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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 75 (October 8, 2009)

All Headlines 10:50 October 08, 2009


N. Korea's Household Spending One-fifth of S. Korea's: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's average annual household spending level stands at 22 percent of that in the South, a report submitted to a lawmaker said Oct. 4.

The findings submitted to Rep. Song Young-sun by the economic research institute at the state-managed Industrial Bank of Korea showed the average North Korean household spends US$1,298 per year, compared to $5,858 for a South Korean family unit.

"Taking into account that the per capita income of South Korea is 18 times greater than the North, the amount used by a North Korean family is relatively high," the lawmaker said.

The total for a four-person family includes state rations handed out by Pyongyang, Song said, adding that of the money used, the bulk of it, or $788, is used to purchase rice.

She also said North Korean families received $7.80 worth of pork and $4.80 in fish from the government, while various clothing, socks and shoes reached $38.40 per year.

Besides state rations, families spent an extra $361.20 a year to buy food and clothing on the free market.

The lawmaker from the conservative opposition Pro-Park Geun-hye Alliance, meanwhile, claimed that it may take 318 trillion won (US$270 billion) and 10 years for North Koreans to reach living standards on par with those enjoyed in the South at present.


S. Korea Suspects 100 Nuclear-related Sites in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has created a list of about 100 North Korean sites linked to the socialist state's nuclear program and is capable of striking any one of them if necessary, its defense chief said on Oct. 5.

"There are about 100 sites related to the nuclear" program in North Korea, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told lawmakers during a parliamentary audit. He did not elaborate.

Kim, sworn in last month after stepping down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was answering questions over whether his military has a specific list of targets to hit in the event of war.

"We have a complete list of them," he said, expressing confidence his forces could strike any nuclear-related site "if it is absolutely clear a North Korean offensive is imminent."

The comments came after Kim said at a parliamentary confirmation hearing last month that he knew of sites where the North could be hiding its stockpile of nuclear arms if the communist state had one.

North Korea has conducted two known atomic tests in the past three years -- one in October 2006 and the other in May this year -- but South Korea and its ally, the United States, refuse to classify the intransigent country as a nuclear state.

Speaking to Rep. Yoo Seung-min of the ruling Grand National Party, the defense minister said he is not sure whether North Korea has already succeeded in making nuclear bombs.

"It is not clear whether North Korea has nuclear arms," he said, adding it would be difficult to know how many North Korea has even if the socialist state did "because they will be small in size."

"But we have sufficient information on the locations where items related to the nuclear program are stored and where the delivery means are placed," he said. Delivery means refer to missiles and bombers.


S. Korea Searched Suspicious N. Korean Containers: Sources

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea confiscated and searched containers shipped by North Korea on a Panama-registered freighter last month but reportedly found no suspicious cargo, according to sources on Oct. 5.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) and relevant authorities on Sept. 22 ordered an inspection of the ship docked in the southeastern port of Busan and searched the four containers, a government official said, requesting anonymity.

The official said authorities found some kind of protective clothing but did not elaborate further.

A port official in Busan also confirmed that the NIS ordered the search, saying it received tips that the containers could be carrying hazardous material. The ship carrying the containers had arrived from China last month.

"Nothing particular was discovered from the search, but I'm aware that the government is still in the process of confirming the results," the port official said, refusing to elaborate.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told lawmakers later Monday that the customs authorities had seized the containers and were searching them.

"The authorities are investigating the contents of the containers and their possible link to North Korea," Yu was quoted as saying during a closed-door parliamentary audit. "But (the government) can't provide details."

Observers speculate the search was conducted as part of Seoul's participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a U.S.-led counter-proliferation campaign, as well as U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1874.

Seoul joined the PSI, which was launched in 2003 to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in May this year.

North Korea is known as an exporter of illicit weapons and is among the major targets of the initiative.

UNSC Resolution 1874, adopted after North Korea's second nuclear test, calls for an overall arms embargo on the communist country, as well as financial sanctions and interdiction of cargo on the high seas to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction.


North Korea Suffers Excessive Rise in Food Prices: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is suffering an excessive rise in food prices due to decreased international aid to the poverty-stricken country, a local research institute said on Oct. 6.

According to the Samsung Economic Research Institute, the price of rice in North Korea hovered around 2,000 won per kilogram in August, a little less than the monthly average salary of 3,000 won for its urban workers. The price of corn averaged 1,000 won per kilogram, the research institute said.

"North Korea is suffering an excessive rise in food prices due to a supply shortage," it said.

The research institute said a total of 4.86 million tons of food, including rice and corn, are expected to be supplied to the socialist state this year, falling around 560,000 tons short of the minimum amount needed to feed its 2.4-million population.

"The sharp increase in food prices in North Korea seems to be mainly due to reductions in international aid, as the country reportedly did not suffer any major flood damage from this year's torrential summer downpours and international food prices are stable," it said.

Since 1999, the South Korean government provided annual food and fertilizer aid to the North. The aid shipments were suspended, however, after conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office last year, linking inter-Korean aid and exchanges to progress in North Korea's denuclearization.

North Korea, under U.N. financial and trade sanctions over its May nuclear test, has recently made conciliatory moves toward South Korea and the United States.

But Seoul officials say they have no immediate plan yet to resume rice and fertilizer aid.


N. Korea in Final Phase of Restoring Nuclear Facility: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea appears to be in the final phase of restoring its key nuclear facility disabled under a six-nation disarmament deal, a South Korean source said on Oct. 6.

The Yongbyon nuclear facility, north of Pyongyang, underwent a disablement process under a deal reached in 2007 with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

North Korea declared this year it would start reversing the process in protest against U.N. condemnation of its long-range rocket launch on April 5.

"There are signs that the restoration of the Yongbyon facility is in its final stage," the South Korean defense source said, citing intelligence reports presented at a parliamentary audit this week.

The six-nation talks have been stalled since late last year when North Korea disputed U.S. assertions on ways to verify its past nuclear activities.

North Korea tested a nuclear device in May for the second time in three years, drawing harsher international sanctions, and announced it would no longer rely on the multinational talks.

In September, North Korea said its uranium enrichment program -- a second track to nuclear weapons development in addition to its plutonium-based one -- has entered into its "completion phase."

The North also said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council that it is weaponizing plutonium extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods at the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

But in recent meetings with top Chinese officials, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said his regime was willing to return to both bilateral and multilateral negotiations on its nuclear program.

North Korea expelled international monitors from Yongbyon in April, forcing the U.S. and South Korean governments to mainly rely on satellite photos to track its nuclear activities.


N.K. Leader's Heir-apparent Working as Mid-level Party Staffer

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The youngest son and heir apparent of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to be working as a mid-level staffer with the ruling Workers' Party, where he is apparently being groomed to assume leadership, a lawmaker said on Oct. 6.

The elder Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke last year, is said to be preparing to hand over the throne to his third son Jong-un. Information on the son remains scarce as the communist regime exercises tight control over it.

Jong-un, born in 1984, was confirmed to have been given a "deputy director-level" post with an unknown branch inside the party, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party said, citing information he received from government sources.

Yoon did not disclose the sources. Spokespersons at the National Intelligence Service, the nation's spy agency, and the Unification Ministry denied giving such information to the lawmaker.

The heir apparent was also forecast to be officially tapped as the next leader between 2010 and 2012, most likely through a full-scale party convention, according to Yoon.

According to the lawmaker, the son is presumed to have received a degree from the Kim Il Sung Military University through private tutoring. Like his father, Jong-un appears not to have served in the military.

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