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

Number of North Korean Defectors Falls 10 Percent in Q1

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea shrank nearly 10 percent in the first three months of 2013 from a year earlier, government data showed on April 11.

   A total of 320 North Koreans defected from their home country and settled in the South during the January-March period, compared with 355 defectors in the same period last year, according to the data by the Ministry of Unification.

   "The inflow of North Korean defectors tends to shrink during winter seasons, but the Q1 figure is even lower than the same quarter last year," a ministry official said.

   South Korea saw a total of 1,509 North Koreans defect to the country last year, only a little more than half of the 2,706 North Korean defectors who came to the South in 2011.

   After first surpassing the 1,000 level in 2001, the annual number hovered around the 2,000 mark from 2006-2011. The figure peaked at 2,929 in 2009.

   The ministry previously said tightened border security following the death of late leader Kim Jong-il may have led to the fall.

   So far, a total of 24,934 North Koreans have defected from their home country and settled in the South in search of economic and political freedom.


N.K. Knows How to Miniaturize Nuclear Bombs, U.S. Military Agency Says

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. military intelligence agency believes that North Korea has learned how to mount nuclear bombs on ballistic missiles, a U.S. congressman said on April 11, citing a classified report.

   But the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) still questions whether the secretive nation has mastered the sophisticated technology, according to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

   In a congressional hearing, he quoted the report as saying, "DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low."

   Both Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refused to discuss the issue in the hearing, saying it is pertinent to a classified document.

   George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said later in a statement that "it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage."

   Lamborn read "an unclassified passage in a classified report" on North Korea's nuclear capabilities, Little said, without elaborating on the details of the report.

   "The United States continues to closely monitor the North Korean nuclear program and calls upon North Korea to honor its international obligations," the statement said.

   In Seoul, the defense ministry said Pyongyang is "on its way" to making smaller nuclear bombs, but it is doubtful that it has mastered the miniaturization technology.

   "North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, but it is still doubtful that North Korea has made a small, light warhead that can be mounted on a missile," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing.

   Currently, there are no signs in the North of irregular military activities, he said.

   Meanwhile, Dempsey made clear that the military does not support the idea of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea.

   "We do not advocate the return of tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula," he said.

   Some conservative South Korean lawmakers have called for the U.S. to bring back those weapons to counter the North's threats.

   Under the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon is working on a report on the feasibility and effectiveness of sending tactical nuclear weapons to Korea.

   The U.S. pulled all of its tactical nuclear weapons, which can be delivered by artillery or missile, out of South Korea in 1991 as part of President George H.W. Bush's Presidential Nuclear Initiative.


NATO Chief Urges North Korea to Halt Provocations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen strongly urged North Korea on April 12 to stop its provocative actions and follow international norms.

   "North Korea stands in continued defiance of the will of the international community. I urge the North Korean authorities to immediately stop such destabilizing actions and its pursuit of the weapons of mass destruction," Rasmussen told reporters during a press conference in downtown Seoul.

   Rasmussen is on a three-day visit to South Korea from Thursday. During his stay, he met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, foreign minister Yoon Byung-se and defense minister Kim Kwan-jin to discuss a wide range of regional and international security issues, according to Seoul officials.

   Rasumssen's trip is the first time that a head of NATO has visited South Korea since the organization was launched in 1949.

   "In my meetings (with President Park Geun-hye and the ministers), I reiterated the NATO's strong condemnation of North Korea's provocative rhetoric and actions, which posed serious threats to regional and international peace, security and stability."

   Asked about possibilities of additional provocations from the North, he simply said the communist country "has the capacity to launch missiles," while declining to elaborate on if Pyongyang is capable of making small nuclear warheads that can be mounted on its missiles.

   The high-profile visit to South Korea coincided with indications that North Korea may test-fire at least one medium-range ballistic missile in the coming days, a move sure to escalate the already high tensions on the volatile Korean Peninsula following the communist country's third nuclear test in February.

   Stressing that the Korean Peninsula is "the showcase of the difference between and authoritarian dictatorship and the society of political liberty and free market economy," Rasmussen said he believes the two Koreas will be able to "find peaceful solutions through dialogue,"

   As a way to beef up security and promote peace, the NATO chief also proposed that players in Northeast Asia take cues from the Helsinki Process, which refers to a 1975 agreement between the U.S. and 34 other Western nations in which they pledged to make human rights their top policy regarding the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries.

   "I have no doubt that this Helsinki process made an important contribution to ending the Cold War," the NATO chief said. "The Asia pacific region needs more multilateral structures to ensure peaceful solutions of conflicts, and elements from our experiences could be used in the Northeast Asia."

   Stressing the solid partnership between South Korea and his agency, he said the "young relationship" has "great potential," and expressed confidence that the two entities will further strengthen cooperation in diverse fields, including cyber security, military education and training and disaster relief.


N. Korea Economy Remains Unchanged under New Leader

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's economy has shown no signs of change more than a year after Kim Jong-un took the helm of the isolated country emphasizing the need for growth, government data showed on April 12.

   According to the data compiled by the Ministry of Unification and based on information provided by foreign institutions, there were minor improvements in grain production and electricity output, but the difference was minimal and may have actually fueled inequality.

   "Personally, I see almost no change from a year earlier," said a ministry official, who did not want to be identified.

   The data was released to the press to coincide with the first anniversary of the North Korean leader having assumed the country's top job. Kim inherited the socialist country after the death of his father in late 2011, but became the first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea on April 11 of last year.

   North Korea's food production is estimated to have increased 10.5 percent on-year to 4.92 million tons in the 2012-2013 grain year, the official said, adding that this translates into a shortage of 210,000 tons, down from 300,000 tons from the previous year.

   The official, however, said foreign data is based purely on information given by Pyongyang, and is not reliable.

   "There may be a need to carefully look at the data on grain," he said, hinting at the fact that there have been numerous cases over the years where official information was not supported by facts.

   On power production, the recent opening of the Huichon power station has increased output by 21.1 billion kilowatts, but the benefits are mostly being felt by the elite in Pyongyang. Outside the capital city, other regions are still affected by power shortages, he claimed.

   The official added that while Kim has been calling for the bolstering of its agriculture and light industries, funds earmarked for these sectors grew at a slower pace than the overall growth of the budget.

   The 2013 budget grew 5.9 percent from the year before, but funds for the light industry and farming sectors gained 5.1 percent. Defense spending on the other hand gained 16 percent on-year.

   The latest data showed that consumer prices have generally been moving up since last year, potentially putting a greater burden on many people whose salaries have not changed in years, the official said.


U.S. Not Mulling Special Envoy to North Korea: Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States is not considering sending a special envoy to North Korea to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, a Seoul official said on April 16, playing down a foreign media report that a meeting between Washington and Pyongyang may be forthcoming.

   Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young made the remarks after the Washington Post reported U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had hinted at sending an envoy to Pyongyang.

   Citing a meeting between former NBA star Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early March, Kerry told a group of reporters who traveled with him to Asia, "It may be that somebody will be asked to sit down," according to the report.

   The remarks by Kerry spawned speculation in Seoul that Washington might consider sending an envoy to Pyongyang.

   "At this point, I don't hear that the U.S. government is considering sending a special envoy (to North Korea)," Cho told reporters.

   Kerry wrapped up his Asian tour that included stops in Seoul and Beijing.

   In Seoul, Kerry warned that North Korea will make a "huge mistake" if it launches a missile, while saying Washington is prepared to hold talks with Pyongyang only if it brings down tensions and lives up to previous agreements on denuclearization.

   South Korean officials reportedly spotted a couple of mid-range missiles mounted on mobile launchers hidden in a shelter on the North's east coast and had predicted that the country may test-fire one of them around Monday, the 101st birthday of its later founder Kim Il-sung.

   But the North apparently observed the late leader's birth anniversary without making any new military provocations, including the missile launch. South Korea has vowed to sternly retaliate against any provocations.

   Experts say that the North's Musudan missile, with an estimated range of up to 4,000 kilometers, can cover South Korea and Japan and reach as far as the U.S. territory of Guam. The U.S. has beefed up its missile defense system on the island.


S. Korea Denies Secret Contact with N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification ministry on April denied having any behind-the-scenes contact with North Korea to defuse inter-Korean tensions that have been running high amid Pyongyang's saber-rattling.

   "The ministry is not aware of any under-the-table contact," a senior ministry official said, declining to be identified. "Now is not the right time for such a move."

   The statement comes as some North Korean observers here claimed Seoul may be trying to engage in talks with Pyongyang to persuade that country to come to the negotiating table in order to lay out their demands. Such a move is aimed at diffusing cross-border tensions that have reached their highest levels in two decades.

   Such speculation gained credence when President Park Geun-hye "suddenly" proposed talks with the North last week after Seoul had been stressing the need to first create an environment that can help negotiations down the line.

   Park, however, remained steadfast to the principle of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and the need for Pyongyang to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

   The ministry official, meanwhile, said that Seoul will continue to urge the North to make "right choices" to diffuse tensions and will do its utmost to push the communist country to change and become a respected member of the international community.


Hacking Group Attacks N.K. Web Sites on Founder's Birthday

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- An international hacking group said on April 12 that it disrupted operations of five N. Korean propaganda Web sites to spoil the socialist country's celebration of the 101st birthday of its founder.

   The Anonymous hacktivist group said it attacked North Korea's main news and propaganda Web site, Uriminzokkiri, on Kim Il-sung's birthday. The birthday that fell on April 15 is called the Day of the Sun and is the most important holiday in the North. Kim who died in 1994 is the grandfather of incumbent leader Kim Jong-un.

   The attacks come after the hackers claimed earlier in the month that they "crashed" several North Korean sites to protest Pyongyang's efforts to build nuclear weapons. The North detonated its third nuclear device on Feb. 12, in defiance of warnings by the global community.
The loosely associated organization of hackers from many countries also said they have defaced the Minjok Tongshin, an English language news provider,, and Ryugyong Clip, a video and still image site, in their latest attacks.

   A local hacker, who is a member of Anonymous's South Korean chapter, claimed on a Twitter account that the collapse of North Korea's network system is near, although he gave no details for making such an assertion.

   The group, meanwhile, caused a sensation when it attacked and defaced Uriminzokkiri and stole 15,000 personal data of registered members that were subsequently released for public viewing.

   South Korean law enforcement authorities have launched a probe to see if South Koreans who registered with the propaganda site violated related domestic laws that can punish people for helping the North.

   The two Koreas remain technically at war since the Korean War (1950-53) ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.


Obama Downplays N. Korea's Nuclear Warhead Technology

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on April 16 played down North Korea's reported ability to mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles but he stressed the importance of being ready for "every contingency" on the peninsula.

   “Based on our current intelligence assessments we do not think that they have that capacity,”Obama said in an interview with NBC. The interview was taped just before the Boston Marathon explosions and aired on April 16 amid continued speculation on whether and when North Korea will shoot a medium-range missile from a mobile launcher.

   Obama's remarks came after headline reports of a classified assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) of the socialist nation's nuclear and missile capabilities.

   The Pentagon's intelligence arm reportedly said it assesses "with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low."

   The reported DIA assessment added to fears that Pyongyang might have learned, if not mastered, how to miniaturize its nuclear bombs.

   Obama pointed out that the U.S. and its allies should remain vigilant against North Korea's possible provocations.

   “We have to make sure that we are dealing with every contingency out there. And that's why I've repositioned missile defense systems to guard against any miscalculation on their part,”he added.

   North Korea conducted three known underground nuclear tests and carried out several medium- and long-range missile launches. In December, it successfully sent a space vehicle into orbit.

   The outside world depends mostly on satellite images to evaluate the secretive nation's missile or nuclear programs.

   Obama reaffirmed that the door is open for North Korea to engage in talks with the U.S., South Korea and other nations, but Pyongyang must first change its "provocative behavior," he said.

   "You don't get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way," Obama emphasized.

   Asked about his view on the mental stability of the North's young leader Kim Jong-un, Obama quipped, "I am not a psychiatrist."

   "I don't know the leader of North Korea. What I do know is that the actions they've taken, the rhetoric they've engaged in have been provocative," he said.


N. Korea May Be Eyeing Exit Plan as Tensions Peak: USFK Official

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may be looking to relieve tensions on the Korean Peninsula after having increased them to a near-boiling point over the past weeks with almost daily threats against South Korea and the United States, a senior U.S. military official in Seoul said on April 16.

   "I think the DPRK leadership is trying to figure out a way off from the heightened state of rhetoric we have seen over the past couple of weeks," the senior U.S. official told reporters and correspondents in Seoul, asking for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.

   Although the socialist nation has ratcheted up its bellicose rhetoric recently -- particularly against the South Korea-U.S. joint annual drills this March and additional U.N. sanctions imposed earlier on the North for its third nuclear test in February -- North Korea's threats have been "always conditional," the official said.

   "So if the U.S. does this, then (the North says) we are going to do this. So there was always a backdoor to it (tension)," the official said. "What I would hope is that they are exploring the use of that backdoor to scale back their rhetoric."

   The U.S. official said Seoul and Washington have been closely watching for signs of a missile launch or any provocations, but North Korea has not recently shown any large-scale troop movements or exercises.

   "The launch of an intermediate-range missile is one of many tactical levels of provocations we've been exploring and trying to figure out what the true intentions are," the official said. "Any of those things can happen with little to no notice and we may not know that it happens until the missiles are launched."

   Seoul and Washington officials had predicted Pyongyang may test its medium-range Musudan missile around Apirl 15 to celebrate the 101st birthday of the late North Korean founder and current ruler's grandfather Kim Il-sung, but it has not shown any special movement in the last couple of days, sparking speculations over its true intention of its latest military moves seen as preparations for a missile launch.


U.S. Cuts off Subsidies to Anti-N. Korea Groups in S. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United States has virtually stopped funding anti-North Korean civic groups in South Korea due to its financial downturn, sources in Seoul said on April 17.

   Organizations such as the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) and the North Korea Reform Radio said in a seminar in Seoul that Washington's financial assistance for groups that support liberty and human rights has all but dried up this year.

   "At its peak, the U.S. provided US$5 million in support annually, but the general lack of similar support from the Seoul government may have played a role in the latest cutbacks," said NKIS executive director Kim Heung-kwang.

   He also speculated that current economic troubles in the U.S. and the implementation of across-the-board budget cuts are affecting overseas financial support.

   Kim Seung-chul, head of the radio station, said that his organization had relied on assistance from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is controlled by the U.S. State Department.

   "With the drying up of subsidies from other U.S. sources, there is a pressing need for the Seoul government to take action," he said.

   Meanwhile, progressive groups called on both Koreas during the seminar to sign a permanent peace accord to replace the Armistice Agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Members of a committee dedicated to pushing forward the spirit of the 2000 landmark agreement reached on June 15 between by late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said now is the time to strive for peace and coexistence on the Korean Peninsula.

   "Even after 60 years since the conflict stopped, no peace agreement has been reached, so it is about time that the issue is resolved once and for all," a speaker said at the gathering.

   The speaker said the United Nations, the two Koreas, the United States and China need to get together and push for a peace treaty.

   Members of these organizations also said non-proliferation should be handled at the six-party talks, with all sides needing to refrain from making inflammatory remarks or attacking the other side. Every measure should be taken to normalize operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which has been put on hold for a week, they said.

   Other progressive groups like the Pan-National Alliance for Reunification of the Fatherland called on the government to halt joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises and the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula.