PN's Voice 17

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PN's Voice 17, 27-10-2014

PN's Voice 17, 27.10.2014
Small steps, Road to peace

Balloon Launch Blocked by Local Residents

An anti-North Korean civic group’s attempt to launch leaflet-filled balloons across the DMZ into North Korea was blocked on Saturday by a combination of local residents and other civic groups. Residents of the Paju area, as well as civic groups who opposed the launch clashed with the balloon launch organizers, as eggs and water bottles were thrown, scuffles broke out and roads up to the planned launch site were blocked by tractors and trucks.

The civic group, Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), have been behind most of the recent balloon launches. FFNK is a group mostly made up of North Korean defectors and they release balloons with leaflets condemning the North Korean leader and regime and praising the economic development of South Korea, in an attempt to undo the brainwashing inflicted by the North Korean government on its people. However, the balloons have been the source of much debate recently as a hopeful mood for improved inter-Korean relations has been palpable since a top-level North Korean delegation visited the South at the end of the Incheon Asian Games to set up high-level talks.

Pyongyang has warned against the release of balloons, claiming their slanderous message as being akin to “a declaration of war”, and would therefore be met with a strong response. North Korea’s willingness to put these words into action has already been seen; on October 7th North Korea shot down propaganda filled balloons near the DMZ, leading to both sides exchanging fire.

The two Koreas have scheduled another round of inter-Korean talks for the end of this month/beginning of next month, and those attempting to block the release of the balloons are concerned that they will lead to Pyongyang cancelling the talks and thus the chance to improve inter-Korean relations would be lost.
Source : The Korean Herald,JoongAng Daily,The Korea Times

USFK Chief Claims N. Korea can Mount a Nuke on a Missile

The commander of U.S. Forces Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, claimed that North Korea is capable of building a miniaturized nuclear warhead that could be mounted on a missile, although he did admit that no tests of such a device have taken place. Speaking at a press briefing at the Pentagon on Friday General Scaparrotti said:

“Personally I think that they certainly have had the expertise in the past…they’ve had the right connections, and so I believe have the capability to have miniaturized a device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have.”

He later clarified that he doesn’t believe North Korea has actually managed to place a nuclear warhead on a missile yet, and stressed that his assessment of Pyongyang’s capabilities was based on his personal assumption rather than on hard evidence:

“I don’t know that they do…we've not seen it tested, and I don't think as a commander we can afford the luxury of believing perhaps they haven't gotten there…what I’m saying is, is that I think given their technological capabilities, the time that they been working on this, that they probably have the capabilities to put this together. I don’t believe that they have. I don’t know that they have at this point.”

Scaparrotti also referenced North Korea’s “proliferation relationships” with Pakistan and Iran, either of whom may have helped the North in developing the capability to miniaturize nuclear warheads so they can fit on ballistic missiles. Since 2006, North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests but as of yet hasn’t demonstrated the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.

However, General Scarparotti’s wording on this subject are somewhat more forward than that of South Korea; a South Korean Defence Ministy official said on Sunday that Pyongyang’s ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons sufficiently to mount them on a missile "seems to have become almost real". Some experts have suggested that that Scarparotti may be emphasizing the threat North Korea poses, with an eye on the US government's attempts to push South Korea into joining the U.S. missile defense program.
Source : Chosun Ilbo, The Diplomat

S. Korea Delays Transfer of OPCOM

A joint South Korean-US communique released on Friday announced that the US would retain operation wartime operational control (OPCON) on the Korean Peninsula. The current situation is a legacy of the Korean War; since the end of the war, the US has had operational control of South Korean troops in the event of war breaking out with North Korea. South Korea retains peace-time control of its forces and has twice requested that the US delay the passing of control. The transfer was initially due to take place in 2012 but was delayed until 2015; no new date has been for the transfer to occur. The delay of the transfer of control was attributed to "an evolving security environment" and an "intensifying threat from Pyongyang.”

In addition to the reasons outlined above by Hagel and Han, many experts have suggested there are several other reasons for Seoul’s request to delay the transfer. For example NK News analyst John Grisafi said that the delay was down to the lack of “the ROK’s confidence in its own military capability vis-a-vis the North, especially with the North continuing to work on improving its own capabilities.” He also suggested there may be other factors at play too, such as “ROK-U.S. relations and concerns about the American military commitment to Korea and even internal politics.”

When Seoul requested the delay of OPCON last year, North Korea responded with criticism saying that this decision was an attempt to mask Seoul’s desire to “maintain the U.S. ability to invade, and their ambitions to invade the North.”

The two Koreas remain technically at war, because the Korean War ended in an armistice and not a peace treaty. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in recent years, plus several rocket launches seen as tests of long-range missile technology.

The US currently deploys more than 28,000 troops in South Korea.
Source : BBC, NK News

N. Korea Release Detained American

Jeffrey Fowle, one of three detained Americans in North Korea, has been released and has arrived home in the US. Nearly six months have passed since Fowle was arrested for leaving a Bible at a restaurant in the city of Chongjin, whilst visiting the North as part of a tour. No reason was given for the decision to suddenly release him.

Unlike in previous cases, a US statesmen visit to North Korea wasn’t necessary to secure Fowle’s release. Ex-Presidents Clinton and Carter have both made visits in the past to secure the release of US citizens in 2009 and 2010 respectively. However, Fowle’s released was achieved with help of Tony Hall, a retired diplomat and former Ohio congressman, who has connections with North Korean officials. Discussing Fowle’s release, Hall claimed a lot of people had been involved; the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, along with China and Japan and envoys from Mongolia, which has relations with North Korea.

The news of Fowle’s release was confirmed by State department spokeswoman Marie Harf last Tuesday. Harf was also keen to point out that the US was working to secure the release the two other detained US nationals, Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, who remain in North Korea. Fowle’s release may have been more straightforward as, unlike Bae and Miller, Fowle had not yet been tried and convicted by the North.
Source : The Guardian, Hankyoreh

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