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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 272 (July 25, 2-13)

2013/07/25 10:32

*** NEWS IN BRIEF

Former Defense Minister named Kim Il-sung Military University President

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's former People's Armed Forces Minister, Kim Jong-gak, has been named president of Kim Il-sung Military University, according to a North Korean broadcasting station.

Radio Pyongyang reported on July 18 that the former defense minister participated in a discussion session on the military achievements of the late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, introducing him as the president of the military university.

The new president has not been in the public spotlight since he withdrew from the post of the chief defense official in October last year. But he showed himself at an athletic game in April between Kim Il-sung Military University and Kim Il-sung Political University, where North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attended.

The young North Korean leader attended special courses at Kim Il-sung Military University for several years from 2002 to 2007.

Meanwhile, Kim Chang-gwang has been named new president of North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The new president used to be vice president of the state media.

According to a KCNA report on July 18, a meeting between North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam, president of the Supreme People's Assembly, and the director general of the Mongolia's Montsame News Agency, Avia Baatarhuyag, took place in Pyongyang, where Kim Chang-gwang also attended as the KCNA president.

The top post at the KCNA was previously held by Kim Pyong-ho, who had served since February 2010.

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N. Korea Warns of 'Catastrophe' from S. Korea-U.S. Military Drill

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on July 21 of a "catastrophe" if South Korea and the United States push ahead with their annual military drill next month.

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) is one of the two joint military drills South Korea and the United States have been staging annually to test and improve their defense posture against the rival North. Pyongyang, however, has routinely criticized the drills as a rehearsal for a war against the North.

This year's edition of the computer simulation exercise is scheduled for mid-August.

"The United States again tries to open a large-scale joint military exercise in August," said an article carried by Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the North Korean Workers' Party.

It warned the Korean Peninsula will fall "into a state of catastrophe" if the UFG gets underway.

The newspaper then called for the dismantlement of the United Nations Command (UNC), saying its state members' participation in the annual military drill is a problem.

The UNC is the unified command structure for the U.S.-led multinational forces that supported South Korea in its fight against the invading North in the war. The UNC, headed by the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, still exists as the Koreas remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice. About 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed here to deter against the North Korean threat.

Any disbandment of the UNC will help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and positively affect building confidence between the U.S. and the North, the newspaper claimed.

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North Korea Raises Alert Level for Global Flu Virus

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Health authorities in North Korea are beefing up measures to prevent the spread of a mutated strain of coronavirus originating in the Middle East, the state media said on July 22.

Quarantine activities are being carried out at the country's border stations, harbors and airports, along with medical check-ups on people returning home from infected regions, according to Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party.

No infections have so far been reported in North Korea.

The newspaper warned that the deadly virus, formally dubbed the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, induces SARS-like symptoms, referring to the flu endemic that ravaged Asia a decade ago, such as high fever, cough, pneumonia and, in worse cases, kidney failure.

The route of transmission is yet to be identified, but more experts are now weighing the possibility of human-to-human contagion, it added.

Earlier on June 30, the head of North Korea's hygiene inspection bureau Pak Mong-su argued that the country's "project to put off the new strain of the coronavirus must be staged as a national campaign" in a column carried by the Rodong Sinmun.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far confirmed a total of 45 deaths globally from the infection. It emerged last year in Saudi Arabia and has quickly spread across the Middle East and beyond.

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N.K. Kicks off Mass Games to Mark 60th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea kicked off its annual Arirang mass games performances to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War, the country's official news agency said on July 23.

The North has maintained that it won the three-year conflict and commemorates July 27, 1953, the day the cease-fire agreement was signed to end hostilities, as a day of victory in what it calls the Fatherland Liberation War.

The first event of the so-called Arirang Mass Games, held on July 22 at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, featured thousands of synchronized gymnasts, who performed to music, fireworks and flashing lights, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The official news wire service monitored in Seoul said the event honored Kim Il-sung, the communist country's founder, who transformed the DPRK (North Korea) into a political and military power on the world stage.

"The performers praised Kim Il-sung, an invincible and iron-willed commander and legendary hero who made a long journey of anti-Japanese bloody struggle and accomplished the historic cause of the national liberation and defeated the U.S. that boasted of being the 'strongest' in the world," the KCNA said.

The performance, however, did not showcase the North's launching of its long-range rocket or its detonation of a nuclear device.

The North said earlier this month that this year's Arirang performances that run through Sept. 9, 2013, will focus on the achievements of the country's founder and his son Kim Jong-il, as well as its astounding military victory over the United States. The mass games performances are to be held five times a week in the evening during the festival period.

Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia commented that the first mass games performance on Monday appeared to indicate the North's wish to point out traditionally close ties between Pyongyang and Beijing, as well as its desire for cordial relations with the rest of the international community.

This is seen as a sign that the North wants to mend fences with its neighbor that have been strained in recent months.

Citing a person who saw the performance, the U.S. radio station also said the performers even formed an olive branch as a metaphor of the country's willingness to seek better relations with the rest of the world.

In recent months, the country has come under intense pressure from the global community after it tested its third nuclear device in February, drawing toughened U.N. sanctions supported even by China.

The widely publicized event was first organized in 2002 to commemorate Kim Il-sung's 90th birthday and has been held every year from 2005, with the exception of 2006, when the country suffered severe flood damages.

Founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994, while his son, Kim Jong-il, ruled the country until his death in late 2011. The communist country is currently run by Kim Jong-un, a grandson of the founder.

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Pyongyang Reports Substantial Flood Damage from Heavy Rainfall

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has suffered severe damages from recent torrential downpours, according to the North's state media, affecting flood-prone areas hit hard from last year's seasonal rain.

Flood damages from seasonal heavy rainfall are growing in North Korea with the number of people killed or reported missing increasing to 23, as eight more died between July 20 and 22, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 23, 2013.

More than 4,500 houses were destroyed or submerged, rendering some 17,700 people homeless, the state news agency said. At least 1,000 houses were damaged in North Phyongan Province, with 2,300 houses submerged in Unsan County alone.

A total of 6,550 hectares of farmland were damaged in North and South Phyongan provinces. Since July 17, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

In the past 20 days since the onset of the monsoon season, the country saw rains nearly double the average precipitation in previous years, according to weather authorities in North Korea.

Tongsin County of Jagang Province had a downpour of 413 millimeters between 9 p.m. on July 19 and 3 p.m. on July 21, while Songwon County and Huichon City each had 383 millimeters and 322 millimeters, respectively.

In North Phyongan Province, Taechon County had 380 millimeters, Hyangsan County 312 millimeters and Dongchang County 304 millimeters.

The KCNA added that this summer's torrential rain has brought damage to some 30 schools and 15 hospitals throughout the country as of July 23.

Meanwhile, the Voice of America (VOA) reported the city of Anju, South Phyongan Province, was submerged in heavy seasonal rains for the second consecutive year.

Quoting a spokesman of the International Federation of Red Cross, the U.S. broadcaster said 80 percent of the city was submerged as the Chongchon River flooded, leaving more than 10,000 people displaced.

The Red Cross, the VOA said, will send relief materials to the flood-stricken city, which suffered heavy damages from the rain last year as well.

The Radio Free Asia also reported on July 24, 2013, that the United Nations has sent a fact-finding team to flood-stricken areas of North Korea at the request of the country.

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