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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 309 (April 17, 2014)

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

NEWS IN BRIEF

N. Korean leader pays tribute to founder on birthday

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid respects to his grandfather and founder of the communist country on April 15 marking his 102nd birthday, the North's state media said.

Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the body of Kim Il-sung, along with his son and former leader Kim Jong-un, lies in state, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The founding father died in 1994, and his birthday is one of the most important holidays in North Korea.

In his visit to the palace, the young leader Kim was accompanied by senior officials, including Choe Ryong-hae, the military's top political officer, and Jang Jong-nam, the minister of the People's Armed Forces, the KCNA said.

Those accompanying Kim "made a pledge to complete the revolutionary cause and the military-first policy" initiated by the two predecessors, according to the media.

The junior Kim took the helm of the communist country in 2011 following the sudden death of Kim Jong-il, who also inherited power from his father Kim Il-sung.

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N.K. human rights issue should be addressed in six-way talks: Kirby

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korean human rights abuses should be formally discussed at the six-party talks, even though the talks focus mainly on the communist nation's nuclear program, the head of a U.N. investigation team said on April 14 .

Michael Kirby, chief of the Commission of Inquiry (COI), stressed that the North Korean human rights issue should be addressed in every dialogue with Pyongyang.

He pointed out, however, it is still uncertain when the six-party talks will resume. The talks were last held in December 2008, joined by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

The Australian judge was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Brookings Institution.

After a year-long probe, the COI said in a February report that North Korean leaders are responsible for "widespread, systematic and gross" violations of human rights there.

It recommended the matter be brought to the International Criminal Court.

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N. Korea blasts Park's unification initiatives

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea launched scathing verbal attacks against South Korean President Park Geun-hye on April 12, calling her unification initiatives unveiled in March in Germany "irrelevant and nonsensical."

In her "Dresden Declaration" made in March in the former East German city of the same name, Park unveiled a package of proposals calling for bolstering exchanges with the North, including Seoul's humanitarian aid projects for the impoverished North, as she pushed to end the Korean Peninsula's six-decade divide.

"The Dresden Declaration is a nonsensical statement made by an anti-reunification element who deceived the public with hypocrisy and deception as she offered no solution, ignorant of the present state of the North-South relations," said a spokesman for the powerful National Defense Commission.

"The proposal is irrelevant and indifferent to the improvement and development of the inter-Korean relations," the spokesman said in a statement carried out by the state-run official news outlet the Korean Central News Agency.

The statement also claimed Park's policy on unification with North Korea was designed to hurt the ideology and socialist system of the North.

Park has been calling for expanded inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation to recover a sense of common identity as she laid out a road map for how the two rival Koreas should work toward reunification.

She has made strong pitches for unification in recent months, saying it would be an economic "bonanza" for the two Koreas, as well as a blessing for neighboring countries, because it will touch off massive investments in North Korea, including in infrastructure projects.

But cross-border relations, which had shown signs of thawing, have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, after Pyongyang carried out a series of provocative actions by threatening to carry out a "new form" of nuclear tests, launching midrange missiles and conducting a live-fire exercise.

The North's recent show of force was apparently mainly in response to ongoing joint military exercises between the South and the United States, which Pyonyang has denounced as a war rehearsal against it.

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N. Korea vows to take 'self-defense' measure against U.S. hostility

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea threatened to take self-defense measures against what it claims is Washington's hostility toward it, the North's state news agency said on April 11.

North Korea has frequently accused the U.S. of harboring hostile policy toward Pyongyang and plotting with South Korea to invade the North, a charge denied by Washington.

"As long as the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward (North Korea) according to its high-handed, arbitrary and gangster-like double standards, (North Korea) will push ahead with the countermeasures for self-defense," the North's powerful National Defense Commission said in an English-language statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

The latest threats by North Korea of "countermeasures" apparently refer to long-range missile launches or even a nuclear test, according to experts.

North Korea has recently threatened to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test in anger over a condemnation by the United Nations of its ballistic missile launches into the sea off its east coast.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, drawing international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

The North's commission also called on the U.S. to roll back its hostile policy and lift all sanctions on the North, which Pyongyang claims were masterminded by the U.S., apparently referring to the ones slapped on the North by the U.N. Security Council over its missile launches and nuclear tests.

The North's powerful commission accused the U.S. of employing double standards when responding to missile tests by the rival Koreas.

On March 23, South Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile capable of reaching all parts of the communist country, a move that caused no international outcry, except from North Korea.

The North test-fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast just three days later, resulting in an immediate U.N. condemnation.

"If the ballistic missile launched by the South Korean puppet forces is not problematic, (North Korea's) launch of satellites or rockets will be of no problem, either," the National Defense Commission said.

A 2009 U.N resolution demands the North not conduct any further nuclear tests or any launches using ballistic missile technology. It also called on the North to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

Unlike the North, South Korea is not subject to any U.N. resolution on ballistic missiles.

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S. Korea offers to conditionally lift sanctions on N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's point man on North Korea made a conditional offer on April 11 to lift its sanctions imposed on Pyongyang nearly four years ago following its deadly attack.

South Korea slapped blanket economic sanctions on the North in May 2010 in retaliation for the sinking of a warship near their disputed western sea border that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Under the sanctions, South Korea has suspended inter-Korean projects and banned its new investment in the North, except for their joint factory park in the North's western city of Kaesong.

South Korea "is willing to lift" the sanctions, but the North must take some actions for that to happen, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said in a parliamentary session, without elaborating.

South Korea has repeatedly pressed North Korea to admit its involvement in the sinking of the South Korean warship.

A South Korean-led international investigation found that North Korea torpedoed the warship on March 26, 2010, though Pyongyang has denied its responsibility.

In late 2010, the North also shelled a South Korean island near the sea border, killing two soldiers and two civilians. The North has also refused to take responsibility for the deadly attack.

Ryoo also said that the North's latest power structure is stable as the North apparently tried to minimize destabilizing factors, if any, from the execution of leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in December.

His assessment came two days after Kim was re-elected as North Korea's leader in the first session of the country's new parliament.

The North's octogenarian ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, was retained as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, while Premier Pak Pong-ju also kept his job, an apparent sign that Pyongyang is seeking stability amid tensions with Seoul and Washington.

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