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2013/06/06 10:30


North Korea Opens First International Soccer Academy

Seoul (Yonhap) -- North Korea opened its first international football academy in the capital city of Pyongyang, the state-run news agency reported on May 30, as part of efforts to foster global talent in the country's most popular sport.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the Pyongyang International Football School is open to both domestic and international students and will invite soccer experts from around the world to train the nation's fledgling soccer talent.

The new academy is built next to a 200,000 square-meter park that houses a soccer field, basketball courts, volleyball courts and a roller-skating rink among other things, according to the KCNA.

The school, which opened with a lavish ceremony attended by high-profile officials such as Premier Pak Pong-ju, is in line with leader Kim Jong-un's goals to make sports one of the nation's strengths on a global stage.

In November 2012, North Korea launched the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, an agency chaired by Kim's uncle Jang Song-thaek, to oversee all sports activities in the socialist country.

Students with outstanding performances will have a chance to study abroad on national scholarships, according to Choson Sinbo, the North's mouthpiece Korean-language newspaper published in Japan.

More than 80 students between the ages of 9 and 13 made up the school's inaugural class, the newspaper said, with the enrollment capacity to reach over 200 in the future.

"Students who fail to pass the quarterly exams will be replaced by new ones to maintain a high level of performance-based competition," the newspaper added.


Number of N. Korean Mobile Phone Users Tops 2 Mln: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of mobile phone owners in North Korea has exceeded the 2 million level, a report said on May 31, indicating that one out of every 12 North Korean citizens are using wireless telephone services.

Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported the information, citing a statement released on May 29 by Naguib Sawiris, the chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding.

The number of wireless phone users stood at around 100,000 in 2009 and 500,000 in mid-2011 before jumping to the 1 million level in February 2012 and the 1.5 million mark in November of the same year.

The Egyptian firm currently provides third-generation wireless service covering 15 major North Korean cities, including Pyongyang, as well as 100 other smaller cities in the socialist country with a population of about 24 million.

In 2008, Orascom set up a joint venture, Koryolink, with the North's state-run Korea Post and Telecommunications Corp.


WFP Holds Seminar on Food Production in North Korea

Seoul (Yonhap) -- Dozens of North Korean officials and foreign experts discussed local food production at a workshop held by the World Food Programme (WFP) in May, a report said on June 1, in the latest interaction between the socialist regime and international aid organizations.

A total of 72 participants, including the managers of food processing factories in seven North Korean cities and the WFP's North Korea representative Dierk Stegen, were present at the three-day workshop starting May 20, the U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

The discussions held in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, were aimed at raising the quality of nutritious foods in North Korea through improved technical capability, enhanced industrial hygiene and better production planning, the WFP's Asia spokesman Marcus Prior was quoted as saying.

The U.N. food agency has produced fortified foods in North Korea since 1998, benefiting about 2.4 million women and children in the country, according to the WFP website.

Despite carrying out provocative acts such as long-range rocket launches and a third nuclear test, North Korea has continued to work closely with international organizations to exchange creative ideas.

On May 30, RFA reported that a German non-profit organization was planning to hold a seminar in July to instruct Pyongyang officials on more advanced methods of public administration.

The event hosted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation is expected to draw about 30 North Korean officials, RFA said, with two or three experts from Germany or Asia to lead the discussions.


N. Koreans in Pyongyang Seen Wearing Badge of Young Leader

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- Some North Koreans living in the capital Pyongyang have been sighted wearing the badge bearing the image of Kim Jong-un in a sign that the young leader is rapidly consolidating power, sources in China said on June 3.

Multiple sources in Beijing who have access to North Korea said the new badges appeared in Pyongyang for the first time last month, although there are indications that they were handed out to internal security forces late last year.

All North Koreans except pre-teens are required to wear lapel pins bearing the images of their two late leaders, Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il. at all times. Now, a new pin bearing the image of the current leader is added to them.

Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the North's founder Kim Il-sung, inherited power after his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011. The leader, believe to be around 30, has steadily solidified his control over the country.

Sources said that the new badge has not been widely circulated even within the capital, with only senior ruling party members and government officials sporting it on their lapel.

The badge is a sign of respect and loyalty and is viewed as part of the personality cult the North is trying to build around its new leader.

Kim Jong-un was made the supreme commander of the North's military right after his father's 2011 death. The following year, he was made first secretary of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) and first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission (NDC).

A source in the Chinese capital said the use of the new badge signifies that the young leader's power is secure and his confidence is growing.

North Korean watchers also note that the public notice board set up outside Pyongyang's embassy in Beijing has removed the photos of the country's two late leaders, leaving only those depicting the current leader.

Right after Kim Jong-il death, the North Korean Embassy in Beijing displayed photos of the country's founder and his son as well as Kim Jong-un.


No Nuclear Talks with N. Korea Unless Pyongyang Changes Course

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new nuclear envoy said on June 3 a resumption of stalled multilateral nuclear talks with North Korea won't take place unless the North changes its course on its nuclear weapons program.

Ambassador Cho Tae-yong, who was appointed as Seoul's chief envoy to the six-party talks in late May, described the security situation surrounding North Korea as "very grave" after the North conducted its third nuclear test and declared that its nuclear program is non-negotiable.

Cho served as Seoul's deputy chief nuclear envoy to the six-party talks between 2004 and 2006. In September 2005, the North agreed on a deal aimed at eventually abandoning its nuclear weapons program in return for economic and diplomatic incentives, but the deal fell apart after Pyongyang's first nuclear test in 2006.

"Working conditions have become very difficult and the security situation is very grave," Cho told reporters, recalling the time when he served as deputy chief nuclear envoy.

"North Korea put its nuclear development program into its constitution and a lot of negative things have happened with regard to the denuclearization of North Korea," Cho said.

"I think that my fundamental task is to convince North Korea to understand that denuclearization is in the North's interest," Cho said. "No talks will take place unless North Korea changes its mind."

   In a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last month, a North Korean special envoy, sent by leader Kim Jong-un, said Pyongyang is willing to rejoin the long-stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear programs, according to Chinese media reports.

During the meeting, Xi told the North's envoy, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, that the denuclarization of the Korean Peninsula should be achieved no matter how the situation changes.

Nonetheless, strong doubts persist about the North's true intentions after its media conspicuously failed to mention the envoy's remarks made to Xi concerning the six-party talks.

The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S. China, Japan and Russia, have been suspended since late 2008.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se has urged North Korea to prove by action that it really wants to resolve the long-running standoff over its nuclear programs through dialogue, declaring that there should be "no talks for the sake of talks."



Grain Shortage Halts U.N. Food Processing Factories in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Grain shortages caused some United Nations (UN) food processing factories in North Korea to shut down temporarily, hurting ongoing support to nourish people in the socialist country, a report said on June 4.

World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Nanna Skau told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that operations at five of the international organization's 14 food factories in the North have been halted because of grain shortages. The production facilities make fortified biscuits mainly for children.

Grain provided to the North has dropped sharply in recent months after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket and detonated its third nuclear device, in defiance of strong warnings from the international community. The country has been slapped with fresh sanctions for its latest provocations in early March.

The RFA said that the disruption in production, forced the U.N. organization to withhold supplying biscuits to 500,000 kids in the western and southern parts of the country. It also said that the total amount of food provided by the food agency to North Koreans as a whole in May, stood at just 3,000 tons, or 15 percent of the 19,000 tons that was originally set to be delivered.

The media outlet said Skau expressed concern that food supply conditions may not improve until August and called for more international assistance to alleviate the plight of ordinary people living in the impoverished country.

Related to the food shortage situation that has plagued Pyongyang, Tom Morrison, an agronomist who visited the North on numerous occasions on behalf of the UN food program, claimed that North Korea has a high percentage of land that is arable.

He said in a an article on Sino-NK.com., that the country's problem rests with low productivity brought on by poor farming practices, insufficient flood damage control and a lack of farming equipment and fertilizers.

The expert said roughly 15 percent of the North's land is being used for agriculture which is about 4 percentage points higher than the world average that stands at 10.6 percent. This, he said, is on par with China and Myanmar that have attained self-sufficiency in food, and higher than the 6 percent reported by Australia, a major grain exporter.

Morrison said that while one hectare of land in the North produced 8 tons of food in 1980, the number stood at just 3.9 tons in 2011.


U.S. Says Obama, Xi to Talk about Pressing N. Korea to Abandon Nukes

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, will discuss ways to press North Korea to rid itself of nuclear technology when they meet in California later this week, an official here said on June 4.

"The United States and China share the view that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is essential if we are to move forward in any diplomatic process with North Korea," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said at a press briefing. "That's an issue that we work closely with them on. I'm sure it will be an issue discussed this weekend and moving forward."

   She added China is working with the U.S. and other members of the six-way talks in pressing North Korea to abide by its international obligations, including the Sept. 19, 2005, joint statement. Under the deal, Pyongyang agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons in return for political and economic incentives from South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

"We remain focused on pressing North Korea, as do, of course, the Chinese, and we have a shared goal of a denuclearized peninsula," Psaki said.

Obama is scheduled to meet Xi at Sunnylands, a Southern California estate, on Friday and Saturday. It would be their first meeting since Xi became China's leader in March.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier Obama and Xi will use the rather informal sessions for wide-ranging discussions on U.S.-China relations and joint efforts to resolve regional and global challenges.

"Certainly a topic of conversation would be North Korea, stability in Asia, expanding our bilateral military ties, climate change and cybersecurity," he told reporters.

Some watchers in Seoul say Obama and Xi may touch on the issue of North Korean defectors.

The topic has drawn keen media attention, especially since the forced repatriation of nine North Koreans, largely in their teens, who were caught in Laos last month and deported to China. China eventually sent them back to North Korea.

The White House did not respond to Yonhap News Agency's inquiry over whether the presidents will discuss the North Korean defector issue this week.

Bruce Klingner, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, said Beijing should stop repatriating North Korean refugees, which would be a sign of a possible shift in its policy on its nuclear-armed neighbor.

"During his upcoming summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Obama should press Beijing to increase pressure on North Korea for its repeated violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions and international law," Klingner said in an op-ed piece for the institute's website. "One tangible sign that China had altered its policy toward Pyongyang would be for Beijing to cease forcing refugees to return to the brutal living conditions and punishment imposed by the North Korean dictatorship."

   Meanwhile, Rose Gottemoeller, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security, will make a two-day trip to Beijing from Wednesday, her department announced.

Leading the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-China Security Dialogue, she will have discussions with senior Chinese officials on arms control, nonproliferation and international security issues, it said.


Irish NGO to Support Food, Water Projects in North Korea: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Ireland's largest humanitarian organization plans to support projects aimed at helping North Korea bolster its food output and improve water sanitation, a report said on June 5.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), Concern Worldwide, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to helping the world's poorest people, said its 2013 project for the socialist country calls for building food production infrastructure in places such as Hwanghae and Kangwon provinces.

The group, which first started helping the North in 1997 when the country was suffering from acute food shortages, said this year's projects include building goat and soy milk production factories, greenhouses, fish hatcheries, and food processing plants. It also wants to transfer eco-friendly farming techniques to local farmers that will allow them to use less fertilizers and pesticides.

On the water sanitation front, the media outlet said the NGO wants to support the construction of water pumps, reservoirs, drain pipes, as well as setting up water mains that can allow people to gain access to clean water.

It said that efforts will be carried out to build lavatories for homes, which are important for waste management and maintaining a clean water supply.

Concern Worldwide, meanwhile, said that compared to last year, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of cars on the road in North Korea and more shops. It said its workers saw more Chinese businessmen and aid groups in the country.