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US charity helps North Korea fight drug-resistant TB
14 October 2014 - Despite worsening US-North Korean relations, an American charity is ramping up efforts against an epidemic of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the isolated country, where it says it is making inroads in fighting the deadly disease. The Eugene Bell Foundation travels to North Korea twice a year to treat TB patients at old-world facilities. The disease has found fertile ground in North Korea, where the population has been weakened by malnutrition since a famine in the 1990s. It appears an unlikely partnership: a Christian-based organization located in Washington, teaming up with an authoritarian government intolerant of religion. Yet the foundation, which does not proselytize, says it has a good working relationship with the North and its doctors. It started out providing food aid during the famine, but has since mostly helped the nation's creaky health system. (more)

Inter-Korean dialogue to resume after top Northern envoys' surprise visit
4 October 2014 - North and South Korea agreed on Saturday, 4 October to resume reconciliation talks after the North sent its most senior delegation ever to its estranged neighbour at just 24 hours' notice. The delegation, formally sent to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, comprised Hwang Pyong So, a senior military aide and confidant to North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un; another close adviser, and a senior official in the ruling Workers' Party and veteran of talks with the South. The team were given a demonstratively warm welcome by South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae -- the main policymaker on inter-Korean affairs -- and President Park Geun-hye's national security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin. No reason was given for the 12-hour visit, but the change in tone was striking after months of near daily-invective from state media directed at the South, and at President Park Geun-hye in particular. (more)

Two Koreas to hold talks on Asian Games
14 July 2014 - A Seoul official says the rival Koreas have agreed to meet to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do says North Korea agreed Monday to meet at a border village on Thursday to discuss its plans to send athletes and cheerleaders to the games. The participation in the games is part of measures North Korea recently proposed to lower tension between the rivals. (more)

North Korea to restart domestic scheduled flights as tourism grows
3 July 2014 - North Korea will reopen some of its domestic scheduled air routes for the first time in years, a China-based tour operator said on Thursday, another sign of moves to bolster tourism in the isolated country. 'Regular flights like this have not been scheduled before -- at least not in the six years we've been doing this,' said Troy Collings of Young Pioneer Tours, a China-based company that specializes in taking Western tourists to North Korea. Foreign tourists have previously had to charter ageing Soviet-era planes to fly between cities which can take up to two days to reach by rail or road. The vast majority of tourists to North Korea are from China, with 237,000 visitors from the country in 2012, nearly double the level from 2010, according to Chinese data. (more)

North Korea to participate in Asian Games in South Korea
23 May 2014 - North Korea says it will enter the Asian Games hosted by South Korea in September, a glimmer of possible rapprochement in what has otherwise been rising animosity between the rivals in recent weeks. The North's Olympic committee told the Asian Olympic Committee it will soon make the necessary applications, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday. (more)

North Korea's capital hosts international marathon
13 April 2014 - The streets of North Korea's showcase capital were filled with runners from all over the world on Sunday for the annual Pyongyang marathon, which was open to foreign amateurs this year for the first time. Known officially as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, the race is sanctioned as a bronze-label event by the International Association of Athletics Federations and has been held annually for 27 years. Organizers said they decided to allow foreign recreational runners because they wanted to hold a grander race as part of the series of sporting competitions, arts festivals, and cultural events marking the birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, on 15 April. (more)

Koreas agree to hold family reunions this month
5 February 2014 - The rival Koreas agreed Wednesday to hold their first reunions of Korean War-divided families in more than three years later this month, another small step forward in easing tensions that comes despite North Korea's anger over upcoming US-South Korean military drills. On Wednesday, in a meeting of Red Cross delegates at a border village, North Korea agreed to hold the reunions 20-25 February at its scenic Diamond Mountain, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry, which is responsible for cross-border affairs. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency also confirmed the arrangements. (more)

North Korea: Organic project to help food security
28 November 2013 - A good two years ago, a project got underway to familiarize the rural population in North Korea with organic agriculture. The 500,000 euro enterprise is being managed by the German section of the research establishment Forschungsinstitut für Biologischen Landbau (FiBL) and is supported by EuropeAid, a programme of the Directorate General for Development and Cooperation of the European Commission. The aim of the project is the improvement of food security for the North Korean population. (more)

Kim Jong Un, North Korea's master builder
24 November 2013 - North Korea's Kim Jong Un has rattled the United States with his nuclear threats and bemused the world with his penchant for funfairs, Disney, and Dennis Rodman. Partly out of the public eye, however, the young leader has presided over a construction boom since he took office two years ago with the aid of funds from China, the North's major backer, and Russia, a former Cold War ally. The building activity goes far beyond the ski resort, pleasure parks, and apartment blocks reported by state media. A stronger focus on the economy is a major change in policy for the third Kim to rule North Korea. While it is impossible to determine how the North is paying for many of its infrastructure developments, beyond Chinese money and a recent debt restructuring with Russia, it is clear there has been a major shift in its propaganda. Beyond the capital, small villages and towns are also getting a facelift, much of it outside state media coverage. 'In addition to the ongoing construction work in Pyongyang, new buildings are also appearing here and there in the countryside, though on a less monumental scale than the capital,' a diplomat who recently visited North Korea told Reuters. (more)

North Korea to return six detained South Koreans
24 October 2013 - North Korea plans to allow six detained South Koreans to return home, officials in Seoul said Thursday, an unusual move that accompanied Pyongyang's separate approval of a visit by South Korean lawmakers to a recently restarted factory park both Koreas run in the North. The North's move, which some South Koreans saw as a conciliatory gesture, came as Pyongyang approved a tour next week by 24 South Korean lawmakers of the jointly run Kaesong factory park, located just over the border. (more)


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Short Summaries of Top Stories


North Korea launches missiles in latest test-fire
13 July 2014 - North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the sea on Sunday, South Korea said, the latest in a series of test-firings seen as expressions of anger over the North's failure to win talks on receiving outside aid, and over US-South Korean military drills. The missiles, believed to be of Scud variations, were fired from the North Korean city of Kaesong near the border with the South and had a range of about 500 kilometers (311 miles), said a South Korean military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of department rules. North Korea experts said it was highly unusual for Pyongyang to fire missiles from a city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the heavily fortified border separating the two Koreas. The North usually test-fires missiles launched from its eastern port city of Wonsan, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the border. 'It is remarkable that missiles were fired from Kaesong, a symbol of North-South cooperation,' said professor Yang Moo-jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. The jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Complex brings together South Korean-owned companies with North Korean labour. 'Such action can mount tensions as it suggests that these missiles ... can target the entire Korean Peninsula.' (more)

North Korea launches two missiles, defies UN ban
29 June 2014 - North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into seas east off its coast on Sunday, South Korea's military said, defying a U.N. ban on the isolated country testing such weapons. The launch came days before Chinese President Xi Jinping's scheduled state visit to South Korea. China is the main benefactor of the North, which is also under sanctions for conducting nuclear tests. North Korea is also due hold talks with Japan this week to work out the details of Pyongyang's plan to reinvestigate the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the reclusive state decades ago. The missiles, which appeared to be Scud class, were launched from an area on the east coast of the peninsula and flew about 500 km (310 miles) before crashing harmlessly into the water, an official for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The test firings on Sunday came three days after the North launched three short-range projectiles into the waters off its east coast, which flew about 190 km (120 miles) and landed in the sea. (more)

The war that never ends between the Koreas
17 June 2014 - The 1950-53 Korean War, ended in an armed truce that has continued until now, leaving the two Koreas in a technical state of war. A maritime boundary between the two sides was drawn up unilaterally by the US-led United Nations, but peace did not ensue. Tensions are especially high along the string of five South Korean islands that define the maritime frontier, known as the 'Northern Limit Line' (NLL). Lately, the area has seen a sharp increase in artillery exchanges between the two Koreas. North Korea doesn't recognise the NLL. The line is not recognised internationally, either. North Korea warships and fishing boats routinely sail over the line, which commands strategic sea lanes into the industrial heartland of both Koreas. This has led to a spate of sea battles and artillery exchanges over the last 15 years. The disputed maritime frontier, the economic and strategic importance of the area, and a history of violent confrontations have made these otherwise sleepy islands one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints -- one that could drag in the United States and China as parties to the armistice. (more)

North Korea conducts firing drills near disputed border with South
29 April 2014 - North Korea conducted live fire drills on Tuesday in two areas near a disputed sea border with South Korea that have been the scene of deadly clashes and where they fired hundreds of artillery rounds only weeks ago. North Korea conducted similar drills in late March, firing more than 500 artillery rounds near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed maritime border that has been the de facto sea border since the 1950-53 Korean war. More than 100 rounds landed south of the border during that drill, prompting South Korea to fire hundreds of rounds back into the North's waters. The Northern Limit Line is an extension of the land border between the two Koreas, stretching into the sea west of the Korean peninsula. North Korea has refused to recognise the line as the sea border and has periodically challenged the South by violating it and demanding a new border be set further to the south. (more)

North Korea condemns UN, threatens a 'new form' of nuclear test
30 March 2014 - North Korea threatened on Sunday to conduct what it called 'a new form of nuclear test', raising the level of rhetoric after members of the United Nations Security Council condemned the North's recent ballistic missile launch. 'It is absolutely intolerable that the UN Security Council, turning a blind eye to the US madcap nuclear war exercises, 'denounced' the Korean People's Army (KPA)'s self-defensive rocket launching drills and called them a 'violation of resolutions' and a 'threat to international peace and security' and is set to take an 'appropriate step',' the North's foreign ministry said in a statement on the official KCNA news agency. The statement said KPA drills to counter the US will involve 'more diversified nuclear deterrence' that will be used for hitting medium- and long-range targets 'with a variety of striking power'. The North's statement said, 'We would not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence,' without giving any indication of what that might entail. (more)

North Korea rejects UN human rights report
22 February 2014 - North Korea on Saturday rejected the findings of a U.N. panel, which accused the state of crimes against humanity that evoked Nazi-era atrocities, saying they were based on 'lies and fabrications deliberately cooked up by hostile forces and riff-raffs.' The North's formal rejection of the report comes after the UN human rights chief urged world powers to refer the state to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Referral to the Hague-based International Criminal Court is seen as unlikely given China's probable veto of any such move in the UN Security Council, diplomats have said. The UN investigators said China, which is the North's main ally, might also be 'aiding and abetting crimes against humanity' by repatriating defectors back to the country to face torture or execution, a charge that Beijing dismisses. The UN report documented crimes including murder, perpetrated by the North's security officials who ultimately reported to leader Kim. (more)

North Korea puts army on alert, warns US of 'horrible disaster'
8 October 2013 - North Korea said on Tuesday its military would be put on high alert and be ready to launch operations, stepping up tension after weeks of rhetoric directed against the United States and South Korea, who it accuses of instigating hostility. Reclusive North Korea has often issued threats to attack the South and the United States but has rarely turned them into action. Such hostile rhetoric is widely seen as a means to perpetuate its domestic and international political agenda. In the latest outburst, a spokesman for the North's military warned the United States of 'disastrous consequences' for moving a group of ships, including an aircraft carrier, into a South Korean port. In March, the North declared it was no longer bound by the armistice that ended fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War signed with the United States and China, threatening to use nuclear weapons to attack US and South Korean territories. (more)

North Korea postpones reunions of war-divided families
21 September 2013 - North Korea on Saturday indefinitely postponed reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War scheduled to start Wednesday, an apparent setback after weeks of improving ties following springtime threats of war. North Korea said the six days of reunions, which last happened three years ago, could not be held because of South Korean conservatives' 'reckless and vicious confrontation racket' against Pyongyang, a claim that North Korea routinely makes. It also vowed, in similarly familiar rhetoric, to 'take strong and decisive counteractions against the South Korean puppet regime's ever-escalating war provocations.' An unidentified spokesman for the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement that the family reunions will be postponed until a 'normal atmosphere' for dialogue returns. The statement expressed anger over US-South Korean military drills and what it called Seoul's crackdown on liberals and an arms build-up 'with its American master.' Similar military drills -- as well as UN sanctions over Pyongyang's February nuclear test -- were also cited by Pyongyang in March and April for its weekslong barrage of threats, which included vows of nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul. (more)

North Korea fires projectile into eastern waters
19 May 2013 - North Korea fired a projectile into waters off its eastern coast Sunday, a day after launching three short-range missiles in the same area, officials said. North Korea routinely test-launches short-range missiles. But the latest launches came during a period of tentative diplomacy aimed at easing recent tension, including near-daily threats by North Korea to attack South Korea and the US earlier this year. North Korea protested annual joint military drills by Seoul and Washington and UN sanctions imposed over its February nuclear test. The Korean Peninsula officially remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. South Korea's Defence Ministry said Sunday it has deployed dozens of Israeli-made precision guided missiles on front-line islands near the disputed western sea boundary as part of an arms buildup begun after a North Korean artillery strike on one of the islands in 2010 killed four South Koreans. (more)

North Korea sentences American to 15 years hard labour
2 May 2013 - North Korea sentenced an American citizen to 15 years of hard labour on Thursday for crimes against the state, prompting a US call for his amnesty in hopes of avoiding him becoming a bargaining chip between the two countries. Pyongyang has previously tried to use American prisoners as bargaining chips in talks with Washington. A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington was not currently looking for an envoy to try to secure Bae's release as it sometimes has done. Bruce Klingner, a retired CIA North Korea analyst, dismissed the idea that Bae's release would trigger the renewal of long-stalled diplomacy. A North Korean defector said Bae will likely serve his sentence in a special facility for foreigners, not in one of the repressive state's forced labour camps. More than 200,000 people are incarcerated in these camps, beaten and starved, sometimes to death, according to human rights groups. 'If an American served jail together with North Korean inmates, which won't happen, he could tell them about capitalism or economic developments. That would be the biggest mistake for North Korea,' said Kwon, a North Korean sentenced to one of its camps for seven years until 2007. (more)

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