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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 293 (December 26, 2013)

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

*** INTER-KOREAN RELATIONS

S. Korea Calls on N. Korea to Take 'Responsible Attitude'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification minister on Dec. 19 called on North Korea to take more responsibility for its people, expressing concerns over the recent political upheaval in the socialist country.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is very grave. A series of recent developments in North Korea sparks concerns," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a speech at the conference on Seoul's plan to establish a peace park in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a heavily armed border area that separates the two Koreas.

Politics in the unruly socialist state has made headlines following the surprise execution of leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek in earlier of December. Experts have said the purge of the country's No. 2 man would lead to major changes in its internal political structure and subsequently outside policies. "I want to request North Korea to take a more responsible attitude toward its people. I urge it to shed its old mentality, prejudice and arrogance," Ryoo said.

He then cited the envisioned DMZ peace park project as a key to "opening a new era of trust and peace" between the two Koreas.

As part of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's projects for outreach to Pyongyang, Seoul has set aside 40.2 billion won (US$37.3 million) in the 2014 budget for the proposal.

The DMZ, a four-kilometer-wide buffer zone separating the two Koreas, remains the world's most heavily fortified frontier guarded by more than a million troops. The two sides still technically remain in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Ju Chul-ki, Seoul's senior presidential secretary of foreign affairs, echoed the minister's remarks, expressing the government's will to make a proposal to North Korea to join hands for the project.

"When the time is ripe, we will make an official proposal to North Korea to join the project and put it into practice ... It will also help North Korea with its recent attempt to attract foreign investment," Ju said in his keynote speech at the seminar.

Pointing to concerns over the security circumstances in the region, he stressed that Seoul is "fully prepared to swiftly deal with any provocations and threats by North Korea" and vowed proactive responses "with long-term perspective and patience."

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South Korea Offers to Hold Road Show for Kaesong Complex

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Officials of the two Koreas discussed on Dec. 19 sustainable development of their joint factory park as global financial officials toured the enclave, a symbol of inter-Korean detente.

Internationalization was a key topic of the rare inter-Korean meeting in the North's border city of Kaesong, where the factory park is located. The meeting was the first of its kind since September.

The meeting drew keen media attention as it came following the shocking purge and execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek. Outside analysts believe that the incident revealed signs of instability in the highly secretive country.

"We're very impressed with what we've seen here, in terms of people having jobs and producing," Turkish Vice Finance Minister Ibrahim Canakci said, according to foreign media reports. He made the comments to reporters after touring the sprawling enclave, home to 120 small South Korean plants producing garments and other labor-intensive goods. More than 44,000 North Koreans work in the complex.

Canakci was among about two dozen officials from the world's G-20 economies who toured the Kaesong complex. They were in Seoul for a previously scheduled global financial meeting.

The Kaesong factory park resumed operations in September, more than five months after the North unilaterally closed it in anger over South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises.

North Korea has pledged not to shut down the facility again, but South Korea has proposed inviting foreign investment, believing the presence of foreign companies could help deter North Korea from breaking its word.

At the Dec. 19 meeting in Kaesong, South Korea proposed that a joint "road show" be held next month for potential foreign investors, an official of the Unification Ministry said.

The North told the South to hold further consultations on a time frame for the road show, the official said, after the South Korean delegation returned home from Kaesong.

The sides had originally planned to hold the investment event in late October, though the plan was called off amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.

At the Dec. 19 meeting, South Korea also offered to provide oil and other materials and equipment worth about 440 million won (US$415,000) to help modernize facilities in Kaesong for customs and communication, the official said.

The sides agreed to hold further consultations to enhance travel, communication and customs of South Korean factory managers, the three major obstacles that Seoul says must be addressed to induce foreign investment to Kaesong.

The one-day meeting came four months after the sides agreed to allow South Korean factory managers to use the Internet and mobile phones provided by South Korean operators across the heavily fortified border.

Currently, South Korean factory managers make international phone calls when they need to talk with their colleagues in Seoul.

The factory park, which marries South Korea's capital and technology with the North's cheap labor, serves as a major legitimate revenue source for the cash-strapped socialist country.

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Seoul 'Confirms' Woman Interviewed by N.K. Media Is Former Defector

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Seoul has confirmed on Dec. 21 the veracity of a recent North Korean media report about a redefector who expressed contempt for her life in South Korea.

The unification ministry, in charge of handling inter-Korean policies, said that judging by her name, age and other personal information provided by Pyongyang, Choi Kye-soon indeed had lived in the South for about two years as she said in the broadcast.

Immigration records show the 64-year-old Choi as having had arrived in South Korea in December 2011 and having left early December, the ministry said.

It said she had lived alone and that she had no relatives in the South.

The confirmation comes after the Dec. 20 North Korean state media reports that featured Choi. In a media interview, she lambasted South Korean society, which she said had made her life miserable.

She claimed traffickers kidnapped her when she was in China visiting her sister and that she was subsequently sent to South Korea.

In the interview carried by both the (North) Korean Central Television and (North) Korean Central News Agency, the defector also claimed that the minute she stepped foot in the South, people there treated her as "subhuman." She then claimed that Seoul carried out criminal activities like kidnapping and violating basic human rights.

The North has been using such people as propaganda tools to highlight "hardships" that await defectors while trumping up the superiority of Pyongyang's "humane" socialist system. This move is apparently aimed at fueling anti-South Korean sentiment and dissuading the public from leaving the socialist country.

This interview of a former defector by Pyongyang's media is the fifth of its kind this year.

Seoul has come under criticism for not adequately looking after defectors in a proper manner. Many former North Koreans have grown disenchanted with their lives in the South and have demanded more action be taken by Seoul.

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S. Korea Plays down Feasibility of High-speed Railway in N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Dec. 23 downplayed the possibility of local companies' participation in a project to build a high-speed railway and a parallel road in North Korea.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eyi-do told reporters that the feasibility of a project to build a railway and a road connecting Kaesong near the border with South Korea to North Korea's northwestern city of Sinuiju bordering China is "very low."

Kim said it is nearly impossible for South Korean firms to make massive investments in North Korea due to sanctions imposed by Seoul on Pyongyang in 2010 following a deadly sinking of a South Korean warship by the North.

The North has refused to take responsibility for the sinking of the warship, which claimed 46 South Korean sailors' lives.

Kim's comment came days after an opposition lawmaker claimed that North Korea and China had agreed to build a high-speed railway and a road parallel to it linking Kaesong with Sinuiju via Pyongyang.

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Trade, Economic Gaps between Two Koreas Remain Wide: Data

SEJONG, Korea (Yonhap) -- Trade and economic levels between South and North Korea remained quite wide last year, data showed on Dec. 23, pointing to prolonged lackluster business and economic conditions in the reclusive North.

According to the data by Statistics Korea, South Korea's total trade volume stood at US$1.07 trillion as of 2012, which is 157 times larger than the North's $6.8 billion. In particular, the South's exports came to $547.9 billion, 188.9 times larger than those of the North.

The nominal gross national income (GNI) levels between the two Koreas also remained wide.

The GNI for the South was estimated at 1,279.5 trillion won ($1.21 trillion) last year, 38.2 times larger than the North, the data showed. On a per-capita basis, South Korea's GNI was 18.7 times larger than that of the North.

South Korea also outperformed the North in infrastructure and other social overhead capital spending.

The South's road network totaled 105,703 kilometers, which compared with the 26, 114 km for the North, the data showed. The South had the power generating capacity of 81.8 million kilowatts a year, which is 11.3 times larger than the North.

The only category that the North outperformed the South was in coal production. It produced a total of 25.8 million tons of coal last year, about 10 times the amount of coal produced by the South, according to the data.

The two Koreas had a combined population of 74.4 million, with the South holding a population of about 50 million, the data showed.

The statistics agency has been providing such information on the North every year since 1995 as a way to provide a glimpse into the economic and industrial conditions of the reclusive country.

The two Koreas remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

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South Korea Approves Private Humanitarian Aid to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has approved private humanitarian aid to North Korea, an official said on Dec. 24, despite tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The two private aid groups are allowed to ship powered milk and nutritional supplies worth 215 million won (US$202,000) to infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, said an official of the Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs.

The planned aid brought the total amount of assistance to the North by South Korea's private aid groups to 6.55 billion won since February when President Park Geun-hye took office in Seoul.

The latest aid plan came just days after North Korea threatened to mercilessly strike South Korea "without notice" if anti-North Korean protesters repeat their insult to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Last week, some 70 South Korean protesters burned effigies of the current and former leaders of North Korea as they condemned the young leader Kim Jong-un for his reign of terror.

The North executed Kim's once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had long been considered the North's No. 2 man and Kim's regent, for treason.

The North has bristled at any outside criticism of its leader and has made similar verbal threats against the South in recent years, although no actual attack has occurred since late 2010.

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