Archive for April, 2007

Japan raid on pro-Pyongyang group

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007


Japanese police have raided the offices of a pro-North Korean group in Tokyo in connection with the alleged kidnapping of two children in the 1970s.

Police moved in on two offices linked to the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, Chongryon, and the house of a 55-year-old woman.

They suspect the woman played a key role in the abduction of two children aged three and six in 1974.

North Korea has admitted abducting Japanese citizens in the 70s and 80s.

But it says that of the 13 people its agents seized, five have been released and eight are dead.

Tokyo has always suspected more citizens were kidnapped, and has refused full-scale economic assistance or the establishment of diplomatic ties with the North until the issue is resolved.

Angry scenes

The Japanese authorities said the raids were part of an investigation into the 1974 abduction of two children born to a Japanese woman and a Korean man.

Police sources said they suspected the 55-year-old woman of helping a North Korean agent – who left Japan in the late 70s – to kidnap the children, Kyodo news agency reports.

Three top Chongryon officials are also wanted for questioning over the case, the sources said.

There were angry scenes as police moved in on one of the Chongryon offices, Kyodo news agency reports.

Chongryon staff and supporters clashed with police and one man was reportedly arrested for trying to block the search.

Chongryon described the raid as a “political crackdown” by the Japanese authorities ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US.

Mr Abe, who has always taken a strong line on the issue of abductions, is expected to raise the issue when he meets US President George W Bush later this week.

The two children are not thought to be on the government list of Japanese citizens Tokyo believes were spirited away by the North to train its spies in Japanese language and culture.


S. Korea to invite U.S. companies to IR meeting in Kaesong

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007


The South Korean government said Tuesday that it plans to invite U.S. companies to an investor relations (IR) gathering at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea this year.

The event, planned for October, will permit American businessmen to see firsthand the growth of the industrial park that is being built with South Korean capital, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy said.

The complex is one of the crowning achievements of the June 2000 summit meeting between the leaders of South and North Korea.

More than 20 South Korean companies are making shoes, clothing, watches and mechanical parts in the industrial park just north of the 248-kilometer-long demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

“The IR trip is not directly related to the recently agreed-upon free trade pact between South Korea and the United States,” said Hong Suk-woo, deputy minister for trade and investment.

Washington said it does not consider Kaesong part of South Korea and cannot extend preferential treatment to products made there.

In addition to the IR trip, the official said plans are under way to arrange one or two TV programs to be aired with English captions to provide information to foreign businessmen.

“The government is also considering a 24-hour English-language radio broadcasting that can provide timely information to foreign living in South Korea,” Hong said. China, Japan and Germany have such radio programs.

He said the ministry and related agencies plan to set up joint project teams to aggressively target specific companies for investment in the country.

“Government ministries, 16 regional administrations and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency will form teams that will work as one to attract investments,” he said.

The deputy minister said the 16 regional governments plan to set up three foreign corporate investment teams each by the end of the month so they can begin contacting prospective partners. Particular attention will be paid to attract investment in hightech areas including chemicals, electronics, semiconductors and machinery.

He said without going into details that some foreign companies have expressed interest in investing in South Korea.

Hong said the government expects foreign direct investment to reach $11 billion by the year’s end, roughly the same as last year’s $11.2 billion.


North Korea’s IT revolution

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Asia Times
Bertil Lintner

The state of North Korea’s information-technology (IT) industry has been a matter of conjecture ever since “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il famously asked then-US secretary of state Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address during her visit to the country in October 2000.

The answer is that it is surprisingly sophisticated. North Korea may be one of the world’s least globalized countries, but it has long produced ballistic missiles and now even a nuclear arsenal, so it is actually hardly surprising that it also has developed advanced computer technology, and its own software.

Naturally, it lags far behind South Korea, the world’s most wired country, but a mini-IT revolution is taking place in North Korea. Some observers, such as Alexandre Mansourov, a specialist on North Korean security issues at the Honolulu-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), believes that in the long run it may “play a major role in reshaping macroeconomic policymaking and the microeconomic behavior of the North Korean officials and economic actors respectively”.

Sanctions imposed against North Korea after its nuclear test last October may have made it a bit more difficult for the country to obtain high-tech goods from abroad, but not impossible. Its string of front companies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan are still able to acquire what the country needs. It’s not all for military use, but as with everything else in North Korea, products from its IT industry have both civilian and non-civilian applications.

The main agency commanding North Korea’s IT strategy is the Korea Computer Center (KCC), which was set up in 1990 by Kim Jong-il himself at an estimated cost of US$530 million. Its first chief was the Dear Leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who at that time also headed the State Security Agency, North Korea’s supreme security apparatus, which is now called the State Safety and Security Agency.

Functioning as a secret-police force, the agency is responsible for counterintelligence at home and abroad and, according to the American Federation of Scientists, “carries out duties to ensure the safety and maintenance of the system, such as search for and management of anti-system criminals, immigration control, activities for searching out spies and impure and antisocial elements, the collection of overseas information, and supervision over ideological tendencies of residents. It is charged with searching out anti-state criminals – a general category that includes those accused of anti-government and dissident activities, economic crimes, and slander of the political leadership. Camps for political prisoners are under its jurisdiction.”

In the 1980s, Kim Jong-nam studied at an international private school in Switzerland, where he learned computer science as well as several foreign languages, including English and French. Shortly after the formation of the KCC, South Korean intelligence sources assert, he moved the agency’s clandestine overseas information-gathering outfit to the center’s new building in Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae district. It was gutted by fire in 1997, but rebuilt with a budget of $1 billion, a considerable sum in North Korea. It included the latest facilities and equipment that could be obtained from abroad. According to its website, the KCC has 11 provincial centers and “branch offices, joint ventures and marketing offices in Germany, China, Syria, [the United] Arab Emirates and elsewhere”.

The KCC’s branch in Germany was established in 2003 by a German businessman, Jan Holtermann, and is in Berlin. At the same time, Holtermann set up an intranet service in Pyongyang and, according to Reporters Without Borders, “reportedly spent 700,000 euros [more than US$950,000] on it. To get around laws banning the transfer of sensitive technology to the Pyongyang regime, all data will be kept on servers based in Germany and sent by satellite to North Korean Internet users.” Nevertheless, it ended the need to dial Internet service providers in China to get out on the Web.

Holtermann also arranged for some of the KCC’s products to be shown for the first time in the West at the international IT exhibition CeBIT (Center of Office and Information Technology) last year in Hanover, Germany. The KCC’s branches in China are also active and maintain offices in the capital Beijing and Dalian in the northeast.

Another North Korean computer company, Silibank in Shenyang, in 2001 actually became North Korea’s first Internet service provider, offering an experimental e-mail relay service through gateways in China. In March 2004, the North Koreans established a software company, also in Shenyang, called the Korea 615 Editing Corp, which according to press releases at the time would “provide excellent software that satisfies the demand from Chinese consumers with competitive prices”.

Inside North Korea, however, access to e-mail and the Internet remains extremely limited. The main “intranet” service is provided by the Kwangmyong computer network, which includes a browser, an internal e-mail program, newsgroups and a search engine. Most of its users are government agencies, research institutes, educational organizations – while only people like Kim Jong-il, a known computer buff, have full Internet access.

But the country beams out its own propaganda over Internet sites such as, which in Korean, Chinese, Russian and Japanese carries the writings of Kim Jong-il and his father, “the Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, along with pictures of scenic Mount Paekdu near the Chinese border, the “cradle of the Korean revolution”, from where Kim Il-sung ostensibly led the resistance against the Japanese colonial power during World War II, and where Kim Jong-il was born, according to the official version of history. Most other sources would assert that the older Kim spent the war years in exile in a camp near the small village of Vyatskoye 70 kilometers north of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East, where the younger Kim was actually born in 1942.

The official Korean Central New Agency also has its own website,, which is maintained by pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan, and carries daily news bulletins in Korean, English, Russian and Spanish, but with rather uninspiring headlines such as “Kim Jong-il sends message of greetings to Syrian president”, “Kim Jong-il’s work published in Mexico” and “Floral basket to DPRK [North Korea] Embassy [in Phnom Penh] from Cambodian Great King and Great Queen”.

On the more innocent side, the KCC produces software for writing with Korean characters a Korean version of Linux, games for personal computers and PlayStation – and an advanced computer adaptation of go, a kind of Asian chess game, which, according to the Dutch IT firm GPI Consultancy, “has won the world championship for go games for several years. The games department has a display showing all the trophies which were won during international competitions.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the North Koreans also produce some of the software for mobile phones made by the South Korean company Samsung, which began collaboration with the KCC in March 2000. North Korean computer experts have received training in China, Russia and India, and are considered, even by the South Koreans, as some of the best in the world.

More ominously, in October 2004, South Korea’s Defense Ministry reported to the country’s National Assembly that the North had trained “more than 500 computer hackers capable of launching cyber-warfare” against its enemies. “North Korea’s intelligence-warfare capability is estimated to have reached the level of advanced countries,” the report said, adding that the military hackers had been put through a five-year university course training them to penetrate the computer systems of South Korea, the United States and Japan.

According to US North Korea specialist Joseph Bermudez, “The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces understands electronic warfare to consist of operations using electromagnetic spectrum to attack the enemy by jamming or spoofing. During the 1990s, the ministry identified electronic intelligence warfare as a new type of warfare, the essence of which is the disruption or destruction of the opponent’s computer networks – thereby paralyzing their military command and control system.”

Skeptical observers have noted that US firewalls should be able to prevent that from happening, and that North Korea still has a long way to go before it can seriously threaten the sophisticated computer networks of South Korea, Japan and the US.

It is also uncertain whether Kim Jong-nam still heads the KCC and the State Safety and Security Agency. In May 2001, he was detained at Tokyo’s airport at Narita for using what appeared to be a false passport from the Dominican Republic. He had arrived in the Japanese capital from Singapore with some North Korean children to visit Tokyo Disneyland – but instead found himself being deported to China. Since then, he has spent most of his time in the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, where he has been seen in the city’s casinos and massage parlors. This February, the Japanese and Hong Kong media published pictures of him in Macau, and details of his lavish lifestyle there – which prompted him to leave for mainland China, where he is now believed to be living.

Whatever Kim Jong-nam’s present status may be in the North Korean hierarchy, the KCC is more active than ever, and so is another software developer, the Pyongyang Informatics Center, which, at least until recently, had a branch in Singapore. Other links in the region include Taiwan’s Jiage Limited Corporation, which has entered a joint-venture operation with the KCC under the rather curious name Chosun Daedong River Electronic Calculator Joint Operation Companies, which, according to South Korea’s trade agency, KOTRA, produces computers and circuit boards.

The US Trading with the Enemy Act and restrictions under the international Wassenaar Arrangement, which controls the trade in dual-use goods and technologies (military and civilian), may prohibit the transfer of advanced technology to North Korea, but with easy ways around these restrictions, sanctions seem to have had little or no effect.

North Korea’s IT development seems unstoppable, and the APCSS’s Mansourov argues that it can “both strengthen and undermine political propaganda and ideological education, as well as totalitarian surveillance and control systems imposed by the absolutist and monarchic security-paranoid state on its people, especially at the time of growing conflict between an emerging entrepreneurial politico-corporate elites and the old military-industrial elite”.

So will the IT revolution, as he puts it, “liquefy or solidify the ground underneath Kim Jong-il’s regime? Will the IT revolution be the beginning of the end of North Korea, at least as we know it today?” Most probably, it will eventually break North Korea’s isolation, even if the country’s powerful military also benefits from improved technologies. And there may be a day when the KCNA will have something more exciting to report about than “A furnace-firing ceremony held at the Taean Friendship Glass Factory”.

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services.


North Korea Must Stop “Sucking the Gains” Out of Kaesung

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Song A

Will keeping the abandonment of Kaesung Industrial Complex in secret resolve anything?

It has been revealed that 4 out of 23 enterprises that were supposed to enter Kaesung Industrial Complex during the first rounds have abandoned their locations. Additionally, 4 other enterprises have placed their reservations on hold.

Since August 2005, there are only 7 companies which have commenced operations on the divided grounds of Kaesung Complex.

Of the remaining 8 enterprises which are undergoing the preparations for new constructions, 1~2 companies are considering renouncing their spots and are requesting that thorough investigations are made on Kaesung which now celebrates it’s 3rd anniversary.

In particular, affiliates of Kaesung have been carefully revealing the government’s recent strong ambition to complete the constructions for a 3,306 square km by the 30th of this month, initially a 1,750 square km, knowing that they could be severely affected.

However, the problem is that whenever these incidents occur, rather than finding ways to solve the issue, the government is wasting its efforts in keeping it a secret.

An employee working on Kaesung’s landscape revealed the following information in an interview with a reporter, “Supplementary areas are being designed. This is not advisable. It would be better to wait until the other constructions are complete.”

Despite contractors having to start construction within 6 months of signing a contract, it has now been 18 months and nothing has been begun, while fees for breach of contract are still being paid. No wonder enterprises have abandoned entering Kaesung Complex.

For the past 2 years, North Korea has had many opportunities to earn foreign currency through South Korean business and Kaesong. But the Korean government remains in futile and bewilderment.

Even today, South and North Korea have not been able to make complete amends regarding Kaesung Complex regarding work conditions, wages, entry and exit permits and inspections. Nonetheless, North Korea continues to make requests and one-sidedly takes action though the agreement has not yet been fulfilled.

The fact that North Korea has begun charging fees for issuing passports to long-term South Korean workers has still not been discussed, greatly caused by the government’s indolent preparatory measures.

Businesses are in a position where they cannot invest in Kaesung as know one knows what requests North Korea will make. Last week, 22 enterprises gathered in appeal against all the mishaps that had occurred and demanded that the government take action.

Above all, enterprises and NGO’s argue that North Korea must change its attitude towards the economic agreement. North Korea’s mentality is limited to “sucking the gains,” which has caused companies to leave the region, despite the advantages and the development potential of the Kaesung.

Furthermore, entrepreneurs argue that no matter how many laws are placed regarding Kaesung, North Korea will never change.

Regarding Kaesung, the South Korean government urges that “This is the future of small-medium sized businesses and the key to connecting the South and North for a peace industry.” Regardless, entrepreneurs contend that they will be unable to make any profits and argue that the “slogan is great but the content empty.”

While disregarding the concerns that “South Korea has been caught by North Korea” and hence is immobilized in the Kaesung’s preliminary measure, the South Korean government has arrived at this point. Though it is hard to make assumptions as Kaesung is still in its early stages.

However, the future of a unified Kaesung complex looks bleak as we are continuously faced with a situation where even work instructions are divided. The government should stop praising Kaesung as “hope” but realize and create another plan for entrepreneurs to be at ease and focus on business.


Former N. Korean smuggler named ambassador to Italy

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007


A senior North Korean diplomat who was deported from Zimbabwe a decade and a half ago for smuggling rhino horns out of the country has been named the country’s new ambassador to Italy, according to the North’s official media Tuesday.

In 1992, Han Tae-song, now a career diplomat in his mid-50s, was expelled from the southern African country on suspicion of being engaged in illicit trafficking in rhino horns.

Since then, Han has worked in the field of international organizations at the North’s Foreign Ministry, specializing in United Nations affairs, the Korean Central News Agency reported.

North Korea and Italy established diplomatic ties in January 2000.


Seoul bid to solve North bank row

Monday, April 23rd, 2007


South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator is travelling to the US to try to resolve a major stumbling block to North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

Chun Yung-woo said he did not want to see a dispute over North Korean bank accounts scupper progress towards ending the North’s nuclear programme.

Washington has lifted a freeze on the North’s accounts, but Pyongyang appears to be unable to access the money.

On Sunday South Korea agreed to resume food aid shipments to the North.

Following five days of talks in Pyongyang, Seoul said it would begin delivering 400,000 tonnes of rice to its impoverished neighbour.

While no reference was made to the North’s nuclear programme in the final communique at the talks, Seoul has insisted the aid is linked to progress on disarmament.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung reiterated the South’s position on Monday, saying the aid was dependent on whether the North fulfilled its pledge to begin the process of dismantling its nuclear programme.

“The rice issue is not just a humanitarian issue, but a very symbolic and essential task for peace,” he told MBC radio.

‘Technical issues’

The North missed a mid-April deadline – agreed on 13 February between the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the US – to “shut down and seal” its Yongbyon reactor in return for aid.

Pyongyang made clear it would only close the reactor if $25m (£13m) of its money frozen in the Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia (BDA) was returned.

The US has said the accounts are now unfrozen, and insists it does not know why the North has left the funds untouched.

South Korea’s Chun Yung-woo said his talks with US counterpart Christopher Hill in Washington would focus on “technical issues” over the banking dispute.

“We cannot continue putting off the more important denuclearisation issue because of this BDA issue,” he said before leaving Seoul.

He said the North’s demands had “generally been identified”, but more time was needed to fully resolve the issue, Yonhap news agency reports.

“Let us wait and see for a little longer because the parties are working hard for the resolution,” he said.

The nuclear issue, as well as rice aid, was central to intense negotiations between the two Koreas, which went into an unscheduled fifth day on Sunday.

Seoul, a major food donor to its northern neighbour, suspended aid after Pyongyang’s missile tests in July 2006, which was followed by a nuclear test in October.

The BBC’s Charles Scanlon in Seoul says Pyongyang badly needs the aid, because stocks from last year’s harvest are running out.

The first rice shipments are due to begin arriving in the North in May.


North Korean resort gives solace to South

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Star Bulletin
Jim Borg

The Mount Kumgang project has become a place of spiritual if not political reconnection

Amid ongoing international tensions, North Korea has embraced Western-style tourism at its most famous natural attraction, Mount Kumgang.

Thousands of Korean and foreign tourists flock each month to a modern resort under development by South Korea’s Hyundai Asan Corp., which paid $1 billion for exclusive rights to the business.

After $400 million in additional expenditures since 1998, Hyundai Asan has created not only a tourism hub, but the epicenter for reunification efforts on the peninsula.

“Through the Kumgang tourism business, the reconciliation process has begun between the North and the South,” says Young-Hyun Kim, the company’s on-site general managing director.

Star-Bulletin reporter Jim Borg visited the stunning locale last week as part of a journalism exchange sponsored by the East-West Center and the Korea Press Foundation.

MOUNT KUMGANG, North Korea »

Mist rose from the high mountain pool under the thundering waters of Kuryong Falls, adding to the chilly dampness of the day.

Four hours after an unsmiling North Korean soldier scrutinized our passports and waved us on, we stood at the top of a trail traveled each month by thousands of tourists from both sides of the border, all in search of a spiritual reconnection with their ancestral land.

On a divided peninsula technically still at war, Mount Kumgang has become part of a bold experiment in rapprochement. As their political leaders stagger toward the stated goal of reunification, North and South Korea have carved a modern resort out of this imposing landscape along the Sea of Japan.

Despite international tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program and missile launches last July, South Korea’s Hyundai Asan Corp. is pressing ahead with plans to develop this 922-square-mile expanse a short drive north of the Demilitarized Zone.

Already in place are three multistory hotels, a beach lodge for families, 34 single-family cabins, camping facilities, four North Korean restaurants, six South Korean restaurants, duty-free shops, convenience stores, a hot-spring spa, shows featuring acrobats and folk music, and stone-paved trails punctuated by snack tables. A swimming beach adjoins the floating Hotel Haekumgang in nearby Kosung Bay.

A railway links the two countries here. North Korea, for obscure reasons, has yet to green-light the trains, and border stations remain eerily empty, but Hyundai Asan’s Ha-Jung “Dan” Byun expresses confidence that that hurdle will be cleared soon.

“Everything is connected,” he says. “Everything is ready. What we are waiting for is the final confirmation between the two governments.”

Byun, general manager for planning and foreign investor relations, greeted U.S. reporters visiting Mount Kumgang last week as part of a program sponsored by the East-West Center. This is the first time that the Korea-United States Journalism Exchange, now in its third year, has sent reporters into North Korea.

One of the lessons that emerged is that business interests seem to be succeeding where diplomacy has often failed.

Hyundai Asan, an enterprise separate from the automotive and shipbuilding giants, paid $1 billion to North Korea for exclusive business rights at Mount Kumgang and, farther west, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, where South Korean technology meets cheap North Korean labor.

Scandal clouded the early years of the association, when corruption and embezzlement charges presumably prompted the company’s chairman, Chung Mong-hun, to commit suicide in 2003 by leaping from his 12th-floor office in Seoul. Asked whether Hyundai Asan’s largesse could be viewed as helping to finance North Korea’s weapons programs, Byun said the firm believes the lump sum payments in 1999-2000 were used for economic revitalization.

But even elsewhere along the Demilitarized Zone, a remnant of the 1950-53 Korean War, conflict has bred commerce, drawing tourists to souvenir shops and a carnival park called Peace Land. Tourists and South Korean schoolchildren are taken by tram into a tunnel dug under the DMZ by the North Koreans and discovered in 1978.

Peace Land is a short drive from Seoul, up a highway where billboard-type advertising masks barricades rigged with explosives to stop invading tanks.

South Koreans seem at ease with this dichotomy, taking North Korean anti-U.S. rhetoric and military posturing in stride in an atmosphere of care-free prosperity.

THE BEDROCK for North Korea’s burgeoning tourism is a collection of crags that seem to reach skyward like fingers pressed in prayer. Mile-high Birobong Peak caps this Yosemite-esque experience.

The brochure for Mount Kumgang shows colorful photos in every season, but even in a chilly drizzle the three-hour trek was breathtaking. A river spilled down the narrow canyon to collect in crystal green pools.

“The water is pure and clear,” observed Yong-Sik Im, 41, who came to the mountain with 31 other residents of Namgu village. He recalled singing a song about Mount Kumgang as a schoolboy and always longed to visit.

South Korean hikers here are essentially pilgrims.

At Kumgang they see harmonious manifestations of heaven, earth and water, symbolized on the national flag. The mountain’s yin-yang mix of strength and fluidity has even inspired some movements in the Korean martial art of tae kwon do.

Byun said most South Koreans hope to visit this spot at least once before they die. More than 1.4 million have come since 1998, with a highway route open since 2003.

The site has also been used for meetings arranged by the Red Cross between family members separated by the border. Special accommodations for those families are due to open next year.

THE NORTH KOREAN security guards and snack vendors we met along the trail were polite, if cool, and talked little about their lifestyles except to say they are satisfied.

The exception was one particularly articulate female worker, obviously briefed on the six-nation nuclear talks and other current events, who criticized the United States for aggression. At least one North Korean said the United States deserved the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because of chronic warmongering.

Most of the North Korean workers, including the waitresses at the Okryukwan restaurant, where lunch was served after the hike, refused to be photographed. But over this caution hovered a palpable aura of promise.

Maybe it arises from the $400 million that Hyundai Asan has already spent on development above the $1 billion for rights.

About 1,500 people make a living here: 95 with Hyundai Asan, another 162 with other South Korean companies, about 780 North Koreans and 450 ethnic Koreans recruited by the North Koreans in China.

But don’t try to spend your South Korean currency in the North Korean shops.

Only U.S. dollars are accepted.


North Korea Uncovered (Google Earth)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

DOWNLOAD IT HERE (to your own Google Earth)

Using numerous maps, articles, and interviews I have mapped out North Korea by “industry” (or topic) on Google Earth.  This is the most authoritative map of North Korea that exists publicly today.

Agriculture, aviation, cultural, manufacturing, railroad, energy, politics, sports, military, religion, leisure, national parks…they are all here, and will captivate anyone interested in North Korea for hours.

Naturally, I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds on the more “controversial” locations.  In time, I hope to expand this further by adding canal and road networks. 

I hope this post will launch a new interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to hearing about improvements that can be made.


North Korea, South Korea Agree to Test Railway on May 17

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Heejin Koo

North Korea and South Korea today set a new date to test an inter-Korean railway, which could eventually provide South Korea with a rail link across Asia to Europe.

The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950- 53 conflict ended without a peace agreement, will hold the test on May 17, the chief South Korean delegate to the talks, Chin Dong Soo, said, after meetings in Pyongyang on inter-Korean economic cooperation that began April 18.

The two countries “will hold working level-meetings on the matter in Gaeseong on April 27-28, and will make an effort to ensure that the Gyeongui Line and the East Coast Line can begin operations in the near future,” a Unification Ministry statement cited Chin as saying in a news briefing. “The two sides will also cooperate on providing military assurances so that the test can take place.”

Last year, South Korea had been scheduled to test the 24 kilometer (15 mile) Gyeongui Line in the west, which stretches from South Korea’s northernmost station of Munsan to Gaeseong in North Korea, and North Korea would have conducted a similar test on the East Coast Line that joins the two nations on the east of the peninsula. The test run was repeatedly postponed from 2004, as North Korea dragged its feet without giving specific reasons.

Isolated Peninsula

South Korea is surrounded by the sea on three sides and by the demilitarized zone on the border in the North. The inter- Korean route may cut transportation costs to Europe by as much as 20 percent and delivery time by a third.

South Korea has been trying to lay such tracks since 1982. The Korea Institute for National Unification estimated in May 2004 that it would cost as much as 6.1 trillion won ($6.3 billion) to upgrade track, signals and stations from South Korea through the North to Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway.

During this round of bilateral economic talks, South Korea had wanted assurances from North Korea that it would fulfill its Feb. 13 pledge to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. North Korea missed a deadline of April 14, because of holdups in retrieving $25 million of funds that had been held in previously frozen accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia as a result of U.S. Treasury Department financial sanctions in 2005.

Rice Aid Promised

South Korea promised North Korea 400,000 tons of rice aid, as part of the agreement reached today, “for humanitarian reasons,” Chin said. “Still, We made it very clear that the rice aid would be difficult if North Korea fails to comply with the Feb. 13 agreement.”

North Korea had agreed to shut down its reactor for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, which South Korea offered to provide. North Korea will get economic assistance equivalent to another 950,000 tons of heavy fuel if it disables its nuclear program. The assistance will be provided by the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The two sides also agreed to restart their earlier agreement to jointly develop the North’s mines as well as its manufacturing industries. The two sides will start surveys for underground resources and South Korea will begin shipping raw materials to the North in June.

North Korea and South Korea announced in July 2005 they will develop the communist nation’s natural resources. They are seeking to develop what may become Asia’s largest zinc mine, South Korea’s state-run Korea Resources Corp. said in January.

The two Koreas agreed to hold the next round of bilateral economic talks in July in South Korea, with the specific date and venue to be set in the future.


Gaeseong to be exempt from labor laws

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Korea Herald

South Korea and the United States have agreed not to apply International Labor Organization regulations to an inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea’s border city of Gaeseong, a South Korean lawmaker claimed yesterday.

Kim Won-woong, head of the National Assembly’s unification, foreign affairs and trade committee, said the Gaeseong industrial park is certain to remain an exception to the ILO’s labor rules, paving the ground for Seoul and Washington to designate Gaeseong as an “outward processing zone” (OPZ) on the Korean peninsula.

Gaeseong, located just north of the inter-Korean border, currently houses 23 manufacturing plants, which combine South Korea’s capital with North Korea’s cheap labor.

Under an FTA deal concluded at the beginning of this month, South Korea and the United States agreed to set up a joint OPZ review committee that will identify areas in North Korea that might be designated as OPZs and consider their qualifications if they meet the necessary criteria, including labor and wage practices. But the labor sector was expected to pose a dilemma as North Korea is not a member of the ILO, which stipulates three basic labor rights, namely the right to unionize, collective bargaining and industrial action.

“South Korea and the United States agreed to consider North Korea’s non-ILO member status and unique labor circumstances in the designation of OPZs in the communist state,” said Kim, citing a document he obtained from the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.

In related news, the two Koreas agreed yesterday at the 13th economic cooperation talks in Pyongyang to continue discussing how to fortify the operations at the industrial complex from next month.

Gaeseong park is considered a signature inter-Korean project symbolizing the efforts of expanding exchanges.

South Korea, under the engagement policy of President Roh Moo-hyun, aims to gradually open up North Korea towards market economy for an eventual reform.