Archive for March, 2010

News organizations distributing satphones in DPRK

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Acording to the Netherlands Media Network:

A Seoul-based rights group said today that it has supplied contacts in North Korea with satellite phones to expand news coverage of the secretive communist state and minimise the use of riskier cellphones. Free North Korea Radio, run by North Korean defectors, said it gave satphones to “correspondents” in the North five months ago to try to break down the wall of secrecy.

Several rights groups in South Korea have contacts who relay news via Chinese cellphones with pre-paid cards, but these work only in border areas. Free North Korea Radio, which broadcasts to the North on shortwave as well as running an Internet service, said the satphones give it access to information from more parts of the country.

“Three satellite phones, on top of cellphones, have been in use since last October to bring more live and direct news out of North Korea,” its head Kim Seong-Min told AFP. The three satellite phone operators are based in the capital Pyongyang and the southwest, Mr Kim added. He said they helped spread reports last week that Pak Nam-Ki, a top financial official, had been executed for a failed currency revaluation.

Read the full story here:
Free North Korea Radio correspondents use satphones
Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Andy Sennitt
3/2/2010

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RoK cuts DPRK trade quotas in agriculture

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

According to Yonhap:

South Korea has significantly reduced import quotas for eight North Korean agricultural goods, government officials said Sunday, amid the enforcement of strong U.N. economic sanctions on the communist nation.

According to a public notice posted by the Unification Ministry, the amounts of six North Korean goods allowed to be shipped to the country, including crab, shrimp and peanut products, have been reduced to half from those of last year while the import quota for sesame seed has been reduced from 300 tons to 100 tons.

An official at the ministry, Seoul’s key office on North Korean affairs, said the move had little to do with the U.N. sanctions that were imposed shortly after the North’s second nuclear detonation test last year.

“The items, whose import quotas have been reduced this year, are the ones we had little imports of in the past five years,” the official said, asking not to be identified. “The change was only to reflect the actual amount of imports.”

The import quota for mung beans doubled from 1,000 tons last year to 2,000 tons while that of soybeans also increased from 2,000 tons to 3,000 tons, according to the official.

The government places import quotas on certain items to protect domestic markets and producers, he noted.

This comes as South Korea ends imports of North Korean sand.

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Someone is not playing nice….

Friday, March 19th, 2010

UPDATE: This is the second attempt to hack into my computer by someone claiming to be a journalist.  It is similar to the first attack but this time there is no PDF, just a link to a hostile server:

Dear Curtis Melvin,

My name is Ichikawa Hayami, from Nihon TV
Would you have some time to do a short
interview on the foreign direct investment in NK by letter?
If possible, prefer to below please.

documents

Best regards.

Ichikawa Hayami
Producer
Nihon TV World View

If you click on “documents” you are routed to a hostile server.

Here is the email header:

Delivered-To: [email protected]
Received: by 10.224.28.208 with SMTP id n16cs123243qac;
Tue, 6 Apr 2010 00:20:31 -0700 (PDT)
Received: by 10.220.107.227 with SMTP id c35mr3152197vcp.42.1270538430714;
Tue, 06 Apr 2010 00:20:30 -0700 (PDT)
Return-Path: <[email protected]>
Received: from imr-da03.mx.aol.com (imr-da03.mx.aol.com [205.188.105.145])
by mx.google.com with ESMTP id 26si25578441vws.46.2010.04.06.00.20.30;
Tue, 06 Apr 2010 00:20:30 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: neutral (google.com: 205.188.105.145 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of Ichi[email protected]) client-ip=205.188.105.145;
Authentication-Results: mx.google.com; spf=neutral (google.com: 205.188.105.145 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of [email protected]) [email protected]
Received: from imo-da04.mx.aol.com (imo-da04.mx.aol.com [205.188.169.202])
by imr-da03.mx.aol.com (8.14.1/8.14.1) with ESMTP id o367KUP1027363
for <[email protected]>; Tue, 6 Apr 2010 03:20:30 -0400
Received: from [email protected]
by imo-da04.mx.aol.com  (mail_out_v42.9.) id o.c35.7794a375 (44225)
for <[email protected]>; Tue, 6 Apr 2010 03:20:25 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from smtprly-mb03.mx.aol.com (smtprly-mb03.mx.aol.com [64.12.207.150]) by cia-dd08.mx.aol.com (v127_r1.2) with ESMTP id MAILCIADD083-5c6c4bbae0b8112; Tue, 06 Apr 2010 03:20:25 -0400
Received: from web-mmc-d04 (web-mmc-d04.sim.aol.com [205.188.103.94]) by smtprly-mb03.mx.aol.com (v127_r1.2) with ESMTP id MAILSMTPRLYMB032-5c6c4bbae0b8112; Tue, 06 Apr 2010 03:20:24 -0400
To: [email protected]
Subject: interview request
Date: Tue, 06 Apr 2010 03:20:24 -0400
X-MB-Message-Source: WebUI
X-AOL-IP: 211.103.134.39
X-MB-Message-Type: User
MIME-Version: 1.0
From: [email protected]
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
boundary=”——–MB_8CCA370C27E93F1_136C_1AF_web-mmc-d04.sysops.aol.com”
X-Mailer: Mail.com Webmail 31226-STANDARD
Received: from 211.103.134.39 by web-mmc-d04.sysops.aol.com (205.188.103.94) with HTTP (WebMailUI); Tue, 06 Apr 2010 03:20:24 -0400
Message-Id: <[email protected]>
X-Spam-Flag:NO
X-AOL-SENDER: [email protected]

ORIGINAL POST: A week ago I received a personal email from someone requesting an interview.  However, this person was not who he/she claimed.  This person (unsuccessfully) tried to hack into my computer.  Details below:

——————————————————
From: [email protected]
To:
Date: Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 2:05 AM
Subject: interview request

Dear Curtis Melvin,

My name is Greg Fayle, from SBS Radio
Australia’s program World View.
Would you have some time to do a short
interview on the latest developments regarding
Northeast asia and NK situation please?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you

Paper for Interview

Warm
regards,
Greg Fayle

Greg Fayle
Producer
SBS Radio World View
PO Box 290
South Melbourne VIC 3211
Tel: (03) 9749 2421
——————————————————

The “Paper for interview” was an attached PDF document that hid a virus.  Luckily it did not infect my computer.

Here is what  my friend tells me about the email itself — it did not come from Australia:

inetnum:      222.96.0.0 – 222.122.255.255
netname:      KORNET
descr:        KOREA TELECOM
descr:        Network Management Center
country:      KR
admin-c:      DL248-AP
tech-c:       GK40-AP
remarks:      ***********************************************
remarks:      KRNIC of NIDA is the National Internet Registry
remarks:      in Korea under APNIC. If you would like to
remarks:      find assignment information in detail
remarks:      please refer to the NIDA Whois DB
remarks:      http://whois.nida.or.kr/english/index.html
remarks:      ***********************************************
status:       Allocated Portable
mnt-by:       MNT-KRNIC-AP
changed:      [email protected] 20031027
changed:      [email protected] 20041007
source:       APNIC
person:       Dong-Joo Lee
address:      128-9 Yeong-Dong Jongro-Ku Seoul
address:      Network Management Center
country:      KR
phone:        +82-2-766-1407
fax-no:       +82-2-766-6008
e-mail:       [email protected]
e-mail:       [email protected]
nic-hdl:      DL248-AP
mnt-by:       MAINT-NEW
changed:      [email protected] 20061010
source:       APNIC
person:       Gyung-Jun Kim
address:      KORNET
address:      128-9, Yeong-Dong, Jongro-Ku
address:      SEOUL
address:      110-763
country:      KR
phone:        +82-2-747-9213
fax-no:       +82-2-3673-5452
e-mail:       [email protected]
e-mail:       [email protected]
nic-hdl:      GK40-AP
mnt-by:       MNT-KRNIC-AP
changed:      [email protected] 20061009
source:       APNIC
inetnum:        222.96.0.0 – 222.122.255.255
netname:        KORNET-KR
descr:          Korea Telecom
country:        KR
admin-c:        IA9-KR
tech-c:         IM9-KR
status:         ALLOCATED PORTABLE
mnt-by:         MNT-KRNIC-AP
remarks:        This information has been partially mirrored by APNIC from
remarks:        KRNIC. To obtain more specific information, please use the
remarks:        KRNIC whois server at whois.krnic.net.
changed:        [email protected]
source:         KRNIC
person:         ijeksolrusyun a
descr:         aijeksolrusyun
descr:         4cheung jaehyunbilding 230beonji jongro6ka jongroku
descr:         110-126
country:        KR
phone:         +82-2-3676-7100
e-mail:         [email protected]
nic-hdl:        IA9-KR
mnt-by:         MNT-KRNIC-AP
changed:        [email protected]
source:         KRNIC
person:         IP Manager
descr:         DACOM Corporation
descr:         Hangangno1Ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
descr:         65-228DACOM Bldg.
descr:         135-987
country:        KR
phone:         +82-2-2089-7755
fax-no:         +82-505-888-0706
e-mail:         [email protected]
nic-hdl:        IM9-KR
mnt-by:         MNT-KRNIC-AP
changed:        [email protected]
source:         KRNIC

Here is what my friend tells me about the virus–it was pretty sophisticated:

To analyze the PDF  file (which contained the virus), we used scripts to parse through and pick out sections of the code that had Javascript (the virus) embedded in it.  We received an error parsing the /FlateDecode filter sections of the PDF. This section of the document is where the compressed Javascript (virus) and other embedded objects would live, and it has different object and reference pointers. We found that the text section of the code instead of starting with /FlateDecode started with [null character] latedecode. We believe this was done intentionally to make de-obfuscation and analysis by a novice more difficult. We used a Hex Editor to correct the null character byte and make it an ASCII F. Once this was done we were able to see heavily obfuscated javascript and pull it out of the document.

The javascript code contained two well known PDF exploits, one for Reader version 8 and another for Reader version 9. The virus was structured this way because most people use one of these versions of Reader to view PDF documents. One other interesting thing to note was that the PDF document itself was blank.

Here is what we know about the payload from behavioral analysis. Once the PDF runs, it will execute the payload and instruct Adobe’s internal updater (update.exe) to download a file from a non-Adobe owned DNS name which resolves to an IP address in Malaysia. All of the attacking code references the same DNS names. Once downloaded this file will sit on the system and acts as a second stage (or stager) for the additional files to be downloaded. So in summary, the first stage was the initial payload in the PDF shellcode.  This first stage downloads a secod stage program which in turn downloads (we believe) a ‘rootkit’ before deleting itself. This leftover ‘rootkit’ is how the attackers would maintain full command and control of the system.

We visited the website from which the files were to come and found a default instance of Apache and cPanel–so we can assume one of two things: First, whoever administers this server probably doesn’t realize it is being used in this fashion (it was probably compromised by the attackers). Second, perhaps this is the attacker’s server and they want to throw us off by throwing up a cPanel install so we’ll think it’s a compromised host. We think the first scenario is more likely.

The files themselves that come after do behave in a ‘rootkit’ like fashion. What we have observed is that they install themselves in the %WINDOWS%\System32 directory. They modify the registry to allow themselves to be used as a system service (this is done through the second stage payload); they hide their existence from view once they are installed (total rootkit behavior); and they start to call out to the server for additional commands. We noticed that these additional commands were not actually coming back as 200 OK status messages, but instead where coming back as 404 NOT FOUND HTTP messages. This could mean that the reference files have been removed, or it could mean that the 404’s are acting as a beacon.  We are not sure which scenario is the case here at this time.

Also worth noting, the second stage payload prevented hooking with a debugger for analysis during runtime and also prevented analysis through virtual machines. The file also leveraged potential DLL Injection to make other executables run commands on its behalf. This means that it would be obscured from routine detection.  We ran the final rootkit executable through a debugger for static analysis and noticed code sections that contained messages within the application stack like “installation as a system service”, “calls to winspool (which is the library for printing and potentially document creation?)”, “calls to imm32.dll (which could be used for keylogging)”, and some very interesting UNICODE characters that we are still deciphering.

As you can tell, we are still conducting additional research and do not want to reveal the exact location of where we have seen this code before. What we can say is that a quick Google search for this code snippet revealed few results with the same region of the world.  In conclusion, I must say that this was not an amateuristic attack–these people were good. But certain things don’t make sense and we are still looking at the file.

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Seoul moves to halt imports of DPRK sand

Friday, March 19th, 2010

According to the Financial Times:

South Korea is to phase out its main import from North Korea, delivering a heavy blow to an impoverished regime already reeling economically from confiscated arms shipments and bungled currency reforms.

Sand was the biggest export to South Korea from the north in 2008, earning Pyongyang $73m (£47m). That represents about twice as much as it gains annually from wages at factories in Kaesong, a cross-border industrial zone for South Korean companies.

South Korean officials told the Financial Times that Seoul would phase out sand exports when existing contracts with its northern neighbour expired.

“Once those companies receive their sand, for which they have already paid, that will be the end,” a senior South Korean security official said.

It could have a profound political impact – but South Korean officials insist the decision was taken because Seoul increasingly dredges its own sand domestically.

Officials admit that South Korea has long worried that money paid for sand goes to the military, but they say increased dredging and the imminent conclusion of numerous outstanding contracts have given it the opportunity to end the trade.

North Korea is trying to compensate for South Korea’s decision by seeking alternative sand markets in Russian construction projects.

Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported late last year that North Korea would ship sand to Vladivostock for use in building projects for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in 2012.

Sand shipments to South Korea started in 2002 amid inter-Korean rapprochement – but were suspended last March while North Korea prepared to fire a long-range missile over Japan.

Pressed by construction companies that have been affected by the import ban, Seoul resumed imports from North Korea in November. The current flow, however, is less than one-fifth of previous levels.

In an effort to salvage the trade with South Korea, Pyongyang has offered to provide sand to South Korean companies in exchange for other building materials and fuel.

But the South Korean unification ministry said domestic companies were not interested and had not applied for export licences to conduct such swaps.

Previous posts on North Korean sand can be found here

Read the full story here:
North Korea hit by Seoul move to end valuable sand imports
Financial Times
Christian Oliver and Song Jung-a
3/19/2010

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North Korean logger detained in Russian east

Friday, March 19th, 2010

According to the Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times):

The North Korean’s note, scrawled in pen, was simple: “I want to go to South Korea. Why? To find freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of life.”

The ex-logger, on the run from North Korean authorities, handed the note over to a South Korean missionary in the Russian city of Vladivostok last week in hopes it would lead to political asylum.

Just before he was to meet Thursday with the International Organization for Migrants, a team of men grabbed him, slapped handcuffs on him and drove off, rights activists in Moscow said Friday. He was spirited away to the eastern port city of Nakhokda, where he is sure to be handed back over to North Korean officials and repatriated to his communist homeland, activists said in Seoul.

Police in Vladivostok refused to comment. A senior South Korean diplomat in Vladivostok said he had no information. Officials from the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok could not be reached for comment.

The 51-year-old would be the third North Korean logger in Russia in a week to make a bid for asylum. On March 9, two other North Koreans who had fled their jobs as loggers managed to get into the South Korean consulate in Vladivostok.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported last week that two North Koreans climbed a fence, ran past the guards and entered the consulate, saying they wanted political asylum. ITAR-Tass carried a similar report.

The incidents focused attention on the precarious existence of tens of thousands of North Koreans sent by the impoverished regime to work in neighboring Russia.

Russian government figures from 2007 put the number of North Korean laborers at 32,600, most of them working in logging in the remote east.

The Rev. Peter Chung, a Seoul-based activist, said there are about 40,000 North Korean loggers in Russia, but that some 10,000 of them have fled their work sites. Some are finding work as day laborers while others are in hiding as they try to map out how to win asylum in foreign diplomatic missions.

The North Korean described the conditions as unbearable. His government took half his meager wages, while the North Korean company operating the logging camp took 35 percent. He kept just 15 percent — about $60 a month — an arrangement that rendered him “virtually a slave,” he told activists.

He eventually fled the logging camp, taking odd jobs to survive. He also became a Christian, Chung and Kim Hi-tae said, which could draw severe punishment, even execution, back home.

The successful asylum bid of two other former North Korean loggers inspired Kim to make a similar attempt, Chung said.

Previous posts on the North Korean loggers in Russia can be found hereMore here. And here. And here.

Read the full story below:
3rd North Korean logger attempts to defect in Russia, propelled by dream of ‘freedom of life’
Associated Press (via Los Angeles Times)
Kim Kwang Tae
3/19/2010

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More DPRK census analysis

Friday, March 19th, 2010

According to the Hankyoreh:

According to the final report on North Korea’s 2008 census, the population of the country listed under the category of ‘sex’ is 11,721,838 men and 12,330,393 women, for a total population of 24,052,231. However, under the category of ‘region,’ the totals are 11,059,489 men and 12,290,370 women, for a total population of 23,349,859. In other words, some 702,372 people are missing from the second total.

What accounts for the difference? One clue is the fact that the total population by region omits the population residing in military camps, which is included in the population under the category of sex. Additionally, men accounted for 94.3 percent of the omitted population, or 662,349 people, while women represented just 5.7 percent, or 40,023 people. According to age, some 96.4 percent of the omitted total, or 676,737 people, were in the population aged 15 to 29. In particular, people aged 20 to 24 accounted for 57 percent, or 400,052, of the omitted number. In short, this means that men aged 15 to 29 were systematically left out of the estimates for total population by region. Seoul National University Professor Park Keong-suk, who analyzed the census results, said, “This appears to indicate an attempt by North Korean authorities, for security reasons, to avoid clear information coming to light on the distribution of population at military camps by region.”

In any event, the results of the census, which included military camps in examination, essentially confirm a population of 702,372 people residing at military camps in North Korea. Does this mean that the total scale of the North Korean People’s Army is just over 700 thousand troops? It is still too early to reach any conclusions. According to a statistic on “distribution of economically active population aged 16 and older by region,” a total of 699,020 people (425,319 men, 273,701 women) were listed as being employed in the areas of public administration, national defense and social security. These figures do not include residents at military camps, and due to a lack of detailed information, it is impossible to confirm how many of these 699,020 people are employed in the area of national defense.

Thus, while a precise determination is impossible, it can be estimated that the scale of the Korean People’s Army is 702,372 troops plus some additional, unspecified number. This differs markedly from South Korean Ministry of National Defense estimates, which put the size of North Korea’s regular army at 1.19 million people as of December 2008. In view of the fact that 27 percent of enlisted men in the South Korean military as of 2008 were noncommisioned and commissioned officers with addresses outside their bases, analysts say there are grounds for viewing the Defense Ministry’s estimates on the scale of the North Korean army as inflated.

I translated some of the data into excel so I could start playing with it.  Here are the DPRK’s top ten largest cities by population:

top-10-cities.jpg

It should be noted that the number of residents listed in Pyongyang are for the Province of Pyongyang–not just the city center.

Here is some more thoughtful analysis of the census data by the Wall Street Journal and links to the census reports.

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DPRK threatens to seize Hyundai assets at Kumgang

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has informed South Korea of its plan to look into all of the real estate owned by South Koreans inside the scenic mountain resort along its east coast, the South’s government confirmed Thursday, as Pyongyang apparently grows impatient with Seoul’s refusal to allow its citizens to travel there.

In a recently faxed message to the South Korean government, the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a state agency in charge of cross-border exchanges, said, “South Korean figures who possess real estate in the Mount Kumgang district should come to Mount Kumgang by March 25,” according to the Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs.

The North went on to say, “All assets of those who do not meet the deadline will be confiscated and they won’t be able to visit Mount Kumgang again.”

An inter-Korean tourism program to the mountain, once a cash cow for the impoverished North, has been suspended since the summer of 2008, when a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier while traveling there. A luxury hotel, a golf course, and other facilities built by the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai there have since remained idle. A similar joint tour business to the ancient city of Kaesong, just north of the two Koreas’ border, has been also halted.

North Korea, feeling the pinch of U.N. sanctions imposed for its missile and nuclear tests, has called for the South to immediately resume the tours.

In its statement issued March 4, the North Korean committee said, “We would open the door to the tour of the Kaesong area from March and that of Mount Kumgang from April.”

It said it may revoke all accords and contracts on the business unless the South stops blocking the resumption of the joint ventures.

South Korea has urged the North to first fully guarantee the safety of South Korean tourists. Related working-level talks between the two sides last month failed to yield a deal due to differences over details on a security guarantee.

The Unification Ministry expressed regret over the North’s latest threat.

“North Korea’s measure violates agreements between South and North Korean authorities, as well as between their tourism business operators,” the ministry said in a press release. “It also goes against international practice.”

It stressed the North should abide by accords with the South, and all pending issues should be resolved through dialogue.

“As the tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong are issues directly related with our people’s safety, there is no change in the government’s existing position that it will resume them only after the matters are settled,” it added.

Meanwhile, the head of the South Korean operator of the tours offered to resign to take responsibility for snowballing losses from the suspended businesses.

Cho Gun-shik, president of Hyundai Asan Corp., expressed his intent to step down in a statement emailed to all staff earlier Thursday, company officials said.

The Choson Ilbo has more:

In the message, North Korea said, “From March 25, North Korean authorities and experts will conduct a survey of all South Korean assets in the presence of South Korean officials concerned,” including Hyundai Asan staffers, who have assets in the area. “All South Koreans with real estate in the Mt. Kumgang area must report to the mountain by March 25,” it added.

According to the ministry, Hyundai Asan signed a lease with the North for a plot of land in Mt. Kumgang until 2052. South Korean firms have invested a total of W359.2 billion (US$1=W1,134), including W226.3 billion from Asan, in a hotel, a hot spring spa, a golf course, and a sushi restaurant there. The South Korean government owns a meeting hall for separated families opened in 2008 that cost more than W60 billion to build.

Nonetheless the threat is likely to fall on deaf ears. A South Korean security official said, “The North apparently wants South Korean firms that are in danger of losing their assets in the North to put pressure on the government, but the government won’t back down.”

A South Korean businessman operating in the Mt. Kumgang region said, “The North is threatening to seize our firms’ real estate there while talking about attracting large amounts of foreign investment. What South Korean or foreign business will make new investments in the North under these circumstances?”

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea threatens to seize S. Korean assets at Mount Kumgang
Yonhap
3/18/2010

N.Korea Ramps Up Threats Over Mt. Kumgang Tours
Choson Ilbo
3/19/2010

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Hyundai Asan chief offers resignation over Kumgangsan

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

The chief of Hyundai Asan Corp., a South Korean firm that runs tours to North Korea, expressed his intention to step down on Thursday to take responsibility for failing to resume the inter-Korean tour business.

“(I) couldn’t settle them even after running to revive tours (to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong) and normalize business,” Hyundai Asan President Cho Kun-shik said in an e-mail sent to company employees. “I thought taking clear responsibility for results as a president was critical for the firm and the business”.

He intends to resign after a shareholder meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.

Hyundai had been operating tourism projects to the scenic Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast and Kaesong, the ancient capital of the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392).

Cho, a former vice minister with the Ministry of Unification, took the company’s helm in August 2008, a month after tours to the famed mountain resort were suspended following the shooting death of a South Korean woman in the area. Visits to Kaesong were stopped in December of the same year.

He took office vowing to reopen the tour programs, which remain on hold as the two Koreas have yet to reach an agreement over terms for their resumption.

The postponement in relaunching the tours has prompted almost 70 percent of the company’s employees to leave the firm. “I felt regretful for not having reinstated those who had left,” Cho said.

Last week, North Korea accused the Seoul government of effectively blocking South Koreans from visiting its tourist attractions and warned it could revoke all deals covering inter-Korean tours.

But Seoul has demanded an official apology for the shooting death and a pledge that such an incident will not occur in the future, while saying a formal investigation must be carried out to determine why the shooting occurred.

As of February, Hyundai Asan suffered a loss of 257.9 billion won (US$228.1 million) in sales stemming from the travel suspension, according to the company.

Amid growing losses, the firm sold off part of its assets, previously used for the tour program, including 51 tour buses and 41 heavy vehicles.

Mount Kumgang had been a popular tourist spot for South Koreans since it was opened to them in 1998 as a symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement spearheaded by the liberal government of Kim Dae-jung at that time.

Read the full story here:
Hyundai Asan chief offers to resign over suspended inter-Korean tour program
Yonhap
3/18/2010

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Inter-Korean trade jumps in Feb 2010

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Inter-Korean trade soared 52.1 percent from a year ago to US$153.49 million in February, according to the report by the Korea Customs Service.

South Korea’s outbound shipments came to $77.14 million while its imports from the communist country amounted to $76.35 million for the South’s trade surplus with the North reaching $792,000, the report said.

The surge came as the global economy is on the road to recovery. Inter-Korean trade is expected to soar this year thanks to rising demand amid an economic turnaround, the customs office said.

Nearly half of the companies participating in inter-Korean trade responded that two-way trade will increase this year, according to a survey by the Korea International Trade Association.

In January, the country ran a deficit of $9.55 million from its trade with the North after posting a surplus of $23.91 million in December 2009 for the first time in 16 months.

Bilateral trade has increased steadily over the past decade from $328.65 million in 1999 to $651.68 million in 2002 and surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time in 2005.

Inter-Korean trade reached $1.79 billion in 2007 and peaked at $1.82 billion the following year. But it fell slightly last year to $1.66 billion.

Read the full article here:
Inter-Korean trade jumps 52 percent in Feb.
Yonahp
3/17/2010

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Pak Nam-gi executed over currency reform

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

According to Yonahp:

North Korea executed a former top finance official last week, holding him responsible for the country’s currency reform fiasco that has caused massive inflation, worsened food shortages and dented leader Kim Jong-il’s efforts to transfer power to a son, sources said Thursday.

Pak Nam-gi, who was reportedly sacked in January as chief of the planning and finance department of the ruling Workers’ Party, was executed at a shooting range in Pyongyang, multiple sources familiar with information on North Korea told Yonhap News Agency.

“All the blame has been poured on Pak after the currency reform failure exacerbated public sentiment and had a bad effect” on leader Kim Jong-il’s plan to hand power over to his third son Kim Jong-un, one source told Yonhap on condition of anonymity.

Pak, a 77-year-old technocrat, was charged with “deliberately ruining the national economy” as a “son of a big landowner,” the sources said.

Mike wrote a few notes about Mr. Pak in February.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korean technocrat executed for bungled currency reform: sources
Yonhap
3/18/2010

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