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All Headlines 10:40 May 17, 2012


Experts in Seoul Forecast Imminent Provocations by Kim Jong-un

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is likely to keep tensions with South Korea high and continue provocations against the South to help consolidate his power, experts in Seoul forecast May 10.

Kim would also be very reluctant to pursue reform or open his isolated country out of fear such steps could lead to the collapse of his regime, Koo Bon-hak, a professor of Hallym University Graduate School of International Studies, said at a Seoul forum.

Kim has made frequent inspection trips to military units in an apparent attempt to bolster his support from the military since he took over the country following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

"Instead of relying on the United States, South Korea should try to secure independent deterrence against North Korea" to cope with the North's provocations, Koo said at the forum on the North Korean situation, organized by the private Sejong Institute think tank.

The U.S. keeps about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help deter North Korea's possible aggression. South Korea has strengthened its defense posture following the North's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.

Koo also said South Korea should strengthen ties with China, North Korea's key ally and economic benefactor, to help Beijing nudge the North to pursue reform and openness.

China has repeatedly tried to coax its impoverished neighbor to follow in its footsteps in embracing reform similar to that which lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing's rise to become the world's second-largest economy.

"A fundamental issue is to persuade North Korea to embrace democracy, reform and openness through humanitarian assistance and the resumption of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperative projects," Koo said.

The assessment came more than two weeks after the North threatened to launch special military actions to reduce Seoul to ashes in minutes over an alleged insult by South Korea on the North's dignity.

During the forum, Yoo Dong-ryul, a senior research officer at the state-run Police Science Institute, said the new North Korean leader could follow his late father's policy to consolidate his own power.

Yoo said South Korea should consider setting up a plan to isolate Kim's regime and establish a democratic regime in the North as part of measures to deal with the North's hard-line policy toward Seoul.

Kim has vowed to uphold the dying wish of his late father, who pursued nuclear and missile programs as well as a military-first policy. The North has also warned the world should not expect it to change.


N. Korea Executed at least Three over Cannibalism: Think Tank

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has held public executions of at least three people on charges of cannibalism in recent years, a South Korean state-run institute said on May 10, the latest development that could support what has long been rumored in the isolated country.

There have been accounts among North Korean defectors in the South that some North Koreans ate and sold human flesh during the massive famine in the late 1990s that was estimated to have killed 2 million people.

A North Korean man in the northeastern city of Hyesan was executed in December 2009 for killing a preteen girl and eating her flesh, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a white paper on human rights in North Korea, which is set to be released next week.

The man committed the crime because of a lack of food following Pyongyang's botched currency reform in late 2009 that caused massive inflation and worsened food shortages, the white paper said, citing an interview with an unidentified defector in June last year.

The institute held in-depth interviews with 230 North Korean defectors in the South last year as part of efforts to glean fresh information on the North's situation ahead of publication of its annual white paper.

The interviewees account for just a fraction of the more than 23,500 North Korean defectors who have settled in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

The white paper, the gist of which was obtained by Yonhap News Agency, also said a father and his son were shot to death in the eastern town of Doksong in 2006 on charges of eating human flesh, citing an eyewitness account of a North Korean defector.

The institute also said there was an account of cannibalism in the country's northeastern town of Musan in 2011, though it was not known whether any punishment was meted out.

Last year, Caleb Mission, a small South Korean missionary group, unveiled a 2009 North Korean police document, which, among other things, chronicled several cases of cannibalism amid an acute food shortage in the communist country.

In one account, a male guard who could not bear his hunger killed his colleague using an ax, ate some of the human flesh and sold the remainder in the market by disguising it as mutton, the North Korean police report said, without giving any further details such as when the alleged crime occurred.

A former North Korean official who defected to the South in 2001 said on May 10 that he heard about more than a dozen cases of cannibalism from a North Korean intelligence official around 1999.

He said the practice appears to have ended in the North, citing his recent telephone conversation with another former North Korean official in the North. He asked not to be identified, citing safety concerns.

Still, the claim could not be independently verified as the North strictly restricts outside access to the country.

Despite the North's crackdowns, some North Koreans near the border with China use Chinese mobile phones to keep in touch with their relatives and friends in South Korea and China, according to defectors.


Missile Case Shows Changing Media Conditions in North Korea: King

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea's unusual acknowledgment of a failure in its recent rocket launch represents an apparent shift in the media environment there, with local people starting to gain more access to outside news, a U.S. government official said on May 10.

"In some ways, the way the North Korean media dealt with the missile failure was quite remarkable," Amb. Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the State Department, said at a seminar.

"I think the point is that the media environment in North Korea has changed and is changing," he added.

Hours after the North fired a long-range rocket in mid-April, its state-controlled media announced that the launch, closely monitored by the international community, was unsuccessful.

Such an announcement was unexpected, given that Pyongyang had claimed success for previous rocket launches that were believed to be failures.

King pointed out Pyongyang can't just say, "Let's play patriotic songs" so all can tune in because alternative news and views are becoming more available for its people.

His assessment is backed by a detailed report by InterMedia, a Washington-based consulting group, about the level of information flow in the communist North where its 24 millions people are under tough state control.

"A substantial portion of the North Korean population has access to outside media, notably through foreign TV, foreign radio, and foreign DVDs," read the 88-page report, titled "A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment."

InterMedia, commissioned by the State Department, said it interviewed several hundreds of North Korean defectors from 2010-2011, travelers and experts.

The study provides a rare systemic and statistical analysis of North Korea's media conditions.

"Sharing of illegal foreign content is a key factor in strengthening horizontal bonds between North Korean citizens, breaking the state's top-down monopoly on the supply of information and ideas," it said.

A growing number of North Koreans are enjoying South Korean dramas, movies and songs, mainly through DVDs smuggled through China, it noted.

Only 20 percent of North Koreans viewed foreign DVDs in 2008, according to a sample survey of 250 people, but the percentage rose to 48 percent in 2010, the report said.

The findings indicate the widening of loopholes in the North Korean regime's decades-long efforts to block the free flow of information.

Some expect the trend to lead to eventually an Arab Spring-style upheaval.

In a panel discussion on the report, Abraham Kim, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute, said the report was a fascinating look at how the outside world is penetrating North Korea's closed society through entertainment, information technology and media.

"The bottom line of this report is that ultimately, North Korea is losing control of what its people are listening to and seeing and losing control of how people are thinking about their socio-economic condition, the regime and the outside world," he said.

He quipped that he doesn't think the makers of popular South Korean dramas and songs knew they were "subversives."

Marcus Noland, deputy director at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the famine period in the 1990s was an "important turning point" in the availability of information as North Koreans became less fearful and started placing less trust in and reliance on the state.

Noland said, however, implications for political change from such a social change remain unclear.

"We need a multi-media strategy to reach difference audiences in North Korea," he said.


U.S. 'Extremely Concerned' about North Korea's Proliferation

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States openly expressed "extreme concern" on May 14 over North Korea's possible proliferation of weapons.

"We remain extremely concerned about North Korea's proliferation activities and related equipment," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

She was responding to a news report on the communist nation's alleged arms sales to Syria and Iran.

Nuland neither confirmed nor denied the report involving the two nations.

"North Korea has for many years tried to market its missile technology and its equipment," she said. "And these exports undermine security in the region, and they earn revenue that the regime uses to fuel its own weapons program. So it's very dangerous activity."

Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. John McCain demanded that Washington toughen sanctions against North Korea, already subject to strong United Nations sanctions for its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

He also urged Beijing to use its political and economic influence on Pyongyang.

"The only country that can really force change in North Korea is obviously China," he said in a speech on U.S. policy toward Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.


U.S. House Passes Bill on North Korean Human Rights

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on May 15 calling for bipartisan efforts to address North Korea's human rights violations, according to a congressional source.

Members of the House approved by voice vote the legislation on extending until 2017 the authority of the North Korean Human Rights Act, added the source.

The act provides the legal ground for the U.S. government's financial support for radio stations broadcasting to North Korea and the appointment of a special envoy on the North's human rights issues.

The reauthorization bill notes that, "Although the transition to the leadership of Kim Jong-un after the death of Kim Jong-il has introduced new uncertainties and possibilities, the fundamental human rights and humanitarian conditions inside North Korea remains deplorable and North Korean refugees remain acutely vulnerable."

It also urges China to immediately halt its forcible repatriation of North Koreans.

The Senate is also expected to approve the bill without a major dispute, the source said.


N. Korea Renews Works on New Nuclear Reactor: Think Tank

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has resumed construction of a new experimental light water reactor at its main nuclear complex, a U.S. institute said on May 16, citing commercial satellite photos.

The secretive socialist nation appears to have almost completed work on the reactor containment building at Yongbyon, apparently a hub for its production of not only plutonium but also uranium, according to the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The next major step in construction, it added, will be loading heavy components such as the pressure vessel, steam generator and pressurizer, which would take six to 12 months, it added.

"Overall, it may take another 1-2 years before the new facility becomes operational," it said.

The assessment is based on an analysis of satellite imagery taken April 30, which shows a contrast to photos taken on Dec. 24 and about two months later.

The North claims that the construction of the light-water reactor is aimed at generating electricity but the international community suspects it to be intended to acquire more fissile materials.

"Regardless of problems with its missiles and uncertainty about another nuclear test, the North is plowing ahead with this reactor, a key part of Pyongyang's strategy to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal," Joel Wit, a visiting fellow at the institute, wrote on his blog, 38 North.

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