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Relief Group Vaccinates N. Korean Children against Japanese Encephalitis
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The German branch of the international Catholic relief group Caritas vaccinated 430,000 North Korean children against Japanese encephalitis earlier July, the group said on July 11.
The North Korean children vaccinated in the first round of anti-Japanese encephalitis vaccination programs on July 2 are those living in South Hwanghae Province, just north of the inter-Korean border, an official at Caritas Germany told Yonhap News Agency.
The group plans to vaccinate a total of 3.2 million North Korean children in the southern part of the country through four rounds of their vaccination programs by the end of this year, the official said.
The vaccination assistance programs will mostly benefit children living in the lower part of the North because those living in the upper part are relatively safe from the disease caused by the mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus, the official said.
Funds needed for the vaccination were raised through donations from Germany and other countries. Part of the funds was also drawn from South Korea's contribution given to the International Vaccine Institute, a non-profit international organization committed to preventing children in developing countries from contracting infectious diseases.
The South Korean Unification Minister, which handles inter-Korean affairs, decided late last year to donate 2.47 billion won (US$2.2 million) to help finance vaccination for North Korean children.
N. Korea Conducted Rocket Engine Tests in March, April: Think Tank
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is suspected of having carried out engine tests in late March and early April that could be a precursor to the development of a long-range rocket, a U.S. think tank said on July 11, citing recent satellite imagery.
According to "38 North," an analysis program of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the tests were conducted at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the west coast. It said imagery of the site and supporting equipment, such as fuel tanks and movement of trains, were all tell-tale signs of the tests.
It said there was no way to tell what kind of engines were tested or how many times tests were carried out, but it may likely have been for a large space launch vehicle. The Seohae station is used for launching what the North claims are space rockets, and not missiles.
"One possibility is that the test was part of Pyongyang's efforts to develop the recently announced Unha-9 (rocket) believed to be able to lift slightly heavier satellites into orbit," 38 North said.
It also said that the photos are an indication that the North has continued to upgrade its capabilities in the rocket technology area despite sanctions imposed by the international community.
The country also broke its own moratorium on new launches by firing off of the Unha-3 long-range rocket in December of last year, which triggered an outcry from the international community.
U.N. Says North Korea Trip by Ban's Aide 'Fruitful'
NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- A recent trip by the special sports adviser to the United Nations secretary-general was "fruitful" as it is expected to help lay the groundwork for promoting sports exchanges, a U.N. official said on July 11.
Wilfried Lemke, special adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, wrapped up a four-day visit to North Korea on July 9.
"During his mission, Wilfried Lemke met with the Minister of Sport and Chairman of the National Olympic Committee and other officials," Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said at a press briefing, according to a formal transcript released Thursday.
Lemke earlier said he plans to report his findings to Ban and follow up on the issues raised during the mission.
Ban, formerly a South Korean foreign minister, has constantly stated that he is willing to play any role in efforts to bring lasting peace to the peninsula.
He said he would visit North Korea under appropriate circumstances.
N. Korea's Missile Capability Not Proven Yet: Adm. Locklear
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- A top U.S. commander said on July 11 questions remain over North Korea's purported advanced missile capability.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, who leads the U.S. Pacific Command, pointed out the secretive nation has not yet proven that its mid-range and longer-range road-mobile missiles, Musudan and KN-02, can actually be deployed.
"At various stages of those capabilities, they have demonstrated or shown us something that looks like it might be real, but we have not seen, in the case of the Musudan or the case of the larger ICBM, have not seen a credible demonstration of that," Locklear said at a Pentagon press briefing.
Although North Korea succeeded in a space launch earlier this year, it remains uncertain whether the country has acquired the technology to deploy a nuclear warhead, he added.
In recent months, North Korea made near-daily threats to launch nuclear attacks on the U.S. and South Korea, but now has shifted to a peace offensive, offering high-level talks with Washington.
The admiral said North Korea should first present a verifiable plan for "total denuclearization."
"And that's kind of the bottom line entry of how you would get into a broader set of negotiation with North Korea at this time," he said.
He stressed the unpredictable nature of the North Korean regime.
It has calmed down after months of provocations and threats, but the next steps are uncertain, Locklear said.
He said history may be a guide, citing Pyongyang's track record of provocations, verbal threats, offers to talk and pursuit of some deals.
"We see the cycle going over and over time," he said.
Regarding the possibility of North Korea taking provocative action again, Locklear said, "I don't have a crystal ball on that. History would say that there would likely be one."
The Hawaii-based command has approximately 330,000 military and civilian personnel, which is about one-fifth of total U.S. military strength, according to its Web site.
N. Korea Prepares Military Parade for Armistice Anniversary
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has been mobilizing its military equipment and personnel for a massive parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War later in July, which is celebrated as "Victory Day" in the socialist state, a South Korean military source said on July 12.
Recent satellite imagery revealed that more than 10,000 North Korean soldiers were practicing for the military parade at Mirim Airport near Pyongyang, which is believed to be in preparation for the July 27 anniversary, the source said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
"Satellite imagery showed Scud, Nodong and Musudan missiles installed on mobile launchers," the source said, referring to the North's short-, medium- and long-range ballistic missiles. "Considering the fact that nearly all ground force equipment was present, there is a possibility that its long-range KN-08 missiles could appear at the end of the parade."
Pyongyang designated July 27 as the "Day of Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War" to praise founder Kim Il-sung's achievements in the three-year conflict and has considered it as one of its 10 national holidays. South Korea marks the day to commemorate the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the hostilities in the war.
In February, the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) unveiled its plan to hold a military parade, mass rally and fireworks show for the 60th anniversary this year.
Military officials in Seoul have been paying great attention to whether the communist regime would disclose its newest missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in the parade.
During the military parade last year to celebrate its founder Kim's 100th birth anniversary, Pyongyang presented some 880 pieces of its military equipment and for the first time revealed its KN-08 missiles to the international community.
N. Korea in Need of Food Assistance for 2.8 Mln Vulnerable Citizens
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea needs food assistance from the outside world to feed 2.8 million vulnerable citizens until the next harvest in October, a United Nations food organization said on July 12.
"An estimated 2.8 million vulnerable people require food assistance until the next harvest in October," the quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. said.
The report said chronic food insecurity exists in the North although the country's cereal harvest improved last year and remains normal as of early 2013.
Through imports and food assistance, the socialist country secured 725,500 tons of grains from the outside world during the January-early June period, the report said. A total of 459,100 tons were purchased from other countries while the rest represents food aid, according to the report.
The external food supplies slightly exceed the 657,000 tons of food assistance requirement the U.N. organization estimated for the North, the report showed.
Despite annual food aid and grain purchase from the outside world, part of the North Korean population is believed to be suffering from chronic food shortages due to distribution issues.
"The collapse of North Korea's rationing system deprived vulnerable people like children, pregnant women and aged people of access to foods ... the country is always in need of food assistance for the vulnerable class regardless of the amount of grains secured by the regime," said Kwon Tae-jin, an analyst at the Korea Rural Economic Institute.
The world food report also said the global grain production may grow 6.8 percent on-year to reach a record high of 2.48 billion tons this year.
The robust outcome expected for this year may help maintain the on-going stability in the global crop market as well as in the global rice price, the report noted.
Myanmar Rebel Group Holding Dozens of N. Korean Defectors
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Dozens of North Korean defectors are held by a rebel group in a Myanmar region bordering Thailand, and the group is demanding a ransom for their release, a South Korean activist claimed on July 12.
A total of 64 North Koreans are being used for slave labor in a rebel-controlled district, about 80 kilometers northeast of Tachilek, said Kim Hee-tae, an activist for North Korean human rights.
Kim said he learned of the enslavement from a South Korean missionary living in the region, known to be a transit point for North Korean defectors seeking to reach Thailand from China.
Male captives are being used for poppy growing while female captives are being forced to work in drug processing farms or alcohol manufacturing plants, Kim said.
The rebel group is demanding a ransom of US$5,000 per person, Kim quoted the missionary as saying.
The activist said he will soon arrange a mission to release the captured North Korean defectors, also calling on the South Korean government to step in for the release.
The South Korean government is currently working to verify Kim's claims, unification ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk said in a briefing earlier in the day.
North Korea Population Estimated at 24.7 Mln: Report
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has a population of 24.72 million as of July 1, a media report based on data provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) showed on July 13.
The numbers released by Radio Free Asia named the socialist country as the 49th most populous country in the world among 239 states checked.
It showed that 43.8 percent of the North's total population was between 25 to 54 years of age, with those under 14 making up 21.7 percent. The CIA report added that those between the age of 15 to 24 accounted for 16 percent of the all people in the country with those over 65 making up 9.5 percent.
The report said the North's population grew 0.53 percent on-year and that the rate of increase is generally slower than the other countries it checked. It added the country's birth rate was below average, although the life expectancy of a North Korean reached 69.5 years, up from 69.2 years in 2012. The average life expectancy of a North Korean man stood at 65.6 years, while corresponding numbers for women hit 73.5 years.
Compared to the average life expectancy of people living in South Korea, which stands at 79.5 this year, a North Korean can expect to live 10 years less than a person living in the South.
The findings by the intelligence agency, meanwhile, counted 300,000 more people than figures provided by the Bank of Korea that estimated the North's population at 24.42 million.
Pyongyang's official census released last December showed the population standing at 24.05 million as of 2008.
North Korean Refugees in U.S. Total 159: Report
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean escapees who are living in the United States is tallied at 159, a U.S. radio station reported on July 13.
The U.S. began accepting North Korean refugees after adopting the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004. Their number rose from nine in the 2006 fiscal year to 37 in 2008 and 22 last year, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said in a report, monitored in Seoul.
The report, written with data provided by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. State Department, said that from last October to the end of 2012, 13 North Koreans had obtained refugee status and were allowed into the country.
It did not give information on the number for this year.
The report said that the number of North Korean escapees allowed into the U.S. is very small, compared with more than 1.42 million other Asians who have been accepted by Washington.
One reason for the small number of North Korean refugees in the U.S. is because relatively few of them have sought asylum in the U.S., it said, adding that a long waiting time also turns them away to South Korea and other countries.
Seoul Says N. Korea 'Likely' Behind June 25 Cyber Attack
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The government on July 16 named North Korea as a suspect in the latest cyber attack against the presidential office website and dozens of other government offices and news outlets in Seoul.
The latest attack took place from June 25, the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, to July 1, in which the websites of 69 government and private organizations, including the prime minister's office, were attacked.
About 90 percent of the attacked websites and servers have been repaired, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
The ministry said the hackers in the latest attack used at least one IP address that had been used in previous attacks by North Korean hackers.
The hackers in the latest attack had used the identity of a hacktivist group, Anonymous, which in the past had launched a series of attacks against the websites of pro-North Korea organizations.
"The cyber attack seriously undermined the country's image by alternating the websites of symbolic government organizations, such as the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, and caused confusion in identifying the attackers by assuming the identity of the hacktivist group Anonymous," the ministry said in a press release.
The ministry said the methods, pattern and other characteristics of attacks used in the latest incident were also the same as those identified in previous attacks by the socialist North.
"In addition, the malware used in the latest attack against websites and in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks has been confirmed to be a variation of the malware found in the March 20 cyber attack (by North Korea)," it added.
Seoul Closely Watching N. Korean Ship Captured in Panama
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is closely watching a North Korean ship that was captured in Panama while carrying what appeared to be missile parts, a violation of the U.N. sanctions that ban arms trafficking, Seoul officials said on July 16.
Seoul's foreign ministry said it is verifying international media reports that a North Korean-flagged ship was seized by authorities in Panama while carrying undeclared military cargo that included missiles and non-conventional arms. The North Korean crew on board is currently under custody in Panama, according to the reports.
It is the first time that North Korea was spotted carrying missile items since Pyongyang was slapped with another round of U.N. sanctions in early March after it defiantly carried out its third nuclear test in February.
"We need to verify the facts first, but if (the seized items) are found to be materials for missiles, we can take actions as they violate the U.N. resolutions," a government source said, requesting anonymity.
The impoverished socialist nation has for decades developed missiles with varying capabilities. Last December it successfully launched a long-range rocket, which was seen by the international community as a covert test for its ballistic missile technology.
It is not yet clear whether the North has the technology to build a nuclear warhead for a missile.
U.N. sanctions bar the transport of all weapons to and from North Korea, apart from small arms. Several of the country's ships have been searched in recent years.
In September 2009, South Korean authorities searched four containers believed to be carrying weapons related to North Korea at the southern port city of Busan.
On the same day, the U.S. government voiced strong support for Panama's move to interdict a North Korean cargo ship allegedly carrying missile system parts.
"The United States strongly supports Panama's decision to inspect the DPRK (North Korea) flagged vessel," State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a press briefing.
The 14,000-ton Chong Chon Gang was attempting to cross the Panama Canal apparently on its way from Cuba to North Korea, with the suspected goods hidden under sacks of sugar, according to local authorities.
Based on an analysis of a related photo, London-based IHS Jane's Defence Weekly magazine said the cargo was equipment for a fire-control radar system used for surface-to-air missiles.
The U.S. department was cautious about the specifics of the shipment.
"It's going to take some time to confirm the details of this case, but that kind of export would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Ventrell said.
"Panama, as you know, is a close partner of the United States, and we stand ready to cooperate with Panama should they request our assistance," Ventrell said.
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