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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 242 (Dec. 27, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

North Korea Military Beefs up Security for New Leader Kim Jong-un

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has reorganized its military to allocate more resources to the capital Pyongyang, a senior Seoul official said on Dec. 21, a move seen as stepping up security for its leader Kim Jong-un as he seeks to strengthen his grip on power.

   Seoul's new biennial defense white paper released on the same day said North Korea's 1.2 million-strong forces remained the same, but the number of Army divisions was reduced to 88 from 90 in 2010. The white paper was the first published since Kim Jong-un took power of the Communist state after his father Kim Jong-il died about a year ago.

   The troops and their weapons are believed to have been relocated to the Pyongyang Defense Command, a prestigious corps-sized guard tasked with protecting the leader and his regime in the showy capital, the military official said, asking anonymity as he is not allowed to talk to media about the intelligence assessment.

   Seoul officials say the latest move was seen as aimed at ensuring the young ruler's grip on power remains firm, especially in the wake of large-scale reshuffles of military leadership and other posts earlier this year.

   Given the near-blackout of information on North Korea, little is known about what political wrangling might be occurring behind the curtain in the reclusive regime.

   In November, a state media report said Kim sent a letter to a meeting of judges and prosecutors that urged participants to keep in mind the "dangers" of non-socialist phenomena and sternly punish those engaged in such acts, as part of a massive campaign to weed out dissidents that could pose a threat to the regime.

   Fueling further speculation, several photos in state media showed Kim being guarded by bodyguards armed with automatic rifles at public occasions, including an ice rink and concert venues.

   The defense paper also said the Korean People's Army has stepped up its cavalry units on the front-line and naval presence near the tensely guarded western sea border, deploying more combat tanks and pieces of artillery.

   "South Korea and the U.S. have been analyzing why the North increased forces on the front-line," Lim Kwan-bin, the deputy defense minister for policy, said in a briefing. "As soon as we figure out the cause, we will prepare operational plans to accordingly cope with the situation."

   Analysts observe the North's buildup of front-line cavalry units may have been designed to step up its ability to make surprise attacks on the South. They noted North Korea increased the number of mobile brigades by two in the past two years and the versatile units are armed with handguns and high-grade bombs as well as vehicles with high mobility.

   North Korea increased the number of tanks and armored vehicles and field artillery by 100 each to 4,200 tanks, 2,200 APCs and 8,600 field artillery, the white paper showed.

   The North Korean military comprises 1.02 million in the Army, 60,000 in the Navy and 110,000 in the Air Force for a total of 1.19 million. South Korea has 506,000 in the Army, 68,000 in the Navy and 65,000 in the Air Force, making the total of 639,000 just 54 percent of North Korea's armed forces. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help it deter North Korea threats, as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

   Another noticeable change was renaming the "Missile Guidance Bureau," in charge of controlling nuclear activities and missiles, to the "Strategic Rocket Forces."

   The name surfaced when a spokesman for North Korea's National Defense Commission said the North's "revolutionary military forces, including strategic rocket forces" can hit the South, Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam.

   The remark followed Seoul's October announcement of a revised missile guideline with the U.S. to increase the maximum range of its missile system to strike all of North Korea.

   The regime's missile ambitions were well illustrated in the two rocket launch attempts this year, which are seen by the international community as covert tests of the North's ballistic missile technology.

   Following its much-heralded but botched attempt in April, the North successfully fired off a long-range, three-stage rocket on Dec. 12, which it claims was meant to send a "working satellite" into space.

   In response to growing threat from the communist rival, Seoul officials say South Korea and the U.S. have been closely cooperating to prevent further provocations.

   "Following the missile launch, we have maintained strengthened surveillance activities to closely watch the latest development," Lim said. "We are maintaining joint posture against further provocation."

   The white paper also said Pyongyang's "highly enriched uranium (HEU) program" has been under way and the country is "evaluated to have secured about 40 kilograms" of weapons-grade plutonium by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods four times.

   It was referencing a new uranium enrichment facility at North Korea's main Yongbyon nuclear complex, which was shown in November 2010 to U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, former chief of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

   North Korean officials at the facility told him that 2,000 centrifuges were operational and producing low enriched uranium for fuel for the experimental light water reactor that was under construction. The uranium enrichment program could give the North a second route to build a nuclear bomb.

   Regarding the latest development of the North's nuclear program, a senior intelligence official said satellite images have lately spotted activities around what are believed to be HEU facilities.

   "According to satellite images jointly analyzed by South Korea and the U.S., such (nuclear) activities are spotted around (HEU) facilities," the senior official said, without elaborating. "Although we have not yet concluded (about the possibility of a nuclear test), we are currently keeping track of the signs."

   Meanwhile, the latest defense paper also included a detailed description of the western sea border with North Korea, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), stating that the line has been the de facto maritime boundary for 60 years.

   The description's addition, the first such move, was seen as underlining Seoul's commitment to guarding the boundary disputed by Pyongyang, which has never recognized the line as a maritime border and has demanded the line be drawn farther south.