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North Korea-weekly review-5

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*** FOREIGN TIPS

U.S. Gov't Says N. Korea Continues Drug, Fake Cigarette Production

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government believes North Korea, with our without the government's help, is producing narcotics and counterfeit cigarettes for shipment to China, according to an annual report on March 6.

In the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the State Department said it has found no clear evidence that the North Korean regime is directly involved in such illegal activities.

But the United States "cannot entirely rule out the possibility of official DPRK (North Korea) state involvement in the manufacturing and trafficking of illicit drugs," says the report, issued earlier this week.

Citing witnesses' testimonies and multiple press reports, the department said a substantial volume of methamphetamine continues to be produced within the secretive socialist nation, mainly for transshipment to China.

"The proximity and availability of precursor chemicals in China likely contribute to the production of methamphetamine within North Korea," it added.

The department said there have been no confirmed reports of large-scale drug trafficking involving North Korea's state entities since 2004.

"This suggests that state-sponsored drug trafficking may have ceased or been sharply reduced, or that the DPRK regime has become more adept at concealing state-sponsored trafficking of illicit drugs," it said.

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White House Confident of Countering Possible N. Korean Attacks

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The White House said on March 7 that the U.S. remains undaunted by North Korea's growing military threats, including a missile attack.

"Let's be clear: We are fully capable of dealing with that threat," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

"I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack," he added, mentioning the U.S. military's recent success in testing an upgraded missile defense system.

North Korea has markedly intensified its threats of using military force against the U.S., even talking about a "preemptive nuclear strike," the scrapping of a 1953 armistice on the peninsula, and turning Washington into a sea of fire.

Pyongyang has been enraged by the U.N. Security Council's move to introduce new sanctions on it for a Feb. 12 nuclear test.

Carney said the unanimous adoption of the fresh resolution earlier in the day shows that the world stands united against Pyongyang's repeated provocations.

"The strength, breadth and severity of these sanctions show that the P-5 and the rest of the Security Council take seriously the North Korean threat," Carney said. "North Korea will now face, rather, new barriers to developing its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

P-5 refers to the five permanent members, including China.

The State Department said the U.S. government remains firmly committed to the defense of not only the homeland but also its regional allies, including South Korea and Japan.

"Let's just start by saying that this kind of bellicose rhetoric from the DPRK (North Korea) is not surprising," department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "It's not new."

Asked about whether Washington regards Pyongyang as just bluffing, Nuland tempered her tone.

"Obviously one has to take what any government says seriously," she said. "It's for that reason I repeat here that we are fully capable of defending the United States."

In Seoul, the top commander of the U.S. Forces Korea said the armistice that effectively ended the Korean War is crucial in maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula until a formal peace treaty is signed.

"For 60 years, the Armistice Agreement has ensured peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," Gen. James Thurman, who doubles as head the United Nations Command, said in a statement. "It concerns me when any signatory to a mutual agreement makes a public statement contrary to that agreement."

The UNC monitors the implementation of the armistice.

The Pentagon also said North Korea's threats will only further isolate it and undermine international efforts for peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

The United States is firmly committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability,” said Cathy Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

She added the ongoing joint defense-oriented training exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are designed to increase alliance readiness to defend South Korea, protect the region and maintain stability on the peninsula.

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N. Korea's Export of Labor to Middle East, Africa on Modest Rise

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has modestly increased the number of guest workers sent to the Middle East and Africa to earn hard currency for the cash-strapped regime, a senior Seoul diplomat said on March 7.

Impoverished North Korea recruits its people to work abroad and reportedly keeps most of their earnings, one of the few sources of hard currency for the isolated regime. Along with China and Russia, the Middle East and Africa are two of the major destinations for North Korean laborers.

South Korea has estimated that about 4,000 North Koreans are working in Kuwait, 2,000 in Qatar, 1,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 250 in Libya and 250 in Nigeria, the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

"The North's export of laborers has posted a modest rise as it suffers a decline in normal exports with foreign countries," the diplomat said.

"The new trend is that North Korea has sent technicians or scientists to the nations in the Middle East and Africa to help the countries build plants or provide technical assistance," the diplomat said.

A North Korean worker in Kuwait is believed to earn up to US$500 per month, but nearly four-fifths of the worker's monthly salary is directly deposited into accounts controlled by the North Korean government.

North Korea has sent its doctors and nurses to African nations, but it remains unclear whether the move is linked to the North's campaign of earning hard currency or purely humanitarian assistance, the diplomat said.

There are about 400 North Korean medical staff in Angola, 200 in Libya, 100 in Mozambique and 60 in Tanzania, the diplomat said.

"North Korea has recently increased the dispatch of its medical staff to the African region, but it is unclear whether the move is aimed at earning foreign currency," the diplomat said.

Last month, assailants in northeastern Nigeria killed three North Korean doctors, beheading one of them.

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Fewer North Korean Defectors Enter South Korea This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Fewer North Korean defectors entered South Korea in the first two months of this year, compared with a year earlier, Seoul's unification ministry said on March 10, due mainly to tightened border control in the socialist country.

"The number of North Korean defectors who entered the country is 206 as of the end of February," a ministry official said. The number for the first two months of this year represents 84.6 percent of the total 238 North Korean defectors who entered South Korea during the same period last year, according to data.

The fall came after the country had last year the lowest number of North Korean defectors coming to South Korea in seven years. A total of 1,508 North Koreans defected from their communist country and entered South Korea for resettlement in 2012.

The annual number of North Korean defectors first exceeded the 1,000-level in 2001 and stayed above the 2,000-level during the 2006-2011 period. The number had jumped to 2,929 in 2009.

"The number of North Korean defectors coming to South Korea is generally lower in January and February than other months," the ministry official said, adding the ministry may take time to determine whether the downward trend in inbound North Korean defectors that stared in early 2012 will continue into this year.

Previously, the government said the downward trend is attributable to tightened security on the border with China, the main defection route, under the Kim Jong-un regime which took power after the death of late leader Kim Jong-il in December 2011.

The total number of North Korean settlers exceeded the 24,000 mark as of late 2012 as more than a thousand North Koreans flee from their home country and settle in South Korea every year in search of political and economic freedom.

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U.S. Would Never Give in to North Korean Threats: Donilon

WASHINGTON/ NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's national security advisor, Tom Donilon, said on March 11 that his government will never succumb to North Korea's military threats, as U.S. authorities issued new bilateral sanctions on the communist nation.

"The United States will not play the game of accepting empty promises or yielding to threats," he said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York.

"The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear armed missile that can target the United States," he added.

Donilon said the U.S. will keep working with allies and partners to strengthen sanctions against North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile programs.

Donilon gave reassurances that the U.S. is fully ready to defend its territory and that of its allies.

"Recently, North Korean officials have made some highly provocative statements. North Korea's claims may be hyperbolic, but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt: we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea," he said.

Donilon said the international community, including China, should stay united against North Korea's bad behavior.

"We believe that no country, including China, should conduct 'business as usual' with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors," he said.

He said the Obama administration will continue to shift its diplomatic and military focus to the Asia-Pacific region despite huge defense budget cuts.

"Specifically, our defense spending and programs will continue to support our key priorities -- from our enduring presence on the Korean Peninsula to our strategic presence in the western Pacific," he said in his New York address.

"This means that in the coming years a higher proportion of our military assets will be in the Pacific," he added.

In a press briefing, the White House again urged the North Korean leadership to choose between peace and confrontation.

"We are certainly concerned by North Korea's bellicose rhetoric, and the threats that they have been making follow a pattern designed to raise tension and intimidate others," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea, he added.

Speaking separately to reporters, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Pyongyang's unilateral decision to nullify the Armistice Agreement is not valid.

"This is a mutual armistice and that one side can't withdraw without the concurrence of the other in legal terms," she said.

The agreement effectively ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Its signatories are the U.S.-led U.N. forces, North Korea and China.

It has not been replaced by a formal peace treaty, however, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

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Despite War Threats, N. Korean Border Units Hit by Growing AWOLs

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite repeated war threats from Pyongyang, an increasing number of North Korean soldiers have gone AWOL from their front-line combat units in recent months, sources in Seoul said on March 12, in a possible sign of rising discontent in the rank and file suffering from grueling winter training and food shortages.

"A recent analysis revealed the number of deserters in front-line military units has increased by seven to eight times compared to the same period of the previous year," a source said, asking for anonymity as he is not allowed to talk about military information. "Military and government officials are closely looking into the cause of the rise in desertions."

Front-line troops are grappling with difficulties in hunting down runaway soldiers while carrying out extensive drills in response to South Korea-U.S. joint exercises, the source said.

"Most of them are rank-and-file soldiers," another source said, asking for anonymity. "Frequent training without offering enough food may have led to their desertions."

While the North has carried out regular winter drills from December to February in the past several years, this year's training was extended to March, which is seen as a response to annual joint drills by South Korean and U.S. forces that began earlier this month.

Although Pyongyang has issued daily threats to launch an all-out war against Seoul and Washington, some question whether the impoverished nation is capable of making a pre-emptive attack when there's a great risk of retaliation.

While tensions have further escalated since Pyongyang threatened to scrap the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War and void non-aggression treaties signed with the South, a senior defense ministry official doubted whether its announcement means a declaration of a full-scale war, saying: "Barking dogs don't bite."

The threats in extreme language followed a new round of U.N. Security Council sanctions led by Seoul and Washington in response to Pyongyang's third nuclear test last month.

Seoul and Washington say the military exercises are defensive, but Pyongyang routinely denounces them as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

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North Korea Fielding Mobile ICBM: U.S. Intelligence Chief

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea seems to have taken "initial steps" to deploy mobile long-range missiles, the head of the U.S. intelligence community said on March 12, as the unpredictable communist nation churns out military threats.

"Last April it displayed what appears to be a rogue mobile intercontinental ballistic missile," James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, said at a Senate hearing on national security challenges. "We believe North Korea has already taken initial steps towards fielding this system, although it remains untested."

He was apparently talking about North Korea's military parade in April last year, in which what seems to be a new long-range missile was made public.

Clapper, formerly an Air Force general, has long worked in the intelligence sector. In the 1980s, he worked as director of intelligence for U.S. Forces Korea.

He expressed concern about Pyongyang's recent bellicose statements. It has warned of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" against South Korea and the U.S. and the nullification of the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which has served as a basic tool for shaky peace on the peninsula for decades.

"The rhetoric, while it is propaganda laced, is also an indicator of their attitude and perhaps their intent," Clapper said. "So for my part I am very concerned about what they might do and they are certainly, if they chose -- so chose could initiative a provocative action against the South."

In an annual report to Congress submitted earlier, Clapper said the North may attempt to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if its leadership, led by Kim Jong-un, known to be in his late 20s, feels a threat to its survival.

"Although we assess with low confidence that the North would only attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or allies to preserve the Kim regime, we do not know what would constitute, from the North's perspective, crossing that threshold," he said in the report on global security issues. "We do not know Pyongyang's nuclear doctrine or employment concepts."

The possibilities of North Korea launching a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile towards the U.S. or its allies have drawn keen attention in the U.S. capital in recent weeks.

North Korea apparently conducted a successful nuclear test in February in the wake of managing to launch space rocket in December.

"North Korea has already demonstrated capabilities that threaten the United States and the security environment in East Asia," Clapper said.

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