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11 April 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 10 April 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • The NK Govt is reportedly relocating families of defectors from Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province. Sources report they are being moved to a closely controlled area in Kumya County, South Hamgyong Province. There have been reports recently of similar forced relocations in Yangkang Province. NB. Yangkang and North Hamgyeong Provinces share a border with China while South Hamgyeong Province does not.
  • The Supreme People’s Assembly convened without either KJI or KJU attending. There were no promotions for KJU (analysts had predicted a promotion to the National Defence Commission). Ri Myong-su (also romanised as Lee Myung-su) was appointed Minister of People’s Security. He is said to be a confidant of KJU. Ri Thae-nam was relieved of his post as vice-premier of the NK Cabinet for ‘health reasons’. Daily NK explains the SPA.
  • KCNA reported that Premier Choe Yong Rim stressed the need to increase the production of consumer goods and grain to improve the people’s standard of living. State expenditure on agriculture in 2010 showed a 9.4% increase from 2009, while overall expenditure had increased 8.2%. Defence was reported to account for 15.8% of total expenditure (external estimates put the figure at around 35%). NK also increased its budget for construction projects. In its reporting on the SPA session and its goals for 2012, KCNA did not mention the previously oft-stated goal of achieving a ‘strong and prosperous country by 2012’.
  • The ex-ministers of finance and railways were executed in June 2010, and 20 senior munitions officials were purged on embezzlement charges late in the year. Stories of purges are inevitably linked to the succession and are said to reflect efforts to bring in a new generation to ease KJU’s succession.
  • SK intelligence officials estimate up to 450,000 NKoreans subscribe to mobile phone services. Users must pay in Euros, USD or RMB, and phones are used as status symbols in NK (NB. the young woman pictured speaking on her mobile phone in Pyongyang could so easily be SKorean!).
  • NK ordered 200 of its citizens in Libya to stay there, possibly out of fear that they would spread the news of the anti-government uprisings if they returned.
  • NK bought 94 Swiss watches at 200 USD each early this year. They may have been dished out on KJI’s birthday.
  • Forest fires in NK were probably a result of burning stubble in advance of farming, according to SKorean researchers.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • SK permitted World Vision and the Join Together Society to send 161,000 USD worth of powdered milk and porridge to NK.
  • SK’s opposition Democratic Party called for a resumption of food aid and immediate talks with NK.
  • UN Secretary-General and fomer SKorean FM Ban Ki-moon called on the SK Govt to resume food aid to NK.
  • A poll commissioned by the SK Defense Ministry found that nearly 70% of SKoreans oppose food aid unless NK apologises for the 2010 attacks.
  • Daily NK: NK sources and defectors suggest that the food security situation in NK is not particularly bad at the moment, and the drive to receive food aid may have more to do with propaganda efforts to secure KJU’s succession.
  • Noland examines the WFP/FAO report, and advocates for proper monitoring on food aid to NK and an insistence on dialogue on the larger question of reform. He also notes that even if some aid is diverted it will still have the beneficial effect of lowering market prices.
  • Video: UNICEF nutrition specialist on the food crisis in NK.
  • A survey of 500 NK refugees by Network for NK Democracy and Human Rights revealed that 78.2% reported never having received food aid from SK or the international community. Of those that did receive aid, 27.4% reported that they returned all or part of the aid to the Govt. 30% of respondents thought that the monitoring systems for international aid were efficient. 75.2% said that SK should not provide food aid to NK at this time (further details in Korean). Noland has also written on this issue.
  • A SKorean lawmaker claimed that NK is stockpiling 1 million tons of food to be used in case of war.
  • The Red Cross is engaged in efforts to improve NK’s medium- to long-term food security, including by increasing crop production, building dams and riverbank reinforcements, and greenhouses. They also provide medicine to 2000 clinics and over 8 million people, and are planning to build clean drinking water facilities and proper sanitation to reduce disease.
  • KCNA: NKorean scientists have developed a ‘laser-based seed processing technology’.
  • A NKorean boat sank off the coast of Bangladesh, losing its cargo of 13,000 tons of rice. The crew were rescued.

REFUGEES

  • The SK Govt has started a capacity building programme for 1000 young NK refugees to help them play a leading role in a reunified Korea.
  • Lankov describes the growing phenomenon of remittances from NK refugees back to family members in NK, through which around 10 million USD is sent annually. Brokers take a cut of 20-30% but the system is said to be reliable; it is rare for the intended recipient to not receive the money. Regular remittances also reinforce the understanding among NKoreans that SK is a rich country.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, described the human rights situation in NK as “grim, grim, grim.” Posner also said the US has not made much progress in updating NK’s HR information due to limited diplomatic ties and information. The US State Dept’s 2010 Human Rights Report for NK is available here. (Report on SK here).
  • 27 defector groups are hunger-striking in front of the SK National Assembly to pressure lawmakers to pass the NK HR Act.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • Former top UN and US expert Victor Comras describes how NK is completely flouting UNSC resolutions and sanctions in its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
  • The Japanese, US and Russian ambassadors to SKorea all stated their support for Korean reunification at a conference in Seoul.
  • President Carter will visit NK in the final week of April (26-28th). Carter says the trip will focus on making progress on denuclearisation and exploring ways to improve the humanitarian situation. Carter is expected to be accompanied by former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Norwegian PM Gro Brundtland, and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (apparently instead of Kofi Annan as previously reported).
  • The US State Dept said it had no plans to put NK back on the state sponsors of terror list.
  • US assistant secretary of state Campbell was expected to discuss NK’s uranium enrichment activities with the Chinese Govt.
  • The commander of US forces in SK warned of possible attacks from NK.
  • Wikileaks: US and China had ‘close cooperation’ on intelligence concerning NK in 2009.
  • SK police said that the March DDoS cyber attack was done by NK, and probably required 7 months of preparation. But such claims are hard to prove.
  • SK’s Minister of Unification said that NK’s nuclear weapons are frustrating the process of reunification.

MISC.

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