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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 265 (June 6, 2013)

2013/06/06 10:30

*** NEWS IN BRIEF

N. Korea Criticizes President Park over Call for Government-level Talks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea criticized South Korean President Park Geun-hye on June 1 for insisting on government-level talks, saying she showed no consideration for the socialist country's earlier call for resolving tensions at the civilian level.

The North's main propaganda Web site Uriminzokkiri said Park had "ignored (the North's) sincerity" by demanding the socialist country agree to government-level talks on normalizing the now-suspended joint industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

North Korea has asked South Korean businessmen owning factories in the industrial park to visit the complex to discuss pending issues. The complex has been suspended since early April when North Korea withdrew all of its 53,000 workers from the zone in anger over new U.N. sanctions against its regime and U.S.-involved military drills in the South.

Pyongyang has also offered to hold a joint civilian event to mark the anniversary of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000.

At a luncheon meeting with reporters at her office on May 31, Park raised questions about the North's position, saying that all pending issues can be resolved only through official government talks.

North Korea disagreed. "Insisting on government-level dialogue is no different from a shameless and hideous argument that (we) must do what they demand regardless of what the (South Korean) people want," the North said on the Web site.

"If the South Korean government had the sincere will to resolve issues between the North and the South and achieve national unity and peaceful reunification ... there is no reason why it should not accept our proposal."

  

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North Korea Seeks to Ease State Grip on Distribution

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is pushing to give greater autonomy to its distribution sector, a senior Pyongyang official said, in what is seen as another sign of the socialist country loosening its tight grip on the planned economy.

In an interview with a monthly magazine published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), Oh Yong-min, a director of the North's Ministry of Commerce, said the ministry will overhaul the way wholesalers distribute consumer goods.

"Wholesalers will offer information on all goods -- those manufactured under a government plan, surplus products and unplanned goods -- and deliver them after receiving orders from unspecified retail networks," Oh said in the June edition of the magazine "Joguk (Fatherland)" obtained by Yonhap News Agency on June 2.

The ministry is drawing up a detailed plan to revolutionize the commerce and distribution network in order to meet the needs of the new century, the official said, adding that an order system should be implemented thoroughly in order to boost the efficiency of the distribution sector.

In a planned socialist economy, an order system refers to one where goods are produced and distributed based on the amount of orders from users.

The North's push is widely deemed a follow-up on the country's new economic management system, which was announced in late June last year.

"In line with the June measure, North Korea appears to be seeking a change of course by granting individuals greater authority in the distribution of goods," said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

The move to overhaul the distribution system also comes two months after North Korea reportedly gave greater leeway to managers of cooperative farms and factories in an effort to boost production.

Last year's reform drive is seen as a step forward from the country's similar reformist efforts in 2002, when wages and rice prices were sharply lifted to match market levels. Increased money supply following the wage and rice price hikes triggered severe inflation, causing the reform drive to fail, according to experts.

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N. Korea Stresses Importance of Pyongyang-Beijing Friendship

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea unfolded aggressive propaganda for two days in a row to stress the importance of the North Korea-China friendship as it capitalized on the 30th anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong-il's first visit to China.

Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK), said in an editorial on June 2 that Kim Jong-il's visit to China, his first foreign tour, marked a historic event of great significance in boosting the North Korea-China friendship down through generations and the 30 year-long history.

Kim visited China from June 1-13, 1983 as the heir of then leader Kim Il-sung.

The editorial said it was the earnest behests of Presidents Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il to boost the North Korea-China friendship generation after generation and that current leader Kim Jong-un is paying deep attention to developing the North Korea-China friendship, true to the noble intention of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The paper mentioned that Kim Jong-un sent his special envoy to China recently who conveyed a personal letter to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The editorial concluded that the WPK and the North Korean people will in the future, too, make positive efforts to boost the bonds of the North Korea-China friendship, which stood the test of history, as desired by Kim Jong-il.

On the same day, the (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station also aired a program featuring Kim Jong-il's China visit and stressed that Kim's China visit was a historic event to show the firm determination of the parties and peoples of the two countries to consolidate traditional friendship.

One day before, Rodong Sinmun also carried a similar article, saying Kim Jong-il left an immortal record in China as he was aware of the significance and importance of the North Korea-China friendship better than anyone else.

North Korea watchers in Seoul say the North Korean media's emphasis on the Pyongyang-Beijing friendship is aimed at restoring the traditional friendship between the countries which have recently shown some signs of fracturing and letting Pyongyang's intention to maintain the traditionally friendly ties in the Kim Jong-un era be known.

Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Liu Hongcai said on June 4 the China-North Korea relations have ushered in a new historic stage.

In a banquet the WPK hosted at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Kim Jong-il's China visit, Liu said the relations between the two countries should provide the peoples of the two countries with welfare and benefit by promoting joint prosperity under the principles of mutual respect and reciprocity.

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Kim Jong-un Inspects Frontline KPA Posts, Swimming Beach

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected posts of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) defending Mt. Osong and KPA Unit 507, the KCNA said on June 2.

Kim was briefed in detail on the positions and movements of the enemy troops with which the unit is standing in confrontation and learned in detail about topography there, according to the KCNA.

Receiving a report on the duty of the unit and the situation, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that it assigned operational and combat duties in line with the intention of the Supreme Command and is always keeping itself fully combat ready.

He stressed the need for the commanding officers and men of the unit to firmly prepare themselves politically and ideologically and in military technique to beat back any enemy's invasion at a single strike, the KCNA said.

On the same day, Kim also looked around posts of KPA units 785 and 565, all under the wing of the KPA 5th Legion.

The posts on Mt. Osong are just 350 meters away from the border with South Korea. Kim Jong-il visited the posts twice in 1998 in August and November.

"Kim Jong-il lived, always thinking of the service personnel of Mt. Osong," Kim Jong-un said, adding he visited there, carrying with him this feeling, according to the KCNA.

Kim was accompanied by Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, chief of the KPA General Staff; Col. Gen. Pak Jong-chon; Lieut. Gen. An Ji-yong, Choe Hwi, first-vice department director of the WPK Central Committee and Pak Thae-song, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee.

It is the first time that Kim visited a frontline post since South Korea-U.S. joint military drills ended at the end of April. Kim visited KPA units in rear areas in May.

Meanwhile, the North Korean leader visited the Majon Bathing Resort, a swimming beach in South Hamgyong province on the east coast, and a camping ground in Songdowon, Wonsan, Kangwon Province, the KCNA reported on June 1 and May 31, respectively.

The Majon resort is one of the most popular swimming beaches on North Korea's east coast.

In his visit to the camping ground, Kim instructed officials to install signboards written in foreign languages.

He also provided field guidance to the Songchongang Net-weaving Factory and the Plastic Tube Shop newly built by the 1521 Enterprise of the KPA. The net-weaving factory with a production capacity of 9 million square meters a year was built at the instruction of Kim Jong-un and began operation last April.

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N. Korea Slams Seoul for Refusing Civilian Dialogue Offer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea condemned South Korea's unification minister on June 2 for his recent criticism of Pyongyang's offer for civilian-level dialogue and repeated calls for South Korean factory owners to visit the now-suspended inter-Korean industrial complex in the North.

In late May, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said South Korea will not give in to the North's pressure to hold private-level talks over the standoff of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, calling Pyongyang's offer for dialogue "hypocrisy."

   His comment came a day after North Korea invited South Korean officials for talks with it on the future of the joint complex but only when they come with businessmen with plants in the factory zone.

Maintaining that government-level talks must precede any negotiations that may involve civilians, Seoul officials see the North's proposal as an attempt to sideline the government and as a typical ploy by Pyongyang to drive a wedge between it and its people.

"We have shown every good faith to resume the operation of the Kaesong complex and return it to normal," the North said in a statement posted on its main propaganda website, Uriminzokkiri.

Insulting the proposal for dialogue is "a shameless sophistry and perversity," it said.

"The South Korean government should not mislead the essence of the problem and distort the truth, and take the right path by squarely facing the public sentiment and going with the flow," the commentary said, reiterating its will to resume talks upon the South Korean businessmen's visit there.

The joint industrial complex, opened in 2004, ground to a halt in early April when North Korea unilaterally withdrew all of its 53,000 workers hired by 123 small-sized South Korean plants operating there.

South Korea has since proposed working government talks to discuss ways to reopen the complex, but North Korea has turned them down, demanding that Seoul first address more fundamental issues, including joint military exercises with the U.S.

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North Korea Set to Restart Yongbyon Reactor: U.S. Institute

WASHINGTON/ SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea looks ready to resume the production of weapons-grade plutonium at its main nuclear site in Yongbyon, a move expected to make efforts to revive the six-way denuclearization talks more difficult, according to a U.S. institute.

New commercial satellite imagery shows North Korea is making "important progress" in activating the 5-megawatt gas-graphite reactor mothballed since 2007 under a deal with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said on June 3.

"Pyongyang is nearing completion of work necessary to restart the 5 MWe reactor used to produce North Korea's supply of weapons-grade plutonium," it said in a report carried on the website 38 North. "The 5-MWe reactor may be 1-2 months from start-up. But the availability of fresh fuel rods to power the reactor remains uncertain."

   North Korea seems to have essentially finished repairing the cooling system needed to restart and operate the Soviet-era reactor, it added.

The socialist nation destroyed the cooling tower in 2007 in a nascent step to implement the six-party agreement.

Rather than rebuilding the dismantled cooling tower, the North Koreans connected the secondary cooling system to a pump house that was built for its new Experimental Light Water Reactor situated next to the old reactor, the institute said.

In April, North Korea announced plans to restart the nuclear reactor. It also carried out a nuclear bomb test in February.

Some experts predicted it would take six months to a year before the reactor could be up and running since the cooling system needed to be reinstalled.

Once operational, they say, the facility will likely be able to produce about 6 kilograms of plutonium per year for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

The last round of six-way talks was held in late 2008.

On speculations that the 5 MWe will be restarted in a couple of months, an official at Seoul's Ministry of Unification said there is a need to wait and see if such developments will occur, hinting there may be some technical issues that must be handled first.

He said, however, that since the country's leadership has already stated that it will get the reactor on line again, it is only be a matter of time before it becomes operational.

"Such a move constitutes a serious development because it will lead to the country acquiring more fissile materials that can lead to more nuclear weapons testing and miniaturization of devices," the official who declined to be identified said.

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Former chief of KPA General Staff Hyon transferred to commander of 5th Legion

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Hyon Yong-chol, former chief of the General Staff of the KPA, was confirmed on June 3 to have been transferred to the commander of the 5th Legion which is in charge of the defense of the central frontline in Kangwon Province.

Hyon is spotted in a picture of Rodong Sinmun along with other North Korean military dignitaries who accompanied Kim Jong-un during his visit to the KPA post on Mt. Osong.

The paper mentioned Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, chief of the KPA General Staff; Col. Gen. Pak Jong-chon; and Lt. Gen. An Ji-yong as top North Korean generals who accompanied Kim but did not name Hyon. Hyon with an insignia of three stars was the highest-rank officer among the military officers from the 5th Legion, making it possible to know that he was the commander of the unit.

A South Korean official also confirmed that the government thinks Hyon has been transferred to the 5th Legion commander.

Hyon, formerly a four-star general, seems to have been demoted to a colonel general (three-star general) when he was assigned to the 5th Legion in order to keep his rank in line with other legion commanders. Hyon was replaced by Kim Kyok-sik, a former minister of the armed forces.

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North Korean Leader Calls for Completion of Ski Resort

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued an appeal to the military and citizens to complete the construction of a ski resort within this year and called on them to join the country's economic development efforts, state media said on June 5.

It marks Kim's first appeal for economic construction efforts since he took power in December 2011. The North has repeatedly stressed its policy line of seeking both economic construction and nuclear arms development since the beginning of this year.

The North is building a ski resort near the 768-meter-high Masik mountain pass, or Masikryong, near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan. Previous reports said the country is moving to build an airport near the city as part of efforts to promote the area as a tourism-oriented region.

"The (governing) Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) remains unchanged in its resolution to build a world-class skiing ground within this year and provide the people and school youth and children with a highly civilized and happy living conditions to enable them enjoy all blessings," said the appeal carried by the KCNA.

The leader said he has the belief that "the soldier-builders would wind up the construction of the skiing ground within this year," stressing that they should be equipped with what Kim called "Masikryong Speed" to charge speedily ahead with the construction plan, according to the KCNA English dispatch.

North Korean citizens should also learn from the military's striving to finish the construction, Kim's appeal said, urging them to join the country's economic construction ambitions.

"It is the intention and resolution of the WPK to raise a hot-wind of great innovations and upswing throughout the country by letting all people learn from the indomitable fighting spirit and work style being displayed by the soldiers in the construction of the skiing ground," the KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

"He called on all the people including workers, farmers and intellectuals to further re-energize all the economic sectors of the country and positively contribute to implementing national economy plan by fully implementing the WPK's line on simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of nuclear force," according to the KCNA.

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N.K. Bashes Osaka mayor's Justification of Wartime 'Comfort Women'

  

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Weeks after Japan's Osaka mayor made controversial remarks justifying Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of women from neighboring countries, North Korea on on June 5 denounced the comments to be "self-destructing" and "enraging."

   In mid-May, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said Japan's sexual enslavement during the World War II was necessary for Japanese soldiers fighting in life-threatening situations. The remarks immediately drew seething criticism from South Korea and China.

Historians say some 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude in front-line Japanese brothels during World War II. The Korean Peninsula was under Japan's brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

The issue of sexually enslaved women, widely called "comfort women," is a frequent source of tension between Japan and South Korea, along with territorial and history textbook disputes stemming from Japan's colonialism in the early part of the 20th century.

"The (Japanese) rightist force's scheme to avoid historical settlement is a self-destroying act," the KCNA said in a statement.

"Japan's attitude toward the sexual enslavement is an urgent issue which is directly linked to the country's (responsibility) to apologize and compensate for what it has done to the mankind in the last century," the statement said.

The news agency also said Japan is "morally ruined" and is feared to repeat anti-humanistic acts that "could again thrust this planet into misfortunes."

   The commentary came after Isao Iijima, an aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, made a surprise four-day visit to North Korea in mid-May as part of the two countries efforts to set up diplomatic ties.

The North has long demanded Japan compensate its victims for war crimes and other damage inflicted during the colonial rule.

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