Archive for May, 2007

North Korean Students in Beijing Called Back Home

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Choson Ilbo

All North Korean students studying in Beijing have returned to their home country, and some have dropped out of their schools, sources said on Wednesday. According to Peking University, 19 North Korean students from that school left for home before the weeklong May Day holidays starting May 1. None had returned as of Wednesday.

One North Korean student who was majoring in economics at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management has reportedly quit the school. Many other North Korean students have apparently submitted applications to drop out and have returned to their home country.

Currently there are very few North Koreans studying in Beijing. About 200 North Korean studied in the Chinese capital in the 1980s, but now only 50 or 60 are studying there on North Korean and Chinese scholarships.

An official with the South Korean Embassy in China said, “The North Korean government has recalled students studying abroad and children of overseas residents, including diplomats, for ideological education every summer vacation. However, it is difficult to understand why the North Korean government has recalled students in foreign countries during the school semester.”


Search Every Nook and Cranny for Out-sources

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun

In order to block the outflow of information, North Korean authorities have been conducting investigations and enforcing control over people who lead lifestyles that are better off than the average person.

An inside source living in the bodrder city of North Hamkyung informed on the 30th, “Since the end of April, special inspection groups began investigation to block the flow of out-sources.”

The source said, “An order was made to search people who recently visited family in China or illegal defectors who affiliated with South Korean or U.S. intelligence services are selling North Korea’s national information to foreigners for money.”

It appears that this order was made as North Korean authorities believe that citizens living along the border regions are receiving economic aid from defectors in South Korea or foreign organizations in return for information.

At a lecture last November that targeted border garrison, North Korean authorities stated, “Selling information is an act indifferent to selling the nation.”

One educational material criticized, “Being engrossed in making money is rooting out the secrets of authorities, the nation and military” and commented, “Recently, the enemy have been going to use extreme ways and measures to purchase the secrets of our authorities, nation and military with dirty money.”

The source said, “These inspection groups have offices in the People’s committee of each city and are in the process of inspecting the whole household” and relayed, “Every household will be inspected. Families with luxury daily goods and living standards exceeding their monthly income are being targeted for investigation.”

“The groups are inspecting each home for information regarding their workplace, monthly income and living expenditure by help of chairpersons of each People’s unit” said the source and explained, “Suspicious persons are taken away to the secret groups for further cross-examination.”

As a result, families are running around moving their electrical appliances and household items to other homes temporarily. The source informed, “What’s worse, even law officers (including inspectors, National Security Agents, Safety Agents) are frantically hiding their electric rice cookers, gastops and color TV’s.”

“Since 2004 unto now, these groups have also been searching for missing persons, people without secure residences and the unemployed” added the source.


In reclusive North, signs of economic liberalization

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Authored by Ryu Yi-geun and translated by Daniel Rakove

PYONYANG: “Next time, please come back and purchase something,” implored Mr. Hong to the customers leaving his store empty-handed.

“You’re saying you earn more if you sell more?”

“You bet.”

But this reporter was still suspicious. Four days later, I carefully asked our handler for confirmation.

“Of course it’s true,” he assured me. “Even in the same eight-hour workday, he who produces more results gets paid more.”

The concept of receiving compensation in proportion to the amount of sales is one that is now long familiar to North Koreans. Yet what is surprising is the gusto with which North Korean store staff will go to in encouraging South Korean tourists to buy their products, a phenomenon indicative of how great the materialistic impulse has become in the reclusive communist nation.

Constructed in Pyongyang’s central district in 1995, the 47-story Yanggak Hotel seems to float above the Daedong River like an island. Mr. Hong works at a store there on the second floor. There is even a spot next door to exchange money. Though the set prices are written on each product – in Euros – the South Korean customers managed to save a bit through bargaining. The owner was at first insistent that all products be only sold for the listed price, but he finally gave way after a long give and take with the customers. He decided it worthwhile to sell his products slightly cheaper, if only to make a profit. Though most transactions are conducted at the listed price, there were instances at the hotel store and other establishments of selling to tourists at a discounted rate after haggling over the price.

Elements of capitalism are slowly making their way into North Korean life – wrapped in the euphemism of “utility.” After returning from his trip to North Korea from May 14-18, on which he led 130 economic delegates, Min Byeong-seok, Director of the Hankyoreh Foundation for Reunification and Culture proclaimed, “I could unmistakably feel here and there that North Korea is changing.”

It is of course difficult to confirm the presence of change in North Korea. This is in part because the changes are occurring at a low level. After all, there is always a difference in what we look for compared to what we are shown. This is what makes it difficult for someone to declare unreservedly, “North Korea is this,” or “North Korea is that.” There are also parts of North Korea that are difficult to understand due to the biases originating from the political system and values of the observer. Hankyoreh21 managed to get a spot in the group of Pyongyang-bound economic delegates, and recorded below is a compilation of the various things we witnessed.

“My life has gotten so much better since last year.” These words did not seem to be mere propaganda. Whether spoken by our North Korean guide or the various Pyongyang citizens with whom we came in contact, their words were by and large the same. One citizen told us, “My wages increased from 3,000 to 6,000 North Korean won,” and consumer prices “went up about 10-20 percent.” In other words, wages have increased much faster than has the rate of inflation. Yet that man cannot be taken to be the representative Pyongyang laborer, nor does he have the credibility of an economist.

Indeed, it is hard to grasp the level of inflation in North Korea: all one can do is take an educated guess. Lee Do-hyang of the Institute for National Security Strategy said, “These things are evidence that the financial situation is improving and the economy is enduring,” adding, “It seems that the quality of life for common people is taking a turn for the better.” Yet in North Korea, where it is said some US$30 a month is necessary to get by, a 3,000 North Korean won raise is not exactly a windfall: 6,000 North Korean won is about equivalent to $2, and on the black market, $1 sells for 3,000 North Korean won. Thus, the rationing and side jobs that bring in an additional $15-20 a month are an essential source of income.

Pyongyang’s major marketplaces have grown livelier. Stretching between 2,000 and 3,000 pyeong (1 pyeong is 3.3 sq. meters), one large-scale market has taken up a spot next to Kimchaek Industrial School on a once-empty spot along Otangangan Street. In the shape of a high school gym, the market’s two-story building is covered in a blue roof and the exterior is clean. Visible from the Yanggak Hotel, the market was bustling at 6 p.m. on May 16. The Bonghak Market next to the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory was also busy once the sun set. At least one marketplace has taken shape in each of Pyongyang’s 18 districts. Each one is a symbol of capitalism’s penetration of the socialist, planned economy. The activities in each market are said to be hardly distinguishable from the capitalism found in other countries.

One citizen said, “The people go to the markets more, where the prices are a little bit cheaper than at the nationally operated stores. Even if one doesn’t buy anything, it is fun to look around, what with the variety of goods for sale and the haggling going on.” Most citizens are said to buy their daily necessities at such markets, having become an essential part of daily North Korean life.

Street food vendors started appearing quite a while ago, but their numbers are ever-increasing. The fairly tidy vendors can be seen here and there throughout Pyongyang, selling a variety of goods, including soft drinks, ice cream, bread, rice cakes, and so on. Each product runs between 100-300 North Korean won.

The local People’s Committee gives licenses for the operation of such stands to various companies or the descendants of revolutionaries. A portion of sales is taken by the state and the remainder of the profit goes to the managing company or individual.

Though the residents of Nampo, a port city 40 minutes by bus from Pyongyang, do not seem to be better off than their Pyongyang counterparts, the city is quite lively. On the journey from the major ship repair factory by the port, through the city center, and to the freeway entrance leading to Pyongyang, 50-60 separate street food vendors were spotted. The products they were selling as well as their method of sale were quite diverse. Some vendors – most likely new ones – simply laid out their goods on the ground for sale, showing even to the outsider that North Korea’s markets have hit a growth surge.

Five years have passed since the July 1, 2002 economic measures were instituted by the North Korean government, raising wages as well as the currency’s value. In addition, the price of rice and other necessities was increased, and a system of incentives and limited independent capital was expanded. Yet very few North Korean people have even heard of “the 7/1 measures.” Only after talking for a significant length of time will they mention the notion of “utility” that has been pursued over the last few years.

At the end of Unification Road in the Nagnang district of southern Pyongyang, the Phoenix Clothing Factory is producing clothing on commission. The 1,000-pyeong factory is unceasingly filled with the whirr of sewing machines. U Beom-su, 53, introduced himself to the South Korean observers as the company’s “chief executive,” explaining, “The workers work eight hours a day, but when the fixed day for shipment draws near, we have no choice but to put them on overtime.” The payment system for workers is multi-tiered, with five levels, the salary increasing with rank. Every month, one laborer is chosen from each team of workers as being the most outstanding, and is given bonus compensation. The ‘chief executive’ explained that further incentive payments were rewarded based upon the factory’s production levels on the whole.

It is unclear as to how widespread this model of business is, but director of the Korea Institute for National Unification Lee Bong-jo said that “the seeds of competition are visible.” However, the workers at the Yuwon Shoe Factory and the Pyongyang Cosmetics Factory were flustered when asked about their salaries or the labor system and evaded giving an answer.

The will for liberalization was evident here and there. At the 10th annual Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair on May 14, 200 companies from 12 countries participated, either to view the product lines or to display their own. The majority were Chinese companies, including its largest electronics firm, Haier, while there were several sections of the exhibition primarily interested in retailing to the foreign visitors themselves, the determination by North Korea to get its products out to foreign markets was apparent.

Many members from the South Korean team of economic representatives also participated. In particular, representatives from Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., Ltd, the world’s second largest shipbuilder, as well as the Korea Port Engineering Company, visited the Yeongnam Ship Repair Factory and the Nampo Port to explore the possibility of making investments in those places. In a gesture of consideration, the Northern handlers prepared a separate automobile for the potential investors to explore the grounds, and held a separate consultation session for them beyond the general one for the economic delegates. On multiple occasions, various North Korean officials expressed an interest in attracting South Korean capital. The self-confidence they showed hinted at a sense that they had to some extent resolved the immediate issues of day-to-day subsistence. It may sound strange, but the consensus of those who had also made the trip last year was that the electricity situation had improved. In other words, basic economic conditions seemed to be on the upswing. Perhaps the self-confidence North Koreans showed in displaying their possession of a nuclear weapon has now flowed into the economic sector, thus explaining their will for some liberalization.

Yet simply because there is a will for opening up does not mean liberalization will come easily. One Daewoo source explained, “[We told the North Koreans that] there must be assurances before we invest. They have to provide the same conditions that China does.” At this point, there is probably not a single person who could make such assurances on behalf of the North Koreans. The country is still unprepared to take advantage of the money available to it from the South through the economic cooperation program. The six-party talks also must also make some progress on the nuclear issue. Furthermore, if North Korean – U.S. relations do not improve, then free trade between North and South will remain uncertain indefinitely.

In the case that external matters are settled and the will for liberalization strengthens, then the vitalization of the North Korean economy could quickly pick up with the improvement of infrastructure, such as the electricity grid and logistics, which are pointed to as the largest stumbling blocks. The reporters who arrived first on May 12 witnessed, for instance, how the automatic doors and the elevator on the first floor of the Yanggak Hotel took 30 minutes to warm up. While the houses themselves gave off light after the sun set, the streets between them were completely dark. The mere 20-30 percent rate of operation at factories as estimated by experts is partially accountable to a lack of raw materials, but most of all to the deficiency of electricity.

The rigidity of the economic system only adds to North Korea’s list of woes. Though the director of Pyongyang Cosmetics has requested raw materials and modern machinery, he does not have the full authority to manage the company. Another company has imported the raw materials from China, and he confessed that he knew little of the specifics on the subject. The director of the Daeanchinseon Glass Factory made a similarly vague request for “raw materials.”

The problems go deeper. For one, there was no sign on the part of the North Korean factory managers to think of the visiting economic representatives as business counterparts in the world of capital and industry. For example, even photography by the group of South Korean trade representatives was forbidden within the factory grounds. Another chronic problem is the ease by which North Koreans that are not economic officials or specialists break promises. Furthermore, as often appears in planned economies, there is a single-minded focus on “production” without consideration of whether the product being made is for domestic use or for export. This sort of difficulty was evident at the cosmetics and shoe factories, as well.

Lee Bong-jo, director of the Korea Institute for National Unification, offered some advice to the South: “Knowledge of North Korea must precede any investments there.”

It seems that amongst difficulty, Pyongyang may be carefully seeking change. Though it remains stuck in the dilemma of pursuing liberalization while maintaining regime stability, it is increasingly sending strong signs to the outside world of a will for liberalization. As South Korean Former Minister of Unification Jeong Sye-hyeon said, “It is difficult for North Korea to go backwards.”


Washington Ready for Normal Relations with North Korea

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Korea Times
Lee Jin-Woo

U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said on Wednesday Washington is prepared to move forward toward the establishment of normal relations with North Korea.

“We are ready to begin the process of removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and from the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act,” Vershbow said at a symposium in Seoul.

But progress on all these tracks depends on achieving the complete elimination of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, he said.

“We’re not ready to settle for a partial solution. It is only with complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization that we can contemplate the full normalization of relations,’’ he said.

Under the Feb. 13 accord in the six-party talks, the United States agreed to begin talks with the communist North over normalizing diplomatic relations. The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since the 1950-53 Korean War, which divided the Korean Peninsula into the two Koreas. The conflict ended in a cease-fire, but no peace treaty was signed.

The ambassador also hinted that the United States might urge the Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a bank in Macau where the North funds have been frozen, to replace its management, who they hold responsible for helping the North with counterfeiting and money laundering.

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in Beijing North Korea is appeared ready to follow through on the February agreement.

“Once they have their funds from the bank, they are prepared to do their part of the bargain, which is to shut down the Yongbyon plant,’’ Hill was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. The U.S. envoy was referring to the BDA issue.

Hill rejected suggestions that the six-party disarmament negotiations, which have been stalled since February, were dead.

Hill exchanged ideas with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei on ways to resolve the stalled nuclear issue but did not give specific details, the AP reported.


Hyundai considers longer Geumgang tour

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Korea Herald
Kim Yoon-mi

Hyundai Asan, the South Korean operator of travel to Mount Geumgang in North Korea, is considering expanding its new program that would allow South Koreans to tour the inner side of the mountain, its CEO Yoon Man-joon said yesterday.

Hyundai Asan on Sunday and Monday ran two pilot tours to inner Mount Geumgang, which has been closed by North Korea despite the South Korean company’s eight-year-long request to open it to South Korean visitors.

The new tour course will be open to the general public from June 1.

“For now, the new course is open three times a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. But depending on the tourists’ response, we could increase the visiting days. And this has already been agreed to with North Korean officials,” Yoon said during a press meeting at Pyohun Temple at inner Mount Geumgang on Monday.

Hyundai Asan’s tourism business met difficulties when North Korea conducted a nuclear test in October last year. With tension heightened on the Korean Peninsula, the number of tourists visiting Mount Geumgang plummeted, ruining Hyundai Asan’s target of securing 400,000 visitors a year. The number reached only 240,000 last year.

“We set the target at 400,000 again this year. About 15 to 20 percent of the tourists are expected to visit inner Geumgang this year. I hope by launching the inner Mount Geumgang tour, it give us a second leap toward successful Mount Geumgang tour business,” Yoon said.

The new tour includes a bus ride through North Korean villages for an hour and a half.

During the bus ride, North Korea people’s livelihoods, commercial buildings and schools will be visible to South Korean tourists.

“It must have been a big decision for North Korea to open up their ‘inner bedroom’ because you would do so to only those who are really close to you,” he said.

Regarding new marketing strategy for the existing tour to the outer side of Mount Geumgang, Yoon said the company will revamp tour programs to attract younger visitors.

Also, Hyundai Asan will add two tour sites called Munpil Peak and Beobgi Rock to the outer Mount Geumgang tour course as early as in June, he said.

The inner Mount Geumgang tour, once opened in June, will be operated from April to November with a price tag of 420,000 won ($450) for a three-day tour per person. The outer Geumgang tour currently costs 390,000 won per person.

“Just as inner and outer parts of Mount Geumgang meet to become one, I hope one day the two Koreas can become one,” said Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who also participated in the pilot tour on Monday.


Another Lie “We Will Give Rations”

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

The rice-planting season began at the beginning of May. Consequently, city and provincial safety agencies have adjusted market hours at Jangmadang (markets) affecting the lives of North Korean people greatly, a source informed on the 30th. Even street vendors have been completely prohibited from selling goods on the side alleys of Jangmadang.

Ever since the rice-planting season began, the markets open at 5 o’clock in the afternoon until sunset. Basically, sellers can only trade for 3 hours at the most.

Park(43) who lives in the border regions of North Hamkyung province said, “We live by selling at Jangmadang. I feel like cast a spiders’ web in my throat because the authority forced to close Jangmadang during the farm supporting activity. Leaders of the People’s Units force members to work on the farms and the Safety Agents scowl Jangmadang like an eagle scavenging for food.”

She should support her husband working at a factory which manufactures farming equipment and two sons. Surviving the march of suffering, she began to sell noodles at the markets.

Park said, “If I sell things, at the least, I can make a little money and buy some corn. If I cannot trade for a month, I will have lost all my goods to waste.”

Every year, North Korea endures the rice-planting season and closes Jangmadang partially. Although many people buy rice and corn in advance, it is nonetheless a tough month for the people and acquiring food is a big concern.

“They said they would redistribute rations from April. Lately, they haven’t said anything but to be patient” said Park and added, “Since we cannot afford to have rice, I only hope that the price of corn does not increase.”

Rice which sold at 850 won in early May has already risen more 50 won. Fortunately, corn has maintained its cost at 300 won.

In North Korea, spring poverty season from early March is called as “Yellow Spring,” because the sky is seen yellow for the malnutrition or hunger. The period between end-May to mid-June is the time of “farm hardship (‘barely hump’ in Korean)” Around June 15th, when barley begins to ripen, the “farm hardship” disappears.

Normally as March approaches, people begin to deplete their stored a year worth of food. By May, the 6 months worth of Kimchi that was made in last December has been consumed and people resort to herbs and plants to accompany their meals.

More recently, as trade became common, there have been less cases where people have died from starvation.

It is even uncommon for Park’s husband who works for an agricultural factory to acquire distributions from his work. He is offered lunch when he gets called to fix equipment on the farms but then again, this doesn’t happen every day.

Hyun who trades between Pyongan and Hwanghae said dissatisfied, “They (authorities) said they would distribute rations as of April 1st. The people are angry as they feel they have been deceived once again. It is common practice that rice is lacking during the springtime, but I don’t understand why they keep attracting the people’s discontent by telling lies.”

He said, “People living in Pyongan are in a worse position than people living in the border regions. Traffic control officers roam the district of Moonduk, South Pyongan and regulate merchants by forcing them to the farms.”

Hyun added, “In the past, even amidst starvation, people in Pyongan believed that they were living in such deity because the U.S. ruined the economy. When I went there this time, the atmosphere was certainly different. People are blatantly cursing that the ‘nation cannot even feed and save the people.'”


N.K. to build 10,000 apartments for Pyongyang residents

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Korea Herald

North Korea plans to build 10,000 apartments for its Pyongyang residents this year, according to a report Tuesday, Yonhap News Agency said.

The move follows similar construction of 10,000 apartments in the city last year, the Choson Sinbo, a newspaper run by an association of North Korean residents in Japan, quoted a Pyongyang official as saying.

The plan includes mending cracks and worn-out parts of tens of thousands of existing apartments in Pyongyang, the report said, noting the city government last year completed repairing an unidentified number of apartments built before 1990.


Kim’s sons vie for N.K. leadership

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Korea Herald
Jin Dae-woong

North Korea appears to have embarked on preparations to pick a successor to leader Kim Jong-il from among his sons, as the communist leader’s health has declined recently, South Korean intelligence sources said yesterday.

According to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Kim Jong-il has been frequently accompanied by his two sons, Kim Jong-chul (26) and Kim Jong-woon (23) in his recent official activities, such as inspections of military bases and the so-called “on-site guidance” tours.

“Kim has yet to decide whom will be his successor, but he appears to have it in mind to select one of his two sons,” one source said. “He is now looking at who would be better for the position while they accompany him on military inspections.”

The open appearance of Kim’s second and third sons at the official events resumed with Kim’s worsening health, stemming from chronic diabetes and heart disease, the sources said. Due to health concerns, Kim, 65, halved official public activities between January and May this year, compared to the activities made in the same period last year, they said.

Jong-chul and Jong-woon, both born to deceased Ko Young-hee, the reclusive leader’s purported third wife, had frequently accompanied Kim on such activities, but halted their attendance after the death of Ko in 2004, they added.

The reemergence of Kim’s two sons indicates that North Korea is gearing up for a third generation of hereditary power succession, another source said.

In late 2005, Kim Jong-il banned any debate on a succession nomination in fear of a rapid erosion of his power in the Stalinist country.

Kim Jong-il took over from his father, Kim Il-sung in 1994. It was the North’s first hereditary power transfer.

The two “princes” have recently completed special military studies courses at Kim Il-sung Military University, one of North Korea’s top schools, named after the North Korean founder, he said. Jong-chul and Jong-woon respectively began the secret courses in 2001 and 2002, specializing in leadership and military theories based on Kim Jong-il’s military first policy, he said.

The special education was made in response to calls from Ko that the two sons should succeed the leadership of their father, he added.

Sources said that the moves are expected to reignite a fierce power struggle between Kim’s sons and their advocates over who would take over the helm of the communist country.

Before Kim issued a ban on any discussion in 2005 concerning his successor, it had been reported that Kim’s three sons, including the oldest, Kim Jong-nam, and their advocates had been engaged in a fierce power struggle in recent years.

Kim Jong-nam, 36, may stage a challenge against Jong-chul and Jong-woon in the pursuit of leadership, noting that oldest sons are generally favored in North Korea, where Confucian traditions that honor seniority are still dominant, they said.

Jong-nam is believed to have fallen out of his father’s favor when he was caught trying to enter Japan in 2001 on a forged passport. He was born to Kim’s first purported wife Sung Hae-rim, a former North Korean movie star, who died in 2002. The eldest son escaped an assassination attempt in Austria in 2004, which was suspected of being conducted by advocates of Jong-chul and Jung-woon.

Kim Jong-chol was widely favored to be first in line to succeed Kim Jong-il, but he has been said to suffer from a chronic overproduction of female hormones.

In addition, the emergence of Kim Jong-il’s purported new wife, Kim Ok, is also expected to add a new twist to the power struggle between the princes, sources said.

The 43-year-old former secretary of Kim Jong-il has frequently accompanied the reclusive leader Kim on his visits to army bases and industrial complexes, and sat with him when he met visiting foreign dignitaries.

Sources think that the young lady could be behind the leader’s ban on any succession debate because Kim’s early appointment of a successor may destabilize her status as first lady. She is building up her own political force with close affiliates in crucial posts within the regime, they said.


Russia, North sign deal for a joint railway

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily

Russia has its own dreams of a cross-border railway, linking its tracks to North Korea.

The former communist country has signed a non-binding deal with the communist country to rebuild a section of railway from the Russian border station of Khasan to the North Korean port of Najin, a Russian radio station reported yesterday.

Representatives of the Russian Railways and the North’s Ministry of Railways signed the memorandum last April at the end of the four-day talks held in Pyongyang, the Voice of Russia said.

A container terminal in Najin is the end goal of the new joint venture. After the repairs and reconstruction are completed, the two sides plan to ship freight from Northeast Asia to Russia and Europe, it said.

To solve technical and financial issues connected with this project, working groups will be set up. The first meeting is scheduled in Pyongyang next month.

After resolving practical issues, the two sides plan to organize a meeting of the leaders of the two countries’ railways to sign an agreement.

The restoration of the railway from Khasan to Najin will make it possible in the future to link the Trans Korean Railway to the Trans Siberian Railway, according to Russian media reports.

On May 17, two trains crossed the Military Demarcation Line dividing the two Koreas for the first time since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea hopes the historic test runs will lead to the connection by railway of the Korean Peninsula, China and Europe.


S. Korea to postpone rice aid until N. Korea acts on denuclearization

Thursday, May 24th, 2007


South Korea has decided to put off food shipment to North Korea until the communist country fulfills its promise to shut down its main nuclear reactor, government sources said Thursday.

South Korea had planned to start sending 400,000 tons of rice to the impoverished North late this month in the form of a loan to be paid back over 30 years after a 10-year grace period.

In inter-Korean economic talks in April, however, South Korea made its food aid conditional on the North’s fulfillment of its obligation to start denuclearization steps in return for energy aid within 60 days of a Feb. 13 six-party deal.

The North failed to meet the April 14 deadline, citing a banking dispute with the United States over $25 million of its funds frozen at a Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia. In a separate deal, the North Korean money was unblocked but the communist country has yet to withdraw it.

Hoping that the banking dispute would have been resolved by the end of May, South Korea’s government last Tuesday approved budget spending for the rice aid worth $170 million and raw materials worth $80 million for the North to make soap, footwear and clothing.

“As we made clear in inter-Korean economic talks last month, however, we will wait and see if North Korea will carry out the Feb. 13 agreement,” a government official said, asking that he remain anonymous.

The South Korean government has yet to sign a commercial contract to purchase rice aid for North Korea, so it would be next to impossible to keep the inter-Korean agreement to start shipment in late May.

South Korean officials have expressed frustration over the prolonged financial dispute which was touched off by Washington’s accusations that North Korea laundered illicit money through the Macao bank.

North Korea has been free to withdraw the money but it reportedly insists that it gets it back through a U.S. bank. The U.S. government said last week that arrangements were being made to address the North Korean demand.