*** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)
N. Korea Condemns U.S. Intelligence Report on Its Combat Ability
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 24 strongly rebuked as a "cock-and-bull story" a recent U.S. intelligence report that said the North's combat ability is waning due to the malnutrition-related mental problems of its youth.
Angrily responding to the U.S. National Intelligence Commission report, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said, "This has lashed the army and people in the DPRK (North Korea) into great fury."
In its latest international health care report, the U.S. agency said an estimated 17-29 percent of potential North Korean recruits will be unfit for service in the 2009-2013 period because of their cognitive deficiencies caused by the famine in the previous decade. Famine struck North Korea in the mid-1990s, set off by floods and the demise of the Soviet Union.
The U.S. report argued two-thirds of young North Korean adults are now considered malnourished or anemic, and it will bog down future economic growth as well as combat readiness.
"Loyalty may also erode over time," the U.S. report said, as soldiers, even if they are well-fed in the military, will worry about their starving family.
North Korea has a 1.1-million-strong military, whose combat ability and welfare are prioritized over any other issue under leader Kim Jong-il's military-first policy.
"They floated the cock-and-bull story," the KCNA said, "It is an open secret that the ill-famed intelligence and plot-breeding institutions of the U.S. including the CIA are hell-bent on releasing false reports about its hostile countries."
the KCNA criticized the U.S. healthcare system for denying treatment to the poor, saying 47 million can't afford to pay insurance.
"It is the unpopular healthcare system in the U.S. which should be overhauled or replaced by a new one," the report said.
"However, they released the false report, finding fault with the advantageous healthcare system in the DPRK in a bid to hurt the prestige and dignity of the DPRK in the international arena and stir up 'ill feelings' in society," it said.
Seoul's Appointment of Hawkish Minister 'Outright Challenge'; Pyongyang
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea criticized South Korea on Jan. 25 for appointing a hawkish scholar as the new unification minister in charge of relations with Pyongyang, calling the appointment an "outright challenge."
On Jan. 14, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak named Hyun In-taek, a political science professor at Korea University in Seoul, as Seoul's new pointman on North Korea in a partial Cabinet reshuffle.
The move reinforced views that the Lee administration won't change its hard-line stance on North Korea, despite stepped-up saber-rattling by the socialist country.
"Hyun's nomination as minister of unification is an open provocation as it is little short of a declaration that South Korea would continue to stand in confrontation with (Pyongyang)," the North Korean government newspaper Minju Joson said in a commentary.
The statement was the North's first reaction to the South's new unification minister.
Hyun, 55, is known as the architect of President Lee's North Korea policy linking Seoul's economic aid to the North's denuclearization. Pyongyang has rejected it as "anti-national, anti-unification."
"Lee doesn't want improvement of the North-South relations, nor peace and national unification," the newspaper said.
"He only seeks to further escalate the confrontation…. and push the inter-Korean relations deeper into the abyss of confrontation and ruin," it said.
While North Korea took a series of actions against the South, including cross-border travel restrictions, in recent months, President Lee has claimed a "wait and see" approach is the most viable policy option.
North Korea Blasts South Korea over Military Exercise
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea blasted South Korea on Jan. 26, accusing it of holding military exercises to prepare for a war against it and warned that it will "mercilessly" wipe out invaders should war break out.
The socialist country claimed that "severe winter training" South Korea's military is holding now is a reaction to its earlier military decision to take an "all-out confrontation posture" against South Korea's conservative Lee Myung-bak government.
"This is aimed at deliberately antagonizing the army and people of the DPRK (North Korea) in a bid to invent a pretext for provoking a war of aggression against it," Minju Joson, a newspaper published by the North's cabinet, said in a commentary.
The commentary was carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The newspaper claimed the South Korean military exercises are part of Seoul's plan to "invade the North from the outset of the new year in an effort to find a way out of its crisis."
The paper did not elaborate but by "crisis," it apparently meant the global economic downturn Seoul is now trying to fend off.
The accusations come less than 10 days after a spokesman for the General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army said the country will take an "all-out confrontation against the South.
"The world will clearly see how the reckless anti-DPRK confrontation moves of the group going against the mindset of the people desirous of national unity and cooperation will go bust in face of our army standing in an all-out confrontation with them," the North's military spokesman in a statement on Jan. 17.
Seoul officials say winter training is only part of its military's regular exercises scheduled throughout the year.
N. Korean Leader Shows up at Lunar New Year Concert
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il enjoyed a performance given by the North's state merited chorus on the occasion of the lunar New Year, which fell on Jan. 26, its state media reported on Jan. 27.
According to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored in Seoul, the performance truthfully represented the "unshakable faith and will of the army and people to accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche (self-reliance)" under the leadership of Kim Jong-il.
After the performance was over, Kim reportedly expressed the expectation and conviction that all of them would conduct dynamic revolutionary art activities and thus fully display the might of buglers in the Songun (military-first) era.
The report said that Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea's (WPK) Central Committee and Jang Song-thaek and Kim Yang-gon, department directors of the WPK Central Committee, were among the audience.
But it didn't reveal the exact date and venue of the musical performance observed by the ailing North Korean leader.
Kim attended a closely watched meeting with a visiting Chinese official last week in his first appearance to a foreign guest since he allegedly suffered a stroke in August.
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