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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 273 (August 1, 2013)

2013/08/01 10:33


U.S. Non-profit Group to Help Flood Victims in North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A U.S. non-profit group plans to provide aid to North Korean flood victims in the southwestern part of the country after it was hit hard by torrential rains in recent weeks, a report said on July 25.

Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), which is already engaged in providing humanitarian assistance to people living in the Hwanghae region, will offer clean drinking water, food and medicine to flood victims, Radio Free Asia reported.

The move by CFK comes after the start of the monsoon season in early July brought heavy rainfall causing considerable loss of life and property to the socialist country.

The United Nations said that as of July 22, 24 people have been killed because of flooding while many others have been injured. It said a fact-finding mission has been sent to the isolationist country to assess the full extent of the damage so assistance can be provided.


South Korea Partially Shuts down Pro-Pyongyang Website

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government has decided to shut down parts of a website operated by an activist group for carrying out pro-North Korean propaganda materials, police officers said on July 26.

The Korea Communications of Standards Commission, Seoul's communications watchdog, has approved a request by the National Police Agency (NPA) to delete two bulletin boards on Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification's website, which contain thousands of posts, they said.

The posts have been ruled as propagandizing and praising North Korean ideology, in breach of Seoul's draconian law, officers said, adding that they have notified the group of the decision.

Under the National Security Law, the government has the right to remove or delete website posts when they are believed to sympathize with North Korea's regime that can potentially threaten national security.

It marks the first time that the Seoul government has decided to remove the entire section of the group's website. Previously, several posts were deleted.

"We have ruled that it is right to block contents of the two menus," an NPA officer said, adding that the agency has not closed down the entire website to guarantee the freedom of expression in some degree.

The national security law has long been politically controversial. Enacted in 1948 to fight communism, the law bans any "anti-state" activities that attempt to praise, encourage or propagandize North Korea's political ideas.

Supporters of the law claim it is necessary to maintain public order amid North Korea's efforts to spread communist ideology in the South, while detractors say the law is outdated and often used as a tool to oppress dissidents and limit the freedom of expression.

South and North Korea remain technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.


N. Korean Imports of Chinese Grain Drop 8.4 Percent in H1

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's imports of Chinese grain fell 8.4 percent on-year in the first half of 2013 mainly due to a better harvest last fall, a report said on July 29.

The report by the Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) showed Pyongyang's imports of flour, rice, corn and other grain products reaching 124,228 tons in the January-June period, compared with 135,648 tons a year earlier.

The state-run institute said that while the country imported more than 20,000 tons of grain on average from February onward, last year's better harvest and overall improvements in food supply conditions led to the first-half decline.

"Overall, import numbers indicate supply and demand of grain is very stable in North Korea," said Kwon Tae-jin, a research fellow at KREI who compiled the report.

He said besides grain, the communist country imported 139,161 tons of chemical fertilizers from China in the first half, a drop of 35 percent from 213,871 tons purchased in the same six-month period last year.


Carter Has No Immediate Plans for N. Korea Trip: Officials

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- At least for now, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has no plans to visit North Korea, U.S. officials and his aides said on July 29, refuting media reports that he may go there again on a mission to free a Korean-American man imprisoned in the socialist nation for nearly nine months.

Speculation has grown that Carter might go to Pyongyang soon since he met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington last week.

"North Korea ...was one of the topics that was discussed, " State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a press briefing. "And certainly he didn't indicate he was going at the time because it sounds like he didn't have plans to go."

   Psaki also said she is not aware of any plans for the U.S. government to send a special envoy to North Korea for talks on the release of Kenneth Bae, convicted by North Korea of unspecified hostile acts against the regime. He was arrested in November.

The Carter Center also said Carter has no immediate plans to travel to North Korea.

"President Carter is in Bogata, Colombia, on a trip to help announce success in the fight against river blindness disease there," Deanna Congileo, a spokeswoman at the Atlanta-based center, said in an emailed reply. "He is not in North Korea. He has no immediate plans to travel to North Korea."

   Diplomatic sources in Washington, however, said the door remains open for Carter to visit North Korea some day.

Carter will be tempted to go there again if there is chance he can secure Bae's release, the sources said.

Carter also has an interest in meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, added the sources.

North Korea has a track record of attempting to use detained Americans for domestic propaganda and as a tool to leverage Washington. The North's stated goal is direct high-level talks with the Barack Obama administration.

Carter last visited North Korea in April 2011 along with a few other members of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders dedicated to peace. He failed to meet then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

At that time, South Korean government officials disapproved of the trip, which they regarded as fruitless. Carter's group was merely misused by the North Koreans for propaganda, critics claimed.

In 2010, however, Carter won plaudits when he negotiated the release of American national Aijalon Gomes, sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegally crossing into the North from China.

Carter, U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, is known for his efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.


Four North Koreans Win Paternity Suit in South Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top court has confirmed four North Korean residents of the same family as biological children of a man who died in South Korea, court officials said on July 31.

This is the first time the South Korean top court has recognized North Korean residents as blood relatives of a family in South Korea.

The plaintiffs have drawn much media attention for another landmark ruling that recognized their share of inheritance from their late father.

"The original court ruling that judged the plaintiffs as biological children of the late Yoon is justifiable," the Supreme Court said in a verdict, referring to the father by his surname Yoon.

A local court and an appeals court previously ruled in favor of the North Koreans based on the DNA test results of their nail and hair samples.

The father who ran a hospital in North Korea crossed the border into the South along with his eldest daughter when the 1950-53 Korean War broke out, according to the court documents. Yoon died in 1987, leaving behind four children born to a South Korean woman in addition to his North Korean children, they said.

Afterwards, Yoon's eldest daughter made contact with her North Korean siblings with the help of an American missionary in South Korea and filed the lawsuit in 2009 on their behalf. The lawsuit demanded the court to confirm their blood relationship with her deceased father, according to the court records.

The North Korean offspring also filed a separate lawsuit, demanding their share of a 10 billion won (US$8.9 million) property that their father left to his new family in South Korea.

Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the Seoul Central District Court in 2011 ordered the South Korean family to share the inheritance with their North Korean siblings.


U.N. Commission Begins Inquiry into N.K. Rights Abuses

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The first United Nations commission on human rights abuses in North Korea began its official investigation by interviewing defectors in South Korea, sources said on July 31.

The sources at Free the NK Gulag said officials from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for North Korea (COI) carried out interviews with people who escaped from the communist country.

It said the two officials met eight people from July 30 onwards and received testimonies that they had been personally subjected to human rights abuses or witnessed such acts being performed on others. The COI investigators from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are expected to meet with defectors until Aug. 7.

There are some 25,000 North Korean escapees living in the South who can provide firsthand accounts of conditions in the country.

A source at the defectors group said besides the interviews, three other researchers from the UN commission will arrive in the country next month and hold a four-day hearing on human rights conditions.

They will examine claims of abuses carried out in political prison camps and other abuses of North Koreans by the state. They will also determine discrimination between genders, suppression of freedom of speech and movement restrictions, as well as other basic human rights violations.

The COI plans to submit an interim report on human rights conditions in the North to the UNHCR and the U.N. General Assembly in September and October, respectively, while it will forward a final report in March 2014, which would allow the international community to gain a comprehensive glimpse into conditions in the isolationist country.