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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 240 (Dec. 13, 2012)
*** FOREIGN TIPS

N. Korea Carrying out Massive Crackdown on 'Impure Elements'

  
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is carrying out a massive nationwide campaign to weed out "impure elements" among the populace that could pose a threat to the totalitarian control of the impoverished nation, a senior South Korean official said on Dec. 6.

   All law enforcement agencies, such as the police, prosecution and anti-espionage agencies, have been going to great lengths in the campaign, holding rare nationwide meetings and channeling all their energies toward clamping down on "discontent forces," the official said.

   The campaign has created a "terror atmosphere" across North Korean society, he said.

   "What police and the prosecution are emphasizing after convening meetings that they usually don't is that they should pick out the impure elements," the official said. "All public security agencies are making a great deal of efforts to arrest impure elements."

   According to state media reports, North Korea has been convening a series of law enforcement officials' meetings, including a police box chiefs' meeting on Nov. 23, a conference of judges and prosecutors on Nov. 26 and a meeting of judicial officials on Wednesday.

   It was the first time since February 2007 that the North has convened a judicial officials' meeting.

   The crackdown on "impure elements" is seen as aimed at ensuring leader Kim Jong-un's grip on power remains firm, especially in the wake of large-scale reshuffles of military leadership and other posts.

   "We don't know whether there have been large demonstrations or something in the North, but we can presume that there could be people discontent with the personnel reshuffles," the senior official said.

   In a letter to the meeting of judges and prosecutors, leader Kim Jong-un urged participants to keep deeply in mind the "dangers" of non-socialistic phenomenon and sternly punish those engaged in such acts by law, according to a state media report.

   North Korea is one of the world's most closed countries and worst human rights violators. The regime does not tolerate political dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.

  
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N. Korean Leader Said to Order Harsher Crackdown on Defectors

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's government has further intensified its surveillance of residents, viewing the problem of defectors as a serious threat to its regime stability, a source in Seoul said on Dec. 9.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently issued an instruction demanding that even the "sound of the drop of a needle" be detected and reported to him, according to the source who ask to remain anonymous.

   Kim, who late last year ordered on-site execution of defectors and severe punishment of their families, again instructed ranking police officers to hunt out and "mercilessly crush impure and hostile elements" throughout the communist country.

   In line with the hard-line policy, the North has strengthened vigilance and reinforced patrols and surveillance cameras along the border with China and begun to give a "Kim Jong-un" honor award to border guards credited with arresting fleeing North Koreans.

   In a related effort meant to prevent unrest among North Koreans, Pyongyang has recently held news conferences featuring former defectors who fled back to the North after settling in South Korea.

   Apparently due to such crackdowns, the number of North Korean defector arrivals here totaled 1,203 by October and is expected to reach 1,400 this year, about half of last year's 2,706, government data showed.

   It will the first time since 2006 that the annual number of North Korean defectors entering South Korea has been below 2,000.

   Rights activists said the number of new arrivals decreased as the defection of North Koreans has become more difficult due to crackdowns and increased costs to illegally cross the border into China. Many North Korean defectors in the South claim that they bribed North Korean guards to flee across the border into China.

   South Korea is home to about 24,000 North Korean defectors as a constant stream of North Koreans has fled their communist homeland to try to avoid chronic food shortages and harsh political oppression.

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China Toughens Inspections of North Korean Cargoes: Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China has strengthened inspections of North Korean cargoes to check for any banned items under U.N. Security Council sanctions, an official said on Dec. 10, a sign that may suggest Beijing is getting tougher on Pyongyang.

   "I understand that Chinese authorities are conducting total inspections at a couple of ports where a lot of North Korean cargoes are entering," an official at the presidential office said. "It has been several months since this measure was taken."

   The inspections are aimed at checking for banned items in line with U.N. sanctions, he said.

   The move came after a Chinese freighter was caught in May at the southeastern South Korean port of Busan carrying a cargo of 445 graphite cylinders, which were believed to be made in North Korea and can be used as missile parts. The ship was headed for Syria.

   China also appears to be increasing pressure on North Korea over its planned rocket launch, expressing concern over the plan and urging Pyongyang to use its right to peaceful use of outer space within the limitations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

   "The DPRK (North Korea) is entitled to the peaceful use of outer space. But in view of the situation on the Korea Peninsula and restrictions of relevant UN Security Council resolutions, China hopes the DPRK can proceed from the overall situation of peace and stability on the peninsula and act prudently," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week.

   China is the North's last-remaining major ally and is considered having the most clout over Pyongyang. But Beijing has been under criticism for refusing to use the influence over concern that pushing the North too hard could lead to its collapse and instability on its border.

   Officials said it is too early to say whether China has toughened its stance on North Korea.

   "We will be able to determine whether the Chinese position is different from before, when we look at the Chinese attitude in discussions on sanctions on North Korea," a senior government official said.

  
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China Sees Potential in Economic Ties with North Korea

HONG KONG (Yonhap) -- More Chinese firms should make use of business opportunities in North Korea, a Chinese state-run think tank said on Dec. 11, stressing that economic ties between the two countries have upside potential.

   The Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a research and advisory arm affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said Chinese investors' capability and willingness to take risks can contribute to China-North Korea economic cooperation.

   "The more we accumulate business competence and experience in North Korea, the broader a business network between China and North Korea can be," Mei Xinyu, a researcher at the academy, said.

   "It will help improve the investment environment and further open up the North Korean market."

   The academy cited North Korea's domestic consumer market as the key area that the Chinese investors can explore.

   Chinese enterprises can take advantage of a logistics hub established in the northeastern region, which is near North Korea.

   "China has been among the world's port equipment and management leaders, with its port handling efficiency reaching the highest level in the world. It can create favorable conditions for Chinese enterprises to advance into the North Korean market," the Chinese researcher said.

   The think tank also said North Korea's mining and processing trade are the major industries that can garner Chinese investors' interest.

   "North Korea is rich in mineral resources and can become complementary to China's own industry," Mei said.

   "North Korean processing trade also has a huge potential for development. For Chinese industry, the use of hard-working, disciplined Korean labor can offset the pressure of rising domestic costs of traditional labor-intensive manufacturing to a considerable extent."

   The North has deepened its ties with China in an effort to help revive its moribund economy alongside stricter international sanctions following its nuclear and rocket tests.

   In 2011, Pyongyang's trade with Beijing was estimated to account for about 89 percent of its total.

   North Korea, in partnership with China, has been ramping up efforts to develop special economic zones in Rason, the North's northern tip, and on Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands bordering China.

   Meanwhile, North Korea recently announced a plan to launch a long-range rocket this month, a move that will likely further isolate the secretive regime from the international community.

  
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Korean-American Detained in North Korea: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A Korean-American tour operator has been held in North Korea for more than a month after one of his tour members was found to be carrying a computer hard disk that apparently contained sensitive information, a report said on Dec. 11.

   According to Seoul's Kookmin Ilbo newspaper, Kenneth Bae, 44, entered the communist country's northeastern port city of Rajin on Nov. 3 along with five other tourists for a five-day trip.

   Bae was detained by North Korean authorities and has been questioned after a computer hard disk was found among the tourists, the Korean-language newspaper said, citing an unidentified source.

   The source told the paper that the hard disk might have contained sensitive information about North Korea.

   After his detention, Bae was moved to Pyongyang for further investigation, the paper quoted its source as saying.

   The United States, through its embassy in Beijing, has been negotiating with North Korea for Bae's release, the newspaper said.

   Washington has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. When U.S. citizens were held in North Korea in the past, the United States empowered the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to give them consular protection.

   South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not immediately confirm the report.

   In recent years, several U.S. citizens were detained in North Korea but all of them were released.

   In 2011, Eddie Yong Su Jun, a Korean-American missionary, was released after facing indictment on charges of committing an unspecified crime against the North's regime.

   In 2010, North Korea set free Robert Park, a Korean-American Christian activist who crossed into the country on Christmas Day 2009 to draw international attention to the North's poor human rights record.

   In 2009, former U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to win the release of two American journalists caught during a reporting tour covering North Korean defectors.

   Bae's detention comes amid tensions over Pyongyang's planned long-range rocket launch. North Korea claims that the three-stage rocket is to put a scientific satellite in orbit but the U.S. and other regional players believe that it is a disguised test of the North's long-range missile technology, banned by the United Nations.

   Responding to reports that a U.S. citizen is being held in North Korea, the U.S. government on Dec. 11 emphasized the importance of protecting its people.

   "We're obviously aware of these reports that a U.S. citizen has been detained in North Korea," said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department, at a press briefing. "We obviously have no higher priority than the welfare of our citizens." She would neither confirm nor deny the reports, citing "privacy considerations."

   Nuland, however, talked about the role of the Swedish Embassy in North Korea in case of any incident associated with the safety of a U.S. national in the reclusive communist nation. The U.S. has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.

   "The Embassy of Sweden acts as our protecting power for issues involving U.S. citizens in North Korea," Nuland said in comments that some reporters construed as virtually affirming the reports.

  (END)
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