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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 280 (Sept. 26, 2013)

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

*** NEWS IN BRIEF

S. Korean Weightlifters Win Medals in Competition in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- All four junior weightlifters from South Korea have won medals in an international competition underway in North Korea, leading to the South Korean flag and anthem being raised and played in the socialist nation for the first time.

Kwon Ye-bin won bronze in the women's junior 69 kilogram event at the Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship on Sept. 13, becoming the first South Korean athlete to raise the country's national flag in the North, according to the Korea Weightlifting Federation in the South.

Subsequently, Lee Jae-kwang won silver in the men's junior 94 kilogram event on Sept. 14.

Later on Sept. 14, Kim Woo-sik and Lee Young-gun, the only competitors in the 85 kilogram category, automatically won gold and silver. Kim's gold made it possible for the South Korean national anthem to be played in North Korea for the first time.

North Korea's state TV broadcast some of the events, including those involving Kim and Lee in the Sept. 14 events as well as their medal ceremony. The recorded broadcast identified the two as South Korean athletes, with the South's national flag showing at the bottom of the screen. The footage also briefly showed the South Korean flag rising during the medal ceremony.

The South Korean national weightlifting team on Sept. 10 arrived in Pyongyang via Beijing to participate in the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Junior and Senior Weightlifting Championship in the North Korean capital.

Late August, North Korea invited South Korean weightlifters to enter the event. In early September, the unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs in Seoul, approved the cross-border trip by the delegation. Pyongyang also vowed to guarantee the safety of South Korean representatives.

The North also approved the hoisting of the South Korean national flag and playing of its national anthem on the socialist country's soil for the first time in history.

The South Korean athletes' visit comes on the heels of reconciliatory moves from both sides. The two Koreas recently reached a deal to reopen a shuttered joint industrial park in the North's border city of Kaesong, and later to arrange reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean athletes last competed on North Korean soil in 2003, during an inter-Korean basketball and football event.

In July this year, the North Korean women's national football team visited South Korea to compete in the East Asian Cup tournament, its first trip here since 2005. North Korea ended up winning the four-nation event over South Korea, Japan and China.

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North Korea Holds First Posts and Telecommunications Meeting in 10 Years

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A national meeting of personnel in the field of posts and telecommunications was held in Pyongyang on Sept. 16, the first such gathering in 10 years.

The North held the last nation-wide telecommunications meeting in October 2003 to encourage people serving in the communications field to lead the vanguard in modernizing the telecommunication industry in order to meet international standards.

The North's Korean Central Television Station reported the latest national meeting was held at the April 25 House of Culture. In attendance were Premier Pak Pong-ju, people's armed forces minister Jang Jong-nam, and other key officials from the Workers' Party of North Korea, armed forces and the Cabinet.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's letter "On Bringing About a Fresh Turn in Posts and Telecommunications" was delivered by Premier Pak to the participants at the meeting.

In the letter, Kim said that "Generalissimos Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il advanced Juche-oriented ideas and theories concerning the posts and telecommunications services, which indicated ways of modernizing it as required by the developing revolution, and devoted themselves to its modernization."

The letter also clarified ways for personnel in the field of posts and telecommunications to elevate their service to an international, advanced level as early as possible.

The letter called on all participants to bring about a fresh turn in the service by successfully discharging their honorable duties and missions in the spirit of devotedly serving the country and people.

Twenty years ago, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader Kim Jong-un, sent a letter to the national meeting of communications in Pyongyang on Aug. 25, 1993.

During the latest meeting, Vice-Premier Jon Sung-hun made a report, which referred to the remarkable development made by the service thanks to the "patriotic devotion and energetic leadership provided by the Generalissimos."

"The posts and telecommunications service has successfully performed its mission and role in the important work for building a thriving nation and improving the people's living standard," Jon said.

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North Korea Sets up Modern Brewery in Haeju

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea completed construction of a brand new brewery in Haeju city that has up-to-date production facilities, the communist country's leading newspaper said on Sept. 19.

Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea, said the brewery has fermentation, filtering, cold storage and bottling facilities that will allow it to produce alcoholic beverages to benefit people.

It said trial runs have been successfully carried out and efforts are currently underway to secure production materials to make beer.

The latest report comes after microbreweries in the socialist country such as Taedonggang Craft Brewery and Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery have received acclaim by some for making the best beverages on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The secret behind the taste, experts have said, lies with North Korea using less rice and corn to make its beverages compared to South Korean manufacturers.

Such quality products have even spurred visits by foreigners who want to taste the beer.

The paper, meanwhile, did not give exact details on the size of the new brewery other than to say it covered several thousand square meters.

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N. Korea Blames S. Korea for Postponement of Family Reunions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Sept. 22 blamed South Korea's confrontational policy for its abrupt decision to postpone the scheduled family reunions, further clouding the prospects for the highly anticipated event.

The latest response comes one day after Pyongyang unilaterally put off the reunions of family members separated by the Korean War six decades ago, just four days before the planned event. Both sides had exchanged the final lists of about 200 candidates to be reunited at the North's mountain resort of Kumgang from Sept. 25-30.

Seoul's unification ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, immediately denounced the North's decision as "inhumane," saying it has "broken the hearts" of relatives desperate to be momentarily reunited.

On Sept. 22, Pyongyang's agency in charge of relations with the South accused the conservative government in Seoul of abusing inter-Korean dialogues and negotiations as a means to seek a showdown with the socialist country.

"It is very clear that our efforts for improved ties and dialogue have been abused in the North-South confrontations, which makes it useless to make further efforts," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.

The committee condemned Seoul of trying to "avoid responsibility and create animosity and malicious sentiment against North Korea," saying the future of the family reunions depends on the South's attitude.

"Though we want to resolve problems with the South, including humanitarian projects, we cannot ignore hostile tactics that hurt our dignity and pride," the North's committee said.

The cross-border reunions, the first of their kind in more than three years, have been considered one of a series of signs of a thaw in relations between the two sides, along with the reopening of a joint industrial complex in the North that had been suspended amid heightened tensions since April.

The North also postponed the planned negotiations with the South, slated for Oct. 2, on how to reopen the mountain resort, another joint project that has been suspended since the 2008 shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard at the resort.

The Sept. 21 announcement underscored the unpredictability of the regime in Pyongyang and the difficulty in dealing with it. The North has a track record of backtracking from or canceling agreements at the last minute.

Seoul officials said the list of candidates to be reunited remains valid despite the indefinite postponement, demanding Pyongyang return to the negotiating table.

"North Korea's unilateral postponement of the family reunions cannot be justified with any explanations or excuses," a senior official at the unification ministry said. "North Korea should promptly resume preparations to hold the reunion event to cure the pain and scars of separated families."

Millions of Koreans were separated from their families following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, leaving the two sides still technically at war. Their border is tightly sealed, and there are no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians.

The divided Koreas have held 18 temporary reunions since a landmark summit between their leaders in 2000, bringing together more than 20,000 family members who had not seen each other since the war.

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N. Korean Leader Puts Top Priority on Economic Development

BEIJING (Yonhap) -- North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator told a forum in China in mid-September that the North's young leader Kim Jong-un has been prioritizing the economy, indicating Kim might put more effort in developing the country's moribund economy, a diplomatic source who attended the forum said on Sept. 22.

Ri Yong-ho, the North's chief delegate to the long-stalled six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program, made the remarks during the forum in Beijing that marked the 10th anniversary of the talks, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

"First Secretary Kim Jong-un is currently putting his top priority on the economy," Ri was quoted by the source as saying at the one-day, closed-door forum, held on Sept. 18. Ri used Kim's official title as the first secretary of the North's Korean Workers' Party.

"Recently, about 90 percent of field-guidance activities by First Secretary Kim were related to the economy," Ri told the forum, according to the source.

The source said the remarks by Ri during the forum were noticeable because Ri emphasized Kim's focus on the economy several times.

Following its third nuclear test earlier this year, North Korea declared in March that economic development and an expansion of its nuclear arsenal could "simultaneously" take place.

The Beijing forum was called for by China to mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the six-party talks. The off-and-on forum that involves the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan has been stalled since late 2008.

The meeting came amid renewed efforts by China to revive the six-party channel, but South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have shown a cool response to it in the absence of a clear North Korean willingness to abandon its nuclear ambition.

South Korea sent two diplomats to attend the forum as observers but ordered them not to meet with any North Korean representatives.

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Railway Section linking N. Korea's Rajin and Russia's Khasan Reopens

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A railway section between Rajin, North Korea's northeastern port, and Russia's Far Eastern border town of Khasan was opened for service in a ceremony at the North Korea city on Sept. 22 after five years of reconstruction, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the same day.

The opening of the section will greatly contribute to developing friendly and cooperative relations between Russia and North Korea, the KCNA said.

The 54-kilometer-long Rajin-Khasan section has been rebuilt since 2008 in line with the Moscow Declaration, signed between the two countries in August 2001.

Many North Korean officials attended the opening ceremony: Jon Kil-su, minister of Railways; O Ryong-chol, vice minister of Foreign Trade; Ri Chol-sok, vice chairman of the State Commission for Economic Development; Jo Jong-ho, chairman of the Rason City People's Committee; Im Chon-il, consul general to Nakhodka; as well as officials in the field of railways and people in Rason City, according to the KCNA.

Attending Russian participants included V. I. Yakunin, president of the "Russian Railways" Company; Alexei Tsijenov, vice minister of Transport; Sergey Sidorov, first vice-governor of the Maritime Territory Administration; Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to North Korea; and Vyacheslav Tsupikov, consul general of Russia to Chongjin.

Yakunin said the section has opened for service under Russia-DPRK Moscow Declaration signed by the top leaders of the two countries in 2001.

To press for the renovation of the railways running through the land of (North) Korea will be a great contribution to the development of economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region in the future, he stressed.

Jon, the North Korean minister of railways, said that the plan of linking DPRK-Russia railways serves as a model of wide-ranging bilateral cooperation, which meets the common progress and interests of the two peoples.

He expressed the conviction that the operation of the opened railways section will be successful as it was made on the principle of mutual respect and cooperation between the railway transportation fields of the two countries.

Experts said the reopening of the session will contribute to the establishment of a beachhead for the trans-Siberian and trans-Korean railroads, which have been discussed among Russia and the two Koreas for more than 10 years and would strengthen the economic cooperation between North Korea and Russia.

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North Korea Trade Show Courts Foreign Investors, Deals

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The largest semi-annual trade show in North Korea has opened in Pyongyang for a four-day run, the state-run media reported on Sept. 23, as the cash-strapped nation aimed to attract foreign investment and expand trade.

The 9th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair at the Three-Revolution Exhibition House will run until Sept. 26, with 220 trading companies representing 13 countries participating, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Among the countries represented were China, Russia, Germany, Malaysia and Mongolia.

"The event would serve as a great opportunity to promote friendship among countries, showcase new products and exchange technology," said North Korean Premier Pak Pong-ju on the second day of the event.

More than 57,000 products will be on display, including electronics, chemicals, foods, medical appliances and pharmaceuticals, the KCNA said.

North Korea has held semi-annual trade shows in spring and fall since 2005, with the aim of wooing investors and securing export deals.

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More Than 8,000 Medical Facilities in North Korea: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of medical facilities in North Korea is thought to have doubled in the past four years, according to one estimate by a pro-North Korea website on Sept. 23.

The North Korean propaganda website Uriminzokkiri said there were currently more than 2,000 hospitals and over 6,000 primary care centers in the communist country.

This is nearly double the estimate by the South's Korean Institute for National Unification in 2009, in which it said there were 4,240 medical facilities in North Korea.

Uriminzokkiri, furthermore, said the North's telemedicine program has enabled primary care centers to provide quality health care equivalent to that given at large hospitals.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, recently visited the construction site of a dental hospital, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The young leader reportedly said the hospital would be able to treat more than 300 patients a day with 30 new dental equipment provided by the ruling Workers' Party of (North) Korea.

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