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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 258 (April 18, 2013)

North Korea Gets Drug Aid from South Korean Group

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea received anti-tuberculosis drugs in humanitarian aid from a private South Korean charity group in early April despite its recent bellicose rhetoric against Seoul, a government official said on April 11.

   The local group, Eugene Bell, shipped 678 million won (US$600,265) worth of medicine through the Chinese port of Dalian and the shipment arrived in the North Korean port of Nampho a week ago, the official said.

   Seoul gave the charity group the nod in March, the first approval of humanitarian aid to North Korea under the new Park Geun-hye administration, saying South Korea will continue to provide assistance to the underprivileged in North Korea.

   Eugene Bell plans to visit the North around April 18 in order to monitor the distribution of the aid although it is uncertain whether Pyongyang will allow the visit.

   The charity foundation has been running a medical service program for tuberculosis patients in the North since 2000 and sends drugs on a regular basis to the impoverished country.

   North Korea's acceptance came only five days after the country sharply escalated tensions with the South by announcing that "from this moment, the North-South relations will be put in the state of war."

   It may indicate the North's possible intention to separate the humanitarian aid issue and the broader aggressive actions against South Korea, analysts said.

   Following the North's third nuclear test on Feb. 12, the country has ratcheted up tensions with Seoul by repeating threats to wage a nuclear war, nullifying the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, and severing the military hotline between the two countries.

   South Korean officials have said the North is preparing to conduct an imminent missile launch from its east coast in the following days.


Park Holds out 'Joint Development' If N. Korea Comes forward to Dialogue

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 12 she wants to build trust with North Korea and work together for mutual development if Pyongyang ends its provocative behavior and comes forward for talks.

   The remark, made in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, is the latest in a series of indications that Park is seeking to open a dialogue with Pyongyang to cool heightened tensions in the midsts of a torrent of war threats from the socialist nation.

   "President Park said (South Korea) is working to build up mutual trust and realize joint development if North Korea accepts change and comes forward to dialogue," presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing said in a statement.

   Park made the remark while explaining her "Korean Peninsula trust process" that calls for greater exchanges and cooperation with Pyongyang so as to build trust while dealing strongly with any North Korean provocations.

   Kerry said the United States will work closely with South Korea to cope firmly and resolutely with any threats and provocations from the North. He also said he believes Park is taking a wise approach with the North.

   Park has been expressing a strong willingness for dialogue with North Korea since on April 11 when she said she intends to "talk with North Korea" and continue humanitarian assistance to the impoverished nation regardless of political and security tensions.

   Earlier April 12, Park also said dialogue is an essential first step toward defusing heightened tensions with North Korea, and that determining the intentions of the counterpart is a matter of principle in resolving problems, according to ruling party officials.

   Park was quoted as saying that the South should meet with the belligerent nation and "listen to what North Korea thinks" as there are many issues to resolve, including Pyongyang's suspension of operations at a jointly run industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

   Up until April 11, Park had put more of the focus on dealing sternly with North Korean provocations, though she still has said that she is open to dialogue and is ready to provide the impoverished North with aid if Pyongyang makes the right choice.

   Also on April 12, Park also urged the North to change its course and work together with South Korea to bring peace on the divided peninsula, saying she is ready to carry out her "Korean Peninsula trust process" vision calling for greater exchanges and cooperation with Pyongyang.

   "If North Korea comes forward on the right path, we will also activate the Korean Peninsula trust process and build up peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," Park said during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, according to presidential foreign press spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon.

   "My thinking is to seek a virtuous cycle through the Korean Peninsula peace process," she said.

   Park also said that the international community should call with one voice for North Korea to change its course and South Korea will continue to cooperate closely with the international community to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

   Rasmussen said the flurry of threats from North Korea is posing a threat to the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, and praised Park's efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, the spokeswoman said.

   Analysts said Park appears to be trying to cap spiraling tensions with North Korea before it is too late, and the dialogue overture could be a means to provide Pyongyang with a face-saving way out of the "chicken game" it has been engaged in with the South for months.


N. Korea Denounces S. Korea's Dialogue Offer as 'Cunning Ploy'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on April 14 denounced an offer of dialogue by South Korean President Park Geun-hye to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula as a "cunning ploy," implicitly rejecting any dialogue with Seoul for the time being.

   The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which is in charge of handling relations with South Korea, made the remarks days after Park offered to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang, saying she was willing to "activate the trust-building process" on the peninsula.

   Park offered talks as operations at an inter-Korean industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong grounded to a halt last week. Pyongyang banned South Korean managers from entering the park on April 3 amid sky-high tensions over weeks of warlike threats from North Korea.

   The offer of dialogue is "a cunning ploy to hide the South's policy of confrontation and mislead its responsibility for putting the Kaesong Industrial Complex into a crisis," said a spokesman for the North's committee in an article carried by the North's state news agency KCNA.

   The North's committee also described the South's offer of dialogue as an "empty shell" and blamed South Korea and the U.S. for raising tensions with their annual joint military drills, which will be wrapped up by the end of April
"Under these circumstances, is it possible to hold a dialogue? ... Such a dialogue would be meaningless," said the spokesman for the North's committee.

   In response to the North's rejection of Seoul's offer of dialogue, the presidential office expressed regret and urged Pyongyang to implement safety measures for South Korean workers still at the Kaesong Industrial complex.

   "South Korean workers in the Kaesong complex started their business under the inter-Korean agreement, but they are now suffering as (the North) unilaterally blocked personnel and materials from going to the factories," Ju Chul-ki, the senior presidential foreign affairs secretary, said in a late night briefing. "The ban on food entry is unacceptable on humanitarian grounds."

   "We strongly urge the North Korean government to take responsible measures to help South Korean workers (in the complex)," Ju said.

   Responding to the North's initial reaction to the offer of dialogue, a senior official at Seoul's unification ministry said he is circumspect about judging it as a refusal to the overture from South Korea.

   "The stance expressed by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea is the first-hand reaction to the offer of dialogue, based on the North's existing position," the ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

   The unification ministry "will watch the situation for the time being" on whether the North would accept the offer of dialogue.

   Many analysts in Seoul believe that North Korea won't back off on its heady rhetoric until the joint military drills between Seoul and Washington conclude.

   North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers and temporarily suspended operations at the Kaesong complex, the last-remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, early last week amid indications that it was ready to launch a mid-range ballistic missile.

   As tensions soared, Park made the strongest overture of dialogue yet toward North Korea on Thursday, telling a meeting with ruling party lawmakers that she intends to "talk with North Korea" and continue humanitarian assistance to the impoverished nation regardless of political and security tensions, according to participants.

   On the same day, her point man on North Korea, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to step forward to the negotiating table to resolve the suspension of operations at Kaesong.

   The remarks were seen as Park's clearest overture yet toward Pyongyang and show that she is shifting the focus of her North Korea policy to dialogue, experts said, though she also renewed her commitment to deal strongly with North Korean provocations as a matter of principle.


North Korea Denies South Korean Bizmen Entry to Kaesong

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on April 17 rejected a request by South Korean businessmen to visit a jointly-run industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong to deliver food and check their facilities, Seoul's unification ministry said.

   Pyongyang has banned South Koreans from visiting the Kaesong Industrial Complex since April 3, accusing the South of committing unacceptable provocations against its sovereign dignity. North Korea also pulled out all of its 53,000 workers from the complex on April 9, effectively halting operations of 123 factories there.

   "Pyongyang has sent a formal notice that it can't agree to (the South Korean businessmen's visit to Kaesong)," ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in a news briefing.

   "Such a decision is very regrettable since the businessmen wanted to go to Kaesong to deliver critical food and medical supplies and explain the difficulties facing the firms to North Korean authorities."

   Without going into details, the official said the North blamed the South for the current state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula that has crippled operations at Kaesong.

   "The North's claims are unjust and unacceptable," Kim said. "Pyongyang should take responsible measures to alleviate the plight of workers at Kaesong, and normalize operations at the complex as soon as possible."

   The official pointed out that Seoul wants to hold onto the complex because of its significance for future inter-Korean relations.

   The 10 entrepreneurs representing owners of factories at the Kaesong industrial park said they will continue to wait at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) office in Paju, about 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul, and ask the North for passage again in the afternoon.

   Pyongyang's rejection is seen as showing the socialist country has no immediate plans to alter its policy of banning South Korean personnel and materials from entering the joint complex.

   The joint venture, which is the result of the historic 2000 summit between late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il, relies on South Korean materials and parts and North Korean labor to make various products that are then shipped south over the demilitarized zone. Work to build the complex began in June 2003, with first the products rolling off the assembly line in late 2004.

   There are presently 209 South Korean workers at the complex with four expected to return home during the day.

   Related to the entry rejection, most experts in Seoul said it was expected since Pyongyang had just rejected calls for talks to diffuse tensions by both South Korea and the United States.

   The North, which had warned it can launch nuclear attacks against South Korea, the United States and Japan in recent weeks, issued an ultimatum early Tuesday outlining its plans to carry out retaliatory action without any notice against Seoul.

   The latest threat comes after anti-North Korean groups in the South set ablaze effigies of North Korean leaders. Such a move, the North claimed, defaced the "supreme dignity" of the socialist country and could not be tolerated. The group burned effigies of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, as well as incumbent leader Kim Jong-un.


Seoul Denies Secret Contact with N. Korea over Dialogue Offer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea had no behind-the-scenes contact with North Korea ahead of last week's offer of talks on the suspended joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong, Seoul's unification minister said on April 17.

   Taking a step back from Seoul's hard-line stance, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae called on the North Thursday to come to the negotiating table to discuss ways to resume operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Pyongyang rejected the proposal three days later, calling it "empty" and a "cunning ploy."

   "There was no secret contact," Ryoo said in response to a lawmaker's question during a parliamentary meeting.

   Speculation on potential behind-the-scene contact between the countries followed the exchange because similar contact allegedly preceded previous inter-Korean talks.

   Touching on the North's rejection, the minister said it "did not dilute or impair our government's will to hold negotiations and Seoul will wait and see in order to determine its future course."

   Seoul proposed discussing the Kaesong park issue as well as other general matters surrounding inter-Korean relations, South Korea's point man on Pyongyang said.

   Operations at the joint industrial park, seen by many as the last symbol of inter-Korean cooperation, grounded to a halt last week as the North pulled out North Korean workers employed by the South Korean firms there. Since April 3, the North has banned South Korean workers' entry into the joint park.

   North Korea has ratcheted up warlike rhetoric and taken a series of provocative actions toward the South and the United States in response to joint South Korea-U.S. military drills and the tougher United Nations sanctions imposed on the country after its Feb. 12 nuclear test.