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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 256 (April 4, 2013)

N. Korea Raises Level of Attacks Directed at S. Korean President

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has steadily raised the level of attacks directed at South Korean President Park Geun-hye as the country ratchets up tension following its third nuclear test, local observers said on March 29.

   Observers in Seoul said the socialist country is using quasi-government organizations like the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland to criticize the chief executive who took office on Feb. 25.

   The secretariat for the committee in charge of carrying out talks with the South issued a report highlighting that the "swish of skirt" by the new owner of Cheong Wa Dae is becoming more malicious and is related to the spike in provocations by anti-North Korean agitators in Seoul. Cheong Wa Dae is the name of South Korea's presidential office.

   The country has so far not directly attacked Park by name to blast the new administration's North Korean policies, but it has escalated the scope and intensity of its criticism since it first made a swipe at South Korea's first female chief executive on March 13.

   Besides the committee, Uriminzokkiri, the country's main Internet-based media and propaganda website, warned that the Cheong Wa Dae master should be ready to be "severely burnt" for her decision to hold onto to the warmonger Kim Kwan-jin as defense minister.

   The North has persistently lashed out at Kim for his hard-line stance towards the North, and for ordering frontline troops to react forcefully and decisively to all North Korean military provocations.

   The latest verbal attacks, meanwhile, come just days after the North accused Park's administration of fueling confrontation with the socialist country by claiming that Pyongyang was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship on March 26, 2010. The sinking of the Cheonan left 46 sailors dead and caused Seoul to suspend all cooperative relations with the North.

   A South Korean-led investigative team said a North Korean torpedo, possibly fired from a submarine, sank the corvette off waters near the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The North has denied all charges. The NLL is the sea demarcation line that has seen nuclear naval clashes in the past.

   Related to the escalation in attacks, North Korean watchers in Seoul speculate that it is only a matter of time before Pyongyang starts to attack Park by name.

   Since taking office, the North has warned the new president not to follow in the confrontational policy footsteps of her immediate predecessor former President Lee Myung-bak.


Kaesong Park Firms Demand End to Political Row

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A group representing South Korean companies based in a joint-venture factory park in North Korea on March 31 called for a halt to political arguments over the site.

   The association for South Korean firms in the Kaesong industrial complex said disputes of a political nature are "wasteful" and detrimental to the development of the complex and inter-Korean ties.

   On March 30, North Korea threatened to close down the inter-Korean industrial base if Seoul continues to slander Pyongyang's character. In a statement, an unidentified spokesman for the park said the South is "insulting the dignity" of the North's leadership by claiming that the socialist state is only allowing the complex to remain in operation despite escalating tensions because it is regarded as a source of foreign currency.

   The North countered that it was South Korean small and medium businesses, not North Korea, that benefit from Kaesong.

   "We must protect the Kaesong industrial complex," one official of the association said. "If the complex closes, South Korea will take as severe a blow as North Korea, since 15,000 people will lose their jobs right away."

   Currently, 123 South Korean firms run factories with cheap North Korean labor in Kaesong.

   On Saturday, 157 South Koreans crossed the border to reach the factory complex, while 427 returned home. The South Korean government said there's no shift in its position that the Kaesong site will continue to run in a "stable manner."


S. Korea Sets out 'Active Deterrence' against N. Korea's Nuke Threats

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense ministry unveiled on April 1 a new contingency plan of "active deterrence" that allows its military to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea if the North shows signs of an imminent nuclear or missile attack on the South.

   The new contingency plan was outlined in an annual policy briefing by Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin to President Park Geun-hye amid heightened tensions over the escalation of North Korea's bellicose rhetoric against Seoul and Washington.

   In a briefing to Park, Defense Minister Kim said the military is mapping out "an active deterrence and will build an attack system to swiftly neutralize North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, while significantly improving our military's capability of surveillance and reconnaissance."

   To achieve the goal, the ministry will speed up the deployment of a "kill chain" system capable of detecting, targeting and destroying North Korean nuclear and missile targets, ministry officials said.

   South Korea had originally planned to deploy the "kill chain" system by 2015, but ministry officials said it will be deployed ahead of the planned schedule.

   The new contingency plan will be formalized in October this year, when defense chiefs of South Korea and the U.S. hold annual security talks, ministry officials said.

   The ministry will also speed up building and deploying South Korea's own missile defense system, named "Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD)," at an earlier date than scheduled.

   The Korean missile defense system, tailored for Korean terrain, is designed to intercept hostile missiles or combat aircrafts at an altitude of 10-30 kilometers.

   To enhance its reconnaissance capability, South Korea will make efforts for a speedy deployment of U.S.-made Global Hawk spy drones and put at least two military spy satellites into orbit by 2021, according to the ministry.

   Last December, the U.S. government informed Congress of a plan to sell four Global Hawk surveillance drones to South Korea. The deal under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program would be worth up to US$1.2 billion.

   Tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea's third nuclear test on Feb. 12, prompting the U.N. to impose new sanctions against the totalitarian regime.

   Since then, North Korea has issued a constant stream of bellicose rhetoric. On March 30, Pyongyang said it has entered into a "state of war" with Seoul, threatening to take "stern physical actions."

   Last week, North Korea said it put its artillery forces on their highest combat alert and repeated threats of attacks against South Korea and the U.S.

   The socialist nation said they are targeting the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam, as well as other U.S. military bases in the Pacific and South Korea, it said.


President Park Calls for Strong Deterrence against North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 2 that discouraging North Korea from provocations through strong diplomatic and military deterrence is just as important as punishing the socialist nation after provocations.

   Park made the remark when she presided over a meeting with foreign affairs and security-related ministers as Pyongyang has churned out near-daily threats of war on the Korean Peninsula, according to presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung.

   "Though it is a must to strike back strongly in the event of North Korean provocations, what is just as important is for us to keep North Korea from even harboring provocations through strong diplomatic and military deterrence," Park said during the meeting, according to Yoon.

   Park also said the current security situation is "grave."

   In recent weeks, North Korea has sharply ratcheted up tensions with repeated war threats in anger over joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises as well as a new U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in response to its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.

   Pyongyang voided the Korean War armistice and nonaggression pacts it signed with South Korea decades ago and cut off all cross-border hotlines before declaring over the past weekend that it was in "a state of war" and threatened to close a joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

   On April 2, the North said it will restart a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor and other facilities at its Yongbyon complex in order to help address power shortages and to "bolster up the nuclear armed force both in quality and quantity till the world is denuclearized."

   Spent fuel rods from the 5-megawatt reactor can yield weapons-grade plutonium, if reprocessed.

   An official at South Korea's presidential office said that the country is closely watching whether Pyongyang will take concrete steps to put the reactor back on line. It could take some time to restart the reactor as preparatory measures are necessary, such as fabricating fuel rods, the official said.

   Despite the North's harsh rhetoric, analysts believe that chances of war breaking out on the peninsula are extremely low, because the socialist regime in Pyongyang is well aware that any war would be suicidal.

   Still, South Korea's military -- supported by the U.S. -- remains on high alert, with its top leaders vowing to sternly retaliate if attacked by the North.

   During a defense ministry policy briefing on April 1, Park ordered the military to deal sternly with any North Korean provocations without "political considerations," saying she takes "very seriously" a recent string of North Korean moves and war threats.

   In the April 2 meeting, Park and the top security officials had "in-depth" discussions on the situation in North Korea and in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as well as reactions from the international community, the military's readiness and other related issues, Yoon said.

   The meeting was the first of its kind since Park took office in February. Participants included the chief of the national security office, the defense minister, the unification minister and the National Intelligence Agency chief and the first vice foreign minister.

   Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is away on a trip to the United States.

   Yoon said Park plans to hold such a security meeting as often as necessary.

   At the start of the meeting, Park said she spoke by phone with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala earlier in the day about economic cooperation and other issues, saying the South American nation has always supported Seoul's policy on North Korea.

   Presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing later said that Park asked for Peru's help with efforts to persuade North Korea to change its attitude, saying pressure and persuasion from the international community are necessary to get Pyongyang to give up nuclear programs and provocations.

   Humala said he will try to help get North Korea to halt hostile moves so as to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. The Peruvian president also said that he and the people of Peru are with the South Korean people at a time of high tensions, according to Kim.


North Korea Slaps Entry Ban on South Korea's Kaesong Workers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on April 3 it will ban South Korean workers from entering the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong, only allowing South Koreans currently staying at the border town to return home.

   The abrupt entry ban came after Pyongyang threatened to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex and launch a pre-emptive nuclear war on Seoul and Washington over South Korea-U.S. joint military drills and U.N. sanctions for its latest nuclear test.

   Seoul's Ministry of Unification said that it received an official notification from the North earlier in the day stating the restrictions.

   "South Korea's government deeply regrets the entry ban and urges it to be lifted immediately," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in a press conference.

   The official pointed out that the latest action by the communist country will impede normal operations at the site. He stressed Seoul will make every effort to ensure the safety of South Korean nationals at the industrial site.

   "The government will talk with companies that have factories at Kaesong to determine what course of action should be taken," he said.

   Kim pointed out that because the North has not barred South Korean workers from leaving Kaesong, people expected to cross the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into South Korea should be able to do so. He did not elaborate on the reason given by the North for halting inflow of workers and cargo, but said it reflected the North's view on the current situation.

   There were 861 South Koreans at the Kaesong complex before the North announced the ban, with three having returned across the demarcation line around noon, six at 2 p.m. and eight at 3 p.m.

   Originally, 484 South Koreans and 371 vehicles were scheduled to go to Kaesong during the day. Because of the ban, only 33 have returned, a much smaller number than previously planned, which will leave 828 people at the complex. The drop in returnees from 466 is mainly due to less people going North during the day, and to a lesser extent the 123 labor-intensive firms in the border town asking their workers to stay on so they can run their factories despite the entry ban.

   In an official statement released by the unification ministry, Seoul pointed out that in order for the North to attract investments from abroad, there must be trust not only between the two Koreas, but with the rest of the world. Such trust-building requires the North to be predictable in its actions, it said.

   "If the North, despite such clear fallouts, persists in its current path, it must be aware of the negative repercussion its actions will have on inter-Korean relations and be willing to face the criticism and isolation from the international community," the statement said, calling on the North to lift its latest restrictions immediately.

   South Korea's response comes as officials at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Office (CIQ) in Paju, about 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul said the North had not issued permits authorizing the daily trip of South Korean managers and cargo over the DMZ. Officials at CIQ said many workers who planned to cross over turned back after waiting 3-4 hours and confirmed the North's decision to ban entry into Kaesong.

   Meanwhile, the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC) in the border town informed Seoul that South Korean plants at the complex were operating normally. KIDMAC maintains round-the-clock contact with the ministry.

   South Korean workers who returned over the demarcation line confirmed work at the factories was unimpeded by the ban.

   "There seemed to be nothing different at Kaesong, although customs officers at the border wore uniforms and more soldiers were seen," a worker for a textile company said.

   The worker, identified only by his surname of Roh, said that while the region could hold out for a short period, problems may occur is there is a shortage of food and industrial materials.
The ministry in charge of dialogue with the North and formulating long-term unification policies added that the North had halted movement to and from Kaesong on three occasions in March 2009 when Seoul and Washington were conducting the Key Resolve command post and field exercise.

   "Although the action taken is serious, it is not without precedence," an official, who declined to be identified, said. In 2009, the North blocked and opened movement over the DMZ although they allowed moved after the end of the military exercise. An year earlier the country implemented the so-called Dec. 1 measure that reduced the number of South Korea who could remain at Kaesong from 1,070-1,500 to around 800, and moved to exercise more control over the movement of people.

   President Park Geun-hye was briefed on the situation, a senior aide said.

   "It was immediately reported" to the president by National Security Office chief Kim Jang-soo, the official said without elaborating, including how Park reacted. "We are closely taking care of the situation around the national security office."

   The defense ministry is preparing to take military action in the event that the safety of South Koreans at the factory park comes under threat, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin was quoted as saying by Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the ruling Saenuri Party.

   The minister made the remark during a meeting of the party's special committee on North Korea's nuclear issue, the lawmaker, who chairs the committee, said at a press briefing.

   The military is also prepared to destroy 70 percent of the North's front-line units within five days in the event that the communist nation provokes the South, the minister was also quoted as saying by the lawmaker.

   The complex, located just north of the DMZ, is significant because it is the only economic link between the two Koreas after Seoul suspended most exchanges with the socialist country after the sinking of one of its naval ships in the Yellow Sea in March 2010.

   The two sides signed an agreement calling for the creation of the complex in August 2000 with the groundbreaking ceremony taking place in June 2003 and the first goods being produced at the market in late 2004. The South has invested 900 billion won (US$802 million) into Kaesong so far with combined output reaching $2.01 billion.

   North Korean observers in Seoul, meanwhile, said holding up the movement of workers could be a move by Pyongyang to show it can carry out its threats.

   "By fueling tensions, the North may be trying to compel South Korea and the United States to accept its conditions for talks that aim to gain formal recognition for its nuclear weapons," a Pyongyang expert said. Such demands have all been turned down in the past.