North Korea Halts Nuclear Reactor
North Korea has halted the nuclear reactor at its main atomic complex, probably to extract plutonium that could be used for weapons by reprocessing spent fuel rods, a South Korean news report said on Thursday, citing a government source.
The operation of the 5 megawatt nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex has been suspended since late September, according to intelligence assessment by U.S. and South Korean authorities, the report said.
“South Korea and the U.S. believe this could be a sign of reprocessing work being done to obtain weapons-grade plutonium,” the Donga Ilbo newspaper quoted a government source as saying.
Reprocessing of spent fuel rods removed from a nuclear reactor is a step taken before plutonium is extracted. The Yongbyon nuclear complex is the North's main source of plutonium that it likely has used to build nuclear weapons.
North Korea has also operated uranium enrichment facilities, which is a separate source of material that could be used for nuclear weapons.
“The possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is not ruled out,” Donga Ilbo quoted a senior government official as saying, without elaborating on what analysis pointed to the assessment the move may be related to a nuclear test.
South Korea defence ministry spokesman Jeon Ha-gyu declined to comment on the details of the report but said U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities are closely monitoring related developments.
Kim Jong Un Inspects Photos of US Army Bases in Hawaii
North Korean state media said Saturday that leader Kim Jong Un has reviewed images taken by his country's new spy satellite of “major target regions” including the US military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and sites across South Korea.
Pyongyang successfully put a military spy satellite into orbit earlier this week, but South Korea said it was too early to determine if the satellite was functioning as the North claims.
Experts have said putting a working reconnaissance satellite into orbit would improve North Korea's intelligence-gathering capabilities, particularly over South Korea, and provide crucial data in any military conflict.
Pyongyang previously claimed, within hours of the Tuesday launch, that Kim was shown photos of US military bases in Guam taken by the satellite, named “Malligyong-1”.
On Saturday, the North claimed Kim inspected images taken as the satellite passed over Hawaii at around 5 am, including those of “a naval base in the Pearl Harbor, the Hickam air-force base in Honolulu,” according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim also reviewed the satellite's images of the South Korean port city of Busan, which Pyongyang said were taken at around 10 am on Saturday.
The photos included ones of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, Pyongyang claimed.
Carl Vinson had arrived at the Busan Naval Base on Tuesday, according to Seoul's military.
In an earlier report on Saturday, KCNA said Kim had the day before reviewed the satellite's images of “major target regions” in the South, including its capital and cities hosting US military bases.
The Friday images also included some areas of North Korea, it added.
Among the South Korean cities mentioned, Pyeongtaek — around 60 kilometres from Seoul — hosts Camp Humphreys, the largest overseas US military installation in the world.
Pyeongtaek is also home to the Osan Air Base, which houses Seoul's Air Force Operations Command as well as a US Air Force base.
The North's satellite launch has since prompted the two Koreas to suspend — the South only partially — a five-year-old military accord established to de-escalate tensions on the peninsula.
Separately, the top diplomats of South Korea, Japan and the United States on Friday “strongly condemned the launch for its destabilizing effect on the region” after a joint phone call, the US State Department said in a statement.
The launch “used ballistic missile technology in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions,” it said.
Seoul's spy agency has said that Pyongyang, after two failed attempts to put a satellite in orbit earlier this year, received help from Moscow for this week's successful launch.
North Korea's National Aerospace Technology Administration would continue “additional fine-tuning” of the spy satellite's functions on Saturday, KCNA said.
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Along the Koreas’ dangerous border
SEOUL—A key symbol of a brief period of detente on the Korean Peninsula half a decade ago is now gone.
This week, North and South Korea suspended an inter-Korean military agreement struck in 2018 to reduce the risk of conflict along the shared border. A liaison office, also dating to that period, was blown up by North Korea in 2020, and any hopes of resurrecting that era's denuclearization talks have disappeared in a hail of missile launches by Pyongyang.
What's left is an increasingly belligerent North Korea facing off with a more hawkish government in the South with longstanding guardrails now removed.
The government in Seoul suspended parts of the agreement and said it would resume aerial surveillance along the border after North Korea launched a spy satellite this week. On Thursday, North Korea's Defense Ministry said it would resume all military activities it had halted under the agreement and vowed it would deploy new weapons along the border.
North Korea has violated the agreement a number of times since denuclearization talks stalled in 2019. Still, the pact provided some protection against escalating tensions in the border region separating the two Koreas. The resumption of live-fire drills and deployment of new troops and weapons could lead to clashes, said Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies.
“To prove they will no longer abide by the military agreement, North Korea will resume live-fire drills, breach the maritime border and continue with its various missile launches, significantly raising the risk of armed conflict in the border region," Yang said.
The suspension of the agreement signals the end of efforts to halt North Korea's growing nuclear and missile program and bring Pyongyang back to dialogue, he said.
Tensions between the two Koreas have grown following the election of the conservative government in Seoul and the growing friction between its American ally and North Korea backers Russia and China. Emboldened, Pyongyang has pursued deeper cooperation with Russia and has openly ignored international sanctions.
Before the 2018 pact, North Korea had fired artillery shells at a South Korean island and sank a South Korean vessel with a torpedo attack. North Korean drones crashed near the fortified border after taking photos of military installations. South Korea returned fire on several occasions.
To prevent such incidents, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea's then-President Moon Jae-in agreed to create a no-fly zone along the border, establish buffer zones along their maritime boundary and curb military exercises including live drills within 3 miles of the border.
The two Koreas and the U.S.-led United Nations Command also removed firearms and guard posts from a border village where troops from both sides face off every day. South Korea often limited its response to North Korean provocations to warning shots or messages sent over the inter-Korean hotline.
But since conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol took office last year, South Korea has adopted a policy of responding more aggressively to North Korean military action.
South Korean officials said North Korea had violated the agreement dozens of times, flying drones into the South and conducting live-fire drills near the border. Even before taking office, Yoon said he would suspend the pact if provoked by Pyongyang. Ruling-party lawmakers and military officials have repeatedly called for the agreement to be suspended, citing its limits on South Korea's ability to identify North Korean threats.
On Wednesday, Yoon approved his National Security Council's decision to restore surveillance operations along the fortified border after North Korea launched its first military satellite into orbit. The satellite, after two prior failures, successfully reached orbit following technical assistance from Russia, South Korean spy-agency officials told lawmakers on Thursday.
South Korea will be held accountable in the case of an “irretrievable clash" between the two Koreas, North Korean state media reported on Thursday. Pyongyang has said its spy-satellite program is essential to defend against military activities by the U.S. and its allies in the region, blaming joint military exercises and the deployment of U.S. strategic assets for escalating tensions.
The United Nations Security Council bans satellite launches by North Korea, because they are seen as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. North Korea in recent years has rapidly expanded its weapons program, tested new solid-fuel rocket technology and unveiled new drones.
The two Koreas are chasing independent military-surveillance technology, with North Korea vowing to launch more spy satellites in the near future and South Korea launching its first domestically developed spy satellite Nov. 30 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
In September, on the fifth anniversary of the military pact, Moon criticized the Yoon administration's talk of suspending the agreement. “Abolishing the inter-Korean military agreement would be irresponsible, akin to removing the last safety pin," the former president said.
On Wednesday, opposition lawmakers and former Moon administration officials said the pact had reduced military tensions significantly in the demilitarized zone and called on the Yoon government to maintain the agreement despite North Korea's violations.
South Korea's resumption of aerial surveillance will allow it to track potential surprise attacks from the North, which have become a bigger concern since the Hamas attacks on Israel, said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean brigadier general who was a negotiator at inter-Korean military talks in 2007.
“Until now, South Korea has tried to respect the inter-Korean military agreement," he said, “but now we are warning of retaliation."
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Source: Live Mint
Related Posts: KOREAN PENINSULA,SOUTH KOREA,NORTH KOREA,INTER-KOREAN MILITARY AGREEMENT,PYONGYANG,SEOUL,MISSILE LAUNCH,YOON SUK YEOL
North Korea Closes Multiple Embassies Worldwide
North Korea is poised to close as many as a dozen embassies including in Spain, Hong Kong, and multiple countries in Africa, according to media reports and analysts, in a move that could see nearly 25 percent of Pyongyang's missions close worldwide.
North Korea's recent closing of its diplomatic missions was a sign that the reclusive country is struggling to make money overseas because of international sanctions, South Korea's unification ministry said on Tuesday.
On Monday, North Korean state media outlet KCNA said the country's ambassadors paid “farewell” visits to Angolan and Ugandan leaders last week, and local media in both African countries reported the shutdown of the North's embassies there.
Both Angola and Uganda have forged friendly ties with North Korea since the 1970s, maintaining military cooperation and providing rare sources of foreign currency such as statue-building projects.
The embassy closings set the stage for what could be “one of the country's biggest foreign policy shakeups in decades”, with implications for diplomatic engagement, humanitarian work in the isolated country, as well as the ability to generate illicit revenue, wrote Chad O'Carroll, founder of the North Korea-focused website NK Pro.
More than a dozen missions may close, likely because of international sanctions, a trend of Pyongyang's disengaging globally and the probable weakening of the North Korean economy, he said in a report on Wednesday. Seoul's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the pullout reflected the impact of international sanctions aimed at curbing funding for the North's nuclear and missile programs.
“They appear to be withdrawing as their foreign currency earning business has stumbled due to the international community's strengthening of sanctions, making it difficult to maintain the embassies any longer,” the ministry said in a statement. “This can be a sign of North Korea's difficult economic situation, where it is difficult to maintain even minimal diplomatic relations with traditionally friendly countries.”
North Korea has formal relations with 159 countries, but had 53 diplomatic missions overseas, including three consulates and three representative offices, until it pulled out of Angola and Uganda, according to the ministry. North Korea will also shut down its embassy in Spain, with its mission in Italy handling affairs in the neighbouring country, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
Correspondence with the Spanish Communist Party released on the party's website showed the North Korean embassy announcing the closing in a letter dated Oct. 26. The North's embassy in Madrid was in the spotlight after members of a group seeking the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un staged a break-in in 2019, during which they bound and gagged staff before driving off with computers and other devices.
Pyongyang denounced the incident as a “grave breach of sovereignty and terrorist attack,” and accused the United States of not investigating the group thoroughly and refusing to extradite its leader.
China Appears to Have Repatriated North Koreans Despite International Pressure
SEOUL—China appeared to have repatriated a large number of North Koreans this week, despite international pressure given the harsh punishment the returnees likely face back in the Kim Jong Un regime.
Fleeing North Korea is punishable by hard labor, imprisonment in re-education camps or even execution.
Earlier this week, civic and human-rights groups, citing contacts inside China, claimed roughly 500 to 600 imprisoned North Koreans were forcibly sent back to their home country. On Friday, South Korea's Unification Ministry said many North Koreans appeared to have been repatriated from three northeastern Chinese provinces but couldn't confirm how many.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, asked about the repatriation claims at a Thursday briefing, said there were no North Korean defectors in China, according to Reuters. He added that Beijing has always handled individuals who had illegally entered China according to international law and humanitarianism.
North Korea had sealed off its borders over Covid-19 fears, blocking even its own citizens from returning. But the Kim regime officially reopened in August after having isolated itself for more than 3½ years.
That triggered concern from the U.S., South Korea, the United Nations and human-rights groups, which asked China to refrain from repatriating North Koreans. Roughly 10,000 North Koreans might be hiding in China, according to South Korean government estimates. Some 1,500 of them are believed to be imprisoned after getting caught by Chinese authorities, the U.N. says.
Ties between Beijing and Pyongyang have blossomed in recent years, with the two Communist nations pledging deeper coordination and sharing their dissatisfaction with the U.S. and its allies. In the past, when the two countries' relations were frayed, China sometimes deported North Koreans to third countries or turned a blind eye as escapees sought refuge elsewhere, according to Yang Moo-jin, a former South Korean Unification Ministry official.
“Currently China has no intention of prioritizing a North Korean defector's free will over the two countries' border control laws," said Yang, who is now the president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
More than 8,000 North Koreans have been repatriated in the past, with 98% of the cases sent from China, according to the Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. In contrast, some 34,000 North Koreans have relocated to South Korea in recent decades.
President Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol have focused on pressuring North Korea on its human-rights violations, a shift from predecessors who kept quieter on the issues as diplomatic talks unfolded with the Kim regime. Both countries in the past year or so have named North Korean human-rights envoys, positions that had remained vacant since 2017. The U.S. envoy, Julie Turner, was confirmed by the Senate in July, though has yet to be sworn into office.
Since taking power in 2011, Kim, the 39-year-old dictator, has cracked down harder than his father or grandfather did on those seeking to flee North Korea. He tightened border controls even before the pandemic and strengthened punishment for illegal border crossings.
The number of escapees annually who have relocated to South Korea has dwindled to the dozens in recent years. Before the pandemic, the total typically hit 1,000 or more a year.
Beijing's increasing use of facial-recognition technology has suppressed the outflow of North Koreans, by making it extremely difficult for them to avoid being identified and repatriated, said Hanna Song, director of international cooperation at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, during a U.S. congressional hearing in July.
China's foremost request to the Kim regime has been returning North Koreans that Beijing considers to be criminals, ever since the two countries resumed some railway trade earlier this year, South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers in August. The Covid-19 border closures by both countries had meant the North Koreans couldn't be sent back as soon as they were caught, said Hwang Ji-hwan, a professor of international relations at the University of Seoul.
“Even if the Yoon administration has been emphasizing North Korea's human rights violations more, it won't change China's stance especially when Beijing's relations with Washington and Seoul aren't so good," Hwang said.
The North Koreans suspected to have been sent back recently include children and were from several Chinese border cities, including Dandong and Tumen, said Peter Jung, the director of Justice for North Korea, the group that first publicized the repatriations early this week.
Separately, Human Rights Watch, citing a South Korean underground missionary with contacts in China and North Korea, said more than 500 North Koreans who were mostly women had been forcibly returned this week. Around 120 North Koreans had been repatriated in August and September, according to the group.
“The forced repatriations will lead to torture and incarceration of North Koreans and those who came in close contact with Christianity or foreign culture and ideology are expected to be executed or sent to prison camps," said Jung, whose group is a nonprofit humanitarian organization.
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Source: Live Mint
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