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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 35 (December 25, 2008)

All Headlines 13:35 December 25, 2008


N. Korea Needs US$346 Million in Food Aid for 2009: WFP

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea needs urgent food aid worth US$346 million to help millions of people get through the new year, the World Food Program (WFP) said on Dec. 17 in an appeal for worldwide donations.

The U.N. food agency said in a report that the requested donation is necessary to help feed 5.6 million North Koreans, nearly a quarter of the country's population, who need outside assistance next year.

The agency urged countries to "step up and allocate to urgent hunger needs a fraction of what is proposed for financial rescue packages to address the global economic downturn."

There are about 100 million people globally in need of roughly US$5.2 billion worth of food assistance for the new year, it forecast.


N. Korean Harvest Improves Due to Favorable Weather

SUWON, South Korea (Yonhap) -- North Korea reaped 4.3 million tons of grain in 2008, up 7 percent from the previous year thanks to improved weather conditions, a South Korean farm agency said on Dec. 18.

North Korea had no major typhoons in the summer, which helped increase its harvest by 300,000 tons, the state-run Rural Development Administration said in a statement.

The country's rice harvest increased by 330,000 tons to nearly 1.9 million tons, while corn production dropped by about 50,000 tons to 1.5 million tons due to an early drought, it said.

North Korea also produced 160,000 tons of soy beans, 510,000 tons of potatoes and 240,000 tons of barley and other grains, it said.


N.K. Has Ballistic Missiles in Range of U.S. Mainland: U.S. Admiral

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea possesses long-range ballistic missiles than can reach the mainland United States as well as Hawaii, Admiral Timothy Keating of the U.S. Pacific Command said on Dec. 18.

"North Korea, I think, does have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States," Keating said in a news conference at the National Press Building here. "Remember, that would include Hawaii and territories of the United States in our area of responsibility in the Pacific. So, yes, I think they do have that capability."

The admiral, however, said that his command is "prepared to deal with that eventuality should it -- that situation present itself. By increased capabilities in ballistic missile defense, we in the United States Pacific Command are more prepared to address that issue should it develop."

North Korea test-fired a long-range missile in 2006 for the second time after a similar one in 1998 amid conflicting reports about the success of the tests.

The ballistic missile launched in July 2006 flew less than one minute before diving into the East Sea that adjoins Japan.

Some experts, however, say the flight time is enough to prove the North's ballistic missile capability, while others disagree. In 1998, a missile from North Korea flew over Japan and reached seas off Alaska.

Shocked by the North's ballistic missile capability, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang in late 2000 to persuade the North to abandon its strategic weapons programs.

Then-President Bill Clinton agreed to visit the North Korean capital to conclude talks on weapons of mass destruction in his waning months, but never made the trip, citing a lack of time.

The agreement was shelved by Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, who refused to deal directly with North Korea, which he designated as part of an axis of evil.

Keating would not say if Pyongyang has developed a nuclear warhead small enough to be loaded on a long-range missile or any other delivery system.

"I am not going to give you a yes or no answer," he said, but added that the U.S. is prepared to deal with any nuclear threat "should that situation present itself."

Theories vary on the North's nuclear capabilities.

U.S. intelligence reports say that North Korea has several nuclear warheads, although the U.S. government does not officially acknowledge the North as a nuclear weapons state.


U.N. Assembly Okays Resolution against N. Korean Human Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 19 adopted a resolution condemning North Korea's human rights abuses, officials here said.

It marks the fourth consecutive year the 192-member assembly has passed such a resolution, harshly protested by Pyongyang.

"The U.N. General Assembly plenary session adopted the resolution early Friday (Thursday, New York time) by a vote of 94 to 22 with 63 abstentions," Jang Jae-bok, a foreign ministry director said.

The resolution, co-sponsored by South Korea for the first time, expresses concern about systematic and serious human rights violations in North Korea and calls for an immediate end to the abuses.

The resolution is not legally binding but symbolic, as it is considered to reflect the prevalent view of the international community.


19 North Korean Defectors to Stand Trial in Myanmar: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Nineteen North Korean defectors will stand trial in Myanmar on charges of illegally entering the country after they were arrested while en route to South Korea from China, Radio Free Asia said on Dec. 20.

The defectors -- 15 women and four men -- had planned to disembark from their speed boat in Thailand but because of tight inspections there traveled further on to a Myanmarese region on the Thai border, where they were arrested on Dec. 2, the U.S.-based radio station said.

The North Koreans included an elderly man and a child, it said.

Myanmarese immigration authorities have transported the group from a detention center where they were being held to a prison where will await trial that is expected to open next week, it said. They could face up to a year in prison according to Myanmarese law, the report added.

The South Korean embassy is seeking cooperation with the Myanmarese authorities, the report said. It did not say when the North Koreans defected from the North or how long they had stayed in China.

North Korean defectors are increasingly choosing Southeast Asia as an intermediary route to South Korea in the face of strict border controls in China, which classifies defectors as illegal economic migrants rather than refugees.

A female North Korean defector died in a Laotian camp, while two others could be deported to China, a South Korean activist working in the region said this week. The defectors were recently captured near the Laotian border while attempting to reach South Korea, the activist said.


N.K. Willing to Return War Prisoners in Exchange for Economic Benefits

BEIJING/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has conveyed to South Korea that it is willing to return some South Korean war prisoners and civilian abductees in exchange for economic benefits, sources said on Dec. 22.

Pyongyang made the proposal through various undercover channels, hoping to resume inter-Korean economic exchange projects that have been suspended amid chilled ties this year, the sources well-versed in North Korean issues said on condition of anonymity.

Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong is currently visiting Beijing to meet with senior Chinese officials over the North Korean nuclear stalemate and frozen inter-Korean relations. Seoul officials, however, denied having any contact with Pyongyang on the prisoners.

At least 560 former South Korean soldiers are still believed to be held in the socialist country since they were taken prisoner during the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul officials say the North also abducted 494 civilians -- mostly fishermen operating in the East and Yellow seas -- during the Cold War era.

Pyongyang says it was not holding the South Koreans as prisoners of war but they have chosen to remain in the North. The North also denies abducting the fishermen.

"I've not heard of it," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs, said.

"There is nothing being promoted under the table," Kim said, adding that Seoul is willing to open official dialogue with Pyongyang any time.

Still, Pyongyang's alleged proposal draws attention as Seoul has also been contemplating the exchange. A senior official at the defense ministry told reporters earlier this month that it was considering financial "incentives" to North Korea for the return of South Korean soldiers.

"The proposal is not yet finalized, but the government is considering various ways, such as providing incentives to the North, to win their return," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Asked whether it has since floated the idea to Pyongyang, the defense ministry said "no."

"We have no knowledge about whether economic compensation was proposed," a defense ministry official said on Monday, requesting he not be named.

During his China visit until Dec. 24, the unification minister was expected to meet several Chinese top officials familiar with North Korea, including Dai Bingguo, China's state councilor, Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's international liaison department, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, as well as China's chief envoy on North Korea denuclearization talks, Wu Dawei.

Concerning speculation the minister may also meet North Korean officials in Beijing, Seoul officials ruled out the possibility.


U.S. to Ship 21,000 Tons in Food Aid to N.K. by Year-end: State Dept.

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States said on Dec. 23 it will ship 21,000 tons of food aid to North Korea by the end of the year as part of 500,000 tons in humanitarian aid promised earlier this year.

"Our humanitarian program will continue," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "The 21,000 metric tons will arrive at the end of this month."

McCormack said the food aid will be delivered through the World Food Program and other nongovernmental organizations.

The U.S. in May pledged to provide up to 500,000 tons of food aid to the North, but has only delivered about a quarter of that figure to the present date.

The last shipment was made in August as North Korea halted the disablement of its nuclear facilities in defiance of Washington's failure to delist it as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Once off the list, the North resumed disabling its facilities in October, but the latest round of the six-party talks failed to produce an agreement on how to verify what the North declared as its nuclear facilities in June.

The spokesman said a U.S. fact-finding mission recently concluded a North Korean tour on assuring transparency in distribution of the food aid.

"The nature of this mission was to find the facts and to try to see how implementation of our commitments to provide half-a-million metric tons of food aid were going," he said. "Thus far, we have delivered about 128,000 metric tons or so, give or take, under that program. And we're still trying to work through some issues that we saw on the ground."

He said his department is seeking some Korean-speaking staff "that can work in the WFP portion of the food distribution program."

"Our humanitarian efforts continue, but we want to make sure, as a government, that the American tax dollars that provide this humanitarian aid ultimately are being put to good use," he said.

"And that means that the people on the ground who need that food aid are going to get it. And part of that is making sure that we have a distribution system in which we have confidence."

The international community has expressed doubts about the food distribution system in the reclusive communist state amid reports that much of the food aid might have been funneled to the military and the power elite. Millions are said to be suffering from food shortages due to chronic floods and failed policies.

The WFP announced earlier this month that North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons in additional food aid from abroad to feed its 21 million people next year despite a rather good harvest this year.

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