympics.

   The IPC granted North Korea the status of a provisional member, making its athletes eligible to compete, in March of last year.