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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 233 (October 25, 2012)

Report: North Korea Ditches Secret Fund Management Agency

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea's leadership has dissolved a key communist party organization tasked with managing slush funds for the ruling Kim family, a news report said on Oct. 18.

   Japan's Kyodo News Service reported Pyongyang has abolished the agency, code-named "Office 38," under the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK). It quoted unidentified "sources familiar with North Korean affairs."

   Kyodo's story has not been confirmed independently. It cited the sources as saying the North's move reflects efforts by the young leader Kim Jong-un to streamline entities involved in earning foreign currency and also increase the role of the cabinet.

   Office 38, created by the late leader Kim Jong-il, is known as a party bureau that manages the funds of the Kim family and ruling elites.

   Its main mission was to oversee transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade.

   Kyodo said such a role has been transfered to a new entity called the Moranbong Bureau, believed to belong to the cabinet.

   Office 38 was merged in 2009 with another party body, Office 39, which was in charge of illicit economic activity, such as drug smuggling and arms trading, to support the government, according to previous media reports. Pyongyang revived Office 38, however, in 2010, they added.

   Kyodo said the Kim leadership also disbanded Office 39 recently.

   A North Korean leadership specialist based in the U.S. was cautious about Pyongyang's reported move.

   "We could (see it as a good sign, if true), but we need to look more closely," said Ken Gause, a senior researcher at CNA Strategic Studies' International Affairs Group.

   "In the past, Office 38 has been folded into Office 39 only to be resurrected as a separate office. So we cannot take any organizational restructuring at face value," he added.


Kim Jong-il's Grandson Hopes for Unification of Koreas: Interview

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Kim Han-sol, a grandson of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il who is living outside of the socialist country, hopes for the unification of the two divided Koreas and wants to improve livelihoods in the impoverished country now controlled by his young uncle, he said in a recent interview.

   "I also dream of unification because it's really sad that I can't go to the other side and see my friends over there," the 17-year-old Kim said in an interview with a Finnish television station held at his school in Mostar, Bosnia. "That's one of the dreams."

   Kim and his father Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late leader Kim Jong-il, had long lived in Macau before the grandson recently moved to Bosnia for schooling. Kim Jong-nam, the son of the late leader's first wife Song Hye-rim, is believed to have fallen out of favor with his father in the early 2000s due to his wayward behavior and outspoken opinions critical of the socialist regime.

   Before dying of a sudden heart problem last December, the late leader turned his regime over to Kim Jong-un, his third and youngest son of wife Ko Yong-hui, sending Kim Jong-nam's family to live almost in a state of exile in Macau.

   "I've always dreamed that one day I would go back and make things better and make it easier for the people there," the calm-looking grandson dressed in a black suit and tie said in articulate English in the interview footage also posted on YouTube.

   Born in Pyongyang in 1995 and having lived in North Korea for the first few years of his life, Kim has met neither his grandfather nor his youngest uncle, he said.

   Due to his mother's ordinary background, he was isolated from the North's regime and only later came to know his grandfather was a leader in the country, he said.

   "Slowly, little by little through conversations that my parents had, I started to put puzzle pieces together and I realized who he was," Kim noted.

   He said his parents taught him to lead a humble life like hungry ordinary citizens and understand them, telling him, "Think about the people first before you eat that food in front of you."

   Growing up in that kind of background, "I've concluded that I'll just take opinions from both sides and see what's good and what's bad and make my own decisions and not completely siding with one side."

   He said he wants to continue his education after finishing at the United World College before engaging himself in humanitarian projects and efforts to build peace in the world as well as his home country. "That's a really important part of me, that Koreans are really divided, that we can, if we put a little effort, we can come to a conclusion and unite."


U.S. Not Swayed by North Korea's Armament Threats: Official

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States on Oct. 21 dismissed North Korea's continued threats to jettison its denuclearization commitments, reiterating it would be impossible for the socialist nation to become a nuclear power.

   "The position of the United States with respect to North Korea has not changed," a State Department official said, when asked about Washington's formal response to Pyongyang's recent saber-rattling.

   "The international community will never accept the DPRK (North Korea) as a nuclear weapons power. We continue to hold the DPRK to its denuclearization commitments and obligations," the official added, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.

   In a 2005 deal reached at the now-defunct six-party talks, North Korea vowed to abandon all of its nuclear programs in exchange for political and economic incentives from its dialogue partners -- South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

   The impoverished North is also required to stay away from nuclear activity under the U.N. resolutions adopted after its underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

   In a rare meeting with a senior U.S. government official in late September, two North Korean diplomats said Pyongyang would reconsider its policy on the historic nuclear agreement, according to news reports.

   Clifford Hart, the Obama administration's special envoy to the six-way talks, met informally with Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, and Choe Son-hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau at its foreign ministry, in the Chinese city of Dalian on the sidelines of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue.

   The North Koreans told Hart that Pyongyang "will not continue on its path to denuclearization, as promised in 2005" until Washington averts its "hostile policy," according to media in the U.S. and Japan.

   The State Department official neither confirmed nor denied the reports, while stressing Washington is open to dialogue with Pyongyang.

   "We have long made clear we are open to improved relations with the DPRK if it is willing to take clear actions to live up to its international obligations and commitments," said the official.

   In July, North Korea's foreign ministry announced "the consistent hostile policy" toward it by the U.S. compels Pyongyang to "totally re-examine the nuclear issue."

   The following month, the ministry issued a more strongly worded statement
"Should the United States make a wrong choice, our nuclear possession will be prolonged and our nuclear deterrent will be updated and expanded beyond imagination," it said.

   On a visit to Seoul last week, the top U.S. point man on North Korea Glyn Davies described Pyongyang's nuclear threats as "troubling."


German Theaters to Screen Movie on N. Korean Political Prison Camp

BERLIN (Yonhap) - A rare movie about a former North Korean political prisoner will be screened in theaters in Berlin and around nine other German cities on Nov. 8, according to Engstfeld Film.

   Director Marc Wiese's "Camp 14 - Total Control Zone" is about the dramatic life of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a political prison camp, according to the documentary film company.

   Shin remained in the camp for 24 years before escaping over electrified fences and making his way to China. He settled in South Korea in 2006.

   "Our sole purpose was to follow the rules of the work camp and then die," Shin said in a synopsis posted on the Web site of Engstfeld. "Sometimes people tried to escape, driven by fear of starving or being beaten, but they were publicly executed and became the object of hate for those of us who were left behind."

   The movie follows the March publication of "Escape from Camp 14," a book on Shin's experiences by American journalist Blaine Harden.

   Shin has said inmates were subjected to torture, hard labor and arbitrary execution. He also has said that his mother and brother were executed in Camp No. 14 because he tipped off the authorities that they were planning an escape.

   North Korea is believed to have up to 200,000 people in hidden, Soviet-style gulags where torture and executions are routine and starvation is widespread.


N.K. Mends Nuke Test Tunnel After Flood Damage, Satellite Photo Shows

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea suffered flood damage at its major nuclear test site but it has made good progress in restoration, security experts said on Oct. 22, citing satellite photos.

   "Satellite imagery of North Korea's underground nuclear test site at Punggye-ri in the country's northeastern corner shows that significant repairs have been undertaken to mitigate damage caused by this summer's floods," said James Hardy and Allison Puccioni, analysts at IHS Janes, a London-based security information firm.

   South Korean intelligence sources said earlier heavy rains and floods had caused damage at a tunnel in the site. The reclusive North is believed to have constructed two new tunnels in addition to as many existing ones.

   It conducted two underground nuclear tests there in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

   "The reports of flood damage at the site have been confirmed by GeoEye imagery taken in October 2012, which, when compared with DigitalGlobe imagery taken in October 2010, shows the effects of severe flash flooding on the site after it was inundated by water draining off the surrounding mountains," the analysts added in a report.

   South Korean officials think North Korea has the capability to carry out another nuclear experiment at any time, but no substantial activity has been reported yet.

   Meanwhile, North Korea's state media said in August that nearly 170 people were killed, 400 were missing and more than 84,000 left homeless after floods in late June and early July.


North Korea Has 'Significant' Cyber Warfare Capacity: USFK Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's cyber-warfare capabilities have become "significant" and the country is continuing to further develop them, the top American military commander in South Korea said on Oct. 22.

   The socialist regime's capacity for cyber terror is one of the unconventional weapons that it is developing, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Gen. James Thurman said during an event sponsored by the Association of the United States Army in Washington.

   But Thurman did not elaborate on the exact details of the North's cyber abilities.

   Other unconventional arsenals in North Korea include its special operations force, believed to be the world's largest with 60,000 personnel, as well as weapons of mass destruction, with the country pushing to refine its ballistic missiles technology and further investing in developing nuclear weapons that could be of use, according to the general.

   As for the new leader Kim Jong-un, Thurman said he is "aggressive and more assertive" than his father Kim Jong-il, calling the young leader, believed to be in his late 20s, "an unpredictable ruler."

   "There is much speculation as to what changes he is making. But currently we are not certain of what they are," he added.

   The North's conventional arms, meanwhile, include some 13,000 artillery systems, over 4,000 tanks as well as 2,000 armored personnel carriers, some 1,700 aircrafts and 800 surface vessels, according to Thurman.

   "More than 70 percent of this combat power is positioned within 90 miles" of the demilitarized zone separating the North and the South, he said, adding that Pyongyang's long-range artillery could "cause significant damage" to Seoul and nearby regions.

   Earlier in March, Thurman said a team of hackers in North Korea with advanced technological skills is becoming a new type of weapon by the socialist regime during a testimony before the House of Armed Services Committee in the United States.

   At that time, Thurman did not describe the North's cyber capacities as "significant," although the general said that "such attacks are ideal for North Korea" because they "have been increasingly employed against a variety of targets, including military, governmental, educational and commercial institutions."


N. Korean Leader Dismissed, Purged 31 Ranking Officials Since 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has dismissed or purged 31 senior officials including the former chief of the military's general staff since being anointed heir to his father and longtime leader Kim Jong-il in 2010, a South Korean lawmaker claimed on Oct. 23.

   The younger Kim, who took power after his father's death last December, dismissed four members of the Central Military Commission of the North's ruling Workers' Party in September 2010, and purged 27 other ranking officials between 2011 and 2012, according to Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the South's ruling Saenuri Party.

   "Kim Jong-un is purging senior officials who are becoming an obstacle to his grip on power, performing poorly or expressing their dissatisfaction, according to his needs," Yoon said in a news release.

   Among those purged were Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the former chief of the military's general staff who was abruptly relieved of all of his posts in July; Ryu Kyong, a senior intelligence official; and Kim Chol, a senior defense official, the lawmaker said.

   Ryu was executed in January 2011 on charges of espionage, while Kim, the defense official, was executed in January of this year on charges of drinking and engaging in other entertainment during the country's mourning period for the late leader, he added.

   "It appears that Kim Jong-un will continue to purge and dismiss ranking officials for some time as he consolidates his grip on power," Yoon said.


S. Korean FM Calls on N. Korea to Abandon Military-first Politics

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Oct. 23 urged North Korea's new leadership to give up its military-first policy and put resources that it lavishes on the armed services toward improving the livelihood of its own people.

   Analysts and government officials in South Korea have searched for any signs of economic reform since the North's new leader Kim Jong-un succeeded his late father, Kim Jong-il, last December. Still, they are skeptical over whether the young Kim would be serious about opening up the socialist country to foreign influences outside of his control.

   The South Korean foreign minister said it was too early to judge the direction in which the young Kim is trying to take the North, although Pyongyang appears to be firmly under the control of the new leader.

   "North Korea's new leadership has expressed its willingness toward economic development and improvement of people's livelihoods, but it remains to be seen whether it will lead to a practical change," the minister told a forum in Seoul.

   "For a real change, North Korea must give up its Songun (military-first) politics and channel resources to improve its economy and the livelihood of its people," he said.

   North Korea has threatened to make a "merciless military strike" on the South Korean territory if it detects any move to drop anti-Pyongyang leaflets by South Korean activists across the border.

   Despite the North's sharp threats of military attacks, a group of 10 activists, mostly defectors from the North, carried out their plan on Monday to float balloons carrying tens of thousands of anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border into the isolated socialist country.

   The activists flew the balloons from a border island after being blocked by South Korean police from access to their original launch site.

   The foreign minister said North Korea has tried to influence the South's presidential election in December.

   "North Korea is still taking a hostile attitude towards us and strengthening an offense of public opinion against the South," Kim said.