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Thursday, 20 February 2014 02:50

Koreas begin reunions of separated families

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Elderly North and South Koreans separated for six decades are tearfully reuniting, grateful to embrace children, brothers, sisters and spouses they had thought they might never see again.
   About 80 elderly South Koreans traveled Thursday through falling snow with their families to North Korea's Diamond Mountain to reunite with relatives they hadn't seen since the 1950-53 Korean War. Seoul says about 180 North Koreans were expected.
   South Korean TV showed elderly women in traditional hanbok dresses talking and hugging at the resort. Stooped men wiped away tears with their handkerchiefs. Another old man was wheeled into the meeting room on a stretcher, a blue blanket wrapped tightly around him.
   More reunions are planned through Tuesday. This round of reunions, the first since 2010, comes amid a North Korean charm offensive.
Published in National News
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 01:30

Cargo ship hits seawall off South Korea; 9 dead

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A cargo ship hit a seawall off South Korea's southeastern coast and partly sank in an accident that killed nine crew members and left two missing, coast guard officers said Wednesday. Eight crew members were rescued.

   The ship is owned by a Chinese firm and flagged in Panama, and its crew is nearly all Chinese with one Vietnamese.

   The 8,461-ton ship had anchored off the port city of Pohang but high waves forced it against the seawall Tuesday afternoon, a coast guard statement said.

   All 19 people on board were listed as missing about 14 hours after the accident as winds and waves hampered rescue efforts.

   Early Wednesday, coast guard rescuers found eight sailors either floating in the sea or waiting for help on the front of the ship. Most of the vessel has sunk, coast guard officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak to the media on this matter. The rescued sailors were wearing life jackets, the officers said.

   The coast guard also collected the dead bodies of nine crew members but two are still missing, the officers said.

   China's official Xinhua News Agency said the ship, the CHENGLU15, belonged to China's Lishen International Shipping Group Corp. in Zhejiang province.

   The ship had unloaded its freight and was set to leave for Japan. The coast guard officers said the ship was carrying about 130 tons of bunker oil and diesel fuel.

Published in National News

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says it has rejected Boeing Co.'s bid to build and supply 60 new fighter jets — even though it was the sole contender in the bidding process.

   Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said Tuesday that South Korea has decided to delay naming a winning bidder for the 8.3 trillion won ($7.7 billion) weapons purchase project.

   Boeing offered its F-15 Silent Eagle, but South Korean critics say the plane lacks state-of-the-art stealth capabilities and cannot effectively cope with North Korea's increasing nuclear threats.

   Kim says South Korea must have better air power and Boeing's rejection was made in consideration of North Korea's nuclear program and other factors.

   Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon earlier competed with Boeing but were eliminated for exceeding Seoul's budget cap.

   The F-15s would have been built at Boeing's St. Louis plant.

Published in Local News

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday accepted South Korea's request that this week's talks on reuniting families separated by war be held at a border village, Seoul officials said, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures Pyongyang has recently taken.

   North Korea appears to be increasingly open to reducing the tensions marked by a North Korean nuclear test, war threats and annual military drills by Seoul and Washington. The Koreas agreed last week to move toward reopening a jointly run factory park closed since April, and North Korea's criticism of U.S.-South Korean training exercises this week was milder in tone than its statements on past drills.

   North Korea agreed to hold talks on Friday on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom as South Korea proposed, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk told reporters Thursday, according to his office. Pyongyang had earlier proposed meeting at Diamond Mountain, a scenic site in North Korea.

   North Korea also proposed another set of talks between late August and early September on resuming lucrative jointly run tours to Diamond Mountain, according to the ministry. South Korea proposed holding talks on the mountain tours on Sept. 25 in response to North Korea's earlier proposal to meet on Thursday.

   "North Korea once again showed it would continue the mood of dialogue .... with South Korea," said Lim Eul Chul, a professor at South Korea's Kyungnam University. "North Korea is believed to have determined that reunions of separated families would be helpful for a resumption of Diamond Mountain tours."

   The mountain tours had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to North Korea before they were suspended after a 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the resort.

   The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, is visiting the two Koreas to discuss the family reunion and other humanitarian issues. Maurer arrived in Pyongyang for a four-day trip and is to travel on to Seoul on Sunday after a visit to China.

   The ICRC has had a permanent presence in North Korea for about 10 years. Maurer is the group's first president to make a combined visit to both countries on the Korean peninsula in 21 years, it said in a statement.

   Family reunions were a key inter-Korean cooperation project during a period of thawed relations between 2000 and 2010, but they have not been held for three years. About 22,000 Koreans were able to meet in that time. The families were separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, when there were huge movements of refugees between North and South Korea.

   But analysts say the North often follows provocations and threats with a charm offensive meant to win aid. A similar proposal on the reunions in July fizzled.

Published in National News

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in South Korea on Friday on an unusual diplomatic journey, traveling directly into a region bracing for a possible North Korean missile test and risking that his presence alone could spur Pyongyang into another headline-seeking provocation.

   Kerry was kicking off four days of talks in East Asia amid speculation that the North's unpredictable regime would launch a mid-range missile designed to reach as far as the U.S. territory of Guam. Kerry also planned to visit China and Japan.

   North Korea often times its provocations to generate maximum attention, and Kerry's presence in Seoul will provide plenty of that, even if the United States is engaged in intense diplomacy with China, the North's benefactor, in an effort to lower tensions. Another dangerous date on the calendar is April 15, the 101st birthday of North Korea's deceased founder, Kim Il Sung.

   Kerry's trip coincides with the disclosure of a new U.S. intelligence report that concludes North Korea has advanced its nuclear knowhow to the point that it could arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. The analysis, disclosed Thursday at a congressional hearing in Washington, said the Pentagon's intelligence wing has "moderate confidence" that North Korea has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles but that the weapon would be unreliable.

   Pentagon spokesman George Little said afterward that "it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced" at the congressional hearing.

   James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said he concurred with Little and noted that the report alluded to at the hearing was compiled by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency and was not an assessment by the entire U.S. intelligence community. "Moreover, North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile," he said.

   President Barack Obama on Thursday urged calm, calling on Pyongyang to end its saber-rattling while sternly warning that he would "take all necessary steps" to protect American citizens.

   Kerry's trip marks his first foray to the Asia-Pacific as America's top diplomat, spearheading the effort to "pivot" U.S. power away from Europe and the Middle East and toward the world's most populous region and fulcrum of economic growth.

   And it comes on the heels of months of provocative action and warlike rhetoric from Pyongyang, including talk of nuclear strikes against the United States - however outlandish analysts consider such threats. No one is discounting the danger entirely after tests of a nuclear device and ballistic missile technology in recent months.

   Kerry's trip was planned well in advance of the latest danger to destabilize the Korean peninsula: North Korea's apparent preparations for another missile test in defiance of United Nations resolutions. The crisis clearly has overtaken the rest of his Asian agenda.

   The Obama administration believes North Korea is preparing for another missile test, said a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry on the plane to Seoul. "We will show to our allies that we are prepared and we will defend them," the official said.

   To mitigate the threat, however, Kerry is largely depending on China to take a bigger role in pressuring North Korea to live up to previous agreements to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It's a strategy that has worked poorly for the U.S. for more than two decades.

   Beijing has the most leverage with Pyongyang. It has massively boosted trade with its communist neighbor and maintains close military ties. And the U.S. believes the Chinese could take several specific steps to show North Korea it cannot threaten regional stability with impunity.

   These include getting China to cut off support for North Korea's weapons of mass destruction program, said the State Department official and another senior administration official, though they rejected that the U.S. was seeking a commercial embargo against the North.

   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about Kerry's meetings in advance.

   Neither could say, however, whether Pyongyang under its enigmatic young leader, Kim Jong Un, was actually listening at this point. One of them stressed that he "wouldn't say there is no conversation between them," but declined to describe the level and impact of Chinese-North Korean contacts.

   Kim's actual control of the country also is unclear, the official added. Now 29 or 30, the basketball devotee and product of a Swiss boarding school inherited power from his late father, Kim Jong Il, some 16 months ago and has seemed to lead his country on an increasingly reckless path toward possible confrontation.

   That has led many observers and policymakers abroad to devote increasing time toward analyzing what little information they have on Kim to figure out how he can be mollified without being rewarded.

Published in National News

   South Korean officials are playing down security fears on the peninsula amid what seem to be daily threats from the North and a warning that a nuclear war was imminent.

   A Defense Ministry official in Seoul says South Korea has deployed three naval destroyers, an early warning surveillance aircraft and a land-based radar system.

   But many North Koreans are focused today on the first anniversary of their leader's appointment as head of the ruling Worker's Party.

   Still, at the border: North Korea remains tense as more South Korean workers return.

 

 

 

Published in National News

   PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - A South Korean Defense Ministry official says North Korea has completed preparations for a missile test that could come any day.

   The warning Wednesday came as Pyongyang prepared to mark the April 15 birthday of its founder Kim Il Sung, historically a time when it seeks to draw the world's attention with dramatic displays of military power.

   In Pyongyang, however, the focus was more on beautifying the city ahead of the nation's biggest holiday. Soldiers hammered away on construction projects and gardeners got down on their knees to plant flowers and trees.

   The official in Seoul said the North's military is capable of conducting multiple missile launches involving Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles, as well as a missile transported to the east coast recently.

   He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Published in National News

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea's point man on North Korea says there is an "indication" that Pyongyang is preparing for a fourth nuclear test.

   Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae told a parliamentary committee Monday that "there is such an indication," according to two ministry officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

   Ryoo was answering a lawmaker's question about increased personnel and vehicle activities at the North's nuclear test site.

   Ministry officials cite Ryoo as telling the lawmakers he wouldn't provide further details because they involve confidential intelligence affairs.

   South Korean defense officials previously said the North completed preparations for a nuclear test at two underground tunnels. The North used one tunnel for its Feb. 12 nuclear test. The second remains unused.

 
Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force says it cost $2.1 million to send two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers on a training exercise over South Korea that was widely viewed as a show of force in response to weeks of threats from North Korea.

<br><br>

The service's Global Strike Command said Friday in a statement that the total flight time for the B-2s was 75 hours. The aircraft made the more than 6,500-mile round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg, Missouri to a South Korean island range on Thursday.

<br><br>

North Korea has threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul.

<br><br>

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the decision to send the B-2s for drills with South Korea was part of normal military exercises with a close ally and not intended to provoke a reaction from North Korea.

Published in Local News
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea says it's cutting off a key military hotline with South Korea that allows cross border travel to a jointly run industrial complex in the North.

The move was announced in a statement sent Wednesday to South Korea from North Korea's chief delegate to inter-Korean military talks.

North Korea recently cut a Red Cross hotline between the Koreas, but there's still a hotline linking aviation authorities in both Koreas.

The hotline mentioned Wednesday is important because the Koreas use it to communicate as hundreds of workers travel back and forth to the Kaesong industrial complex. Officials say more than 900 South Korean workers were in Kaesong on Wednesday.

North Korea is angry over routine U.S.-South Korean drills and recent U.N. sanctions punishing it for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.
Published in National News
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