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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 245 (January 17, 2013)

Former Governor Urged N. Korea to Abide by Missile, Nuclear Moratorium

BEIJING/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on Jan. 10 that he urged North Korea to abide by the missile and nuclear weapons testing moratorium during his trip to the socialist country in the company of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

   Speaking to reporters at Beijing Capital International Airport, the politician, who stated before entering the country on J an. 7 that he was on a "private humanitarian" mission, said that the four-day-long trip was "constructive" and "successful" and claimed Pyongyang is anxious to improve relations with the United States.

   Richardson said he talked to Ri Yong-ho, North Korea's vice foreign minister and point man at the stalled six-party talks, in regards to the moratorium. The talks are aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and made up of the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

   He said that despite the concerns raised on the missile issues, the North persistently said the launches were designed to improve scientific knowledge of rockets and were peaceful in nature.

   The former governor also said there is a need for dialogue and that the North seems to have been encouraged by statements made by South Korea's next president on the need to improve inter-Korean ties.

   President-elect Park Geun-hye said she wanted the resumption of talks without any preconditions, and there have been rumors that once she takes office on Feb. 25, Seoul may gradually ease sanctions imposed on the North.

   The incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration had effectively blocked all cooperation and exchanges after a South Korean naval vessel was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March 2010, which resulted in the deaths of 46 sailors.

   Despite claiming success, Richardson said he was unable to meet with Kenneth Bae. Bae is a Korean-American being held by North Korean officials for what they claim were actions "hostile" to the country. Such a crime could result in a prison term of many years.

   He said that Pyongyang may start legal proceedings against the American citizen, yet agreed to pass on letters written by Bae's son to his father. Richardson had called for the humane treatment of the U.S. citizen and was assured of Bae's good health.

   The politician, known to have contacts in the North, added that he and the Google chief did not have a chance to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He said that once he gets back to the United States he wants to brief the State Department on the talks that took place.

   On Schmidt's presence, he said the Google chief strongly advised North Korean officials to give ordinary people greater access to the Internet and mobile phones, which could improve overall welfare conditions.

   This he claimed was the main goal for the business leader's visit to North Korea.

   Schmidt, meanwhile, confirmed he visited North Korea to exchange views on open and free use of the Internet. He too stressed the trip was "private" and that the online connectively in the country was very restricted.

   He said that North Korea had a form of intranet that was carefully censored, and only used by government officials, the military and some people in universities, and was off limits to most ordinary people.

   The head of the world's largest Internet firm said that Pyongyang needs to make up its mind whether to expand online access, or continue to fall behind the rest of the world in this field. He said that government in the North must take the lead in allowing access to the Internet


Suicide Is Not an Option in North Korea: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Suicide is very rare in North Korea where family members of a person who takes his or her life can be demoted in the social hierarchy, a research paper published in Seoul said on Jan. 10.

   According to the report by the Unification Medical Center at Seoul National University, the North classifies those who kill themselves as "traitors" against the country, and families of such people could face the danger of being categorized as families of anti-state elements.

   A team, led by medical professor Park Sang-min, interviewed three North Korean medical doctors who defected from their home country and are now living in the South for the paper.
The North Korean doctors interviewed said they rarely heard about suicide cases and argued that taking one's own life is not deemed an option in the country, despite the difficult living conditions.

   The risk of class degradation of surviving family members may be one reason why North Koreans' abstain from taking their own lives, they pointed out. North Korean authorities may also be more reluctant to disclose suicides, they said.

   Still, the country operates what are effectively mental hospitals in every province, although they are referred to as "Unit 49" instead of mental clinics or psychiatry centers.

   Those who suffer from dementia, hallucination or schizophrenia are subject to hospitalization at the Unit 49, according to the report.

   They sometimes get drug treatment, but more frequently patients are subject to "labor treatment" or other measures requiring physical activities without counseling, the paper said.

   Park said, "North Korea is presumed to have a low suicide rate, but suicides of North Koreans could sharply rise if a unification (of the two Koreas) changes their perception and makes their lives difficult."

   The estimated low suicide rate contrasts with very high numbers for the South. South Korea's suicide rate stood at an average of 33.5 people per 100,000 in 2010. This is the highest rate in the world.

   "North Korean media tends to use the high suicide rate in the South as proof to show off the superiority of their social system, and they barely mention North Koreans taking their own lives," Park pointed out.


N. Korea to Open Waterfall Village in Phyongan Province to Chinese Tourists

SHENYANG, China (Yonhap) -- North Korea said it will open a village famous for a scenic waterfall in the northern part of the country to Chinese tourists from July, a Chinese report said on Jan. 11.

   The report by the China News Service said the tourist department of China's Dandong city government will begin a two-day travel program on the route linking the Chinese city of Dandong to the North's Donglim County, about 40 kilometers southeast of the border city of Sinuiju.

   The news outlet said the Chinese travel department has been operating a one-day Dandong-Sinuiju travel route.

   A four-star hotel is under construction as well as other amenities for travelers in the North Korean village in the North Phyongan Province, according to the report.

   The village is most famous for its Donglim waterfall, a popular tourism location in the socialist country. The area near the waterfall is also well known for its scenic landscape.

   The media report added that when the North opens the route in July, about 100 tourists will likely sign up for the tour program every day, whose two-day itinerary will cost about 1,000 Chinese yuan (US$160.9).

   China's tourist industry estimated that about 10,000 Chinese people visited the North on the Dandong-Sinuiju tour program in 2012.


Google Can Help N. Korea through Many Other Programs: Experts

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Although this week's trip to Pyongyang by Google czar Eric Schmidt remains controversial, the California-based firm may be able to search multiple ways to help North Korea, experts in Washington said on Jan. 11.

   Schmidt made a four-day trip to North Korea earlier this week, along with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, drawing keen international attention.

   Peter Hayes, director of the Nautilus Institute, said Richardson was the apparent driving force behind the trip, which was opposed by the U.S. government.

   "Eric Schmidt was likely the 'juicy bait' to seal the deal with the North Koreans (on the trip)," Hayes, a long-time Korea watcher, said in an article co-authored by Roger Cavazos, an associate at the think tank.

   After his visit to Pyongyang, Schmidt said he had urged the communist regime to start work to connect its people to the outside world through cyberspace.

   Chances are slim that the North Korean leadership will take the call seriously.

   "However, Google isn't just a search engine," the experts said. "It also has a huge program of activities that support its mission which are more realistic bases for cooperation with North Korea."

   Google options that might work in North Korea include the provision of practical renewables to help North Korea tackle myriad energy problems, job creation and websites for the virtual reunions of families divided by the inter-Korean border, they said.

   Hayes and Cavazos agreed that North Korea's young dictator, Kim Jong-un, is unlikely to "experience an epiphany" and abruptly end tight state control of its people.

   "However, it is entirely possible to achieve simple, discrete activities that 'do no harm' and also benefit the lives of the average North Korean," they said. "Maybe Google can help North Korea after all -- just not via access to the internet."


U.S. Tells N. Korea to Stop Provocations before Call for Peace Treaty

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea should first refrain from provocative acts and abide by international obligations before demanding the dismantlement of the United Nations Command (UNC) and the signing of a peace treaty on the peninsula, a U.S. government official said on Jan. 14.

   "The United States has made clear that we are prepared to engage constructively with North Korea if it chooses to live up to its own commitments, fulfill its international obligations, deal peacefully with its neighbors, and refrain from acts that threaten regional and international peace and stability," the official told Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity.

   The official said Washington wants Pyongyang to stop violating U.N. resolutions, citing the communist nation's latest long-range rocket launch in December.

   The official dismissed speculation that the U.N. response to the launch is tapering off due to China's uncooperative attitude and more urgent global issues such as Mali and Syria.

   "We are working closely with six-party talks partners, United Nations Security Council member states, and other countries on a clear and credible response" to the launch, the official said.

   The official was responding to a "memorandum" issued by the North's foreign ministry on Monday (Seoul time).

   The ministry demanded the UNC be scrapped as the two Koreas this year mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The UNC is the unified command structure for the U.S.-led multinational forces that supported South Korea in its fight against the invading North in the war.

   The UNC, headed by the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, still exists as the two Koreas are locked in a fragile state of ceasefire.

   Pyongyang labeled the UNC as a "tool of war which was organized by the U.S. for the purpose of deploying its satellite forces and exercising its control over them during the Korean War."

   The socialist regime called for replacing the armistice with a peace treaty and insisted removing the UNC is a prerequisite.

   "Whether the U.S. immediately dismantles the 'UN Command' or not will serve as the acid stone in deciding whether the U.S. will maintain or not its anti-DPRK (North Korea) hostile policy, whether it wants peace and stability or the revival of the Cold War in the Asia-Pacific region," the ministry said in the English-version memorandum.

   It added the North will continue to strengthen its deterrence against all forms of war.


Obama Signs Bill on North Korean Children into Law

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- President Barack Obama on Jan. 14 signed a bill on protecting "stateless children" from North Korea, putting it into effect, according to a congressional source.

   The Senate passed the bill on Dec. 28, followed by a unanimous approval from the House of Representatives on Jan. 1.

   The bill, dubbed the "North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012," points out that hundreds of thousands of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition in the communist nation.

   It also says many North Korean children become orphaned or stateless in neighboring nations, mainly China, after their parents flee the impoverished communist nation.

   The bill calls for the secretary of state to "advocate for the best interests of these children, including, when possible, facilitating immediate protection for those living outside North Korea through family reunification or, if appropriate and eligible in individual cases, domestic or international adoption."

   It also demands that the secretary designate a representative to regularly brief Congress on the U.S. government's efforts to protect North Korean children.

   Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who now chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, crafted the bill.

   He initially proposed the "North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2011."

   It was approved by the House last year, but the Senate made some changes to it, requiring the House to vote on the revised version.

   Meanwhile, Obama signed 19 other bills into law, including legislations on authorizing intelligence spending and increasing penalties for stealing trade secrets for the benefit of foreign entities.


North Korea behind Hacking Attack on JoongAng Ilbo

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is responsible for last year's cyber attack on a Seoul newspaper that crippled its server and Web site, South Korean police said on Jan. 16.

   The National Police Agency (NPA) in Seoul said the hacking method and Internet protocol (IP) addresses used for the attack on the JoongAng Ilbo, one of the country's major conservative media outlets, were either similar or identical to those used by the North in previous attacks.

   A drawing of a white cat grinning and covering its mouth was posted on the Web site of the JoongAng Ilbo on June. 9, 2012, the NPA said. Beneath the picture were the words, "Hacked by IsOne," with complicated codes marked in green.

   The main server of the firm's cyber system was also attacked and substantial data were destroyed from the production system of the newspaper, the NPA added.

   Police officers pinpointed Pyongyang as the perpetrator after analyzing access records of the hacked system, malicious codes, the IP addresses of two local servers and 17 servers spread in 10 different countries.

   "We are weighing the possibility of the intentional attack, judging from a variety of circumstances," an NPA official said.

   It is the fifth time that Pyongyang has been found to be held liable for the cyber attacks on Seoul's Web sites, officers said.

   Pyongyang attacked the computer system of Nonghyup, one of the country's major banks, in 2011; major government and business Web sites in 2009 and 2011; and email accounts of Korea University in 2011.

   Police officers said one of the IP addresses of an overseas server used to break into the Nonghyup network and for the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in March, 2011 is identical to the latest attack.

   The officers said that it is highly unlikely that one IP address is used for three different counts of incidents since there are nearly 4 billion addresses around the globe.
The malicious codes used by the North when hacking into e-mail accounts of students and alumni of Korea University were also identical, they added.

   Access from IP address of the North Korean Ministry of Post and Telecommunications started on April 21 last year, the NPA said, adding that it was when Pyongyang threatened to attack Seoul's conservative media firms.

   After two months of preparations, Pyongyang-hired hackers attacked a personal computer of an official at the firm on June. 7 and deleted data from the system on June. 9, they said.

   North Korea previously rejected the results of the investigation, which stated they were behind the attacks, and accused the South of "fabricating" the inspection.


North Korea Pushing to Re-open Embassy in Australia

SEOUL/SYDNEY (Yonhap) -- North Korea is seeking to re-open their embassy in Australia after closing it five years ago, news reports monitored in Seoul and Australia said on Jan. 16.

   The North's embassy in Indonesia is in charge of the paperwork needed for the reopening in the capital of Canberra, Australia's news outlets and Voice of America said. The timetable for the plan has yet to be determined.
Australia's foreign ministry welcomed the North's plan, indicating that the embassy can become a window for discussing human rights cases as well as Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions in the largely isolated country.

   "It would enable us to express our deep concerns about what we see as a catastrophic position on human rights," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr was quoted by Australian media as saying in an email statement.

   The North maintained an embassy in the country for a year during the 1970's and re-established one in Canberra in 2003 before closing it again in January 2008 for financial reasons.

   Australia has had an embassy in the North since May 2002.

   The North's diplomatic move came as hopes are high that the country would step up reconciliatory gestures with South Korea and the outside world under the leadership of Kim Jong-un and the new administration in Seoul that takes office next month.

   Kim took control of the country in late 2011 after the sudden death of his father. President-elect Park Geun-hye, who met late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2002, comes to power next month as the country's first woman president.