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Pentagon: N. Korea Continues Arms Sales to Myanmar, Iran, Syria

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea continues arms sales to Myanmar, Iran and Syria, effectively evading a web of U.N. sanctions, the U.S. Department of Defense on May 2 said in a report to Congress.

   It also believes the reclusive socialist nation could conduct additional nuclear tests at any time and carry out ballistic missile launches toward the goal of having nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

   "North Korea uses a world-wide network to facilitate arms sales activities and maintains a core group of recipient countries including Burma (Myanmar), Iran, and Syria," the Pentagon said in the report submitted in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act.

   "In addition to Burma, Iran, and Syria, past clients for North Korea's ballistic missiles and associated technology have included Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen," it said.

   Pyongyang has been long subject to a wide web of bilateral and multilateral sanctions. U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibit states from engaging in the trade of strategic military goods with North Korea
It is also under close watch by the U.S., which has conducted the multilateral Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) aimed at curbing Pyongyang's arms dealings.

   The report said the North has taken advantage of various methods to circumvent U.N. Security Council resolutions, "including falsifying end-user certificates, mislabeling crates, sending cargo through multiple front companies and intermediaries, and using air cargo for deliveries of high-value and sensitive arms exports."

   The Pentagon's assessment suggests that U.N. sanctions and U.S. efforts to tackle North Korea's arms sales have had limited effect.

   "North Korea continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure," the department said, citing the nation's uranium-enrichment facility revealed in 2010. "One of our gravest concerns about North Korea's activities in the international arena is its demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology."

   North Korea continues to develop the Taepodong-2, which could reach parts of the United States if configured as an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear payload, it said.

   "North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs," the Pentagon said.


North Korea's Trade with EU Halves in 2012

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade volume between North Korea and the European Union (EU) more than halved last year from a year earlier after the North sharply cut exports of mineral resources, a news report said on May 3.

   The trade volume between the two sides came to 69 million euros (US$90.2 million) in 2012, only 43.4 percent of the 159 million euros recorded the previous year, the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA) reported, citing EU data.

   The dive came as the North's total exports to the EU shrank to 24 million euros last year from 117 million euros the previous year, according to the VOA report.

   The socialist country exported only 3 million euros worth of mineral resources, the main export item, to EU countries in 2012, compared with 71 million in 2011, it said.

   North Korea's imports from EU countries, meanwhile, rose 7.1 percent on-year to 45 million euros last year, led by brisk imports of machinery and electronics goods, according to the report.


U.S. Non-profit Group to Build Tuberculosis Center in Pyongyang

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. non-profit group plans to build a tuberculosis treatment training center in Pyongyang by the end of this year, a report said on May 4.

   Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), the non-governmental organization, will visit the North Korean capital in mid-May and start construction work for the center designed to train medical doctors and researchers for tuberculosis treatment and prevention in the North, the Washington, D.C.-based Radio Free Asia reported. The CFK will send a team of 10 technicians and officials for the project, it said.

   The construction of the center will be completed at the end of this year, and during the coming visit, the CFK will inspect other medical aid projects it is running in the North, the media outlet quoted the group's spokesman as saying.

   The training center is designed to "expand training efforts begun at the National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory," the Christian Friends of Korea said in a comment posted on its Web site, noting training is currently being done in a cramped hallway at the lab.

   The CFK is assisting about 29 medical clinics in the North, including a tuberculosis treatment center in Kaesong, near the border with South Korea.

   The report came two weeks after Eugene Bell, a charity group in South Korea, shipped 678 million won (US$618,000) worth of tuberculosis medicine in medical aid to the North. It was the first shipment of humanitarian aid by a South Korean entity to North Korea since President Park Geun-hye took office in Seoul in February.

   North Korea relies on foreign medical assistance as its hospitals are often ill-equipped to treat patients due to a lack of medicines and other supplies.

   The World Health Organization estimated on its Web site that about 1,600 North Koreans died of tuberculosis in 2011, down from about 1,900 in 2010.


U.N. Chief Expresses Support for President Park's 'Trustpolitik'

NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed support on May 6 for South Korean President Park Geun-hye's vision for confidence-building with North Korea and promised to play whatever roles possible for peace on the Korean Peninsula, an official said.

   The South Korean-born U.N. chief made the remarks when he met with Park at U.N. headquarters. Park arrived in New York on May 5 on the first leg of a five-day visit to the United States that will take her to Washington later May 6 for a summit with President Barack Obama.

   During the meeting, Park outlined the "Korean Peninsula trust process," her trademark policy on North Korea that calls for dialogue and exchanges to foster trust with Pyongyang so as to reduce tensions across one of the world's most heavily fortified borders.

   "Secretary-General Ban expressed support for the Korean Peninsula trust process and reaffirmed that he will play every possible role to help maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung said.

   Noting that South Korea has grown from a recipient of U.N. donations into a middle power country, Park said that Seoul plans to expand contributions to U.N. efforts to make the world better off while playing an active role in promoting international peace as a member of the U.N. Security Council, Yoon said.

   About 100 South Koreans greeted Park as she arrived at U.N. headquarters, some of them holding a placard welcoming her and wishing for "a second miracle of the Han River," a yearning for their homeland to make a yet another economic leap forward just like it pulled itself from poverty after the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Ahead of the meeting with the U.N. chief, Park left a guestbook message, "The Republic of Korea will always stand side by side with the U.N. to promote a more prosperous, happier global community."

   Park and Ban also discussed ways to increase cooperation between South Korea and the United Nations on climate change and other global issues, the spokesman said.

   After the talks, Park and Ban attended a meeting with about 70 South Korean staff members working at U.N. headquarters to boost their morale. Park said during the meeting that her government plans to redouble efforts to help young South Koreans land jobs overseas.

   Ban's office confirmed that the former South Korean foreign minister reaffirmed his readiness to "contribute to defusing tension and promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

   He "strongly supported her (Park's) determination to resolve inter-Korean differences through building trust and dialogue," it said in an emailed press release.

   "The Secretary-General expressed his concern about the serious food and nutrition situation in the DPRK (North Korea) in particular youth and other vulnerable group(s) and appreciated the continued willingness of the ROK (South Korea) Government to help address the humanitarian situation in the DPRK," it said.


North Korea to Stage Arirang Mass Games in Late July

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will start the famous Arirang mass games on July 22 for a seven-week run, a Swedish tourist agency specializing in North Korean trips for foreigners said May 6.

   "The next Mass Games will be held in Pyongyang between 22 July and 9 September 2013. The show will be on four times a week," Korea Konsult said in its Web site posting. "Tourists from all over the World will be welcomed to the DPRK (North Korea) during Mass Games and everybody will be able to watch this fantastic show."

   Different types of tickets are available, ranging from 80 euros (US$105.1) to 300 euros, it said.

   The annual festival usually kicks off in early August for about a two-month run, but this year's event is believed to be timed to coincide with the July 27 war victory day, which marks the signing of a truce agreement between the two Koreas that ended the Korean War (1950-53).

   The North's governing Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) said in February that the country will hold extravagant events to mark the 60th anniversary of what the North claims was its victory on July 27 that ended the Korean War.

   The Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two countries separated by a heavily fortified border.

   The Arirang festival mainly features a mass gymnastics performance designed to extol the governing Kim family. First held in 2002, the year marking the 90th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung, it has been held every year since 2005 except for when the country suffered from a devastating flood in 2006.

   The country is expected to stage a new version of the mass games this year which, foreign tourist agencies said, will place greater emphasis on the achievements of the country's new leader Kim Jong-un, who took power after the sudden death of his father, late leader Kim Jong-il, in December 2011.


N. Korea's Provocation Cycle Still up in the Air: Top White House Official

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea's provocation cycle is still hanging in the balance, a senior White House official said on May 6, amid reports that the reclusive nation may be rolling back its mid-range rocket launch preparations.

   "It's premature to make a judgment about whether the North Korean provocation cycle is going up, down or zigzagging. It will take some time to play out," said Daniel Russel, the senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council.

   He made the comments while joining a conference call for reporters to brief them on the upcoming summit talks between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama.

   Park flew into Washington earlier in the day for the meeting slated for May 7.

   It will be her first face-to-face talks with Obama since her inauguration as South Korea's first female president in late February.

   Obama plans to use the summit to "reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea (South Korea)," Russel said. "Solidarity on North Korea is going to be the hallmark of this meeting."

   Russel, a special assistant to Obama, pointed out that the allies support "incremental engagement and are prepared to support the North if they make the right decision and take steps to abide by their international obligations and their commitments."

   Obama expects to "hear directly from President Park on her trustpolitik approach" aimed at building mutual trust between the two Koreas through dialogue, according to Russel.

   The Park-Obama summit comes as the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula seem to be at a crossroads. After churning out bellicose statements for months, the North has stayed relatively calm. It has presented some terms of dialogue with the U.S., including demanding it be recognized as a nuclear power, which Washington has dismissed as unacceptable.

   News reports said, citing unidentified U.S. officials, North Korea has taken two ballistic missiles off launch pads along the east coast.

   "It is premature to celebrate it as good news," Russel said.

   It is widely believed that Russel will highly likely become the next assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.


U.N. Appoints Three Investigators for N. Korea Rights Abuses

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations Human Rights Council on May 7 appointed three experts to investigate widespread human rights violations in North Korea for its landmark commission, Seoul's foreign affairs ministry said.

   The appointment comes after the U.N. council's 47 member states approved a resolution in March that paved the way for establishing a "Commission of Inquiry" into the alleged rights abuses in North Korea, upgrading the level of investigation to be on par with probes into Syria.

   U.N. special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman; Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia; and Sonja Biserko, a Serbian human rights activist, will lead the special commission to launch a formal investigation into human rights abuses in the isolated state for one year.

   The commission is expected to submit interim reports to the meeting of U.N. Commission on Human Rights in September and the U.N. General Assembly in October, as well as release a comprehensive report on March next year, according the ministry.

   North Korea had reacted with indignation to the U.N. decision to set up the commission, flatly denying human rights abuses under its ruler Kim Jong-un.

   Human rights advocacy groups have long called for international efforts to stop genocide and crimes against humanity in the communist country, which they claim are being systematically carried out by North Korean authorities.

   Activists said North Korea is holding thousands of political prisoners in at least six facilities where they face extrajudicial executions, torture and forced labor.

   The communist country has been accused of human rights abuses for decades, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners to torture and public executions.

   Pyongyang has flatly denied the accusations, calling them a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.


Eight out of 10 North Korean Families Undernourished: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Eight out of every 10 North Korean families are suffering malnutrition with little access to protein foods, a U.S. media report said on May 7.

   In its survey of 87 North Korean families from January to March, the World Food Program (WFP) found that 80 percent of them were undernourished mainly due to a lack of protein intake, the Washington-based Voice of America (VOA) said.

   About 38 percent of those surveyed were not able to eat high-protein foods during the one week before the survey, such as meat, fish, eggs or beans, said the report, monitored in Seoul.

   Quoting the WFP report, the VOA said the North Korean families, on average, eat meat 1.3 days a week or beans 1.2 days per week.

   The report also said about 14 percent of the 86 hospitalized North Korean children under age 5 whom its aid workers visited during the January-March period were in serious malnutrition conditions.

   Meanwhile, AmeriCares, a U.S. non-profit aid group, is about to send 10.5 tons of drugs in humanitarian assistance to the North this week, another U.S. media report said.

   The aid package, which includes antibiotics, stomach medicines and dermatology drugs, will be shipped later this week to six hospitals in Pyongyang and other areas, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported. The shipment will also include personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and soaps, it said.

   The RFA said the latest aid has no political consideration and is solely for humanitarian purposes.

   AmeriCares began its aid to the North in 1997 as the first American private group to do so. Last year, it sent US$7 million worth of medicine for flood victims in the impoverished country.


China's Suspension of Dealings with N. Korean Bank 'Significant': Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China's decision to end financial dealings with a key North Korean foreign exchange bank is a "significant" step that may severely punish North Korea for its internationally-condemned nuclear ambitions, a Seoul official said on May 8.

   The comments came one day after the state-run Bank of China said it had ended transactions with the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea. The move is seen as part of China's punitive actions against the North's long-range missile launch in December and its third nuclear test conducted on Feb. 12 in defiance of the international community.

   Given that the North Korean foreign exchange bank is its de facto channel to settle financial trade dealings with China, the decision is "a very significant and effective measure," a Seoul official said.

   "Trade with China accounts for almost all of North Korea's official commerce with foreign countries," the official said, adding that it is imaginable how severe an impact the latest decision may be to the North.

   Following the North's February nuclear test, the U.S. in March imposed its own sanction on the North Korean foreign exchange bank, which it said was used as the financial channel for the communist country's development of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.

   The latest punitive action by China came as part of its growing role in the international community's efforts to deter North Korea from nuclear arms and ballistic missile development.

   Under the new leadership of Xi Jinping, China, which had long turned a blind eye to the actions of the socialist country, has shown intentions of joining the international community in punishing the North of its nuclear ambitions.