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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 226 (Sept. 6, 2012)

Kim Yong-nam Defends 'Self-defensive War Deterrent' in Iran

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Kim Young-nam, the ceremonial leader of North Korea, touted the regime's move to "build up the self-defensive war deterrent" at a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Iran, the North's state news media said on Aug. 31.

   "The situation of the peninsula tells us that we were absolutely right to have chosen the path of Songun politics and built up the self-defensive war deterrent," Kim Young-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), said in the opening speech at the 16th NAM Summit, according to the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   The North Korean official, meanwhile, blasted the U.S. for its "aggressive" policies, citing an annual joint military drill with South Korea.

   "Even at this moment, the U.S. is staging aggressive joint military exercises Ulji Freedom Guardian targeting the DPRK (North Korea) and is driving the situation on the peninsula to the brink of war, fanning up the hysteria of war against the North," Kim said, adding such moves have turned the Korean Peninsula into "the biggest hotspot of the world."

   Kim represented North Korea at the Tehran event. North Korea is among the 120 member states that claim not to be aligned with any major power bloc.

   The North Korean official, meanwhile, met U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the summit. The U.N. leader expressed hope for improved relations between the two Koreas, according to his spokesman.

   The KCNA said on Sept. 4 Kim Yong-nam and his party return home after participating in the 16th Summit of the Non-aligned Movement.


N. Korea Mulls Selling Houses to Foreigners in Economic Zone

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea plans to sell houses to foreigners in a joint economic zone under development with China in the far northeast when major construction is completed late next year, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper reported on Aug. 31.

   The project to build the International Commerce and Trade Center and other infrastructure has been underway since April in Rason, jointly funded by the North's trade firm and a Chinese real estate development company.

   "The International Commerce and Trade Center and other buildings will be completed by October next year," the Choson Sinbo's report datelined Rason said. "Residence houses will be sold to foreigners."

   Rason was designated a special economic zone in 1991, seeking to become a potential hub for international transportation, trade and tourism in the world's most isolated nation. It has been governed by a separate set of laws and rules giving local officials more autonomy. About 110 foreign companies, most from China, have invested in the area, according to the newspaper.

   Analysts say the latest move illustrates Pyongyang's efforts to attract foreign investment, as the centrally-controlled socialist state has not before disclosed plans to sell houses, defined as state assets, to foreigners.

   "There were cases in which North Korea allowed foreigners to invest in factories and commerce centers, but no official case of home sales has been reported," said Im Eul-chul, a research professor at Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. "It can be seen as (the North) making another step forward in its efforts to attract foreign investment."

   Other infrastructure and transportation projects have been well under way to give easier access to foreign investors, the paper said.

   The Choson Sinbo said the construction of a railway that links Russia's far eastern border town of Khasan and Rajin Port in Rason, the North's major ice-free harbor border, will be completed in October.

   China will provide electricity to Rason by early next year, build a new highway linking China's border city of Yanji and Rason and build piers at Rajin Port, the newspaper reported.

   In the city with a population of 200,000, nearly 10 percent of people have cell phones and use 100 Mbp-level Internet connections, it added.

   Facing chronic food shortages because of international sanctions over its nuclear program, Pyongyang has shown signs of economic reform under the untested young leader Kim Jong-un.

   Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of Kim, visited Beijing earlier this month to forge deals to develop economic zones in Rason and Hwanggumphyong and expand bilateral economic ties.


North Korean Leader Resumes Inspections in Economic Field

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a restaurant in Pyongyang, the country's state media reported on Sept. 1, as he conducted his first inspection in the economic field in almost a month.

   Kim went around different sections of Haemaji Restaurant in Pyongyang along with his wife Ri Sol-ju, according to the KCNA.

   Kim "expressed great satisfaction" over the construction of the restaurant, saying the environment is very friendly and he likes everything there, the KCNA dispatch said.

   The dispatch did not say when the restaurant will officially open for business.

   The visit came after Kim made a series of tours to front-line military units in recent weeks amid tensions with South Korea and the United States over their recent military exercise in the South.

   North Korea frequently condemns the annual joint military maneuvers as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington have said the drills are defensive in nature.

   Kim's resumption of economic inspections also comes amid speculation that the isolated country is gearing up for reform measures to revive its faltering economy.

   The North has relied on international handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.


Typhoon Bolaven Claims 48 Lives in North Korea: KCNA

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- At least 48 people were killed and more than 50 people were injured or missing after Typhoon Bolaven struck North Korea early last week, the country's official media said on Sept. 3.

   The typhoon also left an estimated 6,700 houses destroyed or inundated and 21,180 people homeless across the country, the KCNA said.

   In addition, at least 50,000 hectares of farmland and crops in 45,320 hectares of paddy and non-paddy fields were severely damaged by the typhoon, the news outlet said.

   The KCNA also said more than 16,370 trees fell down and 880 industrial and public buildings were destroyed, with dozens of educational and medical service buildings put out of commission.

   Earlier on Aug. 30, the KCNA said Typhoon Bolaven left three dead and 3,300 homeless and submerged farmlands, as the disaster-prone nation braced for the second major storm in less than a week.

   The news agency also reported the human casualties caused by Bolaven, which swept the North on Aug 28 to 29, without giving the number of those injured or missing, citing "data available on Aug. 30."


N. Korean Leader Expresses Condolence over Death of Rev. Moon

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has expressed condolence over the death of Unification Church founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the KCNA reported on Sept. 5.

   "Kim Jong-un sent a message of condolences to the bereaved family of Moon Sun Myung," the state news media said in a brief English-language dispatch.

   Kim said in the message that "Though he passed away, his efforts and feats made for the reconciliation and unity of the nation, the reunification of the country and the world peace will last forever," according to the English-language report by the KCNA.

   At the age of 92, Moon died of complications from pneumonia at his church's hospital in Gapyeong, east of Seoul, on Sept. 3.

   The self-proclaimed messiah drew multi-million followers around the world, building a massive business empire in South Korea and the United States, which includes the conservative Washington Times and UPI news agency as well as the Segye Times in South Korea.

   Born in what is now North Korea in 1920, Moon founded the church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, in 1954 and had lived in Japan and the U.S. since 1957, preaching his versions of the Bible.

   Moon had retained a close relation with North Korea since his visit to the country in 1991. He discussed inter-Korean economic cooperation projects with then North Korean leader and founder Kim Il-sung during the visit.

   Moon's church operates the joint auto-making venture Pyeonghwa (Peace) Motors and other resort facilities in Pyongyang.

   North Korean watchers here are raising speculations that the North will dispatch its delegation to Moon's funeral slated for Sept. 15.


North Korea to Convene Unusual Assembly Session Sept. 25

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Sept. 5 called for the opening of an unusual second session of its Supreme People's Assembly (SPA).

   According to the North' official KCNA, the sixth session of the 12th SPA will be held in Pyongyang on Sept. 25. Legislators have been informed to register for the event on Sept. 23-24, the media report said.

   North Korean watchers in Seoul say it is very unusual for the North to hold two sessions of its parliament in one year. The SPA met back in April and named North Korean leader Kim Jong-un the first-chairman of the National Defense Commission, the communist state's top military organ.

   During the 17-year rein of late leader Kim Jong-il, the assembly held double sessions only twice, in 2003 and 2010.

   Sources speculated the unexpected gathering may be linked to approving laws that can support new economic reform programs, believed to be in progress under the new regime of Kim Jong-un.

   "The unusual gathering of the Supreme People's Assembly means there is a decision to be made through consent from all the citizens," said Chang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies of Seoul National University. "Economic reform measures or reshuffling power groups like the National Defense Commission could possibly be (such decisions)."


Kim Jong-un Pays Unconventional Visit to Homes of Working People

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In another unconventional public appearance, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the homes of working people in Pyongyang, the North's state news media said on Sept. 5.

   Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim visited the homes of three ordinary families who recently moved into the newly-built apartments in Pyongyang's Changjon Street, a new town project celebrating the centenary of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's birth this year, said the KCNA.

   In the meeting with the families of a university teacher, city employee and a newlywed couple, Kim inspected the apartment facilities and held talks with them while Ri gave them homemade food, according to the KCNA.

   "The interests of the people are placed above everything else and all the policies of the party and the state are enforced to serve the people," Kim was quoted by the KCNA as telling the families.

   Kim's unconventional visit to the homes of ordinary families follows his unusual public appearances as the leader of the reclusive country, widely believed to be aiming to promote his image as a down-to-earth leader catering to the livelihood of his people.

   He was recently shown riding a scantly-guarded wooden boat to visit a border-area artillery unit, while North Korean media aired the image of him riding a roller coaster with top officials.