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All Headlines 10:39 July 10, 2008


Situation Surrounding North Korea 'Improved': NGO

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The situation surrounding North Korea has improved on the back of progress in its denuclearization in line with improvements in ties with the United States and Japan, a non-governmental organization dealing with conflicts said in its monthly bulletin in July.

According to Crisis Watch, a monthly bulletin by the International Crisis Group based in Brussels, North Korea was included in "improved situations" by the group's June trends, along with Serbia and the Taiwan Strait.

As background for its evaluation, the group said, "North Korea on June 26 submitted long-awaited nuclear declaration; U.S. in response lifted some financial restrictions, set 45-day timeframe for verification - if successful, will remove DPRK (North Korea) from state sponsors of terrorism list."

"New round six-party talks expected shortly ... Japan on June 13 announced a partial lift of travel sanctions, humanitarian aid exemption after Pyongyang agreed to conduct new probe into Japanese nationals abducted 1970s-1980s," it added.

It is the first time for the group to give a high evaluation of the North's situation since it labeled the situation as "improved" in July last year when the North agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, 100km north of Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, the Taiwan Strait got good points thanks to further improvement in cross-Strait relations with agreements reached at the first bilateral talks in over a decade in Beijing on June 11-14. Serbia was given the positive assessment based on a coalition deal and other factors.


Number of N.K. Workers at Kaesong Complex Tops 30,000

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Koreans working at the South Korea-funded joint industrial complex in the communist state surpassed 30,000 last weekend despite ongoing political tension between the two Koreas.

Seventy-two South Korean firms were operating in Kaesong, a North Korean town just north of the border with the South, and employing 30,084 North Korean workers as of July 4, the South's civilian body overseeing the complex said on July 8.

The complex had only 225 North Korean workers in its early stage in 2004.

Relations have been frozen since South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in late February, vowing to link cross-border ties to North Korea's nuclear disarmament efforts. Pyongyang cut off government-level dialogue with Seoul in retaliation, but civilian exchanges have continued unhindered.

Total production at the complex has been on a steady rise from US$15 million at the end of 2005 to $373.8 million as of the end of May, up 147 percent from last year, the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee said.

"Such a rise in production is notable in that 33 of the 72 firms in the complex are start-ups operating there for less than one year," said Kim Min-kyong, a public relations official of the committee.


S. Korean Group Calls for More Aid to N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A leading relief group in Seoul said on July 8 that South Korean food aid remains crucial for saving an enormous number of North Korean lives, despite the resumption of major assistance to the North by the United States.

The warning by the Jungto Society, a Buddhist group, is the latest effort by local aid organizations and international bodies to increase food aid to North Korea, which is believed to have sustained heavy crop damage during last year's floods.

In the 1990s, over 2 million North Koreans died as a result of famine.

The U.S. recently dropped some sanctions against the North after progress was made in international efforts to denuclearize the communist state. North Korea recently destroyed part of its main nuclear complex to display its commitment to denuclearization.

The demolition of the cooling tower in Yongbyon, 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang, was immediately followed by the U.S. shipping 37,000 tons of wheat last week through a United Nations food agency.

The shipment is the first installment of 500,000 tons of aid promised by the U.S., but experts and activists say the assistance still falls short of what is needed to save a large number of hungry North Koreans.

"Without emergency food aid, more than 500,000 people would die of starvation by September," said Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk leading the group, at a press conference in Seoul. During the conference, he announced a nationwide campaign aimed at gaining a million online signatures for a petition calling on South Korea to step in.

South Korea is a densely wired country, with civic campaigns and protests often taking place on the Internet.

Pomnyun, who warned in December that North Korea would be 1.5 million tons short of the harvest it needs for this year, said South Korea should take greater steps to join the U.S. effort to relieve looming starvation in the North.

"The United States and other international organizations are helping the starving people of North Korea," he said. "The people living in the North are our brothers and we are obliged to help them."

His comments came as relations between the conservative South Korean government, which came to power in February, and the repressive North Korean regime have soured over a string of hardline remarks.

Trying to soften its stance last month amid accusations that its regional leverage in North Korean affairs was weakening considerably, Seoul offered to provide corn aid but Pyongyang rejected the offer.

The Seoul-based Buddhist group also insisted that the government dole out at least 1 percent of its budget to offer assistance in the economic development of North Korea to fundamentally address the food shortage there.

North Korea, which tested its first-ever nuclear device in 2006, recently agreed to resume multinational talks aimed at completely dismantling its nuclear weapons and facilities. The negotiations, which involve host China, Japan, the U.S., Russia and the two Koreas, will resume on July 10.

South and North Korea remain technically at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

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