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Activist interrogated for trespassing in the North

North Korea detains an American after he crossed into the country from China. Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program may be close to producing nuclear bombs. President Lee Myung-bak proposes that both the North and South open liaison offices. A record snow paralyzes the South. The former Samsung group chairman is pardoned for his tax evasion so that he can resume his post of the International Olympic Committee. The trade surplus hit a record high last year. And a murder case involving a U.S. citizen is in the spotlight after a film is made about it.

Top News: North Korea announced it has detained an American citizen, believed to be an activist who voluntarily entered the country, for trespassing. Pyongyang made a brief announcement through its official news agency saying that it is interrogating the person for crossing into North Korea from China, but it did not confirm the identity of the detained individual.


Human rights activists have notified that media that the person is Robert Park, a Korean-American missionary, who entered the country with a letter urging Kim Jong Il to release all political prisoners from its prison camps.


Pyongyang is believed to have started its uranium enrichment program in 1996 at the latest, according to South Korea’s foreign minister, sparking fears that North Korea may be edging closer to gaining enough material for producing nuclear bombs using uranium. It is unclear how much uranium Pyongyang has enriched and how many bombs can be produced with it, the foreign minister said.


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak proposed that South and North Korea open liaison offices in the capital of each country to assist dialogue between both sides. It is the second time the South’s president has made public this offer. If created, the offices would become the first regular communication channel to be set up after the Korean War divided the peninsula more than half a century ago.


Pyongyang previously lashed back at the initial offer dismissing it as a cheap tactic by Seoul, but has yet to respond to the second announcement.


South Korea was hit by unprecedented snowfall that paralyzed the streets and disrupted land and air traffic nationwide. The sudden snowfall was unforeseen and city governments struggled for days to clean up with a lack of resources to effectively clear roads and alleys. The country saw a record high 25.7 centimeters of snow on the first business day of the year, surpassing the previous snowstorm record in 1969.


Money: Former Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who was convicted of tax evasion and embezzlement, was granted a pardon by President Lee Myung-bak who said the move was for the sake of “national interest.” Despite strong criticism from civic groups calling it an act of leniency towards moguls in South Korea, the president said the pardon was granted so that the ex-chairman would be able to resume his position at the International Olympic Committee and support Pyeongchang city in its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.


Lee Kun-hee had received a three-year suspended prison sentence in 2008 and stepped down from his chairman position while voluntarily giving up his rights as a member at the IOC.


The country’s trade surplus hit a record high in 2009, mounting to $41 billion and breaking the previous record set during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998 in the midst of a push to recover from the economic setback.


Exports in 2009 dropped by roughly 14 percent, but imports decreased by nearly 26 percent. However, Korea’s exports increased by roughly 34 percent in December, compared to a year ago, and rose in global export ranks to ninth place, three ranks higher than in 2008.


Elsewhere: A murder case involving a U.S. citizen was put into spotlight again when the Justice Ministry announced it is requesting extradition of one of the prime suspects.  The American, who was the son of a U.S. solider, was indicted for stabbing a South Korean university student to death at a burger joint, but left the country after prosecutors failed to extend the ban on his departure and he was returned to America after being released on a special pardon 12 years ago.


The story of the murder was made into a movie three months ago and spurred public interest in the case again.