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Another SK Official Expelled From NK; Progress in the 6PT

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North Korea has requested that an official working on an inter-Korean family reunion center be expelled, reports the Hankyoreh:

North Korea expelled Thursday a South Korean official from the construction site of an inter-Korean family reunion facility in its Mount Geumgang resort, a government spokesman said.
“A working level official withdrew from the construction site of the inter-Korean family reunion facility in Mount Geumgang between 4:30 and 5 p.m. today at the request of the North Korean side,” the spoksman[sic] said.

He added that the measure was in accordance with the North Korean position that it would not allow any South Korean government officials to cross the military demarcation line.
North Korea has warned that it would block the passage of South Korean officials across the demarcation line following remarks made by the chairman of the Suth[sic] Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff

This is the same family reunion center that was in the news earlier this year following allegations North Korea “diverted” millions of dollars worth of cash intended to help with the facility’s construction.

North Korea’s latest move is part of larger series of moves taken by North Korea over the past weeks to highlight their disapproval of the South’s new government,  among other things. North Korea is trying to keep the current state of hostilities at a low roil without getting the situation too agitated. Expect minor tit-for-tat measures to continue for the foreseeable future, unless a major breakthrough in the Six-Party Talks emerges.

We move to that story now.    

Major Western news outlets are now more optimistic in their assessment of Christopher Hill and Kim Gye Gwan’s Singapore meeting. Yesterday, Hill was tightlipped about progress, while North Korea’s KCNA trumpeted a major breakthrough. Hill now says they have “found a way forward,” and that we should expect moves in the next couple of weeks to solve the deadlock. No specifics were given, but Yonhap, via Hankyoreh reports:

The envoy repeatedly emphasized that the second phase of the denuclearization agreements involved a package of different elements, suggesting that the U.S. would be ready to act on its promised incentives to Pyongyang.
The second phase sequences disabling of North Korea’s main reactor and provision of the declaration, and the U.S. starting the process to remove Pyongyang from the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Washington would also lift sanctions on the North imposed under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack reaffirmed that the U.S., along with other members of the six-party talks, is prepared “to fulfill our obligations, as North Korea fulfills its obligations.”
Thursday’s House briefing was heard by most of the committee members and their staff.
“I think it went okay,” said Hill. “They asked very fair questions.”

The Washington Post’s Glenn Gessler further elaborates. According to his sources, the U.S. may be prepared to lift two key sanctions against the North:

But after negotiations this week in Singapore and last month in Geneva, the United States and North Korea agreed that Pyongyang must “acknowledge” the allegations without precisely admitting them publicly.
That paves the way, diplomats said, for President Bush to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and to exempt it from the Trading With the Enemy Act.
U.S. officials have concluded it is more important to persuade North Korea to surrender its weapons-grade plutonium — enough for perhaps half a dozen weapons — than for the process to collapse over the impasse, according to Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator.

Assuming the North throws up no further roadblocks (a pretty big assumption), inter-Korean tensions may subside in the next few weeks. There is still a long way to go in this process. One wild card is the military: to what extent has the military been involved in fomenting the latest spasm of tension?  I have speculated before that the military, fearing it is losing its primacy in North Korean society, may be trying to reestablish its dominance by creating a minor crisis situation. Of course, that’s just my own idle hypothesizing.  

But Kim Jong Il is facing a desperate situation at home and needs to start earning foreign currency and collecting aid so he can feed his people. A breakthrough probably bodes well for regional peace, but it does not bode well for reform in North Korea.


Written by nkmonitor

April 11, 2008 at 4:47 am

“Worse Than the Arduous March”

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Citing unnamed sources, Good Friends (via the Hankyoreh) is reporting that North Korea is now in its “worst ever” food crisis, as food rations remain suspended even in the main grain belts and the capital. In an unprecedented step, authorities announced that Pyongyang citizens will not get rations until September this year. No word on how long the provinces will have to wait. Never before has such a drastic move been taken.  Even more foreboding:

A grim prediction is spreading that there will be massive deaths from famine in provincial areas of the impoverished country around May, [the Good Friends report] also said.
Rumors are circulating around major cities such as Pyongyang and Hamhung and Chongjin, both on the North’s east coast, that the North will begin to see massive deaths from famine from this month, [an unnamed North Korean] official claimed.

As rumors of famine circulate, North Korea is now threatening “unspecified countermeasures” against the South, after South Korean military authorities refused to apologize for a hypothetical remark made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Kim Tae-Young at a hearing before South Korea’s National Assembly earlier this week. According to the Mail and Guardian, North Korea will cease all dialogue with the South. However, how extensive the cessation will be was not made clear. Mail and Guardian talked to two North Korea analysts who believe the North will continue to rachet up tensions:

Yang Moo-Jin, of the University of North Korean Studies, said the North is following a pre-set plan to raise tensions.

Yang, speaking before the KCNA announcement, said it was expected to ban officials from crossing the land border and was “highly likely to engage in military muscle-flexing”.

“It may fire short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea, have its warships manoeuvre near the Northern Limit Line [sea border] and engage in provocative activities along the [land] border.”

Kim Yong-Hyun, of the University of Korea, forecast similar actions but said the North would be careful not to trigger an actual clash, since this would harden public opinion in the South.

Analysts believe it wants to sway the outcome of next week’s parliamentary election against the conservatives.

Written by nkmonitor

April 3, 2008 at 8:58 am

NHK: North Korea Exported Rocket Launchers to Myanmar; violated UN sanctions

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New revelations suggest that North Korea has been exporting rocket launchers to the Myanmar, in violation of UN sanctions. The exports began just after Myanmar and North Korea restored diplomatic ties two years ago and were carried out through a Singapore-based trading company. NHK reports:

The rockets used with the launchers are said to measure 240 millimeters in diameter and about a meter in length, and have a range of about 65 kilometers.

North Korea is believed to have a number of such multiple-tube launchers deployed along the demilitarized border with South Korea.

The UN Security Council adopted a sanctions resolution against North Korea following its nuclear tests in October 2006. The resolution bans the country from exporting or importing nuclear material, ballistic missiles and other types of conventional weapons.

The reports of North Korean exports of weapons to Myanmar, a fellow military dictatorship, has raised concerns in the United States and South Korea.
North Korea has been cut off from international economic assistance due to a deadlock in the six-party talks on its nuclear disarmament.

Myanmar  has been in the process of upgrading its military hardware, and many suspect that North Korea, which increasingly relies on arms exports to earn foreign currency, is playing the role of supplier. Last year, Myanmar came to world attention when the ruling military junta conducted a brutal and bloody crackdown on peaceful, anti-government demonstrations.

A second NHK article on North Korean-Burmese ties notes:

They say Myanmar had been buying small arms from North Korea through mediation by China and Singapore even before restoring diplomatic ties with the North last year.

The restoration of ties is believed to have enabled Myanmar to buy larger weapons from the North.

As for North Korea, a Japanese university professor and expert on Korean Peninsula affairs says North Korea has increasingly relied on arms export to obtain foreign currency, as it is getting difficult to do so through drug trading and counterfeiting.

He said North Korea may expect the United States to be less critical of its export of rocket launchers to Myanmar than of its suspected transfer of nuclear technology to countries including Syria.

Written by nkmonitor

April 3, 2008 at 1:02 am

NK’s War of Words Rolls On

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After almost a month of silence, the Rodong Shinmun–mouthpiece of the (North) Korean Workers Party—has rolled out its standard anti-imperialist invectives for Lee Myung Bak. Among its choice epithets for  Lee were “sycophant towards the United States,” “anti-North confrontation advocator,” and  “traitor Lee Myung-bak.” The unsigned commentary also warned that Lee would be responsible for regressing inter-Korean relations:

“The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed by the freezing of the inter-Korean relations and the disturbance of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula (Korea Times)”

Blustery rhetoric and hyperbole is to be expected from the Rodong Shinmun, so it’s important to take the actual contents of this commentary with a grain of salt. Trying to discern the North’s actual intent—whether this is just empty posturing, a cry for help, or something deeper—is more difficult. 

Back in Washington, the State Department made an official statement regarding the sudden downturn in inter-Korean relations. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey told reporters “that some of the rhetoric that we’ve seen is necessarily helpful (Korea Times).” The U.S. has made quite clear what it expects of North Korea: a full and complete declaration. North Korea has balked at providing an adequate declaration that includes details of a highly-enriched uranium program.

“I think [the North Koreans] are still very interested in trying to get through the declaration,” Christopher Hill told reporters at the beginning of a 9-day swing through Asia. Hill still remains optimistic about a resolution in the near future.  “I think tempers are getting shorter. Patience is certainly getting frayed…When and if we meet, whenever it comes, it has to be a meeting in which we really can finally resolve it.” Most significantly, Hill, who believes we are in the final stages of a resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue, believes differences between the six parties are “getting smaller (Korea Times)”

Hill will not travel to Pyongyang, but State had no comment when asked whether Hill would meet with North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan in a third country (Yonhap).

Written by nkmonitor

April 1, 2008 at 2:21 am

BREAKING NEWS: North Korea “Test Fired” Missiles

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The latest development in rapidly deteriorating North-South relations. From Bloomberg:

North Korea may have fired short- range missiles into waters off its west coast as part of a regular military exercise, a South Korean government official said. The Defense Ministry is trying to confirm the launches.

The official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, couldn’t say how many missiles were launched. North Korea fired “several” missiles at about 10:30 a.m. Seoul time today, Yonhap News reported earlier.

The launches came as Kim Jong Il’s regime accused the U.S. of delaying six-nation negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Efforts by South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia to persuade North Korea to disarm are deadlocked after the communist country missed a Dec. 31 deadline to declare its nuclear programs. North Korea and the U.S. failed to break the impasse during talks in Geneva earlier this month.

UPDATE 1: From Associate Press:

South Korea says North Korea’s latest missile launches appear to have been part of routine training.

The North reportedly launched the short-range missiles earlier Friday in apparent anger over the new South Korean government’s tougher policy on its communist neighbor.

South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan told reporters that Seoul was “closely monitoring the situation.”

The launches came as the North issued a stern rebuke to Washington over an impasse at nuclear disarmament talks.

The communist country warned that the Americans’ attitude could “gravely” affect the continuing disablement of Pyongyang’s atomic facilities.

UPDATE 2: According to the DailyNK’s sources*, North Korea had been planning on conducting this test for the past few days. The missile tested was a Styx Anti-ship missile. According to one of my own sources, the test may be related to the Six-Party Talks stalement:

우리 군과 정부 관계부처는 북한군이 지난 25일부터 이틀간 서해 북방한계선 부근 해역에 고속정 한 척을 대기시키고 단거리 미사일 발사를 준비하는 모습을 포착한 것으로 알려졌습니다.

Offices related to our [South Korea’s] military and government announced that they knew that the North Korean military, starting on the 25th and for the two days after, had a high-speed boat waiting in the vicinity of the Northern  boundry line  and appeared to be preparing to launch a short range missile.

북한군이 발사를 준비했던 미사일은 사거리 46km의 옛소련제 스틱스 대함 미사일로 실제로는 발사되지는 않았습니다.
The missile launched by the North’s military had a range of 46km and was a Styx Missile from the former USSR.  

*No English version as of yet English version here.

UPDATE 3: The Blue House has officially confirmed the test. Blue House spokesman Lee Dong Kwan told reporters in Seoul: 

“We are monitoring the situation…I believe that North Korea would not want to jeopardize inter-Korean relations”

Bloomberg quotes Baek Seung Joo, of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis who believes

Kim is “putting pressure” on South Korean President Lee Myung Bak’s  administration in an effort to influence its North Korea policy, said Baek Seung Joo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis in Seoul. “It is flexing its muscles to warn Lee that inter-Korean relations can be sacrificed if he pursues a hard-line policy.”

UPDATE 4: Jon Herskovitz, via Reuters, added the following:

At about the same time as the reported missile launch, North Korea’s official media launched a rhetorical volley at the United States, blaming it for pushing six-country talks aimed at scrapping the North’s nuclear arms plans into deadlock.

“If the United States continues to delay the resolution of the nuclear problem by insisting on something that doesn’t exist, it could have a grave impact on the disablement of the nuclear facility that has been sought so far,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

He concluded with this quote by USFK commander General B.B. Bell:

“If North Korea should attack … we will defeat them quickly and decisively and end the fight on our terms,” General B. B. Bell said earlier on Friday, before the reported missile launch.

UPDATE 5: The LA Times also muses about a possible link between today’s test and the stalled Six-Party Talks:

One of the reasons why the North may be feeling ignored is that the United States is preoccupied with a presidential election and seems unlikely to be pushing for any major breakthroughs in the laboring six-nation nuclear talks, Cheng said.

North Korea also is angry at Washington for maintaining that Pyongyang is still pursuing a uranium-based atomic bomb program, and asserts that it has taken steps to prove that the charge is untrue. “The United States is clinging to shabby magic to make us a criminal in order to save face,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the government’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“If the United States keeps delaying the resolution of the nuclear issue . . . it could gravely affect disablement of nuclear facilities,” the statement said.

North Korea had agreed last year to shut down and disable its sole functioning nuclear reactor, at Yongbyon, and other atomic facilities in exchange for aid and political concessions. Washington has insisted that it still has not received a full account of the North’s nuclear activities.

Now Pyongyang may be growing impatient, especially at the end of a harsh winter in which fuel and food shortages could be at their worst.

South Korean President Lee, who took office a month ago, has taken a tougher line toward the communists to the north than his predecessors, including threatening to link future economic cooperation with the resolution of the nuclear standoff, said Hak Soon Paik, a North Korean expert at the South’s Sejong Institute.

More details as I get’em.

Written by nkmonitor

March 28, 2008 at 5:27 am

Kim Yong Nam Visits Africa

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Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s second-in-command and the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, embarked on 3-nation tour of Africa, reports the KCNA (via IHT). No official reason for the trip was given but:

Nam Bok-rim, an official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said the trip was seen as part of North Korea’s recent attempt to boost ties with developing countries (IHT).

North Korea, it seems, is trying to break out of the shell of isolation is has inhibited since its nuclear test in 2006. Perhaps North Korea is trying to establish economic relations with these countries, a la China’s Africa policy?

Written by nkmonitor

March 19, 2008 at 4:07 am

Hyundai Economic Research Institute: Soaring Grain Prices May Lead To Unrest

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The Hyundai Economic Research Institute, via Chosun Ilbo, reports that they

[believe] that surging international grain prices may worsen North Korea’s food shortage and lead to other serious problems in the country. In a report released on Sunday, the Hyundai Economic Research Institute said, “Soaring international grain prices will further worsen North Korea’s food shortage and encourage more North Koreans to flee the country. This will very likely lay a big stumbling block to North Korea’s opening and create instability for Northeast Asia as well.”
If it is protracted, the upward rise of grain prices caused by short supply will have serious effects on global food security. This, in turn, may cause wide-spread starvation, produce more refugees, and cause regional armed clashes, the research institute said.
In order to attain food security, the research institute urged the South Korean government to enhance its food self-sufficiency and lay a stable foundation for food supply by strengthening cooperation with neighboring countries in cultivating food crops on undeveloped land. The institute also called on the government to seek strategic cooperation with North Korea in the agricultural sector.

Written by nkmonitor

March 17, 2008 at 12:18 am