*** NEWS IN BRIEF
Pyongyang Honors 52nd Anniversary of Sino-North Amity Pact
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on July 11 marked the 52nd anniversary of an alliance treaty with China with high publicity in a bid to squelch views that the two countries' long-standing ties are showing signs of wavering.
To mark the anniversary, North Korea hosted a special reception at Okryu Restaurant in Pyongyang a day earlier, inviting the Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Liu Hongchai, and a return banquet was held on the following day by the Chinese Embassy in the North at the Pyongyang Koryo Hotel, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
In the special reception hosted by the (North) Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries and the Central Committee of the (North) Korea-China Friendship Association, Minister of Public Health Kang Ha-guk emphasized that consolidating the Sino-North Korean relationship had been the "noble wish" of late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il and is still a matter of deep interest to the incumbent Kim Jong-un.
Kang, who also heads the friendship association, said, "The treaty has helped the two countries accelerate their socialist construction and protect the regional peace and stability since its conclusion," according to the KCNA.
North Korea and China signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance on July 11, 1961, which centered on mandating automatic intervention if either side came under a military attack.
In addition, Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party, carried a special editorial on July 11 asserting the close-knit relationship between the two neighboring allies.
Citing North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae's recent trip to China as an example, the newspaper said ongoing cooperation and exchange between Pyongyang and Beijing is "clear evidence that the treaty's spirit of friendship, cooperation and favorable assistance is alive and steadfast even after the turn of the century."
The North's other state-run TV and radio stations joined the commemoration by airing a special documentary film parading the intimacy between Kim Il-sung and late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and broadcasting the state's commemorative messages intended for the Chinese public.
Tensions have arisen between the two nations in the wake of Pyongyang's missile launch and nuclear test in defiance of Beijing's wishes, prompting China to back a U.N. resolution and impose its own sanctions against North Korean firms.
Head of N. Korean Red Cross Replaced amid Dialogue with S. Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has recently replaced the head of the Red Cross in the country, a major channel of exchange with South Korea, the international Red Cross group's member list showed on July 11.
Kang Su-rin has recently supplanted Jang Jae-on as the chairman of the central committee of the Red Cross Society of the DPRK (North Korea), according to the member list of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The socialist country did not make public the personnel change, but the list showed that Kang began to represent the North's Red Cross in early May.
The replacement led to the removal of the 77-year-old official from the top position of a major inter-Korean exchange channel, which he had kept for over a decade.
Red Cross entities of South and North Korea serve as channels to arrange emergency humanitarian aid as well as reunion events for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
The newly-installed 61-year-old chairman is a veteran official well versed in inter-Korean affairs. Serving in the North's United Front Department -- the ministry handling relations with the South -- Kang has participated in major inter-Korean talks and joint inter-Korean events and accompanied United Front Department chief Kim Yang-gon when Kim made a trip to Seoul in 2007.
Since November, Kang has also been heading the North Korean association of Buddhists, a religious association controlled by the North Korean regime.
The recent personnel change is part of the country's latest moves to replace heads of major bodies in charge of dealing with South Korea.
In June, the country named Kim Wan-su as the new chairman for the joint implementation committee for the June 15 inter-Korean Joint Declaration signed in 2000.
Earlier July, the North also appointed a new head for the national association of Christians, replacing the chiefs of the two major religious groups which often engage in cultural and religious exchanges with their counterparts in the South.
Experts said the recent appointments indicate that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's ongoing personnel change efforts are now reaching the inter-Korean affairs sector after transforming the governing party, the military and the cabinet.
Kim seems to be in the process of naming officials well suited for his policy toward the South and the outside world "and this means the North is intended to proactively lead international activities," said Chang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.
North Korea Blames Seoul for Aborted Family Reunion Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea blamed South Korea on July 13 for aborted talks intended to help temporarily reunite separated families on both sides, accusing Seoul of distorting its true intentions.
In a letter to South Korea's Unification Ministry from its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of (North) Korea, the North's arm in charge of inter-Korean affairs, North Korea also warned of serious consequences for what it called "arrogant" and "rude" stance from Seoul.
"(The South) must keep in mind that it will face more serious consequences than those under the Lee Myung-bak government if it continues to ridicule the other side's good intention and reply with arrogant and rude words and actions," said the letter, carried by the North's official KCNA.
South Korea's Lee Myung-bak administration stepped down early this year after its single five-year term ended. During his term, inter-Korean exchanges were virtually frozen amid acute cross-border and military tensions.
Pyongyang had initially proposed talks on family reunions along with separate negotiations aimed at resuming South Korean tours to the North's scenic Mount Kumgang that have been suspended for five years.
The North, however, put a hold on its proposal for both talks after Seoul said it will only agree to holding talks on family reunions, at least for now, citing the importance of ongoing talks on normalizing a joint industrial complex in North Korea's border town of Kaesong that has remained shut since early April.
The North said on July 13 that Seoul's decision was not understandable, claiming tours to Mount Kumgang, which had been developed and operated by a South Korean firm, were as important as the Kaesong industrial complex to South Korean companies and people.
"The desperation of the South Korean company waiting for the resumption of Mount Kumgang tours that have been suspended for five years is as serious as that of companies at the (Kaesong) industrial complex," said the letter.
"But considering the South's view, we are saying we should postpone talks on resumption of Mount Kumgang tours and reunions between separated families to focus our efforts on resolving the industrial complex issue," it added.
The tours to Mount Kumgang on North Korea's eastern coast have been suspended since 2008 when a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard there.
North Korea Holds Enlarged Cabinet Meeting to Encourage Economic Achievements
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's Cabinet recently held an enlarged session of its plenary meeting to review the country's economic achievements and encourage the economic plan for the latter half of the year, the North's media reported on July 15.
Premier Pak Pong-ju presided over the meeting, where the participants resolved to carry out the nation's important tasks by working hard. One task that received special note was the "Masik Pass," which those in attendance pledged to construction with speed, according to the North's official KCNA.
The Masik Pass, or Maskiryong, is a massive construction site near the scenic Mount Kumgang area, which is slated to be developed into a "world famous" ski resort and tourist site.
In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter of appeal to all service personnel titled, "Let Us Create the 'Masikryong Speed' and Usher in New Heyday on All Fronts for Socialist Construction."
Kim Jong-un stressed that the construction of the Masik Pass Skiing Ground must be completed by the end of the year, saying that all people at all construction sites should respect the creative spirit of the "Masikryong speed."
The Cabinet meeting also reviewed the fulfillment of the national economic plan for the first half of the year and discussed measures to successfully carry out the national economic plan for this year's third quarter.
Participants at the Cabinet meeting noted that the reclaimers of the Sepho tableland made shining achievements with the goal to reclaim more than 50,000 hectares of grassland and to finish the construction of a stock-breeding management center within this year.
Fresh successes and innovations are being made in the construction of major projects including the construction of the Chongchongang Power Stations in Tiers and apartment houses for scientists, they said.
North Korea, Mongolia Expand Economic Cooperation
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Economic cooperation between North Korea and Mongolia has been expanding sharply of late, with the rise in human exchanges between the two socialist countries.
A North Korean media reported on July 4 that the two countries signed an agreement on exchanges and cooperation in the field of IT in Pyongyang when a delegation of the Information Technology, Posts and Communications Authority of Mongolia visited North Korea.
On July 15, Lundeg Purevsuren, the national security and foreign policy adviser to the president of Mongolia, and his party arrived in Pyongyang to discuss increasing their bilateral cooperation.
In June, a Mongolian company bought a stake in a North Korean oil refinery to help the country ease its energy reliance on Russia and China.
HBOil JSC, an oil trading and refining company based in Mongolia, said it had acquired 20 percent of the state-run entity operating the North's Sungri refinery. It intends to supply crude to Sungri, which won't be fully operational for up to a year, and export the refined products to Mongolia.
The investment comes as Mongolia seeks to power its mining-led boom while offering sanctions-hit North Korea a bridge to economic reforms, according to a news wire report.
The Sungri refinery, in the Special Economic Zone of Rason City in North Korea's northeast, has an annual refining capacity of 2 million tons and is connected to Russia's rail network.
In other economic ties, Mongolian technicians and business people are staying in North Korea to develop massive stockbreeding zones in North Korea by reclaiming a large barren land in Kangwon Province. Mongolia is known to have advanced know-how in livestock farming.
According to a recent report by the North's official KCNA, a project to reclaim the Sepho tableland as a giant stockbreeding base has made headway at a brisk pace in North Korea.
The 600-meter-above-sea-level tableland, covering tens of thousands of hectares spanning Sepho, Phyonggang and Ichon counties, is now being turned into artificial and natural grass fields. This is an example of the economic ties between the two countries, according to experts in Seoul.
The experts also found clues into their deepening cooperation as the two nations can mutually benefit from the exchanges.
As a landlocked country, Mongolia expects to use North Korea's Rajin port as a sea route to export its mining resources. When Mongolia uses Rajin port on the North's east coast, it will help Mongolia save on transportation costs to the largest extent.
Mongolia also expressed its hope to rent the North Korean seaport when Choe Thae-bok, the chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, was visiting the landlocked country in November last year.
In Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital, the North Korean parliamentary leader was assured by Mongolian officials that Mongolia will cooperate with North Korea in areas such as trade, IT and human exchanges.
In fact, North Korea has pledged to develop the Rajin port as an international harbor by attracting as much foreign investment as possible.
Meanwhile, a total of 1,749 North Koreans are working in Mongolia with most employed in the construction sector, according to a news report.
The number of North Korean workers, tallied at the end of April, accounts for the second-largest foreign workers' group in the central Asian country, after the Chinese, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said, citing Mongolia's labor ministry. The figure represents North Koreans legally working in the country.
Chinese workers in Mongolia stood at 5,976 as of end-April, the RFA said.
Given that most foreign workers in Mongolia are employed in the construction sector, the majority of the North Korean workers are presumed to also work in that industry, the report added.
A previous report by a Mongolian newspaper has quoted a North Korean laborer in the country as saying that an average North Korean worker receives US$600-700 in monthly wages there.
N. Korea Reports Rain Damage, Claims Heavier Effect from Global Warming
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on July 17 four more people have died from floods over the past few days and some 180 houses were destroyed or inundated, raising the death toll to six.
The North's official KCNA said one person is still missing after the heavy downpour, which was recorded as reaching as much as 518 millimeters in its southeastern province of Kangwon between July 9 and 16.
The agency had reported two deaths last week and over 760 people left homeless.
In a separate report, the KCNA claimed North Korea was being affected by global warming more than other countries, with heavier rainfall and unusual weather conditions such as typhoons, droughts and cold spells.
"The country's yearly average temperature was 8.5 degrees Celsius over the past five years, 0.3 degrees higher than the previous average," the report said. "The world's average temperature rose 0.084 degrees in the last 10 years, but in North Korea, it rose 0.2 degrees."
Storms have become stronger, and 2010 set a record as the second coldest winter since record keeping began, the report said.
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