Archive for August, 2007

Vaccine institute to help Pyongyang fight deadly flu

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Korea Herald
Ahn Hyo Lim

An international vaccine agency and North Korea have agreed to launch a joint project to fight diseases common among children in developing countries.

The International Vaccine Institute, based in Seoul, said yesterday that they will cooperate to conduct pilot vaccinations against Japanese encephalitis and haemophilus influenzae type b, which causes meningitis, on some 3,000 North Korean children by early next year.

Their project will also involve the establishment of a reference diagnostic laboratory in the communist country.

“Creation of a reference laboratory for diagnosis of Hib and Japanese encephalitis should not only help improve clinical management of children with these infections, but should also assist DPRK health authorities to better estimate the burden of these diseases in the DPRK,” said Dr. John Clemens, IVI director general.

Officials of the global vaccine R&D organization will visit Beijing later in the month to meet with North Korean health officials and discuss details of how they will cooperate, including the provision of vaccines and equipment, and the opening of the lab.

Haemophilus influenzae type b is the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among infants and children worldwide, killing an estimated 386,000 children every year.

Japanese encephalitis, primarily infects children in endemic areas across Asia, leaving approximately 60 percent of those who develop clinical illness either dead or neurologically disabled.

The IVI is an international organization devoted exclusively to developing and introducing new and improved vaccines to protect the world’s poorest people, especially children in developing countries.

It was established in 1997 as an initiative of the United Nations Development Program.


S. Korea sends emergency aid to N. Korea for flood recovery

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Sohn Suk-joo

South Korea made Thursday the first delivery of 7.1 billion won ($7.5 million) worth of emergency aid to North Korea to help the communist country recover from flood damage, officials said.

About 40 truckloads of instant noodles, blankets, emergency kits and mineral water were delivered to the border town of Kaesong via a reconnected road in the western section of the Korean Peninsula. The aid shipment will be completed by the end of this month.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang requested more help from the South, and the Seoul government is considering what to offer in response to the North’s plea for construction materials and heavy equipment, they said.

Devastating floods are believed to have destroyed a revised 14 percent of the North’s farmland, South Korean officials said. South Korea, other countries and international agencies are extending a helping hand to the North.

The number of dead and missing is estimated at more than 300, with the homeless numbering about 300,000. An estimated 46,580 homes of 88,400 families were destroyed or damaged, according to the North’s media.

“The total damage would be 10 times more than that of last summer in terms of money,” Cho Yong-nam, chief of North Korea’s flood damage control committee, said in an interview with the Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper which usually reflects the views of the communist country.

The severe flood damage caused the two Koreas to postpone their second summit, originally scheduled for late this month, until early October. Their leaders are to meet Oct. 2-4 in Pyongyang.

According to North Korean officials, the expressway linking Pyongyang and Kaesong has been damaged by the heavy flooding, interfering with transportation. Roh plans to travel to Pyongyang via the overland route, and South Korean officials expressed hope that the expressway will be repaired before the summit takes place.


200,000 Won Cell Phone Call with South Korean Defector Families

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

An inside North Korean source relayed that along the North Korean-China border region, businesses connecting North Korean civilians with relatives in the U.S. and in Japan charging exorbitant usage fees are receiving the spotlight.

Choi Yong Nam (pseudonym, 37), residing in Moosan, North Hamkyung, in a phone conversation with DailyNK on the 23rd, revealed, “International cell phones calls are directly made from North Korea or there are cases where North Koreans are directly brought to China to call their relatives in foreign countries.”

Choi added, “In order to be connected to families or relatives in South Korea, at least 200,000 won in South Korean currency (around US$215) is needed. To communicate with families in the U.S. or in Japan, at least 400,000 to 500,000 won are used up.” He minimizes the essential element of risk, but denounced that the price is baselessly expensive.

Choi explained, “However, China or regular phone calls are not charged such fees. Separated families, cases of requesting huge amounts of remittance from relatives in the U.S., Japan, or in South Korea, or the process of relatives trying to bring the families in North Korea to foreign countries require a high fee.”

Such a costly fee seems to be due to the control of cell phone use in North Korea. In order to prevent information leaks to the outside, the North Korea’s authorities have stepped forward using equipments such as “cell phone detectors.”

Another source said, “Getting caught while using cell phones is rarely pacified on the spot as it used to be before. Inspection and punishment are severe, but one can escape through bribery even though there is a difference in the amount.”

After inspections, the violators are taken to the police station and have to go through basic investigations.

Regarding the content of investigations, he said, “They investigate the place of usage, past call history, whether or not the calls are related to foreign countries (South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.). Then, they investigate whether or not the person has a previous conviction.”

Kang Soon Young (speudonym, 44) who is visiting relatives in Yanji, China, said, “There are at least 100 North Korea-born people who are making a living doing various kinds of projects (work) along the border area in Yanji alone.”

The border area project refers to the remittances for money sent to South Korea or abroad or river-crossings, smuggling, phone connections and various projects that are becoming active in Chinese cities sharing the border with North Korea.

He relayed, “Nowadays, the border patrol has been toughened, so crossing the river without going through people who work in such border area projects is almost impossible.”

On one hand, Mr. Kang relayed, “There was a public execution along the Hoiryeong Riverfront on the 10th. The executed was a man in his 50s with the crime of aiding and abetting river-crossings (defecting) and was charged with smuggling.”


International Train Crew is the Best Job in North Korea

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

The term for the train crew of North Korean Pyongyang-Beijing international rail connecting North Korea and China is limited to two years, relayed a related person of Dandong Customs in China on the 22nd.

The source at the customs said in an interview with DailyNK, “The crew of Pyongyang-Beijing international rail is a very competitive position. Only by paying a significant sum of bribe can one gain such a position.”

The source said, “Most of the international rail crew simultaneously trade. The crew who can conduct secret trade via trains is known as a covetable profession among the North Korean citizens.

Further, “The term of employment for North Korean crew do not surpass two years. There is so much corruption and the positions are quickly exchanged after the upper-level management receiving bribery from other applicants.”

He said that he has received introductions from new North Korean crews to watch over them during the 2 years.

The person said, “Most of the crew do secret trade. They think that they have offered that much, so they should earn that much as well. There are many instances where even the customs is aware of what is going on.”

He said that the product which is usually traded is cigarettes. “Cigarettes are brought in North Korea at around 4 boxes (around 2,000 packs) per a person.”

“They relay goods that outsiders send and also goods that cannot legally come out of North Korea. Please understand my difficulty in revealing the situation in greater detail. All kinds of goods can be secretly brought onto trains.”

The cigarettes are a favorite good which both the North Korean and Chinese customs make efforts to pay back the duties. However, by bringing these cigarettes secretly into North Korea without the payment of duties, the making of money is inevitable.”

The source said, “According to what I have heard from Chosun (North Korea) crews, there is a saying that failure to earn several hundreds of thousands of dollars during the two years is moronic. How many train crew are there? They consider the international rails as private trading floors, so what is there that they cannot do? I know of workers of the international freight trains who saved over 50,000 dollars.”

He said, “While observing North Korean railroads for over 10 years, I only saw once one person working as a crew for the freight train for four years.”

International rail between China and North Korea operates twice weekly. 2-3 passenger trains on the back of the Pyongyang-Shinuiju rail and 1 freight train have been divided as international rails and operate to Beijing.”


South Korean food maker Maniker plans to open chicken farms in North Korea

Friday, August 24th, 2007



Maniker Co., a South Korean food maker, said Friday its executives will visit North Korea next month to finalize the company’s project to set up chicken farms there.

Maniker, one of the nation’s leading chicken-processing companies, has explored ways to build chicken farms in North Korea since 2002 to take advantage of the North’s cheap labor.

During the visit in mid-September, Maniker executives and North Korean officials will choose the location of the chicken farms between Sariwon, south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and Samilpo near Mt. Geumgang on the east coast, the company said in a statement.

North Korea has showed “positive” response to the project, Maniker said.

If the project is successful, Maniker will be the first direct investment by a South Korean company outside an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

“At this time, we expect the North Korean business project to produce a visible result,” said a Maniker official on condition of anonymity.


N. Korea’s powerful commission in vanguard of flood recovery operations

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Sohn suk-joo

North Korea’s most powerful organization is leading efforts to clean up damage from heavy floods and restore the country’s infrastructure, the North’s state media reported Wednesday.

The National Defense Commission (NDC), the highest decision-making body under the communist country’s constitution that was revised in 1997 to reflect its “songun” or military first policy, supervises relief operations involving military forces and equipment.

“We’ve achieved recovery and restoration by appealing to party, government and labor officials to go out to damaged areas under the guidance of the National Defense Commission,” Kim Kyong-san, a senior official of the Pyongyang Railway bureau, said in an interview with Radio Pyongyang.

According to North Korea watchers, North Korea’s cabinet has usually spearheaded flood relief efforts in the communist country in the past. The NDC’s involvement signifies the extent of the damage and is also meant to speed up restoration ahead of the summit between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who leads the commission, they said.

Meanwhile, North Korea is in the final stages of restoring the railway line in Pyongyang.

“The Pyongyang railway line is fundamental in connecting the country to the east and west. All workers have labored hard and are urged to do more at the final stage,” Kim Kyong-san said.

Devastating floods are believed to have destroyed a revised 14 percent of the North’s farmland, South Korean officials said. South Korea, other countries and international agencies are extending a helping hand to the North.

The number of dead and missing is estimated at more than 300, with the homeless numbering about 300,000. An estimated 46,580 homes of 88,400 families were destroyed or damaged, according to the North’s media.

This year, South Korea is providing 400,000 tons of rice to the North, while it plans to send 7.1 billion won (US$7.5 million) worth of relief goods to North Korea.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang requested more help from the South, and South Korea is considering what to offer in response to the North’s plea for construction materials and heavy equipment.

The severe flood damage caused the two Koreas to postpone their second-ever summit, originally scheduled to be held late this month, until early October. Their leaders are to meet Oct. 2-4 in Pyongyang.

According to North Korean officials, the expressway linking Pyongyang and Kaesong has been damaged by heavy flooding, interfering with transportation. Roh plans to travel to Pyongyang via the overland route, and South Korean officials expressed hope that the expressway will be restored before the summit takes place.


Kimberly-Clark considers opening factory in North Korean industrial park

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007


Kimberly-Clark Corp., one of the world’s biggest makers of health care and sanitary goods, is considering opening a factory in a South Korean-built industrial zone in North Korea, according to the company’s senior executive on Wednesday.

Moon Kook-hyun, chief executive officer of Yuhan-Kimberly Ltd., Kimberly-Clark’s South Korean unit in Seoul, recently told reporters that the company’s “sewing plant” in China may take part in slots of the industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

“First of all, I plan to sign a preliminary contract (to take part in the Kaesong industrial complex) and then will persuade our head office,” Moon said.

Moon and Thomas Falk, chairman of Kimberly-Clark, visited the Kaesong industrial park in February.

Currently, state-run Korea Land Corp. is receiving bids from foreign companies which want to set up factories in Kaesong, located just 70 kilometers north of Seoul.

“If Kimberly-Clark applies to receive land for the Kaesong industrial park, there will be no difficulty,” said an official at Korea Land.

South Korea began building the industrial park in 2003 on a trial basis with the hope of creating a model for eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Currently, 26 South Korean plants employ about 16,000 North Korean workers who produce garments, kitchenware and a number of other goods.

If the industrial zone becomes fully operational by 2012, more than 350,000 North Korean workers will work there, according to the South’s Unification Ministry.

In a free trade agreement signed last month, the U.S. government said it would recognize the Kaesong-made goods as originating in South Korea.

Moon’s remark also came as optimism has been building over progress in resolving the North’s nuclear standoff.

North Korea has shut down its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon under a February agreement, which was also signed by South Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

It now has to disable the Yongbyon facilities and declare all of its nuclear programs in exchange for 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid.


DPRK Economic Growth Estimates for 2006

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Institute for Far East Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-8-22-1

The Bank of Korea released a report on August 17 that details economic estimates on a variety of sectors in North Korea. Overall, North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell 1.1 percent during 2006, the first time since 1999 that the North has failed to increase its GDP. Inclement weather was one factor that played into a fall in agricultural production, and there also appears to have been little progress in the construction of public works in the country. Overall, North Korean GNI was 2.9 percent of that in the South, with per capita GNI at 1,108 USD, 6 percent of the 18,372 USD per capita GNI in South Korea.

The entire economy of the DPRK is approximately 1/35th that of the South, with the Gross National Income (GNI) a mere 1/17th the level seen in the ROK. This shows a growing divide between the two Koreas, as the comparisons in the previous year were 1/33rd and 1/16th, respectively. Due to the North Korean nuclear issues and other foreign relations problems faced during 2006, a worsening of diplomatic relations with other countries, energy shortages and other economic woes befell the North, putting the entire economy in a difficult situation.

The North showed a weakening of the agricultural and forestry industries, increasing production by a mere 2.4 percent, 2.6 percent down from 2005. Corn and other cereal production grew by 7 percent, but rice was down 6.4 percent, and bean production was down 6.6 percent from the year before, leaving overall grain output down 3.6 percent. On the other hand, shellfish and crustacean harvests grew by 1.5 percent, while timber and livestock harvests remained unchanged.

On the mining front, coal and other non-metal mined resources showed promising increases, but production of lead, zinc, and copper fell by 1.7 percent, compared to the 3.5 percent growth posted in the previous year. Despite promising increases in production of manufactured goods and growth in the chemical and heavy industries in 2005, last year North Korean production growth rates in these fields fell flat at a mere 0.4 percent, increasing production rates of fibers, clothing and shoes, but turning out less kitchenware and food-related products. Coal and fuel products looked favorable, but fabricated metals and machine parts, as well as nonferrous metal products grew at a rate of 1.1 percent, down from 5.4 percent.

Gas-fired electrical generation was up 17 percent, while hydroelectric power grew only 2.7 percent, falling from 4.4 percent in 2005. Other infrastructure projects were also on the decline, with only 49 km of road paved in 2006.

The number of foreign tourists declined, with visitors to Kumgang Mountain falling from 366,000 in 2005 to only 265,000 last year, adding to the 21.8 percent decline in the food and lodging sector, but the transportation and communication sector grew by 5.1 percent, leading to an overall gain of 1.1 percent in the service industry.

The gap in overseas trade between the two Koreas increased from 182-fold to 212-fold as North Korean foreign trade fell off 5.2 percent. Imports in the North were up 2.3%, although seafood imports were down 48.4 percent. The slack was made up by a 34.1 percent increase in the import of plastics, a 31.2 percent increase in imported chemical goods, and a 12.4 percent increase in imported machinery.

During 2006, inter-Korean exchanges grew 27.8 percent, reaching 13.5 billion USD. South Korean exports to the North grew 16 percent as Seoul increased rice and fertilizer aid, and exports to the Kaesong Industrial Complex grew. On the other hand, North-South cooperative projects grew 52.7 percent as South Korea increasingly imported North Korean zinc, sand, and other natural resources.

In order to give some perspective to the North Korean economic data, the Bank of Korea offered the following comparisons:

Population (thousand) 23,079/48.297/2.1
Economic Growth (2006) -1.1%/5.0%
Nominal GNI (100 million USD) 256/8,873/34.7
Per Capita GNI (USD) 1,108/18,372/16.6
Exports (100 million USD) 9.5/3,254.6/343.8
Imports (100 million USD) 20.5/3,93.8/151.0
Coal Production (10,000 tons) 2,468/280/0.11
Electrical Use (10,000 kW) 782/6,551/8.4
Electrical Production Capacity (100 mill. KW) 225/3,812/16.9
Petroleum Imports (10,000 bbl) 384/88,843/231.4
Cereal Production (10,000 tons) 448.3/530.0/1.2
Rice Production (10,000 tons) 189.4/468.0/2.5
Seafood Harvest (10,000 tons) 92.3/303.3/3.3
Iron Ore Mining (10,000 tons) 504.1/22.7/0.05
Nonferrous Metals Mining (10,000 tons) 8.6/187.7/21.8
Automobile Production (10,000) 0.44/384.0/872.8
Steel (10,000 tons) 118.1/4,843.3/41.0
Cement (10,000 tons) 615.5/4,920.9/8.0
Fertilizer (10,000 tons) 45.4/318.3/7.0
Chemical Products (10,000 tons) 2.9/145.7/50.2
Railways (km) 5,235/3,392/0.6
Roads (km) 25,544/102,061/4.0
Port Loading Capacity (10,000 tons) 3,700/69,213/18.7
Shipping Capacity (10,000 tons) 90.4/1,180.2/13.1


Food Crisis Tough But Better Than Before

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

Escalating Rice Costs 1,900!!

As the month of August began, North Korea saw a sudden jump in its rice costs. While 1kg of rice reached a peak of 1,960won (around US$6.03) in Shinuiju, entering the second week of August, prices seemed to have stabilized around the 1,500won marker.

Due to the damages incurred from the recent flooding in North Korea, the cost of rice was something expected. In the second week of August, the DailyNK reported on the flood situation and the consequent price fluctuations. The following report will indicate the damages from the flood and food situation as well as the course of rice costs.

We discovered from a telephone conversation with Ahn Geum Soon (pseudyonm, 37) on the 10th, a trader who sells clothes in Shinuiju, North Pyongan that the cost of rice had suddenly escalated to 1,900won per kilo dropping back to 1,500won within a 10 day period.

Ahn said, “Even people who trade secretly in private or at Jangmadang (markets) are finding it hard to obtain rice as there simply isn’t enough going around” and informed, “There are some people who are already stocking up on rice as rumors suggest that the costs will go up a little more. These people are the ones to raise the prices.”

Regarding the cause in escalating rice costs, Ahn said, “I’m not sure. According to rumors, people with money are the ones hoarding the rice, but no one is really sure of the reason.”

“Some people are going through tough times with the sudden rise in rice costs but no one is dying of starvation. People who can’t afford rice eat corn. Even if the cost of corn rises, its only 500won” said Ahn and added, “Nonetheless, there are the occasional beggars living in the country and the city who die of hunger, but this is no different to the past.”

Kim Il Yong (pseudonym, 36) who lives in Taecheon, North Pyongan informed a reporter on the 11th, “Currently, the cost of rice is about 1,500won per kilo. There was a great difference in prices within a period of 10 days.”

Kim responded, “Some say that the costs are rising as South Korea and other foreign countries are not supporting us with rice, while others say that that prices are rising as there is not enough rice going around. I’m not sure what is going on.”

He continued, “There are rumors that rice prices will reach 2,000won. Nevertheless, there won’t be any cases where people die of hunger. Like we will reach that stage when potatoes have been picked and are being sold at Jangmadang and the corn harvest has begun.”

Kim who has relatives living in the Hamheung said in response to the claim by a South Korean support organization that 300 people have died of starvation, “Hamheung is comparatively a large city. Rumors would quickly spread if people were dying of starvation. 300 people can’t be dying of starvation.” He said, “My sister in-laws younger brother went to Hamheung 3 days ago. He said he hadn’t heard of any rumors of people dying of hunger.”

Another source in North Korea said in a conversation with a reporter on the 11th, “Up to a month ago, rice cost 850won per kilo” and commented, “There are a lot of coal mines at Dukcheon. It is known as a region where you can make money. Rations are distributed by the employer to the people who work at the mines and so it’s not so hard for them.”

Then he added, “It was a little tough in June as the employers stopped distributing rations for a while.”


U.N. agency may have hit back at N.Korea whistleblower

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Patrick Worsnip

The U.N. ethics office found evidence that the United Nations Development Program retaliated against an employee who tried to expose its alleged wrongdoing in North Korea, a letter leaked on Monday said.

The letter sent on Friday by the office to UNDP chief Kemal Dervis is likely to lend fresh ammunition to the United States in a long-running dispute with UNDP over its North Korean operations, centering on claims of financial irregularities.

The agency has denied that it fired Artjon Shkurtaj, a native of Albania with Italian citizenship who was head of UNDP’s operations in North Korea from 2005-2006, because of his criticisms. It says his contract was not renewed.

The case came before the Ethics Office because Shkurtaj applied for U.N. whistleblower status under a two-year-old directive. But the office cannot launch a formal investigation without UNDP’s agreement because, as an agency with its own executive board, UNDP does not come under its jurisdiction.

In his letter, Ethics Office director Robert Benson told Dervis that the evidence it found would have supported a case against the UNDP if jurisdiction had applied.

UNDP has decided against waiving its right not to be investigated by the Ethics Office, but Benson urged the agency to do so, saying: “I believe this would be in the best interests of the United Nations and UNDP.”

His confidential letter first appeared on the Web site of Inner City Press, an independent blog on U.N. affairs.

The United States accuses UNDP of sloppy accounting, handing over cash to North Korean bodies without proper documentation and hiring staff hand-picked by the communist Pyongyang government.


A U.N. audit published on June 1 said rule breaches had occurred but did not find systematic diversion of U.N. funding. UNDP quit North Korea in March after Pyongyang refused to accept changes ordered by its board of directors.

UNDP and U.S. officials have been unable to agree how much money Pyongyang, whose nuclear program has for years been the subject of international concern, received from UNDP.

Some of Washington’s information came from Shkurtaj, who has said publicly that UNDP violated “multiple rules and regulations” and engaged in “criminal conduct” in North Korea.

UNDP spokesman David Morrison told a news conference last month that Shkurtaj had been invited to submit evidence to back up his allegations but had so far not done so.

He admitted that UNDP barred Shkurtaj from entering the U.N. compound in New York after his contract expired in March, even though his U.N. pass was still valid.

Instead of agreeing to be investigated by the Ethics Office, UNDP has opted for an outside review — yet to be set up — that would look simultaneously at Shkurtaj’s allegations and other aspects of UNDP’s North Korea operations.

“UNDP believes that having multiple processes reviewing related or identical issues would not be the most effective way to achieve closure of this matter,” agency spokeswoman Christina LoNigro said.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “very much concerned about this whole issue,” including the fact that Ethics Office jurisdiction did not cover UNDP, which has no such office of its own.

“There is no doubt that the Secretary-General is going to discuss ways of filling” the gap, she told a news briefing.