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N.K. Deploys Fighter Jets to Guard Rocket Launch: Officials
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea deployed a fleet of MiG-23 fighter jets to apparently guard against any foreign attempt to intercept its rocket that Pyongyang says carried a satellite into orbit, South Korean officials said on April 2.
The officials declined to give the size of the deployment, which comes as Pyongyang warned it would "mercilessly deal deadly blows" to anyone trying to interfere with the launch conducted on April 5.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan believe the rocket was a disguised form of an improved long-range ballistic missile and are pushing for U.N. sanctions to punish the launch.
They also deployed destroyers -- most with guided missiles -- in the East Sea to track the launch trajectory, though they stressed they had no plans to intercept the rocket unless their populations were clearly threatened.
"We are closely monitoring the movement of the jets," a South Korean Air Force commander, who declined to be named, said.
He did not disclose how many or when the MiG-23s were deployed around the Musudan-ri launch pad for fear it would expose South Korea's intelligence capabilities.
Another Air force official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said a typical North Korean fighter squadron consists of 12 to 15 aircraft, adding the deployment appeared to be a tactical move aimed at safeguarding the launch base.
"It seems to be a form of protection against contingencies," he said.
MiG-23s, developed by the now-defunct Soviet Union, form the backbone of North Korea's air force along with MiG-29s. They can be equipped with anti-air missiles with a range of 20 kilometers.
N. Korea Says Detained S. Korean Worker in Good Health
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea notified Seoul on April 2 that a South Korean worker detained for allegedly denouncing its regime is in good health but refused access to him for a fourth straight day.
The Hyundai Asan Corp. worker, identified only by his family name Yu, was detained at a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong for allegedly criticizing the North's political system and urging a North Korean female employee to defect.
Hyundai Asan is a unit of South Korea's Hyundai Group, which has developed various joint economic ventures in North Korea.
Several workers and tourists have been detained and investigated in past years for violating North Korean law, but the latest case raises concern as it came amid frosty political relations ahead of the North's rocket launch.
North Korea continued to refuse access to the detained worker, an unmarried engineer in his 40s, but said he was in good health and being questioned in a safe environment, Seoul's Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
"Our government is continuing to urge North Korea to allow access to him. Ensuring basic rights during an investigation is part of an inter-Korean agreement," Lee told reporters.
Lee was referring to an accord the Koreas reached on joint industrial and tourism ventures in Kaesong and the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang. The accord stipulates that the safety of South Korean workers and tourists who violate North Korean law must be ensured during an investigation and, if the violations are proven, are fined or expelled. North Korea cannot try them in its territory.
North Korea is also preparing to indict two U.S. journalists being held on charges of illegal entry and "hostile acts."
Family of N. Korean Trade Representative in Shanghai Defects to South
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The wife and children of a North Korean trade representative in Shanghai have recently defected to South Korea and are being questioned by Seoul intelligence officials, a local report said on April 2.
The Kyunghyang Shinmun in Seoul cited an unidentified official of the ruling Grand National Party who said the wife, identified only by her family name Ri, defected with her son and daughter through a South Korean embassy in Singapore and arrived in Seoul about a month ago.
A spokesman for South Korea's National Intelligence Service did not deny the report but said, "We can't confirm it."
The Seoul-based newspaper said the wife and the two children left Shanghai while her husband, identified only by his family name Sim, traveled to Pyongyang to attend a meeting of North Korean envoys abroad in January.
The report said it was not known why Ri chose the South Korean embassy in Singapore or whether she had any connections with the mission.
It noted she decided to defect to South Korea after a troubling incident two years ago in which a junior official accused her husband of being a spy.
"The spy charges were cleared, but she seems to have decided that their future would be uncertain once they had been under investigation," the report quoted the ruling party official as saying.
"She had arguments with her husband about their future, and my understanding is that she chose to leave alone," the official said.
Seoul's spy agency is currently questioning Ri with regard to internal information about North Korea, such as the health condition of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The North Korean trade commission in Shanghai was established following Kim's visit to China in 2001, and its main task is known to be issuing visas for North Korean businessmen operating in the Chinese city.
A slew of North Korean diplomats and senior officials have defected to South Korea since the late 1990s. The highest ranking defector to date is Hwang Jang-yop, former secretary of the Workers' Party who arrived in the South in 1997.
S. Korea Says N. Korea's Accusation on FIFA Match Unacceptable
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on April 6 called North Korea's accusation that its football players were poisoned before last week's World Cup qualifying match in Seoul a groundless and politically motivated accusation.
After losing to South Korea 1-0 on April 1, North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun insisted that three of his key players were poisoned by food offered by South Korea's football body, the Korea Football Association (KFA).
Kim also fumed that North Korean player Jong Tae-se's header had crossed the goal line before South Korea's goalkeeper punched it out, contradicting a judgment by referees.
"If an accident happens during training or transit, and it affects the match, the host country should take responsibility for the accident," said Kim Joo-sung, head of the KFA's international affairs department. "But matters related to hotels or the food are the responsibility of the visiting team."
He said of the disputed goal, "North Korea can lodge an objection with FIFA and wait for a decision."
North Korea's football association issued a statement on April 5 claiming that the KFA purposefully poisoned its players to win the crucial match.
"It can be said that it was beyond all doubt that the incident was a product of a deliberate act perpetrated by adulterated foodstuff as (the players were incapacitated) just before the match," the association said through the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
It also argued the defeat was also due to referee bias, and accused South Korean President Lee Myung-bak of being behind the alleged food-poisoning plot.
"The statement sets a high political tone, not about the sport itself. There's no need to respond to it," said Kim Joo-sung, the KFA official.
After the match, South Korea jumped to the top of Group B with 11 points in the Asian qualifying round, with North Korea and Saudi Arabia running in second behind by one point.
The top two teams of groups A and B grab direct tickets to the 2010 World Cup finals. The third-placed teams will enter a separate round of playoffs.
N. Korean Vessel Tasked with Tracking Rocket Malfunctioned: Official
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean commercial vessel set sail for the Pacific Ocean with a mission to locate the country's rocket purportedly used to orbit a satellite, but turned back due to mechanical trouble, a South Korean official said on April 7.
North Korea fired a three-stage rocket Sunday that it said carried a communications satellite into orbit, defying international warnings it would be considered a banned test of a ballistic missile.
No satellite entered orbit, South Korea and the U.S. say, and the final stages of the rocket plunged into the Pacific Ocean, at a distance beyond the reach of North Korean radars.
"North Korea instead sent a commercial vessel to track its rocket and possibly retrieve debris," the official said, adding the vessel departed "quite some time ago."
The official, who cited intelligence and spoke strictly on condition of anonymity, said he did not know at which point the ship was forced to end its voyage or what tracking equipment it carried.
"We don't clearly know the mechanical problem that appears to have prevented the ship from further sailing," the official said. "It likely has to do with outdated parts of the vessel."
The U.S. has yet to disclose the coordinates of the location where the final stages of the rocket crashed. The payload plunged along with them, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Northern Command said.
Media reports suggest the final stage landed 2,700-3,100 kilometers from the Musudan-ri launch site on North Korea's east coast after flying over Japan.
U.S. Senator to Introduce Legislation to Put N.K. on Terrorism Blacklist
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) on April 6 announced that he will introduce legislation later this month to list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in retaliation for the North's rocket launch the previous day.
The previous George W. Bush administration delisted the North in October to persuade the socialist state to return to six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs.
"When the Senate reconvenes he will introduce legislation to re-impose U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the Six Party Talks, including designating North Korea a terrorist state," a statement released by the senator's said.
North Korea launched the rocket on April 5 in what the U.S. described as a failed attempt to put a communication satellite into space. Analysts say, however, that Pyongyang demonstrated its ballistic missile capability as a bargaining chip in future missile talks as well as the six-party talks, stalled over how to verify its nuclear activity.
The rocket flew over Japan, with its first stage falling in waters between Korea and Japan and the second and third stages together splashing into waters about 3,200 km from the launch site.
The U.S. sees the launch as a cover for ballistic missile test.
The proposed legislation will also "call for the U.S. to confront the North Korean regime for its human rights abuses," the statement said.
"As we have rolled back sanctions through the Six-party talks, North Korea has responded by firing this missile towards the western U.S. and kidnapping two of our citizens, proliferated nuclear and missile technology to other terrorist states, and continued as one of the worst human rights violators in the world," he said. "The administration and Congress must work together towards a policy that confronts these threats and protects our national security."
S. Koreans See N. Korean Rocket Launch as Bargaining Tool: Poll
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- More than half of all South Koreans believe that a recent rocket launch by North Korea was aimed at increasing Pyongyang's leverage in negotiations with the international community, a poll showed on April 6.
They also want the government to deal with the situation through international cooperation, the poll conducted just ahead of the launch said.
In a security awareness survey of 1,000 people aged 19 and over, 55.4 percent viewed the launch as intended by North Korea to boost its negotiating power, while 19.4 percent said it was aimed at strengthening internal unity. Another 16.6 percent viewed it as part of North Korea's missile development.
The poll was conducted on April 3 to 4 by Research & Research on behalf of the Ministry of Public Administration and Safety.
Asked how Seoul should respond, 51.8 percent called for the government to address the issue through international cooperation, while 33.6 percent suggested direct inter-Korean talks.
Of those surveyed, 60 percent said South Korea should cooperate with the United States for its national security, followed by North Korea (15.7 percent) and China (10.4 percent).
North Korea was the most threatening country to South Korea, according to 49.9 percent of the respondents, while 17.5 percent named Japan and 15.5 percent named China.
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