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Monday, June 29, 2009

Korean Peninsula Today, 30 June 2009

Seoul says no information on whether Kim Jong-il's health is failing (Yonhap)

SEOUL -- South Korea has no information on whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's health is failing but understands his public activities are continuing as usual, the Unification Ministry said Monday.

Kim, 67, is believed to be recuperating after reportedly suffering a stroke in August last year.

But skepticism about his health still lingers, with photographs released by state media earlier this year showing a much leaner Kim with pale complexion.

"As we have said before, we maintain our position on being cautious about Chairman Kim Jong-il's health and his physical condition," ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said in a briefing, pressed about a local news report that suggested his health is deteriorating.

"At this time, there is nothing that we have heard about whether his health condition is becoming worse," he said, "We can just say his public, official activities have been reported last week as well."

Kim, apparently driven by health concerns, is said to have named his third and youngest son, Jong-un, as his successor. North Korean media have not confirmed the selection, but South Korea's National Intelligence Agency said earlier this month that the power transfer appears to be underway. The spy agency said it has acquired information that Pyongyang, days after its May 25 nuclear test, sent a document to diplomats abroad to notify them that the youngest son is being groomed.

Many analysts link North Korea's recent aggressive behavior to the succession process. Hyun Seong-il, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 1996, said in a forum that the recent nuclear and missile tests were a show of "defensive bravado" and Pyongyang is unlikely to attempt a military provocation that may develop into a full-scale war.

Kim's alleged stroke raised a sense of crisis and insecurity among the country's power elite, Hyun said, and they have concluded that the succession and a nuclear weapons program are essential in keeping the monarchistic regime afloat even after Kim dies.

"As long as Kim Jong-il continues to be in poor health, with Kim being the central force buttressing the regime, North Korea will continue to stick to the hardline posture in its overall domestic and foreign policy so as to ward off any possible impact to the regime's security," Hyun, now a think-tank analyst, said at a forum hosted by the North Korea Intellectuals Society, a group of North Korean defectors in Seoul.

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North Korean 3G Network Hits 19,000 Subscribers (Yahoo News)

North Korea's first and only public cellular telephone network attracted 19,200 subscribers after just over three months in business.

Koryolink started operating on December 15 last year and signed up 1,694 customers by the end of last year, with a further 17,500 sign-ups during the first quarter, Orascom Telecom said in its first quarter results announcement.

The network generated modest earnings of US$312,000 for its operators in the first quarter, before accounting for interest payments, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Orascom did not disclose whether the network made a profit or a loss for the period.

Koryolink achieved the EBIDTA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) results on consolidated sales of US$4.4 million, said Egypt's Orascom. The company holds a 75 percent stake in the network operator, which is called Cheo Technology but uses the Koryolink brand name. State-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications holds the remaining 25 percent

The service is open to anyone in North Korea, although in reality the service is only affordable for a subset of the population.

The handsets, which are localized versions of Chinese models, cost between US$400 and $600 and the cheapest subscription costs 850 North Korean won per month.

That works out to about US$6 at the official exchange rate, but about 24 cents at the current black market rate used by many citizens and traders. Calls on this tariff are charged at 10.2 won per minute. The most expensive calling package costs 2,550 won per month and call rates are 6.8 won per minute.

Cheo offers service through a single retail shop in Pyongyang but opened a second temporary outlet during a March sales promotion. The promotion, available during the final two weeks of the quarter, offered lower price handsets, cheaper calling packages and free minutes. As a result, sales in March increased by 138 percent over February, said Orascom.

Orascom focuses on under-developed cellular markets and runs networks in several countries. Its operations include Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It also works through subsidiaries in Burundi, the Central African Republic and Lebanon.

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N Korea criticizes US missile defense for Hawaii (Associated Press)

SEOUL -- North Korea criticized the U.S. on Monday for positioning missile defense systems around Hawaii, calling the deployment part of a plot to attack the regime and saying it would bolster its nuclear arsenal in retaliation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he ordered the deployment of a ground-based, mobile missile intercept system and radar system to Hawaii amid concerns the North may fire a long-range missile toward the islands, about 4,500 miles away.

"Through the U.S. forces' clamorous movements, it has been brought to light that the U.S. attempt to launch a pre-emptive strike on our republic has become a brutal fact," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.

The paper also accused the U.S. of deploying nuclear-powered aircraft and atomic-armed submarines in waters near the Korean peninsula, saying the moves prove "the U.S. pre-emptive nuclear war" on the North is imminent.

The commentary, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, said the North will bolster its nuclear arsenal in self-defense.

The North routinely accuses the U.S. of plotting to invade the North. But the U.S., which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, has said it has no such plan.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been running high since the North defiantly launched a rocket in April and conducted an underground nuclear test last month, prompting U.N. Security Council sanctions.

North Korea responded to the U.N. resolution on the nuclear test with threats of war, and pledged to expand its nuclear bomb-making program.

In what could be the first test of the U.N. sanctions, an American destroyer has been tracking a North Korean ship sailing off China's coast amid suspicions that it is carrying illicit weapons.

The Kang Nam, which left a North Korean port on June 17, is the first vessel monitored under U.N. sanctions that ban the regime from selling arms and weapons-related material. The resolution requires member nations to request permission to inspect the cargo of ships suspected of carrying banned goods.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said on CBS television Sunday that Washington is "following the progress of that ship very closely." Rice would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.

North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.

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KCNA Blasts U.S. Dangerous Moves For New War (KCNA)

Pyongyang -- The commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea on June 23 blustered before those concerned of the puppet army that the south Korean forces should get ready to cope with the possible large-scale conflicts and it was necessary for them to intensify exercises under the simulated conditions of an actual war.

He asserted earlier that the U.S. promise to provide a nuclear umbrella to South Korea would be definitely kept and a prompt reaction combat posture would be preserved through the "OPLAN-5027" and "OPLAN-5029."

These are an intolerable declaration of actions to escalate the confrontation and reckless outbursts agitating a war as they fully reflect the U.S. scenario to ignite a new war on the Korean Peninsula in a bid to stifle the DPRK by force of arms and perpetuate its forces' presence in South Korea.

It is the invariable U.S. policy of aggression against the DPRK to deteriorate the situation on the Korean Peninsula and start a new war under that pretext.

Precisely for this reason the U.S. is now citing the DPRK's nuclear test as a pretext for rendering the situation on the peninsula extremely tense.

The U.S. is now busy amassing its aggression forces in South Korea and in its vicinity and rounding off a new "operational plan," a more offensive and dangerous plan for starting a nuclear war against the DPRK.

Moves to reorganize armed forces including the creation of a U.S.-south Korea CAC are now pushed forward in real earnest.

The moves stepped up by the U.S. to work out the above-said war plan and reorganize armed forces are a prelude to a war of aggression.

What should not be overlooked is the fact that authorities of the U.S. and the commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea blustered almost simultaneously that in case South Korea is exposed to somebody's "threat" the "U.S. would protect it."

They even touted what they called "extended deterrence," asserting that when South Korea is exposed to a nuclear attack, it should be countered with the same measure as taken when the U.S. mainland is attacked.

To talk about coping with the DPRK's "threat" means, in essence, rhetoric intended to justify U.S. theory of preemptive attack. Lurking behind the outpourings of U.S. warmongers is a foolish attempt to ignite a new war on the Korean Peninsula on a legitimate basis and lay the blame for it at the door of the DPRK.

The reality patently proves that the threat of war to the peninsula always comes from the U.S.

Should the U.S. ignite a new war on this land despite the DPRK's repeated warnings, the DPRK will respond to it with all-out war and mete out a merciless punishment to the aggressors.

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U.S. May Act Against N.K. Counterfeiting (Korea Herald)

Washington may add new financial sanctions against Pyongyang for its allegedly chronic counterfeiting of U.S. currency, an American radio network said, quoting informed sources.

Dick Nanto, CRS specialist in foreign affairs, was quoted as saying by Voice of America that North Korea's counterfeiting of U.S. dollars was a highly specific crime and was therefore something Washington could act on.

"It could be a good excuse for financial sanctions against North Korea," he said.

Nanto, who in 2006 wrote a report titled "North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency," said Washington could impose its own national financial sanctions aside from those imposed by the United Nations or other countries.

He wrote in the report that, "Bush Administration policymakers reportedly are divided between those favoring a negotiated settlement and those favoring an approach of tightening economic sanctions and other measures designed to undermine support for the ruling regime."

Although Pyongyang denies complicity in any counterfeiting operation, it continued producing fake U.S. dollar bills known as "supernotes" even after Washington lifted financial sanctions in 2007, a South Korean newspaper said earlier this month.

The local newspaper quoted a source in Washington as saying that a joint probe by Seoul and Washington has been underway since fake $100 bills surfaced in Busan last November.

Nanto was quoted as telling VOA that in addition to the currency counterfeiting, the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 issued after the North's second nuclear test last month could provide grounds for U.S. national sanctions.

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens recently said that Washington had a four-pronged approach toward North Korea's nuclear aggression - national sanctions, close consultation among involved countries, strict enforcement of U.N. sanctions and appropriate defensive measures.

Nanto said that the Obama administration was not necessarily expected to impose sanctions identical to those imposed in 2007 which froze accounts of the Banco Delta Asia bank in Macau based on charges that the bank assisted North Korea in laundering and circulating fake U.S. dollars.

"But Washington could impose financial sanctions of a similar level," Nanto was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the latest United Nations resolution penalizing North Korea for its nuclear test and missile launches will get attention from a team of U.S. officials assigned to ensure the provisions are carried out.

U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg will lead the group, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Friday.

Goldberg was the top envoy to Bolivia until September, when he and his Bolivian counterpart in Washington were declared persona non grata in a dispute between the two countries.

He has been appointed to lead an interagency effort to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions 1874 and 1718, Crowley told reporters in Washington today, referring to the most recent measure and an earlier one that hadn't been fully enforced.

The Obama administration is seeking the maximum application of U.N. resolutions on North Korea that impose measures such as stepped-up inspection of suspect air and sea cargo and restrictions on loans and money transfers.

The U.S. is particularly concerned that North Korea will try to sell or otherwise transfer its nuclear and missile technology to regimes such as Myanmar, Iran or Syria.

Goldberg will stop in China to discuss the details of the resolutions, an administration official said on condition of anonymity.

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U.S. Sets Up N. Korea Sanctions Taskforce (Chosun Ilbo)

The U.S. is stepping up pressure on North Korea by launching a taskforce to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1874. The interagency taskforce to enforce sanctions against North Korea was launched Friday to coordinate actions with other nations in implementing the UN resolution, including searches of outbound North Korean ships and aircraft and international financial sanctions.

U.S. President Barack Obama appointed former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg to lead the team, sending him to China in the near future to discuss sanctions on the North.

That brings to three the Obama administration's envoys of some description on North Korean affairs. In the early days of his presidency, Obama had two, with Stephen Bosworth named special representative for North Korean policy, in addition to U.S. special envoy on North Korean affairs Sung Kim. Bosworth was apparently to look after general issues and Kim as chief U.S. nuclear negotiator for the six-party talks.

Goldberg will take part in the making of North Korea policies alongside Bosworth, Kim, and Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, who was recently approved by the Senate.

Whether the responsibilities of the four will overlap and lead to confusion remains to be seen.

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Likely Destination of N Korean Ship Often Used for Weapons Deliveries (Chiang Mai Irrawaddy)

The Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa (MITT), believed to be the destination of the Kang Nam 1, a North Korean cargo ship being tracked by the US Navy, has often been used for deliveries of weapons, according to sources at the facility.

The Kang Nam 1, which left a North Korean port on June 17, is believed to be carrying weapons, missile parts or possibly even nuclear materials.

"There are two reasons to use Thilawa," said an MITT operator. "First, it is not too close to Rangoon, and second, it is easy to increase security here so people don't know what is being unloaded."

The international multi-purpose container port, Burma's largest deep sea port, is located about 30 km south of Rangoon.

According to other MITT employees, the facility has often been used for deliveries of weapons since it was built in the mid-1990s.

"Cargo ships carrying many kinds of weapons from Russia, China, North Korea and the Ukraine have docked at Thilawa," said an MITT worker.

Normally, the source explained, the ships are offloaded around midnight to avoid attracting attention. Then, around 2 a.m., convoys of trucks deliver the weapons to a military depot at Intaing, about 25 km north of Rangoon.

"When cargo ships carrying military equipment dock at the port, naval personnel based near Thilawa take over port security and coordinate the unloading of the ships," he said. "No unauthorized personnel are allowed near the port when cargo ships carrying weapons dock here."

On Wednesday, officials from the Myanmar Port Authority, which operates under the Ministry of Transport, met with the Thilawa port authorities. It is believed that the meeting was related to the imminent arrival of the Kang Nam 1.

"We don't know when the ship will dock and we haven't received any instructions concerning its berthing schedule," said an MITT employee, adding that this was normal procedure for handling ships carrying weapons.

The source also said that employees of MITT had been instructed not to speak to exiled media about the Kang Nam 1.

On Thursday, the Burmese state-run newspaper, The News Light of Myanmar, reported that the government had denied that the Kang Nam 1 was heading for Burma.

The report said that the Burmese junta had not received any information about the Kang Nam 1, but was expecting another North Korean ship, the MV Dumangang, to arrive in Burma on June 27 to pick up 8,000 tons of rice.

The USS John S McCain started following the Kang Nam 1 soon after it left port last week. The USS McCampbell is now shadowing the ship, which is being monitored under UN sanctions imposed earlier this month following North Korea's underground nuclear test in May.