*** NEWS IN BRIEF
Kim Jong-un Guides Artillery Exercise against S. Korean Islands
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided artillery exercises that targeted South Korean islands in the Yellow Sea, the socialist country's media reported on March 14.
The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report monitored in Seoul said Kim oversaw live ammunition drills to test the capabilities of artillery batteries under real battle conditions.
It said that exercises were aimed at the islands of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong that lie just south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that acts as the de facto sea border between the two Koreas.
The North does not recognize the NLL and has tried to impose its own demarcation line that has been rejected by Seoul.
Kim's actions come as Pyongyang put its armed forces on high alert in response to the joint South Korea-U.S. Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military exercises that began in earnest on March 11. It also marks the first time that the North has specifically named South Korean territories for a possible strike, as they moved to ratchet up tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
In the past few days, the isolationist country said it will terminate the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean War (1950-53) and unilaterally claimed all nonaggression pacts between the two countries were null and void.
The North on several occasions has threatened to turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire" and boasted it has significant nuclear weapons capability to deal with outside aggressors.
The North's official news wire service did not give the exact date of the exercise or the units involved, but it likely took place on March 13 and involved batteries capable of targeting Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong.
It said the young leader, who holds the rank of marshal in the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), was pleased with the level of accuracy of the artillery units.
The KCNA said the goal of the exercise was to destroy the headquarters of the South Korean Army and Marine Corps units on the two islands as well as other military installations.
N. Korea Says Korean War Armistice Can Be Nullified Unilaterally
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's foreign ministry said on March 14 that the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean War (1950-53) can be nullified unilaterally.
The ministry spokesman, responding to an answer posed by the KCNA, said the supreme command of the KPA announced that the Armistice Agreement is null and void as of March 11, when South Korea and the United States kicked off its nuclear war exercises aimed at stifling Pyongyang.
Pyongyang said it will no longer respect the pact and warned it is now free to strike its enemies wherever it wants. This threat coupled with an announcement that the North will no longer respect all non-aggression pacts signed with South Korea in the past has raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which have steadily increased since the socialist country launched a long-range rocket in December and detonated a nuclear device on Feb. 12.
The announcement by Pyongyang comes as both Seoul and Washington said the ceasefire agreement can only be scrapped or changed if all signatories agree to it. They said that Pyongyang's one-side declaration does not invalidate the agreement and urged the North to respect the armistice.
However, the official from the North claimed that with the U.S. and South Korean forces engaged in conducting the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills, the North cannot be bound to the armistice.
"Unlike other pacts, the Armistice Agreement is not one that requires bilateral consent to be rendered invalid from its peculiar nature, and it can be naturally nullified if one side does not abide by it," the official said.
He added that the Armistice Agreement has long been invalid due to its systematic weakening by Washington and the unreasonable behavior of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) that has backed the U.S. for the last six decades. The UNSC passed a resolution condemning the nuclear test and agreed to slap a fresh round of sanctions on the country.
The spokesman said the only reason why the ceasefire pact signed in 1953 remained in place for so long was because Pyongyang exercised utmost self-restraint and patients. He added that any developments that occur in the future rest solely with the aggressors who tried to scrap the armistice pact from the outset.
N. Korean Leader Sends Congratulations to New Chinese President
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a message of congratulations to new Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 14, saying he hopes for closer friendship with the ally country.
"I would like to send warm congratulations to you on your election as president of the People's Republic of China," Kim said in the message carried by the country's state-run KCNA.
"It is the consistent stand of our party and the DPRK (North Korea) government to value and consolidate and develop the DPRK-China friendship," the message said.
"I wish you success in your responsible work in the belief that the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation between the DPRK and China will grow strong steadily and successfully thanks to the common efforts of the two sides," Kim also said.
Xi was formally named as China's president earlier in the day, replacing Hu Jintao and capping a once-in-a-decade leadership change in the world's second-largest economy.
The prompt reaction from the North came amid speculations of restrained relations between the two allies following China's role in the recent adoption of a United Nations resolution punishing the North for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.
Meanwhile, North Korean media belatedly reported on a key Chinese political conference on the day, triggering speculation about possible strains in bilateral relations following Pyongyang's third nuclear test on Feb. 12.
Radio Pyongyang, monitored in Seoul, reported that the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was held in Beijing from March 3 through Tuesday and was attended by such dignitaries as Xi Jinping, the general secretary of the Communist Party of China.
The report by the radio broadcaster, which caters to overseas audiences, marks the first time in several months that North Korea's state media covered a Chinese political event.
Local North Korean watchers said that in the past, the CPPCC received considerable coverage, with North Korean media reporting on it prior to the start of proceedings, instead of mentioning it two days after its close.
They said that the mention of Xi is also the first time that the North Korean press referred to the Chinese leader in 50 days.
N. Korea Accuses U.N. Chief of Defending U.S. "Hostile Acts" against Pyongyang
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea, in an unusual move, took a direct verbal swipe at the U.N. chief from South Korea on March 14, accusing him of slandering the socialist country in a bid to curry favor with the United States.
"U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recently let loose a string of invectives slandering the inviolable dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK, all the while defending the U.S. hostile acts against it," an unidentified North Korean foreign ministry said in the KCNA report, monitored in Seoul.
The North's criticism of Ban comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang is ratcheting up warlike rhetoric against the South and the U.S., condemning the allies' on-going war drills in the South Korean territory.
In a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in February, Ban agreed to join international efforts to deal with the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test, calling it an "enormously provocative act and a direct challenge to the global community."
According to published reports, Ban told Kerry at the meeting that "I have repeatedly called on the leadership of Pyongyang to give up its pursuit of nuclear programs and to instead focus on building a better future for the country’s people by addressing dire humanitarian and human rights situations."
Alluding to the remarks, the North's foreign ministry spokesman said in the KCNA report that "this proves that he has become so biased as to openly support the hostile forces in their moves for stifling and isolating a sovereign state, a U.N. member, oblivious of the elementary principle of activities as an official of the international body."
Ban had served as South Korea's foreign minister before becoming the U.N. chief in 2006. He was elected to a second, five-year term late last year.
North Korea Blames U.S., South Korea for Cyber Attack
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 15 accused its enemies of launching cyber attacks against its Internet servers as the socialist country threatens all-out war in response to ongoing South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises.
The KCNA monitored in Seoul said in a commentary that Internet servers operated by the state have come under intensive and persistent cyber attacks. It added that the cyber attacks are of significance because they are taking place while the United States and South Korea are conducting massive military exercises.
"These attacks cannot be construed otherwise than despicable and base acts of the hostile forces consternated by the toughest measures taken by the DPRK (against the joint exercises)," the report said in an English dispatch.
The commentary said that it is no secret that the U.S. and South Korea have bolstered their cyber forces to mount such attacks, hinting strongly that it views these two countries as being responsible for its Internet service disruption.
The KCNA said that Pyongyang will not remain passive to the cyber attacks carried out by its enemies that have reached grave levels and are part of a larger plan to stifle the North.
"They are seriously mistaken if they think they can quell the DPRK's voices of justice through such base acts," it said.
Meanwhile, the report of a cyber attack was first reported on March 13 when a Russian news wire service said access to the Internet in North Korea was blocked and that official sources believed the country may have come under a powerful cyber attack.
Independent reports indicated that the attacks began on March 13 morning and lasted until March 14 afternoon, and affected sites run by the media organization such as the KCNA and Rodong Sinmun, as well as other state-run Internet servers.
N.K. Calls for Wartime Patriotism Amid Increasing Tensions with Outside World
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is ramping up efforts to rally wartime patriotism among its citizens in what South Korean analysts say is a bid to unite its people behind the country's defiant stance against the outside world.
Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's mainstream newspaper published by the ruling WPK, carried a column calling for "the fatherland defending spirit (seen) in the 1950s" in its March 15 issue.
"Now that the country has virtually entered a time of war, the fatherland defending spirit of the 1950s has become a priceless sentimental asset and a source of encouragement," the column said.
The 1950s spirit indicates the will to risk bloodshed in "defending every inch of the fatherland," the column said, adding the strong patriotism helped the country defend itself in the fight against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War.
"Through the spirit, (citizens) should now be equipped with the determination and the boldness to drive the U.S. off of the globe in an full-scale showdown with the country," the newspaper said.
The same newspaper also carried a similar column last week, calling on the citizens to rekindle their strong patriotism. The most widely circulated newspaper often uses its columns to instill the governing party's ideas and outline policy decisions.
Analysts in South Korea said the latest campaign reflects the country's efforts to unite its people while the country tries to fend off criticism for conducting an underground nuclear test on Feb. 12.
"North Korea is trying to conjure up its experiences in the Korean War in order to give confidence in its fight against the U.S. to its citizens and to rally support for its regime," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the civil war.
More N. Koreans Using Tablet PCs to Access Intranet, Watch TV
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- More North Koreans are using locally made tablet PCs to surf the intranet and watch TV, a media report showed on March 15.
Choson Sinbo, the official newspaper of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, said there has been an increase in people owning tablet PCs with greater amount of data stored on various intranet Web sites that can be viewed by ordinary people.
An intranet is a computer network that uses Internet Protocol technology to share information and computing services within an organization or group.
It said tablet owners can view information on official sites such as the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang, and claimed there were up to 110 home pages in the country containing 300 million individual documents and data, mainly in the field of education.
The daily said the tablets are made by such companies as Pyongyang Informatics Center and can be used to take photos, record sound and video, replay music, and read books or documents. It said some devices made by the (North) Korean Computer Center can even be used to watch regular TV programs.
"It is not uncommon to see people using tablets in libraries and restaurants in Pyongyang," the paper published in Japan said.
It added that data can viewed on the intranet even from a person's home.
Related to the report, North Korea watchers in Seoul said the report is a sign that more people are using mobile devices compared to the past, but at the same time, reveals that Pyongyang is still not permitting its people to gain access to the Internet used by much of the rest of the world.
They said that only a handful of authorized people using special computers can actually surf the Internet.
N. Korea Threatens to Target S. Korean PM after Border Island Visit
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on March 16 condemned the South Korean prime minister's recent visit to a border island, where he vowed to retaliate against the North with greater forces if attacked amid rising tension on the peninsula.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won on March 15 visited the western border island of Yeonpyeong, which was bombarded by the North's artillery in 2010, to reassure residents and order soldiers to hit back "with forces 10 times" the size of any provocations by the communist nation.
A statement carried by the KCNA criticized the remarks by the first prime minister of the Park Geun-hye administration, warning he will be the "first target to be mowed down."
Chung's visit came as tensions have been simmering on the peninsula in recent weeks with Pyongyang escalating its bellicose rhetoric over tougher sanctions aimed at punishing the nation for its third nuclear test last month, and ongoing S. Korea-U.S. annual joint military exercises.
In response to the drills, Pyongyang cut the Red Cross line on March 11 that serves as a hotline between the two countries and has threatened to terminate the Armistice Agreement signed at the end of the Korean War. Seoul has said, however, the mutual agreement cannot be unilaterally canceled.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also recently made highly publicized military inspections to artillery units near the western border islands and ordered his soldiers to be ready for war, further escalating military tensions.
The shelling of Yeonpyeong, which came some eight months after the sinking of the South Korean Naval vessel Cheonan in the Yellow Sea that left 46 sailors dead, killed two soldiers and two civilians.
N. Korean Leader Calls for Concentrated Efforts to Build up Light Industry
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for concentrated efforts to build up the country's light industrial sector that has direct bearing on the lives of everyday people, state media reported on March 19.
The KCNA monitored in Seoul said Kim stressed the importance of the sector in a speech given at the national meeting of light industrial workers held on March 18 in Pyongyang.
"Kim Jong-un in his speech said that the light industrial front along with the agricultural front are the main fronts on which efforts should be focused in the drive for building an economic power and improving the people's living standards," the official news wire service reported.
It also said that Kim pointed out that light industry is the main target for the concentration of the country's resources, even under heightened tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula, the media report said.
The North detonated a nuclear device on Feb. 12, and threatened to turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire" for playing a leading role in pushing for fresh sanctions at the United Nations and for conducting joint military drills.
The KCNA said Kim emphasized the goal of the country is to prevent a new war from breaking out on the Korean Peninsula and to strive for economic growth under peaceful circumstances to highlight the superiority of Pyongyang's socialist system and hasten eventual unification of the two Koreas.
The news report said the leader pointed out that there is a pressing need to locally produce materials and parts for the light industrial sector and ordered the development of the chemical sector and build-up of regional manufacturing capabilities.
"It is necessary to make the most effective use of existing production potential to radically increase the production of consumer goods and push forward with the modernization of light industry, and make it the world's standard," the leader told people gathered at the meeting.
Kim, moreover, called for creating up-to-date managerial and corporate strategies, and doing away with the inflexible attitudes of workers and managers in the light industry field.
North Korea watchers in Seoul said the North Korean leader's latest remarks on light industry mirrors what he said in the New Year's address on Jan. 1. The light industry gathering is the first to be held in 10 years. The last time such a gathering was held was in late March 2003.
North Korea Warns of Military Response to U.S. B-52 Bomber
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea warned on March 20 that it will take military action should the United States deploy B-52 strategic bombers again on the peninsula.
"We are keeping close tabs on the activity of the B-52 strategic bomber," a spokesperson for the North's foreign ministry said, according to its official news agency KCNA.
If the bomber appears again over the Korean Peninsula, it won't be able to avoid a strong military response, added the unnamed spokesperson.
The U.S. sent B-52 bombers based on Guam to Korea for ongoing joint military drills, apparently in a show of firepower.
The B-52 Stratofortress, used since the 1950s, is capable of carrying out nuclear strikes.
U.S. military officials confirmed that the B-52s deployed in Korea for the exercises were part of the U.S. Pacific Command's Continuous Bomber Presence in the Pacific. They did not specify how many bombers were sent.
Pyongyang's foreign ministry claimed that it's an "intolerable provocation" to bring the means for a strategic nuclear strike onto the peninsula when it is on the brink of a war.
North Korea Launches Propaganda Podcast Series
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea made its debut as a podcast series distributer on March 20 as the country jumped into the popular media platform in a bid to propagate its socialist system.
The North's propaganda Web site Uriminzokkiri said in its posting on March 20 that 10 podcast feeds are now downloadable. The series produced by the North's multimedia propaganda unit include episodes titled "the time will prove" and "look at the determination and willpower of North Korea."
The production group consists of about 100 multimedia experts and is responsible for producing a variety of audio and video propaganda material as well as computer software.
The country also stepped into the social network sphere, and has spread feeds of propaganda messages or North Korean news through Facebook, Twitter and Youtube since August 2010.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un Ordered Rrocket Drill
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- As North Korea moves to ratchet up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, its leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his military to conduct mobile anti-aircraft rocket and unmanned combat air vehicle exercises, a state media outlet reported on March 20.
The KCNA said in a report, monitored in Seoul, that Kim issued the order to conduct the drills during an inspection trip to an unspecified military unit.
The report said Kim oversaw part of the exercises that aimed to destroy low-flying cruise missile as well as lauded the accuracy of unmanned attack drones and expressed satisfaction with his military's ability to counter U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles with surface-to-air rockets.
Kim also checked the capability of the North's attack drones to hit any target in South Korea, it said, adding that the leader made clear he will issue orders to destroy military and government targets in South Korea if provoked, and warned the country could raze U.S. bases all across the Pacific to the ground.
"The planes were assigned the flight route and time with the targets in south Korea in mind, Kim Jong Un said, adding with great satisfaction that they were was proved to be able to mount super precision attack on any enemy targets," the KCNA said in an English dispatch.
"He stressed the need to have at command the coordinates of every enemy target in the operational theater of south Korea and input them in precision drone attack means of the Korean style so that they should make point attack on any target any moment," the report added.
The report comes after the North warned earlier in the day that it will take military action against future deployment of U.S. strategic B-52 bombers over South Korea. The warning came in response to a U.S. announcement a day earlier that a B-52 bomber took part in ongoing joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises.
Analysts in Seoul said the KCNA report may have been aimed to show Pyongyang's ability to counter the B-52 threat. The long-range strategic bombers can carry cruise missiles as well as conventional high explosive bombs.
In the past few weeks, the North's communist regime has unilaterally scrapped the Korean War armistice and said it will no longer respect non-aggression pacts reached with Seoul in the past.
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