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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 274 (August 8, 2013)

2013/08/08 10:44

*** FOREIGN TIPS

Red Cross to Provide US$320,000 for Flood-hit North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The international Red Cross has said it will provide North Korea with an emergency fund of US$320,000 to help flood victims in the socialist country.

In a report posted on its website on Aug. 1, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it has allocated 299,744 Swiss franc from its disaster relief emergency fund "to help the DPRK (North Korea) Red Cross Society in delivering immediate assistance to 5,000 families or 20,000 beneficiaries."

   Torrential rains since early July have caused extensive flooding and landslides across the impoverished socialist country, killing 33 people and injuring 2 others with 18 still missing, according to the IFRC data. An estimated 4,000 families have lost their homes and 50,000 have been displaced.

In response, the agency plans to spend $120,000 to set up a shelter for 5,000 families in the most affected areas of North and South Phyongan and North Hwanghae Provinces, another $100,000 for utensils, and $40,700 for water, sanitation and hygiene works.

"The operation targets to support affected families with essential items ... It also supports the operational cost of the two water treatment units and hygiene promotion activities," the IFRC said in the report.

The relief operation will continue over the next three months until the end of October, it added.

In the wake of the tragedy in the North, the IFRC dispatched an eight-member group of experts to the affected areas and has conducted damage assessment and led relief work.

The fund is a source of un-earmarked money created by the Federation in 1985 to ensure that immediate financial support is available for its emergency response, according to the agency's website.

Pyongyang, meanwhile, has established disaster management organizations across the country to deal with the damages caused by the flooding and landslides, a report by Chosun Sinbo said.

The paper belonging to the pro-North Korea General Association of Korean Residents in Japan said these organizations are being staffed 24-hours a day to help policymakers determine the exact extent of damage and oversee relief efforts.

It said the Red Cross of North Korean sent two mobile water purification systems to Anju, a city in South Phyongan Province that is producing up to 90,000 liters of clean water per day, while tents, blankets, sanitation kits and aid shipments have been handed out to people who have been driven from their homes and forced to take temporary shelter.

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Panama Finds Live Munitions on North Korea Ship

PANAMA CITY (Yonhap) -- Panamanian officials said on Aug. 2 that live munitions were discovered aboard a North Korean ship that was being detained in the Panama Canal for carrying undeclared arms from Cuba.

Drug prosecutor Javier Carballo said they found ammunition for grenade launchers and other unidentified types of munitions, though he did not specify the amount of munitions.

The Chong Chon Gang was interdicted by Panama on July 15 following intelligence reports that it may have been carrying drugs.

Panamanian officials have since found missile radar and control systems, two MiG-21 fighter jets and 12 engines on board, but no drugs have been discovered so far.

Following the ship's seizure, Cuba confirmed that there were obsolete weapons and missiles aboard the North Korean vessel, but made no mention of the munitions.

Panamanian officials said they have indicted the Chong Chong Gang crew on charges of transporting undeclared military equipment through the canal.

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N. Korean Defectors to Tell Ordeal at 1st Film Festival in Hong Kong

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- Two North Korean defectors will share their personal experiences and hardship at the first film festival in Hong Kong about widespread human rights violations in North Korea, a media report said on Aug. 5.

Some 150 people are scheduled to attend Hong Kong's North Korea Human Rights Film Festival, slated for next week, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

One of the two North Korean defectors to make an appearance at the event is Lee Aram, who used to work in the North Korean police, according to the report. After the 25-year-old defected in 2008, her father was sent to a prison camp and died there, it said.

The festival will showcase three feature films and two documentaries on refugees from the communist country, including "Crossing," a 2009 film based on a true story that portrays the struggles faced by a North Korean who sneaks into China to buy medicine for his sick wife.

"Hong Kongers are interested in North Korea, but they know little about the country's human rights issues," the paper quoted Owen Lau Kwun-hang, the event's organizer, as saying.

"What we are trying to do is to link up the two by organizing soft events like film fests," Lau said.

More than 25,000 people from North Korea have come to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Many of them travel through China, Thailand, Laos and other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in the South.

In the past, North Korean characters have frequently been featured in South Korean films, but often as spies or enemies.

However, a growing number of North Koreans living in the South has prompted filmmakers here to show a different side of them by revealing the hardship and challenges North Korean defectors face in trying adapt in the capitalist South.

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N.K. Official Might Have Been Punished for Problem in Missile Program

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- As speculation grows over the drawn-out absence of a top North Korean communist party official from public events, an American academic said on Aug. 5 it might be associated with a possible setback to Pyongyang's road-mobile missile program.

"In my judgment, North Korea aborted the planned Musudan test last April because of some technical glitches discovered in its untested missile system at the pre-launch stage," said Alexandre Mansourov, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The North was widely expected to test-launch one or two middle-range missiles from a mobile launch pad along the east coast. But it did not carry out a launch, triggering views that Pyongyang might have bowed to pressure from the U.S. or China.

Mansourov, who has followed North Korea issues for a long time, said the North Korean leader seems to have aborted the test and punished Pak To-chun, in charge of the nation's missile and nuclear programs, due to problems in preparations for the launch.

He said Pyongyang's recent charm offensive appears to be aimed at buying time to fix the technical problems uncovered in the missile development program.

"By hindsight, it was a much more prudent action on his part than to simply proceed with the half-baked test, repeating the April 2012 failure and incur international ridicule," Mansourov told Yonhap News Agency.

In what may be a similar case, he pointed out, the former economy czar, Pak Nam-ki, was purged after the botched currency reform of 2009.

If Pak To-chun returns, it would mean that problems in the Musudan missile program have been successfully resolved, said Mansourov.

Many other North Korea observers have noticed the absence of Pak, who used to attend almost all key public events, including field trips to military units.

Some say it may be related to his health or the revelation of possible personal corruption.

In June, Pak was placed on the U.S. blacklist of North Korean entities and personnel as part of measures to implement U.N. sanctions on the communist regime.

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Intel Seeking Trademark Protection in North Korea

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea is apparently no exception for efforts by U.S. firms to take every pre-emptive measure to protect their intellectual property rights worldwide.

American tech giant Intel Corp. is trying to lay the legal groundwork for possible business in the communist nation some day.

Intel confirmed on Aug. 6 it has submitted an application for a "Specific License" in North Korea to the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The company delivered the request through its law firm, Novak Druce Quigg LLP, in August 2012.

But Intel made clear that it has no plans yet to do business in North Korea, subject to tough U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and long-range missile programs. In 2011, President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. firms from doing business there.

"Intel has no intent of doing business in North Korea," Chuck Mulloy, a corporate spokesman, told Yonhap News Agency by phone. "It is (just) about IT protection."

   The company routinely files protection papers of its trademark worldwide, regardless of whether it does business in a certain nation, he added.

The U.S. Treasury refused to discuss a specific firm's move.

"On background, please note that we will not comment on specific companies but we do have a favorable licensing policy for protecting intellectual property," a Treasury official said.

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China Trying 'Very Hard' to Exert Influence over North Korea

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- China, North Korea's foremost ally and its biggest trading partner, is trying "very hard" to exert its influence in persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program, a former Chinese diplomat said on Aug. 6.

Ruan Zongze, now vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, said, however, that he expects no major policy changes toward North Korea by China's new leadership, despite Beijing's growing frustration with its unpredictable ally.

China's patience with North Korea has been wearing increasingly thin, particularly after the North's third nuclear test in February. Beijing voted in favor of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang for conducting the nuclear test.

In May, the Bank of China closed accounts with North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank, which was accused by the U.S. of helping finance the North's nuclear weapons program.

"In handling relations with the DPRK (North Korea), China is trying very hard to exert its own influence," Ruan told reporters at a forum hosted by the All-China Journalists Association.

Ruan noted China's policy of persuading North Korea to end its nuclear program through dialogue.

"Recently, there is a misunderstanding, and some people say China is no longer insisting on denuclearization, and China will place peace and stability before denuclearization," Ruan said. "I don't agree with that. Denuclearization and peace and stability are two sides of one coin," he said.

Asked about a possible policy change by China's new leadership towards the North, Ruan replied, "I don't think that there will be a major change."

   After months of simmering tensions triggered by its third nuclear test in February and bellicose threats against South Korea and the United States, North Korea has recently appeared to have shifted to a charm offensive, offering talks with them.

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, however, have called on Pyongyang to first demonstrate its sincerity for denuclearization through actions before such talks take place.

South Korea and the U.S. are set to launch their annual joint military drills this month, with North Korea warning that the Korean Peninsula would plunge into a "state of catastrophe" if Seoul and Washington move forward with the drills.

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UN Body Gives Food Aid to North Korean Flood Victims: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations agency in charge of addressing world hunger has begun shipments of food to North Korean flood victims, a news report said on Aug. 6.

The World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Nanna Skau said corn is being provided to households that have been hit hard by recent flooding caused by torrential rain, Radio Free Asia reported. She added that assistance is being offered because flooding has caused extensive damage to farmlands and irrigation systems.

The radio broadcast monitored in Seoul said distribution of the grain will continue for the next 30 days, with each recipient being allocated 400 grams per day.

The WFP also said support will be provided to 38,067 people in 10 cities and counties in Phyongan, Hwanghae and Hamgyong provinces.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said torrential rains that caused flooding and landslides left 33 North Koreans dead and displaced roughly 50,000 people from their homes. In places such as Anju in South Phyongan Province, some 80 percent of the city was flooded, resulting in extensive damage to homes and buildings.

Related to the international food effort underway, Korean Sharing Movement, a South Korean non-governmental organization, said it wanted to send emergency food aid to the North and requested permission from Seoul's Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean affairs.

The civic groups pointed out that emergency aid shipments have always been permitted in the past regardless of the state of inter-Korean relations.

Cross-border ties have been strained following the North's detonation of its third nuclear device in February and subsequent tightening of international sanctions. The shutting down of the joint factory park in Kaesong further strained relations.

Seoul has officially maintained that it will allow shipments of humanitarian aid to the North, but made clear it needs to first verify the extent of the flood damage. Officials have cited urgency and ability to make certain that relief will reach those in greatest need as conditions that must be met for aid to be provided. Last week, South Korea approved aid shipments by five local civic organizations.

Reflecting the country's humanitarian aid policy, the South and North Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council, which is chaired by the unification minister, approved sending more than US$6.03 million for relief programs organized by the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The money will be used to provide medicine and vaccines as well as improve the level of nutrition provided to small children, pregnant women and the socially disadvantaged. An additional 15.92 million won (US$14,288) will be sent to UNICEF to help manage the aid programs in North Korea.

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North Korea's Public Food Rations up in 2013: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is providing more food rations to its people in 2013 than in the year before despite a drop in aid from abroad, a media report said on Aug. 7.

The report by Radio Free Asia, based on data provided by the World Food Program (WFP), showed that Pyongyang provided roughly 400 grams of food per person on a daily basis in the first five months of the year.

The daily rations, from January through May, were maintained at 400 grams per person, before they were decreased to 390 grams in June and July, bringing the average to 397 grams, according to the Washington-based radio station. The total represents a 14-gram increase from an average of 383 grams tallied in the same seven-month period last year.

In the socialist country, 66 percent of the total population, or about 16 million people, receive state food rations.

The report, meanwhile, said the increase is noteworthy because it comes at a time when international aid has fallen significantly.

The WFP, the food aid branch of the United Nations, started an ambitious two-year program in February to provide food to the North Korean people, but it has so far failed to meet even half of its goals.

The drop in interest to help the North coincides with the country's saber-rattling tactics that included detonating its nuclear device in February and near-daily war threats against South Korea and the United States.

Regarding the increased food rations, North Korea watchers in Seoul have said a relatively good harvest in the North in 2012 and its greater emphasis on increasing farm output may be bearing fruit.

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N. Korea Doubles Floor Space of Uranium Facility in Yongbyon

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to have doubled the floor size of its uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon, apparently in line with its stated plans to advance related technology and production, a U.S. research center said on Aug. 7, citing recent satellite imagery.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said the North seems to have expanded a building in the fuel fabrication complex that houses a gas centrifuge plant for uranium enrichment.

"The area is now covered by an extended roof that is roughly twice the size of the previous one," it said in a report. "A doubling of available floor space at this building could allow a doubling of the number of centrifuges installed there."

   The institute made public three photos of the site taken by commercial satellites on May 3, 2012, June 10, 2013, and July 28, 2013, respectively. The photos show progress in construction work.

North Korea has claimed that it is running the facility to generate energy.

But the international community suspects that the reclusive socialist nation may be trying to produce weapons-grade uranium in addition to its decades-old plutonium-based nuclear program.

David Albright and Robert Avagyan, co-authors of the report, pointed out it is possible that some low-enriched uranium produced there could have been further enriched at a secret centrifuge site to produce weapons-grade uranium.

"Or weapon-grade uranium could have been made at the Yongbyon plant. A significant question remains whether North Korea has made weapon-grade uranium, and if so, how much it has made," they said.

In April, North Korea announced that its nuclear scientists will begin work "readjusting and restarting" a uranium enrichment plant and a graphite-moderated, 5-megawatt reactor in the Yongbyon complex.

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