*** NEWS IN BRIEF
Flash Floods Cause Human Losses, Heavy Property Damage in N. Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Unusually heavy rainfalls caused human losses and heavy property damage in North Korea in July, the North's media reported on Aug. 5.
Flash floods also submerged about 5,560 houses and 350 public buildings and washed away some 14,850 hectares of farmland in the month, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report, monitored in Seoul.
The report said torrential rains caused human losses and damage to industrial facilities but gave no details.
Thousands of hectares of farmland were submered in the provinces of South Hwanghae, North Pyongan, South Hamgyong, while roads and bridges were destroyed in South Pyongan and Kangwon provinces, it said.
The KCNA did not report how much rain fell in North Korea in July, but South Korea's weather agency said on Aug. 4 that an average rainfall in North Korea in July reached 315.8 millimeters, 139 percent higher than normal. The agency forecast more rain in North Korea this weekend.
One day later, the North's state Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station also said heavy rains have been continuing in North Korea after causing serious damage last month. "Relatively heavy downpours recently fell in North Pyongan, Jagang, Ryanggang and part of South Pyongan provinces."
During the period from July 31 until noon of Aug. 6, Junggang area in Jagang Province received 191 millimeters of rain, the most in the country, followed by Wonsan, South Hamgyong Province, with 188mm; Manpho, Jagang Province, with 156mm; Sijung, a county in the same province, with 139mm, the report said.
Taechon and Chonma, both in North Pyongan Province, received 130mm and 129mm of rain, respectively, while 113mm fell in Songwon of Jagang Province, it added.
N. Korea Warns of 'Most Powerful' Retaliation If S. Korea Provokes War
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on Aug. 5 of "the most powerful means" of retaliation if South Korea triggers a conflict during its naval drill off the west coast, where South Korea says the North torpedoed its warship in March.
In a bulletin carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the North's Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said that the five-day drill that kicked off on Aug. 5 is a "deliberate military provocation aimed at invading the North."
"Our people and the military will crush the provokers and their stronghold with the most powerful war tactics and strike means beyond imagination if they ever dare to set a fire," said the committee, a semi-official organ that handles inter-Korean matters.
The North's military command overseeing the Yellow Sea border has already threatened "strong physical retaliation" against the South Korean drill, which came after Seoul and Washington conducted joint maritime exercises in the East Sea late last month.
The North denies it sank the South Korean Cheonan warship even though a multinational investigation in May found Pyongyang responsible for the incident, which killed 46 sailors.
The South Korean exercise comes as Seoul and Washington are mounting their pressure on Pyongyang to come clean on the deadly torpedoing by crafting further sanctions against the North.
The North Korean committee did not clarify what weapons the country would use in the event of a clash with South Korean forces. The country is believed to have enough plutonium to create at least six nuclear bombs and has conducted two nuclear tests in the past.
North Korea Reopens Hotel, Restaurant on Scenic Mt. Kumgang
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has reopened a South Korean-built hotel and restaurant in Mt. Kumgang on its eastern coast and has started to receive visitors, a pro-Pyongyang daily published in Japan said on Aug. 7.
The Choson Sinbo said Hotel Mt. Kumgang and the Mokrangwan restaurant opened for business on July 20 and will offer services to both foreign and local guests.
However, the newspaper reported that none of the visitors has spent the night at the 215-room hotel.
"All the tourists so far have stayed overnight at Wonsan and only visited the mountains during the day," it said. Wonson is located further north in South Hamgyong Province.
The hotel was built and operated by South Korea's Hyundai Asan Corporation and had been used by tourists from the South until 2008, when a North Korean guard shot and killed a female tourist at a nearby beach.
Since the fatal shooting in July 2008, Seoul has banned tourists from the mountain report, with Pyongyang taking steps in early October to freeze all Hyundai assets and start its own independent operations. Hyundai employees at the site were also expelled from the resort.
The tours to Mt. Kumgang -- hailed as a symbol of reconciliation between the countries -- began in late 1998, and nearly 2 million South Koreans visited the zone before they were suspended.
South Korean's Unification Ministry said local companies invested an estimated 420 billion won (US$374 million) to develop the border resort that includes a golf course, several restaurants and a 157-room floating hotel called the Haekumgang.
North Korea Legislates New Resident Administrative Law
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea recently enacted a law aimed at providing better administrative support for the people in what appears to be an effort to facilitate the people's livelihoods in line with the country's goal in becoming a "prosperous nation" by 2012.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Aug. 9 that the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly passed the "resident administrative law."
The KCNA said that the law stipulates "the principal issues" that an administrative clerk or other hands-on workers in provincial, municipal and the military bodies must uphold in properly carrying out residents' administrative work.
Included in the "residents' administrative work" is the provision of housing, food, water and education, as well as support in areas of labor, commerce and public health, the report said.
North Korea has implemented a series of military and economic campaigns to become a "Kangsong Taeguk" -- a great, prosperous and powerful nation -- by 2012, the centennial of Kim Il-sung's birthday.
North Korea watchers see the legislation as an effort for the country to reach the goal by 2012, the date at which many outside observers believe Pyongyang will engineer a hereditary power transfer from Kim Jong-il to his third son, Jong-un, who is 27 years old.
The KCNA also said that the SPA Presidium also legislated a labor protection law, which enforces mandatory education about work safety, the provision of supplies for labor protection, adequate rest and other principle issues relevant to the nation's labor protection policies.
It also enacted a bill stipulating the principles and missions of the (North) Korea's Chamber of Commerce (KCC) in its operations regarding economic exchanges. The KCC was established in August 2004, and a smaller inter-guideline was ratified by the North's Cabinet.
North Korea passed eight bills, including those for farms, waterworks and environmental protection.
U.N. Command, North Korea End Talks without Progress
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea and the American-led United Nations Command (UNC) ended their fourth round of talks on Aug. 10 over the sinking of a South Korean warship but made no progress in arranging general-level talks, an official at the UNC said.
Colonel-level military officers from the two sides met for about two hours at the border village of Panmunjom, a day after the North's military fired a barrage of artillery shells near its western sea border with the South, straining already high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
"During the Aug. 10 meeting, the two sides basically confirmed each side's stance, and a new date was not proposed for follow-up talks," said the UNC official on condition of anonymity.
In a brief statement released later in the day, the UNC said the latest talks ended with both sides "agreeing to conduct a colonel-level meeting at a date to be determined."
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also carried a report on the talks with the UNC, disclosing its proposal for the formation of a joint inspection group with the U.S. for an early opening of bilateral general-level military talks.
"The U.S. forces side was urged to affirmatively respond to the DPRK's proposal for field investigation by the inspection group of its National Defense Commission for making an objective and scientific probe into the truth about the 'Cheonan' case," said the KCNA report. DPRK stands for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The colonel-level talks were designed to set up the date, agenda and protocols for general-level discussions on armistice issues related to the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March, in which 46 sailors were killed.
A team of multinational investigators concluded in May that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan, but the North has denied any role in the sinking, denouncing the investigation results as a "sheer fabrication."
In previous meetings held from last month, North Korea and the UNC had made little progress toward the general-level talks as North Korea repeated its denial of responsibility for the ship sinking and renewed calls to send its own team of inspectors to the South to review the investigation results.
The UNC proposed a task force to jointly assess whether the sinking violated the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
The general-level talks have served as a measure to ease tensions on the divided peninsula since 1998.
The UNC, which monitors the Korean War armistice, is led by the top U.S. commander in the South. The U.S. stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea.
N. Korea Urges Humanitarian Treatment for S. Korean Pastor Returning Home
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea urged South Korea on Aug. 11 to be "humanitarian" to a South Korean pastor who will return home this weekend after visiting Pyongyang without Seoul's permission.
But the Red Cross message, quoted by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), did not contain any reply to an earlier message the South's Red Cross had sent to call for the release of the seven crew members of a South Korean fishing boat Pyongyang is holding.
Rev. Han Sang-ryol of South Korea entered the socialist state by air June 12 and has since toured the North, reportedly giving speeches denouncing President Lee Myung-bak and his policies.
He is set to return to South Korea on Aug. 15 through the truce village that straddles the heavily armed border between the two countries, the KCNA said.
South and North Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. South Koreans are allowed to enter the North only with permission from the government.
The North Korean report, monitored in Seoul, said the North's Red Cross sent its South Korean counterpart a message urging Seoul to treat Han "from a humanitarian perspective."
South Korean authorities are planning to apprehend Han as soon as he steps on South Korean soil Sunday, which marks the 65th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's colonial rule.
The Red Cross message "stressed that it hopes for necessary measures to guarantee the safe return" of the pro-unification activist, the report said without elaborating.
Earlier on Aug. 11, South Korea sent through its Red Cross a message calling on the North to release the crew of the fishing boat Daeseung "promptly in line with international law and customs and on humanitarian grounds."
The seizure took place on Aug. 8 amid heightening military tensions between the divided countries. South Korea is trying to figure out whether the boat trespassed into the North's exclusive economic zone. The North has not yet commented on the boat.
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