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*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)
N. Korea Set to Celebrate Kim Il-sung's Birth Anniversary amid Sanctions
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- With North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's birthday approaching next month, North Korea appears set to celebrate his 101st birth anniversary on April 15 with gala events as it did before. The Pyongyang regime has designated the birthday as the Day of the Sun while holding various political, cultural and social events through spending huge amounts of money.
Despite its economic hardships, the impoverished country honors not only the North Korean founder, but also his son and late leader Kim Jong-il who died in December 2011.
Under the dynastic rule of North Korea, the birthday of its founding president, Kim Il-sung, is one of the most important holidays.
With its fanatical worship of the Kim family akin to a state religion, North Korea spares no expense each year to celebrate the birthdays of its deceased leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung despite its moribund economy and impoverished populace.
For the 71st birthday of Kim Jong-il on Feb. 16 this year, the country held a variety of ceremonies and events aimed at promoting his "brilliant achievements and good images" and shoring up his massive personality cult.
With new leader Kim Jong-un heavily reliant on the legacies of is father and grandfather to justify his ascension to power, North Korea has pushed efforts to build up Kim Jong-il's personality cult into full gear since the leader's death on Dec. 17, 2011.
The Feb. 16 birthday of Kim Jong-il, known in the North as the Day of the "Kwangmyongsong," or the Shining Star, was designated as an important national holiday in 1995, and has been widely celebrated every year since.
Starting in mid-March, the North is set to hold cultural events, festivals, public gatherings and international forums in honor of Kim Il-sung's birthday. Rising tensions with the international community over its defiant rocket launch and nuclear test have apparently not dampened the celebratory mood, as people across the country and overseas are likely to join in on the festivities.
Although the North has not yet announced the schedules of the birthday festivals in detail, foreign countries have already begun to organize their preparatory committees to make the Day of the Sun as a celebratory event. According to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 15, a preparatory committee of the Socialist Unionist Party of Syria was inaugurated on March 6 to mark Kim Il-sung's birthday. The committee decided to organize diverse political and cultural events for the birth anniversary, the most auspicious holiday common to mankind, the KCNA said
A seminar on the Juche (self-reliance) idea, initiated by Kim Il-sung, for the building of independent and peaceful Latin America was held in Mexico on March 8. Seen in the venue of the seminar were photos on the noble revolutionary careers and immortal exploits of President Kim Il-sung, leader Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
On March 16, the KCNA reported that a national meeting took place at the April 25 House of Culture to mark the 90th anniversary of the "1,000-ri journey" for learning covered by Kim Il-sung. The KCNA report said that 90 years have passed since Kim Il-sung made a 1,000-ri long journey for learning. The "1,000-ri Journey for Learning" of school youth and children started in March 1974. Since then, more than 500,000 school youth and children have taken part in the journey.
While the North Korean regime spent a huge amount of money for celebrating the birthdays of the late leaders, there is a report that North Korean diplomats sold millions of dollars worth of drugs.
North Korea sent a large amount of illegal drugs to its embassy in an East European country last December and ordered diplomats there to sell them for cash by early April, a diplomatic source claims. "South Korean intelligence obtained the information from a North Korean agent who defected recently," the source said. "Similar orders were delivered to other North Korean embassies."
North Korea has ordered each diplomat to raise US$300,000 to prove their loyalty and mark the birthday of the nation's founder Kim Il-sung on April 15. Each North Korean diplomatic mission overseas is required to send back around $100,000 to the North each year, the agent-turned-defector allegedly said. They used to complain that new leader Kim Jong-un is too demanding.
Each North Korean diplomat is estimated to have been given up to 20 kg of drugs, so the North Korean embassy in the East European country may seek to sell around 200 kg.
Under the guidance of Room 39, a secretive agency that managed the private coffers of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the North has been producing various types of illegal drugs and selling them abroad. South Korean authorities estimate North Korea's annual output of illicit drugs amount to 3,000 kg, which translates into revenues of between $100 million and $200 million.
North Korea mass-produces the illegal drugs in factories in Chongjin and Hungnam under tightly regulated conditions, and as a result the quality is top-notch, said one intelligence official here. "North Korean drugs are highly sought-after overseas."
A large amount of illegal drugs in circulation here are North Korean in origin and smuggled through China. "Drugs are sent from North Korea several times a year by ship or trucks," the diplomat quoted the defector as saying. "An embassy staffer meets up with smugglers at a secret location to get them."
One of the main duties of North Korean diplomats is to change counterfeit money into real money and send it back, according to a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea in 2011. He said one North Korean embassy in Eastern Europe generated US$30 million per year through exchanging counterfeit notes.
North Korea manufactures so-called supernotes or high-quality counterfeit $100 bills and hands them to embassies for laundering. "The supernotes are delivered at a certain time each year by ship or plane," he said. "An agent working at the embassy goes to a safe house and brings a box full of them."
When the bills arrive, embassy staff bundle them up into $10,000 units. They then travel to major cities in their host country to exchange the money. Sometimes they are caught, but the North carefully studies the different types of punishment in different countries and gives the information to diplomats, the defector added.
After the fakes are exchanged into the host country's currency, the money is exchanged again into real U.S. dollars. And diplomats do not stay long in the cities where they exchange the money. Diplomats also frequently use casinos to launder their money.
North Korean diplomats also use supernotes to buy millions of dollars worth of gifts to send back to the North every year to mark nation founder Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15 and the birthday of his son, Kim Jong-il, on Feb. 16.
North Korea is believed to have spent a huge amount of money on the latest nuclear detonation. Seoul's intelligence authorities estimate the expense for the atomic blast at roughly US$1.1 billion to $1.5 billion, pointing out the North's spending on nuclear weapons and missile programs is unquestionably the key factor causing the isolated country's sustained economic hardships. Also, Seoul officials said Pyongyang has spent some $2.8 billion to 3.2 billion for both the missile and nuclear development, an amount that could procure about 10 million tons of corn to feed its starving people.
But North Korea's bellicosity has never ceased. Besides the nuclear and missile tests, North Korea conducted combustion testing for the engine of a mobile long-range missile presumed only a day before its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. The missile is presumed to be the KN-08, an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 to 6,000 km. It was unveiled in a military parade on Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday on April 15 last year.
A South Korean government official said the North carried out combustion testing at a missile launch site in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province on Feb. 11. Seoul presumes that the North is still conducting testing to improve the engine, which suggests it will be difficult for the regime to test-launch a real missile soon.
Last year, the North celebrated Kim Il-sung's 100th birthday, timed with the self-proclaimed goal of becoming a "thriving nation." Through all the political and military events, the Pyongyang regime showed the world that it has now completed the three generation power succession from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and then Kim Jong-un.
The culmination of the festivities took place on April 15 when a massive military parade was held in Pyongyang. The event was held two days after the country failed to launch a long-range rocket into space. North Korea celebrated the founder's birth anniversary with the apparent intention of signaling, both domestically and internationally, the official beginning of the Kim Jong-un era.
On April 14 last year, North Koreans gathered en masse in a stadium in Pyongyang to celebrate Kim Il-sung's 100th birth anniversary. At the national meeting held at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang, Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, lauded the birth of Kim Il-sung as a momentous event in the history of the Korean people.
A Seoul official said North Korea has spent anywhere between $300 million and $800 million every five or 10 years on the April 15th celebrations, and it was expected to spend at least $1 billion last year. That is more or less the entire $1.15 billion it earned from selling anthracite and other natural resources to China in 2011.
Weeks before the ceremony last year, North Korea held a series of lavish events to celebrate the completion of power plants, factories and buildings.
North Korea gave new uniforms to all schoolchildren to mark the birth anniversary. The KCNA said uniforms were provided to all primary and secondary schoolchildren and students attending universities. The media outlet said the distribution of uniforms is the legacy of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il.
Besides giving out uniforms, the KCNA said Kim Jong-un gave 2.32 billion won (US$2.04 million) in scholarships to children of Korean nationals in Japan who have supported the North Korean regime.
The April Spring Friendship Art Festival, held from April 11 to 19, reportedly brought together about 800 artists from 23 countries, including China, Russia, France and Italy. A state book exhibition was opened at the People's Palace of Culture on April 10. Displayed in the venue are at least 30,000 publications of more than 20,000 kinds published in the DPRK (North Korea) and other countries, including works of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
Despite the moribund economy and food shortages, the regime was expected to spend at least $2 billion for the festivities, according to a South Korean government source, which may give the illusion of prosperity to the North Korean people.
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