Entries in Pyongyang (9)


North Korea Prepares Third Nuclear Test

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- As North Korea prepares to launch its controversial rocket this week, recent satellite images show they are also readying for a third nuclear underground test, according to South Korean media quoting anonymous government officials.

The North is reportedly in the final stages of excavating new tunnels at its Punggye-ri site in Kilju, North Hamgyong province, where they conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.  U.S. commercial satellite photos show piles of dirt being moved in from other areas starting last month.  An underground nuclear test requires massive amounts of dirt to fill up the tunnels.

Experts in Seoul, South Korea, say the nuclear test preparation is a calculated move in case the U.S. does not deliver the food aid it had promised on Feb. 29.  Washington and Pyongyang had reached a significant deal then to give 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance in return for suspension of North Korea’s nuclear program and missile tests.

“This is their hidden card to make sure they get that,” said Baek Seung-joo, a North Korea specialist at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

But North Korea on March 16 announced it will launch a satellite into orbit between April 12 to 16 to commemorate the 100th birth year of its late-founder Kim Il Sung.  The U.S. then stated that the planned food assistance would be suspended.

The international community has strongly condemned the launch, saying that what North Koreans call “a satellite for peaceful purposes” is actually a cover for testing a long-range missile as both require similar technology.  Experts say the Unha-3 rocket could be a test for missiles far enough to reach the U.S., but the North is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on it yet.

In a rare move, Pyongyang has invited foreign journalists to the Tongchang-ri missile launch pad to witness the rocket taking off.

“They invited to show the world that this is not a breach of the deal with the U.S. since it is a rocket, not a missile weapon.  So if Americans won’t give that food aid which they desperately need, they can say you broke the deal, so we are going ahead and testing another nuclear bomb,” said Baek.

Neighboring South Korea and Japan have stated that their militaries are prepared to shoot down the rocket if any parts fall in their territories.  North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has threatened that it would consider any attempt to strike the Unha-3 to be a declaration of war.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


North Korea Readies for Controversial Rocket Launch 

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- North Korea has moved a long-range rocket into place for a controversial launch later this month, the BBC reports.

Pyongyang said the rocket will put a satellite into orbit, but opponents believe the nation is disguising a long-range missile test. Officials from South Korea say satellite images indicate the North is preparing to carry out a third nuclear test. An agreement by North Korea in February to freeze nuclear activities and missile tests in exchange for U.S. food aid was put on hold in March when the country announced its plans to launch the rocket.

South Korea and Japan said they will shoot down the rocket, which is scheduled to be launched between April 12 and 16, if it strays into their territory.

North Korea's neighbors and the international community have scrutinized the guarded nation since the death of Kim Jong-il last December led to his son Kim Jong-un taking over as leader.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Won't Provide Food to North Korea Due to Rocket Launch Plans

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The millions suffering in North Korea from not having enough to eat can blame their government for continuing to starve them, according to the Obama administration.

Incensed by Pyongyang's plan to launch a rocket in mid April, the U.S. has reneged on its offer to provide food assistance to North Korea, which has endured devastating shortages over the past two decades.

Pyongyang maintains that it's only sending up a satellite but the West believes the launch will involve a long-range missile -- a clear violation of a missile test moratorium pact.

Pentagon official Peter Lavoy said Wednesday that in exchange for food aid, North Korea had signed onto a partial freeze of its missile activities.

The U.S. also doesn't think North Korea can be trusted to properly deliver assistance to its own people.

Had the deal gone through, 240,000 tons of food would have been provided mostly to children and pregnant women.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Korean Dictator’s Final Ride Was in a Vintage Lincoln Continental

KYODO NEWS/AFP/Getty Images(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- Mourners lined the streets of the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Wednesday, crying and wailing as the funeral procession for Kim Jong-Il crawled slowly through the streets. But a curious detail was that the boxy black hearse that crept through the light snow was a vintage Lincoln Continental.

The choice of a U.S.-made luxury car seems odd for a country that preached a belligerent self reliance, reviled America and was put on President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil list.  

Experts at put the year of the Lincoln at 1976, making the 35-year-old vehicle older than North Korea’s 28-year-old new leader Kim Jong-Un.

Ford, the parent company of Lincoln, did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

The choice of an American luxury car for his final ride is consistent with Kim’s tastes, despite his regime’s propaganda depicting the U.S. as evil, dangerous and violent, and his history of antagonizing numerous American administrations with threats of war and nuclear weapons.

Kim was reported to be a big fan of Hollywood movies, with favorites including the slasher flick Friday the 13th and Sylvester Stallone’s action film Rambo. He supposedly owned both in his collection of more than 20,000 films, many of which starred his favorite actress Elizabeth Taylor. Kim was also a known NBA fan. One of his most prized possessions was said to be an autographed Michael Jordan basketball, presented to him by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright at a rare high point in North Korean-American relations.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


North Korea Upsets Japan in Historic Soccer Match

Pixland/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- The North Korean soccer team led an emotional upset over Japan in a historic World Cup qualifier on Tuesday -- the first played between the teams in Pyongyang in 22 years.

Fifty thousand fans packed Kim Il-Sung Stadium, decked largely in black but waving red North Korean flags. The sound of drums and silver megaphones drowned out the dozens of Japanese fans who were granted special visas for the game and told to support their team quietly.

Pyongyang granted visas to 200 Japanese nationals ahead of the game -- 150 fans, two dozen journalists and diplomats -- along with strict rules accompanying their visit.  Fans were banned from bringing laptops, cellphones and cameras with zoom lenses, as well as drums, vuvuzelas, and Japanese flags.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties, and Tokyo has strongly discouraged travel to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) since imposing economic sanctions in 2006 following a North Korean missile launch. But the two sides made an exception in the name of sports.

The match ended 1-0, with North Korea scoring the goal early in the second half.  Despite the loss, Team Japan advances to the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, while North Korea is out.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Soccer Fans Travel to North Korea for Historic Match

Pixland/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- The Japanese national soccer team faces North Korea Tuesday night in a World Cup qualifier played in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the first time since 1989, where 150 Japanese fans will be there to cheer on their team, quietly.

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties, and Tokyo has strongly discouraged travel to the DPRK since imposing economic sanctions in 2006 following a North Korean missile launch.  But the two sides have made an exception in the name of sports.

Pyongyang granted visas to 200 Japanese nationals ahead of the game -- 150 fans, two dozen journalists and diplomats -- along with strict rules accompanying their visit.  Fans are banned from bringing laptops, cellphones and cameras with zoom lenses.  No drums, vuvuzelas or Japanese flags are allowed.  Supporters can bring digital cameras, so long as the data cards are emptied prior to their entry into the so-called Hermit Kingdom.

Even with all the restrictions, the North Korea match has been a hot ticket for avid soccer fans.  Nishitetsu Travel, the official travel agency for the Japan Football Association, began selling 65 spectator tour packages early this month. They sold out in less than 24 hours.

“The amount of interest in this game absolutely exceeded our expectations,” said Takeshi Kumai with Nishitetsu Travel.  “It’s even more surprising, considering the cost of travel.”

The three-day, two-night tour package costs roughly $3,700, and includes a ticket to the game, along with a sightseeing tour of Pyongyang.  Since there are no direct flights to North Korea, fans traveled to Beijing first, before taking a charter flight to Pyongyang.

Those who gathered at Haneda Airport to fly out Monday admitted they were a little nervous -- traveling to a country shrouded in secrecy -- but said the chance to watch their team compete in such a “unique” setting was something they simply could not pass up.

The Japanese government, has dispatched diplomats to Pyongyang to ensure fan safety -- the first such move since officials accompanied then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on his trip to North Korea in 2004.

Team Japan, known as Samurai Blue, will be heavily favored.  Japan is Asia’s top-ranked team and has already secured a spot in the final round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  North Korea -- ranked 124th in the world -- is out after back-to-back losses to Uzbekistan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Poison-Needle Assassination Plot Busted in South Korea

Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SEOUL, South Korea) -- South Korean officials have arrested a North Korean defector in an alleged poison-needle plot targeting a high-profile anti-Pyongyang activist.

The suspect, only identified by the police as Ahn, is said to be a former commando in his 40s who defected to South Korea in the late 1990s.  The target was activist Park Sang-hak.  A North Korean defector himself, Park leads a group called Fighters for Free North Korea that routinely flies balloons over the two countries’ border with leaflets criticizing the Pyongyang government.

Ahn was reportedly trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Park earlier this month, but South Korean authorities told Park not to proceed fearing an assassination attempt.  Ahn was picked up by police shortly after allegedly carrying poison-tipped needles.  The authorities told Park that the suspected assassin had planned to either poison his drink or jab him with the needles.

Investigators and intelligence officials have not officially commented on the case and have avoided linking this plot directly to North Korea.

The North and South Koreas are still technically at war and Pyongyang has been known to deploy infiltrators and agents to kill targets in the South.  Just last year, a South Korean court jailed two North Koreans posing as defectors.  They confessed that they were on a secret mission to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the most senior official ever to defect from North Korea.  North Korea denied any existence to such a plot.

In this latest case, if Ahn is charged under South Korea’s National Security Law, he could face the death penalty.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


South Korea Responds to North's Artillery Fire

Ryan McVay/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North and South Korea engaged in an exchange of artillery fire Wednesday close to the disputed Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea.

According to a South Korean defense ministry official, it was soldiers from North Korea who started the confrontation by firing three rounds, all of which wound up in the water, while the South responded by shooting three rounds of its own that also failed to hit land.

The hostilities are the most serious since North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island last November, killing two South Korean troops and two civilians.  Earlier in 2010, a South Korea vessel sank in the Yellow Sea, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors.  Pyongyang was blamed for sinking the boat -- a charge it still denies.

Lately, the two countries seemed to be moving toward reconciliation as officials from both governments discussed renewing multilateral talks on Pyongyang’s controversial nuclear weapons program.

While North and South Korea have not engaged in a ground battle since 1953, the two sides are still technically at war since no formal peace treaty was ever signed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


North Korea Starving as Elite Open Luxury Restaurant

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- The phrase dining capitals of the world conjures up places like Paris, Rome, New York, Tokyo and now, Pyongyang?

The capital of North Korea has been previously best known for its gastronomic delicacy of cold noodles in broth -- slyly called Pyongyang deoldeori, which translates to "shivering in Pyongyang."

Earlier this week, "The Restaurant at Hana" opened its doors in the North Korea capital.  Restaurants come and go with little fanfare in most world capitals, but it gets noticed when one opens in the so-called Hermit Kingdom, where famine is threatening to return to the country.

Located in the new headquarters of a North Korean and European joint venture electronics company that produces DVD players, the new restaurant boasts of its many amenities on its website while welcoming "foreigners and locals alike."

It's not clear why the restaurant contains a hairdresser, sauna, treadmills and a swimming pool.  But the heavily produced promotional video, with animated champagne corks popping and smiling clown fish, lingers over these stations as well as the marble-lined private dining rooms decked with flat-screen LCD TVs and glass chandeliers.  Despite being a dining establishment, the Restaurant at Hana website surprisingly doesn't mention food.  And the video does not show any people in the restaurant, either customers or staff.

The lack of food may be related to the growing food crisis in the isolated communist country.  International aid agencies like the World Food Program say the public food distribution system has collapsed and up to six million people are at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

Representatives from Restaurant at Hana's umbrella group, Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd, declined to be interview for this article.  They initially agreed to answer questions submitted by email, but did not respond to ABC News' questions.

This is not the first time a restaurant has caused a stir in Pyongyang.  Last fall, the country's first burger joint opened to blockbusting lines of North Koreans thirsting for a taste of the decidedly American fare.  One of the proprietors of that unmistakably capitalist venture was none other than North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il's own sister.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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