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North Korea's Crop Yield to Fall 2 Percent: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's crop yield is predicted to fall 2 percent this year, due mainly to unfavorable weather conditions that swept the country in late-summer, the Voice of America (VOA) reported on November 1.

   Despite positive turn out of the overall harvest, floods caused by unprecedented downpours and typhoons during end-July and August are expected to exacerbate the chronic food shortages in the poverty-stricken nation, the VOA said, quoting a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

   A similar report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in October, also said that the North's food situation has worsened, while the unification ministry in Seoul forecasts the autumn-harvest to fall short of some 600,000 tons from the average year. Experts estimate North Korea's crop yield at roughly 4.6 million tons in 2011.

   Meanwhile, the IFRC has provided 2,515 households and 11,600 people that were affected by the flood with vinyl films, blankets, kitchen appliances and sanitary products, according to the report.


North Korea Plagued by Drug-resistant Tuberculosis

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is being plagued by a widespread and difficult strain of tuberculosis and needs urgent measures to curb it, the chairman of a South Korean aid group said on Nov. 5.

   "The spread of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is so serious that North Korea is judged to be missing the crucial 'golden time' to root out tuberculosis," Stephen Linton, the chairman of Eugene Bell Foundation, said in a news conference.

   The chairman of the charity foundation dedicated to medical aid for the reclusive country paid a two-week visit to the North in October to tour eight tuberculosis treatment centers in Pyongyang and central regions.

   Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is defined as tuberculosis that is resistant to several types of drugs, a strain that is relatively difficult to treat and requires far more expensive medicine than easier cases of the disease.

   "My trip to North Korea showed that multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is a serious concern," he said.

   Linton added that to his relief, the environment for treatment in the North has improved compared to the past.


N.K. Official Said to Suggest Hong Kong-style Merger for Korean Peninsula

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A top aide for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has floated the idea of the two Koreas being reunified under a Hong Kong-style "one country, two systems" policy, a visiting foreign businessman said on Nov. 1.

   Reto Wittwer, president of the Swiss Kempinski Hotel Group, said that he had heard Ri Su-yong, a former North Korean ambassador to Switzerland with close ties to Kim, saying that putting the two Koreas under the framework of one country while allowing each to maintain its political system is one possible way to achieve unification on the Korean Peninsula because their economic and other gaps are prohibitively big.

   Realistically, the difference between the South and the North is too big and unifying them into one political system may take more than two generations, Wittwer quoted Ri as having told him.

   Ri is a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) and has also served as the head of the North's agency tasked with luring in foreign investment as well as the country's ambassador to Switzerland. He is deemed one of the North Korean leader's close aides as Kim spent his childhood in Switzerland in the late 1990s while Ri was the ambassador to the country.

   Wittwer of the hotel chain, which is now engaged in planning the opening of the tallest hotel in Pyongyang in mid-2013, made public the remarks by Ri, his long-time acquaintance, in a lecture held in Seoul.

   Ri noted that immediately unifying the two Koreas into one country is next to impossible but the only best possible way is tying them into one entity while allowing them to maintain their current systems in a so-called "one country, two systems" scheme like the one adopted by China and Hong Kong, according to the chairman.

   The big gap between the two countries may prohibit them from being unified in the current generation and even in the next generation, Ri was also quoted as saying. The following generation may finally be able to come to an agreement to choose either system or to create a brand-new system, Ri also noted.

   The chairman said his hotel group has joined Egyptian firm Orascom Group in developing and running Ryugyong Hotel, which they plan to put into operation in Pyongyang in mid-2013.

   Kempinski Hotel Group is engaged in the management of the 105-story hotel rather than footing investment in it, he said. Construction is nearly complete on the second-floor lobby as well as the banquet room on the third floor and about 150 hotel rooms in the upper part of the building will be the first ones open to customers, he said.

   The project to build the hotel first began in 1987 but an economic crisis brought it to a halt in 1992. The Egyptian firm decided to invest US$180 million and resumed the construction in 2008 with the hotel chain joining to manage the high-rise hotel.

   Chinese tourists may be the first to arrive at the hotel given the North's alleged discussion with China's tour administration, the chairman said, adding the opening of the hotel may help the North open up to the world.


N. Korean Footballer Jong Tae-se Shows Interest in S. Korean Teams

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean football striker Jong Tae-se has contacted at least two first-division South Korean professional clubs with an interest to play here next year, officials said on Nov 2.

   Jong, through his agent, has reached out to Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Ulsan Hyundai Tigers in the K-League, the teams' officials said.

   "We don't have specific plans for player acquisitions for next season, and so at this stage, we are only reviewing his interest in our club," a Suwon official said. "We need to make sure he can help our team and will also have to take into account transfer fees among other matters. But he hasn't given us any particular conditions (for the possible move) and it's premature to comment on where we will go from here."

   An official with Ulsan said he was aware of Jong's interest, but also said it was too early to tell whether he would make his way to the K-League next year.

   "We don't know how our roster will change next year," the official said. "All we can do at this point is to keep an eye on this development."

   Jong, 28, was born in Japan to a South Korean father and a North Korean mother. He attended pro-North Korean schools in Japan and has said in interviews that he considers himself North Korean.

   The dynamic forward made his professional debut with Kawasaki Frontale in Japan's J-League in 2006. After representing North Korea at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Jong moved to VfL Bochum in Germany's second division. He's currently with a first-division German club, 1. FC Koln.

   Jong has netted 15 goals in 28 international games for North Korea, but has struggled to find his footing with Koln, going scoreless in eight appearances.

   An Yong-hak, Jong's former teammate on the North Korean national squad, played for two different K-League clubs from 2006 to 2009. An is also a Japanese-born North Korean.


Seoul Calls on Pyongyang to Improve Human Rights at U.N. Meeting

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has renewed its calls at the U.N. General Assembly meeting for North Korea to improve its human rights situation, a Seoul official said on Nov. 3, as a U.N. special rapporteur saw "no improvement" in human rights under the North's new leadership.

   Seoul raised the issue of Pyongyang's human rights record at the Nov. 2 meeting of the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights issues, in New York, the foreign ministry official said.

   In a report to the Third Committee meeting, U.N. special rapporteur on the North's human rights Marzuki Darusman, said, "Overall, there was no improvement in the human rights situation in the DPRK (North Korea)." Darsuman also urged the North to divert money from its military to help improve the livelihoods of its general populace.

   South Korea "welcomed a plan by Darusman to further review North Korea's political prison camps and urged North Korea to implement his recommendations" at the U.N. meeting, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   North Korea has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.

   While North Korea has officially denied the existence of political prison camps, Pyongyang is believed to have up to 200,000 people in hidden, Soviet-style gulags where torture and executions are routine and starvation is widespread.

   Pyongyang has bristled at any criticism of its human rights record, however, denouncing such talk as part of U.S.-led attempts to topple the regime.


Malaria Patients in N. Korea Drop off by 90 Percent from 2001

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of malaria patients in North Korea fell dramatically last year to less than 10 percent of the level reported a decade ago, an international relief agency showed on Nov. 3.

   The Roll Back Malaria (RBM) said in its 2012 report that the impoverished communist state entered a "pre-elimination stage" of malaria in 2011, with 13,520 patients out of an estimated 24 million people.

   The number represents a 90.6 percent drop from 2001 when it reported 144,000 patients, down 1,300 from 2010, the Geneva-based group said, citing a 2011 World Malaria Report.

   The report gave no reasons for the sharp drop in the number of malaria patients in North Korea.

   Malaria was eradicated in the North in the 1970s, but reemerged in 1997-1998, according to the RBM Web site.

   South Korea is the only endemic country in the Asia-Pacific region that is in the "malaria elimination stage," it said.

   Malaria is a potentially fatal disease which threatens over 2 billion people each year in the Asia-Pacific region, said the report, jointly published by the World Health Organization.


N. Korea's Annual Grain Production Remains at 1970 Levels

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's grain production remains at similar levels to the early-1970s, and the amount of food available per person in the communist nation has dropped 40 percent from four decades ago, data from a U.N. food agency showed on Nov. 4.

   North Korea's annual grain production totaled 4.52 million tons in 2010, similar to levels in the early 1970s, according to Food and Agriculture Organization data available on the Web site of Statistics Korea.

   North Korea posted 3.58 million tons of grain production in 1961 when international agencies began compiling data on the country. The amount has since remained at between 3 million and 4 million tons before rising to 4.37 million tons in 1969 and 4.49 million tons in 1971.

   Grain production in the North peaked in 1993 at 9.13 million tons before falling sharply after the country's founding leader Kim Il-sung died in 1994, and drought and other natural disasters devastated the country.

   Production plummeted to 3.8 million tons in 1995 and then to an all-time low of 2.59 million tons the following year.

   International food agencies, including the World Food Program, have estimated the North's 2011 grain production at some 4.66 million tons, and this year's production is expected to be less than that of last year.

   The amount of food available per person in the impoverished totalitarian nation was tallied at 190 kilograms, about a 40 percent fall from 310 kilograms in 1970. The drop is attributable in part to an increase in the country's population to 24.4 million in 2011 from 14.2 million in 1970.


North Koreans Lack Access to Clean Water: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Many North Koreans lack access to functioning water supply systems due to energy shortages and decrepit facilities and are thus forced to use less clean alternatives such as wells and springs, a report showed on Nov. 5.

   According to the report compiled by the United Nations Children's Fund, together with the North's Ministry of City Management and Central Statistics Bureau, piped systems only account for 4.1 percent of the total number of water supply facilities in Phyongwon County in South Phyongan Province, south of Pyongyang, while the percentage in Sinpyong County, North Hwanghae Province, is a mere 2.1 percent.

   Of those piped systems, only 18.4 percent in Phyongwon and 74 percent in Singpyong are fully operational, forcing many households connected to a pipe supply system to turn to hand-pumped tube wells, dug wells and springs for their water, according to the report.

   Water is rarely supplied through the distribution systems as the lack of electricity in the country only allows the facilities to function for a maximum of six hours per day, if at all, the report added.

   "With the power being frequently cut off, the water purification plants do not work well," a North Korean defector said.

   "Even with the purification system working, water is not supplied properly as the distribution facilities also do not work well."

   The report called for measures to prevent water-borne diseases as alternative water supplies are often situated near sources of contamination, including compost piles, animal sheds and wastewater canals.


N.K. Sees Jump in Dollar, Yuan-denominated Sales Goods, Assets

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The official North Korean won is increasingly giving way to the U.S. dollar and the Chinese yuan in asset holdings of North Koreans, as well as in North Korean markets, South Korean experts said on Nov. 6.

   Circulation of foreign currencies is on the increase and a vast number of North Koreans are holding their assets, including banknotes, in foreign bills, University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moon-soo and Kim Seok-jin, an analyst at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade, said in a joint paper released at a conference in central Seoul.

   Giving the reported simultaneous use of the major world currencies their own term of "dollarization," Yang said, "It is almost becoming abnormal in the North to hold more than a certain amount of bank notes in North Korean won."

   High-value assets such as houses are being increasingly valued and traded in dollar terms while in the North Korean market, dealers are increasingly relying on dollar-based prices, the professor said.

   Devaluation of their own currency due to steep inflation, coupled with fears of a potential government decision to confiscate won notes mainly fueled the "dollarization," he said.

   Freer use of foreign currencies in the reclusive country may contribute to the development of its market and economy by driving a wider circulation of finances, he said.