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North Korea allows some free enterprise

The North and South exchange shots in a dispute over a maritime border. Missionary Robert Park is freed from captivity in the North. Unrest and soaring food prices hit the North after a new currency is introduced. President Lee Myung-bak says he will return to the negotiating table if the North makes a commitment to do so as well. Exports from the South fall at the fastest rate in a year. A new program will train 41,000 tech experts. And G-Dragon, a famous pop star, is questioned by prosecutors for an "obscene" stage show.

Top News: South Korea exchanged shots across disputed maritime borders in the west sea after North Korean naval forces fired artillery towards the South. The exchange came after North Korea designated a “no-sail” zone in the West Sea adjacent to the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that Pyongyang refuses to recognize as official maritime borders. No casualties or damage was reported on either side, according to the presidential office.

North Korea freed American missionary Robert Park whom it had detained for crossing into the country over a frozen river bordering with China. Pyongyang said it would grant leniency to the missionary who voluntarily entered the country with letters urging Kim Jong-il to close political prison camps in the country and free all its prisoners.

Park arrived in Los Angeles after being held in the North for 43 days. North Korea announced the release of the missionary through its state-run news agency, saying Park had repented his wrongdoings and misunderstandings about North Korea.

North Korea is said to have eased cracking down on market activities after food prices soared and social unrest erupted, due to the introduction of a new currency, according to news reports in South Korea. In an effort to strengthen central economic control over the country, Pyongyang introduced a new currency in November that in effect removed private money and wealth from the economy. The North recently dismissed an official who oversaw the introduction of the new currency and allowed trade in the markets, according to South Korean media reports citing unidentified sources close to North Korea issues.

President Lee Myung-bak said he is willing to hold summit talks with his North Korean counterpart but without any “payoffs” to Pyongyang. Media reports circulated that the Lee administration has been working on setting up a meeting between Lee and the North’s Kim Jong-il by mid-year, which would become the third summit talk between the two countries that are still technically at war.

President Lee also said he would need a commitment from Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table at the six-party talks aimed at dismantling North Korean of its nuclear ambitions.

Money: Monthly exports in South Korea fell at the fastest pace in a year, down 8.6 percent from December. The country shipped out an average of $1.38 billion worth of goods overseas from $1.51 billion a month ago.

The decline in exports further spurred concerns from investors that a crackdown on credit growth in China could hurt export growth in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. Total exports in January jumped 47 percent from a year ago, gaining from the worst global economic turmoil in decades.

The South Korean government will spend roughly $341 million with the goal of training 41,000 information and technology experts over a four-year period. The program will focus on supporting workers who are aiming to get masters or doctoral degrees in the sector.

Elsewhere: Prosecutors questioned a popular boy band singer, G-Dragon, for whether part of his performance during his concert was inappropriate for teenagers. The singer was summoned by the prosecutors’ office after the ministry of welfare filed a complaint accusing the 22-year-old of public obscenity.

The performance in question, which has been posted on blogs and YouTube, involves the singer making moves with a female dancer strapped to a bed on stage. Internet users have shown mixed reactions to the performance debating whether it was appropriate for the singer’s large teen fan base.