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PN's Voice 24, 06-01-2015
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PN's Voice 24, 06.01.2015
Small steps, Road to peace

Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s Address

In Kim Jong-Un’s televised New Year’s Address delivered on the 1st of January, the leader dedicated much of the speech to issues surrounding improving inter-Korean relations and unification, creating hope that he may be aiming to actively set the ball rolling to improve cross-border ties.

During the address, Kim noted that this year marks the 70th year since the division of Korea, and as such, stressed it will be “one of great openings for a path towards autonomous unification.” In terms of inter-Korean ties, he stated that “the history of the North and South must be rewritten” and “there is no reason to not hold talks of the highest level.” “Dialogue, negotiations, exchanges, and frequent contact should be made to reconnect the nation’s bond and bloodline, and we must bring about a grand transition and transformation,” the leader said in his speech. “If South Korea sincerely wants to improve North-South relations through dialogue, we can reopen high-level talks and hold partial meetings,” he added, indicating a decidedly proactive attitude toward the matter.

Compared to last year’s address, wherein he asserted that a “climate for improved relations between North and South” must be created, his remarks signal a change in stance, raising cautious optimism that he will take a more enthusiastic approach this year on fostering a better bilateral relationship with Seoul. However, some point out Pyongyang may simply be looking for an exit from mounting international pressure--surrounding concerns about the North’s human rights problems--by bringing up the prospect of holding “inter-Korean summit talks” that ostensibly represents a softer approach toward Seoul.

Whilst Kim Jong-Un’s willingness to pursue talks with South Korea is encouraging, it seems that many of the same points of contention and obstacles towards inter-Korean peace building remain in place. This can be seen in the following warning in Kim’s address: “Talks of trust cannot take place in an atmosphere where war games are taking place,” making specific reference to South Korea-U.S. joint war drills, a perennial source of contention, makes it likely Pyongyang will raise issues with the annual military exercises and blame Seoul for prickly relations - just as it did last year.

Click on the London-Korean Links link at below to see the full transcript of Kim Jong-Un’s address: Source : 38 North, Daily NK, Daily NK, London-Korean Links

US Imposes Sanctions on N. Korea

Last week President Obama announced that the US would be placing sanctions on three North Korean organizations and 10 individuals after the FBI blamed Pyongyang for the cyber-attack on Sony. North Korea praised the attack on Sony but denied any involvement in it; the attack came as Sony was about to release The Interview, a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader.

The US sanctions imposed last week are believed to be the first time the US has moved to punish any country for cyber-attacks on a US company. Announcing them, White House officials told reporters the move was in response to the Sony hack, but the targets of the sanctions were not directly involved.

North Korea is already under US sanctions related to its nuclear program, and the North has responded to these new sanctions by describing them as part of a hostile and inflammatory US policy. The North's state-run KCNA news agency on Sunday quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying: "The policy persistently pursued by the US to stifle the DPRK [North Korea], groundlessly stirring up bad blood towards it, would only harden its will and resolution to defend the sovereignty of the country. “ "The persistent and unilateral action taken by the White House to slap 'sanctions' against the DPRK patently proves that it is still not away from inveterate repugnancy and hostility toward the DPRK

The North Korean statement says the US allegations that it was involved in the Sony hack are absurd, and it points to cyber experts in the West who also doubt its involvement. It says the US has been stung by the growing international scepticism and imposed sanctions to try to save face.

North Korea warns the sanctions will be counter-productive as they encourage it to strengthen its military stance, including, by implication, its nuclear arsenal. But the involvement of the US Treasury Department in the measures is likely to cause some anxiety in Pyongyang as it has shown an ability in the past to disrupt revenue streams that are directly linked to the leadership.

These latest developments have left some worrying that the US imposed sanctions may prove to be an obstacle in improving inter-Korean relations. Some theorize that the timing of the sanctions coinciding with the enhanced prospects for inter-Korean talks can be read as Washington trying to discourage Seoul from efforts to improve ties with Pyongyang. The US may be concerned that North Korea having separate negations have neighboring countries could blur the focus on the North’s nuclear and missile programs, which is a key interest to the US. Additionally, Washington appears to be concerned that such negotiations could undermine efforts to keep other countries cooperating with its sanctions-centered policy. Source : Hankyoreh, BBC, BBC

Defector Group Sends Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets Across Border

Police reports released on Tuesday reveal that an activist group of North Korean defectors launched balloons containing anti-North Korea leaflets across the inter-Korean border on Monday night. The Campaign for Helping North Korea in a Direct Way scattered some 600,000 leaflets from Yeoncheon, a county bordering North Korea, late on Monday evening, local police said. Lee Min-Bok, the head of the group, and his wife participated in the 30-minute leaflet-scattering event, the police said.

North Korean defectors in South Korea regularly send leaflets to their homeland in a bid to encourage North Koreans to rise up against young leader Kim Jong-Un. Pyongyang has reacted angrily to these kinds of leaflet-carrying balloons in the past; labeling them as a reason to call off high level inter-Korean talks in November last year, while Lee Min-Bok’s group’s previous launch in October of last year, lead to North Korean soldiers firing shots across the border in order to down the balloons. Thus the release of leaflet carrying balloons has become a much discussed issue, on both sides of the 38th parallel, due to the dampening affect the leaflets can have on attempts to thaw inter-Korean relations. Last year many South Koreans called for the government to block the release of the leaflets, however the government said there was no legal basis to do so as it is a matter of free speech.

This latest leaflet launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said in his New Year message that he is willing to hold summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye if certain conditions are met. Kim Jong-Un’s message was a follow up to the South Korean proposal for talks in January.
Source : Yonhap News

South Korea to Provide More Aid to the North

Following on from the two Koreas’ leaders’ exchange of conciliatory signals in their respective New Year messages, the renewed hope for improved inter-Korean relations was given further reason for optimism as South Korea announced it will ramp up its humanitarian assistance to North Korea. A South Korean civic group secured the Unification Ministry’s endorsement to ship 20 tons of sweet potatoes worth 52 million won late last month to the northeastern border city of Sinuiju, while another organization is gearing up to send nutritional food and medical kits soon.

These acts are part of a collection of health, agriculture and farming projects worth an aggregate 3 billion won, which will be operated by 13 groups with the support of an inter-Korean cooperation fund this year. These plans mark the first withdrawal from the aforementioned inter-Korean cooperation fund in five years to provide humanitarian assistance to the impoverished neighbor through nongovernmental organizations.

Though North Korean crop yields have reportedly risen over the past few years, the North faces daunting challenges in feeding its 24 million people as global aid has dried up in the face of growing concerns over the regime’s nuclear program and dire human rights record.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and World Food Program’s data shows that in 2014, $51.4 million was channeled into humanitarian programs in the North, chiefly run by U.N. agencies and European countries. The sum represents about an 18 percent fall from the previous year and 70 percent of it was spent on nutritional support. However, Seoul appears to have grown more open to greater humanitarian assistance since Park vowed an increase in aid and proposed a joint agricultural complex in her so-called ‘Dresden Speech’ given in last March. President Park unveiled plans provide assistance to fight acute malnutrition among babies and mothers in North Korea in partnership with the WFP and World Health Organization. The “1,000 days” project is designed to provide health care to some 2.4 million women and their children up to age 2.
Source : The Korean Herald

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