North struggling to survive effects of UN sanctions

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North struggling to survive effects of UN sanctions

North Korea, apparently strapped for cash and life supplies under tight international sanctions and suspended aid from South Korea, has made moves aimed at giving its sagging economy a boost.

Won Tong-yon, a senior Workers’ Party official, spent about a week in Beijing earlier this month and studied the South’s plan to launch a tree-planting campaign in the North.

In January, a special presidential committee on social integration in Seoul named planting trees north of the border one of its 10 core projects of 2010. Aware of this, Won asked a South Korean acquaintance about the possibility that the committee would replace trees with rice and fertilizer. A government official here shot down the idea. The South government used to provide rice and fertilizer to the North but the flow has stopped under the Lee Myung-bak administration. The conservative president has linked aid to the North’s progress in denuclearization.

The North also recently made a proposal to the U.S. forces to resume searching for remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War.

According to a South Korean defense official, North Korea, in its meeting with the United Nations Command in January, also urged the U.S. forces to retrieve remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War after North Koreans had independently recovered them.

A diplomatic source in Seoul said North Korea’s prodding of the U.S. for excavation to resume may have something to do with financial fallout.

The United States and North Korea jointly excavated 225 remains in the North from 1996 to 2005. The United States ended the project in 2005 citing security concerns, but not before having paid North Korea an estimated $28 million for taking back the remains.

Following the North’s long-range rocket launch and nuclear test last spring, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1874, which includes embargo on arms trade and places a ban on financial institutions from dealing with North Korea.

Also, UN members are not allowed to provide North Korea with financial assistance except for humanitarian or developmental causes directly related to civilian needs.

The U.S. and European Union have also imposed separate sanctions on North Korean officials and companies related to the country’s weapons programs, freezing companies’ assets and banning individuals from traveling outside North Korea.

South Korean government officials couldn’t independently confirm news reports yesterday that North Korea attracted $10 billion in investments through Wang Jiarui, the senior Chinese Communist Party member who recently visited Pyongyang.

“The North may be exaggerating the figures,” one Seoul official said. “And it would be virtually impossible to get this deal done with sanctions currently in place, anyway.”

Domestically, North Korea has also been anxious to resume suspended tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong for South Koreans. The tour programs are considered a big cash cow for the North but they were discontinued after a South Korean woman was shot to death by a North Korean solider after entering a restricted zone in July 2008.

By Yoo Jee-ho []

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김정일 생일상 비용 모자랐나

북한이 16일 김정일 국방위원장의 68회 생일을 계기로 한국과 미국·중국을 상대로 전방위 외화·물자 조달에 나선 것으로 파악됐다. 노동당뿐 아니라 군부까지 움직이고 있다는 게 정부 당국의 설명이다.

대남통인 원동연 노동당 통일전선부 부부장은 6일부터 11일까지 중국 베이징에서 한국 정부의 대북 산림녹화 프로젝트 동향 등을 파악한 뒤 돌아갔다. 그는 지인들에게 남측 사회통합위원회가 추진하는 북한 나무 심기를 동의해 주는 대가로 쌀과 비료를 지원받는 것을 타진했다고 한 대북 소식통은 전했다. 대통령 소속 사회통합위원회(위원장 고건 전 총리)는 지난달 18일 북한 나무심기를 10대 프로젝트의 하나로 선정했다.

북한 국방위가 지난달 20일 외자유치 창구로 결정한 조선대풍국제투자그룹은 100억 달러(11조5000억원) 규모의 외자유치를 추진 중이다. 서울의 대북 소식통은 “대풍그룹이 중국 은행 등과의 대북 투자 협상을 마무리 중”이라며 “다음 달 발표될 이 협상의 투자액 60%가 중국 자본”이라고 전했다. 이는 북한 국민총소득(GNI) 27조3400억원(2008년 한국은행 추계)의 42%에 해당하는 금액으로 성사 시 대북 제재가 무력화할 수준이란 게 전문가들의 지적이다.

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