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Italy granted UN sanctions exemption to fund Food Security Office in Pyongyang, By Colin Zwirko

Italy granted UN sanctions exemption to fund Food Security Office in PyongyangOver 1 million euros to be transferred for Italian firm’s technical support

The UN Security Council (UNSC) committee in charge of sanctions on North Korea has granted a humanitarian exemption allowing the transfer of funds into the DPRK for an Italian company’s work in food-related matters. The funds will be used for international and local staff as well as operating costs inside the country at the European Commission (EC)-funded Food Security Office (FSO) in Pyongyang, for work by the firm Agriconsulting Europe SA (AESA).

Documents included with the latest exemption — which appeared online on Monday — state that Brussels and Rome-based AESA has received a tender or grant from the EU to “[provide] technical support for food-related matters to the DPRK,” operating out of the FSO.

The exemption is notable: it is the first listed under the “Humanitarian Exemption Requests” page of the UN 1718 Sanctions Committee site this year which exempts the transfer of money instead of goods or items to be used in aid projects.

The letter, dated July 1 and addressed to Italy’s Permanent Representative to the UN Maria Angela Zappia, states that “no goods or materials are to be transferred to the DPRK” under the exemption. Italy appears to have made the initial request, said to have been dated June 3, on behalf of the FSO and AESA’s Rome office.

Beyond stating AESA will provide “technical support for food-related matters,” precise details of projects in North Korea now possible with the new access to funds were not included in the exemption documents. Agriconsulting’s Italian website states that the organization offers services in farm management, public administration and development programs, land and environmental monitoring, information systems management, and sustainable development, among other areas.

Details of the funds, however, were provided, with the amount to be transferred into North Korea for local use totaling 1,060,000 euros for the period of March 2019 to February 2022, according to the letter’s annex.

The money will cover staff salaries and fees for locals, international employees’ out of pocket expenses and apartment rental fees to be paid to the North’s General Services Bureau (GSB), and other costs to various local providers. It includes 192,000 euros to be paid to seven local support staff members over the three-year period until 2022, each receiving around 9100 euros per year.

The document uploaded by the UN also shows that over 200,000 euros will go towards living costs of the international team members and support staff.

These consist of a “key expert” team leader and member to both stay for most of the duration, as well as “AESA backstopping and support staff” with shorter stays. In addition, 314,000 euros are allocated for operating a fleet of four vehicles in the country, with costs expected to be paid to the Korean General Insurance Company and “fuel stations and local dealers for spare parts.”

In an example specifically related to funding issues due to the lack of a banking channel, Finnish NGO Fida International pulled out of operations in the DPRK last month, stating that continued U.S. sanctions pressures “make the financial services related to North Korean projects impossible.”


Special Rep. Biegun will accompany Pompeo at this week’s ASEAN forum, U.S. says, By Leo Byrne

Special Rep. Biegun will accompany Pompeo at this week’s ASEAN forum, U.S. saysWashington yet to confirm dates for planned working-level talks with Pyongyang, however

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will accompany Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his upcoming trip to Thailand this week, the State Department told NK News on Monday.

The U.S. diplomats will depart tomorrow for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) regional forum — set to kick-off on Friday — suggesting that issues related to the DPRK’s nuclear program are likely to be high on the agenda. “U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will accompany the Secretary to Bangkok for meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum,” a State Department spokesperson told NK News. 

The U.S. State Department’s statement follows remarks from Pompeo on Monday stressing that he hoped working-level talks with the DPRK would begin “very soon.”

Speaking at a forum at the Economic Club of Washington D.C., the Secretary of State referenced his upcoming trip to the Thai capital when answering a question on North Korea. “[Kim Jong Un has] now repeated that he’s prepared to denuclearize. It’s now time to execute. And I hope that we can achieve that,” Pompeo said. “I head to Asia to tomorrow midday. I’ll be in Bangkok for a couple of days. We hope that we can have working-level discussions starting again very soon so that we can unlock the Rubik’s cube.”

But Washington would not confirm whether any meetings with the DPRK were scheduled, and whether North Korean officials will even attend the forum remains an open question.

South Korean media reported last week that Ri Yong Ho, the country’s foreign minister, was not expected to attend the meeting, though it remains possible that key DPRK-U.S. interlocutor and first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui will go in his place.

The Secretary of State on Monday also remained positive on relations with North Korea, complimenting leader Kim Jong Un and reiterating the U.S.’s commitment to diplomacy in the wake of last week’s missile test. “So he – look, he’s bright. He has managed to rise to the level of leadership in a difficult environment where he was a very young man when his time came,” Pompeo said of Kim. “From my very first interaction with him, he’s been very candid with me about the things that are important to him, the priority set, and how the negotiations might proceed.”

The U.S. Secretary of State also declined to say under what circumstances Washington would consider lifting sanctions, though added he hoped there were “creative solutions” to breaking the current impasse with North Korea.

Pompeo and Biegun’s trip to Asia comes amid a continued diplomatic deadlock between the U.S. and North Korea, with the two countries yet to begin working-level talks originally slated to begin in mid-July.

Speaking at a press conference discussing Pompeo’s upcoming trip last week, a senior state department official confirmed North Korea was likely to be on the agenda at the ASEAN forum.

“Obviously, North Korea is a concern for everybody and not just because of the direct threat but because of the interactions that each country has and our desire that those be addressed as part of the Security Council resolutions,” the official, who was not named, said.


N. Korean company releases new smart TV with Android OS, voice control function, By Dagyum Ji

N. Korean company releases new smart TV with Android OS, voice control function“Sobaeksu,” manufactured by Sinhung IT Trading Corporation, features karaoke, educational apps

A North Korean technology company recently rolled out a new smart television equipped with an Android operating system (OS) and voice control function, externally-focused state media outlets reported earlier this month.

The intelligent digital television, known as ‘Sobaeksu,’ was developed by the Sinhung Information Technology (IT) Trading Corporation, the Sogwang (Dawn) website reported on July 19.

“Unlike previous liquid crystal televisions, the Digital TV is equipped with an Android system,” Sogwang reported in a Korean-language dispatch.

Users can “watch TV as well as operate diverse functions, including play various entertainment games, run programs, and read books” using a program originally designed for mobile phones and Tablet PC, it added.

A photo provided by Sogwang showed that Sobaeksu Smart TV operates the “My Companion 4.3” program.

The My Companion program, developed and recently updated by the Samhung IT Exchange Company for smartphone and Tablet PC users, featuring Netflix-style video streaming services, an app store, and a voice search function.

SINHUNG IT TRADING CO.

The emergence of Sinhung IT Trading Corporation is notable: it does not appear to be among the DPRK’s major TV manufacturers, which include the Rakwon General Trading Corp and the Korea Pyolmuri Trading Company.

Meari this month in June released several photos of products manufactured by company on display at the 11th Pyongyang Department Store No.1 Commodity Exhibition.

The company also displayed a portable learning device for children’s education — known as “Samjiyon” — at the exhibition.

It was included in a list of participating companies at the 22nd annual Spring Pyongyang International Trade Fair (PITF) held in May, a database provided by NK News’s sister site NK Pro showed.

But it appears to be a relatively new player, having only occasionally appeared in North Korean state media in recent years.

July 2017 saw Meari report that the company had manufactured the “Moranbong” watch, decorated with a “blood-cleaning gemstone” which purportedly carries a “curative effect.”

“If [people] wear the watch, it can eliminate cardiovascular disease and cerebral circulation disorders as well as increase immune system of the entire body and is good for treating various kinds of cardiovascular diseases,” the report claimed.


OFAC designates North Korean national working in Vietnam, By Leo Byrne

OFAC designates North Korean national working in VietnamKim Su Il worked for North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department

The U.S. Department of Treasury on Monday designated a North Korean individual based in Vietnam for his involvement with sanctioned entities and prohibited trade.

Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added a DPRK national called Kim Su Il to its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, noting his connection to North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department.

“The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a North Korean individual operating from Vietnam, Kim Su Il, for his ties to the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK),” OFAC said in an accompanying press release.

“Kim Su Il is also an employee of the Munitions Industry Department (MID); a WPK subordinate that is United Nations (UN)- and U.S.-designated for its involvement in key aspects of North Korea’s missile program.”

According to OFAC, Kim was also involved in trading restricted North Korean commodities between the DPRK and Vietnam in order to earn foreign currency for Pyongyang.

“As of early 2019, Kim Su Il was responsible for exporting anthracite coal, titanium ore concentrate, and other North Korean domestic products; importing and exporting various other goods, including raw materials, to and from North Korea; and ship chartering,” OFAC said.

Kim operated out Ho Chi Minh City and was also involved in exporting Vietnamese products to China and other countries, though the U.S. Department of Treasury gave no further detail on his activities.

The NK Pro ship tracker has recorded DPRK vessel traffic to Vietnam this year, with an NK Pro report in May noting the arrival of North Korean-ship in Hai Phong Port in Vietnam’s northeast.

Potentially suspicious trade has also moved in both directions and, according to a joint report from NK Pro and Washington-based think tank C4ADS, a Vietnamese oil tanker also appeared to deliver oil to North Korea in February.

The oil tanker arrived at a North Korean terminal the day before the U.S. and the DPRK kicked off their second summit in Hanoi, and its presence was unusual given the North’s current preference for receiving oil products from other vessels at sea.

The NK Pro ship tracker also shows that vessel traffic to waters around Vietnam by vessels linked to North Korea’s sanctions evasion networks also remain relatively common.

Most recently on July 22, a Togo-flagged ship with ties to a network revealed in a recent C4ADS report on luxury cars smuggling to the DPRK was last seen headed toward Vietnam when it disappeared from tracking systems.

In their most recent report, the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted that the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam’s eastern coast has become a favored hot spot for North Korean coal smuggling, with DPRK ships directly transferring cargo at sea to avoid detection by customs authorities.

“Such illegal deliveries became regularized and systemic in 2018  with some of the largest vessels in the DPRK fleet documented as continuing to load coal at DPRK ports on a monthly basis before engaging in illegal ship-to-ship transfers, predominately in the Gulf of Tonkin,” the PoE wrote.

Kim Su Il, however, has so far not been mentioned by the UN Panel of Experts, though the PoE did note a possible uptick in North Korean business activity in Vietnam.

“In December 2017, Vietnam replied to the Panel that with regard to entities of the DPRK business and restaurants operating in Vietnam, in Hanoi there were three entities and two restaurants, including Binh Nhuong restaurant and Koryo restaurant,” the PoE wrote.

 


What the Xiang Hai Lin 8 detention could mean for North Korea-Russia ties, By Anthony V. Rinna

What the Xiang Hai Lin 8 detention could mean for North Korea-Russia tiesThe incident has irritated Russian officials and reminded many of the DPRK’s unpredictability

A group of 15 Russian sailors, accompanied by two South Korean citizens, can now heave a huge sigh of relief. After a fishing boat, the Russia-flagged and Russian-owned Xiang Hai Lin 8 and its crew were detained by North Korean border guards on July 17 and held in the city of Wonsan, DPRK authorities released the crew, which subsequently called into the South Korean port of Sokcho.

The sailors were detained, according to North Korean authorities, for what was cited as illegally crossing into waters under North Korea’s jurisdiction.

The crew-members were all released in decent condition. Yet during their detention, the deputy director of the Northeastern Fishery Company, Sergei Sedler, deplored the conditions in which the sailors were held.

According to Sedler, the detainees were held in conditions ranging from 30-35 degrees Celcius without ventilation, and were subject to severe interrogation twice a day.

The Russian embassy was reported to have been working around the clock in order to help resolve the incident. Following the ship and crew’s release, the Russian embassy declared that they would continue to provide more information on the conditions surrounding the ship’s detention.

Russian authorities have occasionally detained North Korean sailors for illegal fishing within its territorial waters, citing provisions in the Russian criminal code dealing with either illegal fishing or illegal border crossing.

Likewise, North Korean authorities have detained Russian citizens sailing in what the DPRK considers to be waters under its own legal jurisdiction.

Nevertheless, this particular incident was notable both for the length of time the Russian citizens were detained as well as the number of people in captivity, compared with past cases.

In response to the detention on July 17, Russian authorities threatened to halt talks on cooperation between the DPRK and Russia over fisheries. Fishing is an area in which Moscow is particularly keen to develop cooperation with the two Koreas.

North Korea’s detention of a group of sailors was unlikely to damage relations in a profound way. Addressing the Russian citizens’ captivity, one Russian official stated that, given the sound relationship between the two countries, the Russian government expected the sailors to be allowed to return home once North Korean law enforcement completed an investigation.

The strong relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang may have helped move the situation along to an agreeable conclusion. Russia’s threat to curb cooperation with the DPRK, however, may have sped up the release of the detainees.

Trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation has plummeted recently, and Pyongyang can ill afford to lose another area of collaboration with Russia.

The incident itself may have passed relatively quickly and without major incident. Nevertheless, it could very well color future cooperation between the DPRK and the Russian Federation.

At the root of the problem that led to the detention of the crew of the Xianghai 8 is the unilateral application of North Korean law in contrast to international legal standards.

The main law governing maritime issues between states is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS stipulates that a country’s territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from the coast of the country’s territory.

 

The latest from the podcast :

Ambassador Tammam Sulaiman on Syria-North Korea ties – NKNews Podcast Ep.89

Ambassador Tammam Sulaiman on Syria-North Korea ties – NKNews Podcast Ep.89

Damascus’s top diplomat in Pyongyang discusses the two countries’ decades-old friendship

North Korea and Syria have long enjoyed close ties, sharing historical roots in the anti-imperialist socialist camp during the Cold War and the relationship between the two countries’ founding leaders, Kim Il Sung and Hafez Al-Assad.

That friendship has only grown stronger in recent years, too, as North Korea and Syria have become increasingly internationally isolated over, respectively, their nuclear programs and a brutal and now almost-a-decade-long civil war.

At the forefront of this unusual alliance is Tamman Sulaiman, who this week joined the NK News podcast to discuss the Damascus-Pyongyang alliance, expanding cooperation between the two countries, and daily life as a diplomat in the DPRK.

Tamman Sulaiman has served as Syrian Ambassador to North Korea since 2015. Prior to that, he served as Charge D’Affaires Ad Interim in Pyongyang, and before that as Syrian Ambassador to Australia.

About the podcast: The “North Korea News Podcast” is a weekly podcast hosted exclusively by NK News, covering all things DPRK: from news to extended interview with leading experts and analysts in the field and insight from our very own journalists.

 

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Market fees in North Korea set for reduction in parts of border region (Daily NK)

Market tax invoices issued in a market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province

Management and market fees collected from merchants for vendor stall usage in some of North Korea’s markets are set to be reduced, Daily NK has learned.

“Merchants working in the markets feel that business this year is worse than last. I’m not sure if the authorities were thinking about the merchants when they made the decision, but it’s good that they have reduced the taxes in Pochon, Sinpa and Kimhyongjik County,” said the source in Ryanggang Province during a telephone interview.

According to the source, market fees in Pochon and Sinpa County are relatively low compared to other areas. The fees for industrial goods were reduced from 1000 won to 500 won. Fees charged to vendors of food and ice cream were lowered from 500 won to 300 and 200 won, respectively.

The market fees are determined based on the size of the city, the size of the stall and the type of product being sold. The rough national average fees being charged per day as of early this year was 1500-2000 KPW for meat stalls, 1000-1500 KPW for industrial products (clothes) and 500-1000 KPW for food and vegetables.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ analysis of markets in North Korea, the authorities collect over $56 million USD per year from the markets. The largest market in North Korea, Sunam Market in Chongjin, generates an estimated $840,000 USD for the government.

Before the markets were formally recognized, market fees were 3-5 won until the early to mid 1990s, before being raised ten-fold in 2001, to 30-50 won. After the regime legalized the country’s private markets in 2002 with its ‘New Economic Management Improvement Measures,’ the fees rose another ten-fold.

In 2010, the fees stabilized and food stalls selling produce such as tofu were paying 500 won, merchants selling school supplies and cosmetics paid 1000 won and merchants selling industrial products and electronics paid 1500 won.

According to a separate source in Ryanggang Province, staff working at market management offices issue invoices to each stall and collect the dues.

“Market management offices need to collect fees to keep the market in order and manage the stalls but if business is not good, they can be quite burdensome to merchants. It’s good that the fees are going down, so at least people are not losing more money,” she said.


N. Korea’s official paper emphasizes women’s role in building socialist country (Yonhap News)

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North Korea’s official newspaper on Tuesday emphasized the role of women in building a powerful socialist country as the communist state marked the 73rd anniversary of announcing a law on gender equality”.

“Just as a cart cannot run on one wheel, we cannot build a socialist powerhouse only with the power of the men,” the Rodong Sinmun said in an article, adding that women are an integral part of advancing the construction of a socialist country.

“We cannot think about the dignity and status that we are now demonstrating on the global stage without the role of the women,” the paper added.

North Korea announced a gender equality law on July 30, 1946, mostly to guarantee women’s right to vote, recognize their right to divorce and prevent forced marriage and prostitution.

Pyongyang has claimed the law has helped realize the complete equality between men and women in all areas of the country, including the economic field.

The North, however, is known to encourage women’s participation in economic activities as they are apparently suffering from a labor force shortage.

Human rights groups have also reported that many North Korean women are facing threats of various types of violence, including sexual assaults. In May, a U.N. report recommended the North take action to help women facing such violence.


Democratic Party invites NK delegation to late President Kim Dae-jung anniversary event(Korea Herald)

 

South Korea’s ruling party has invited a North Korean delegation to an event marking the 10th death anniversary of former President Kim Dae-jung on Aug. 18, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

Rep. Kim Han-jung of the Democratic Party delivered the invitation to the delegation — including Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister — to Ri Jong-hyok, vice chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Committee, during a peace forum in Manila, the Philippines.

The two met during the International Convention for Asia-Pacific Peace and Prosperity, hosted by South Korea’s Gyeonggi Provincial Government and the Asia-Pacific Interchange Association from July 24 to Saturday.

“Ri said he would deliver the invitation directly to his superiors,” Rep. Kim said, adding that he had explained this to Democratic Party Chairman Lee Hae-chan.

Former President Kim, who served from 1998 to 2003, won the Nobel Peace Prize after holding the first-ever inter-Korean summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000. The liberal president promoted a policy of engagement with the North, called the “Sunshine Policy.”

The ruling party lawmaker had previously sought to deliver the invitation via the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a civic group led by Kim Hong-gul, son of the former president.


Boat Crew Sent Back to N.Korea (Chosun Ilbo)

A wooden boat that crossed into South Korean waters on Saturday night has been sent back to the North with its crew. The repatriation came just about 40 hours after the boat was first spotted on the East Sea with a white towel on its mast, suggesting the crew wanted to defect.But under questioning the crew denied it, military authorities said.

According to a Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman, coast guards here handed the boat and crew over to North Korean authorities at sea at around 3:30 p.m. Monday.

Normally questioning takes more than a week to find out if crew found adrift are North Korean spies or want to defect. Asked if their repatriation was too hasty, Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told reporters, “What’s most important from a humanitarian point of view is North Koreans’ free will.” He added each repatriation should be judged “individually” and decisions can “differ” case by case.

The North Koreans told investigators that they often tie a white cloth to the mast of small boats before leaving port to avoid collision with bigger ships. One of the three crewmen was in fatigues, but the fabric had been bought from a market and none were soldiers, according to the JCS spokesman.

According to the spokesman, the boat crossed the Northern Limit Line into South Korean waters because it took the “wrong route” while catching squid. When it was found, it was the only boat in the area because it had veered away from their fishing zones. It navigated only with a compass without the help of GPS. The boat was carrying recently caught squid and fishing equipment.


North Koreans turn to WeChat for videos and cross-border communication (Daily NK)

In North Korea’s border areas, the WeChat app is gaining popularity through word-of-mouth as a way to avoid surveillance from the North Korean authorities. “In the border region, North Korean residents are increasingly turning to WeChat instead of phone calls to contact China and South Korea. People are using Chinese SIM cards in their cell phones and installing WeChat because the crackdown on phone communication is becoming too repressive,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

“Older people don’t really know about WeChat because they normally use older cell phones. Young people are quick learners and they’re the main ones using it.”

Young North Koreans are using WeChat’s voice chat and messaging service to avoid the government eavesdropping on their conversations and monitoring their messages. WeChat is known to have weaker security as it’s subject to real-time monitoring by the Chinese authorities, but North Koreans view it as relatively secure from the prying eyes of the North Korean authorities.

North Koreans are also using the app to watch foreign media. “People who are good with cell phones think that WeChat is more secure and easier to use compared to USBs and SD cards. They’re mostly watching short funny videos rather than longer movies,” said the source.

She added that it’s easier to delete media files on WeChat, reducing the likelihood of getting caught. However, due to the 100 MB limit on sending files, most of the videos are shorter.

The North Korean authorities are aware of the fact that people are using WeChat to talk to the outside world and watch videos, and are cracking down.

“The authorities feel threatened by the broad influx of outside news and are cracking down on cell phone usage and WeChat harder than before,” she said, further explaining that “signal monitoring” units are cracking down on people using smartphones and messengers, resulting in a spate of arrests.

“One resident was caught in early July because he did not delete a foreign video he received from a Chinese person via WeChat. Other residents speculate that he will receive heavy punishment,” she said.

Of particular note, some individuals engaging in trade under the regime’s protection are also subject to the crackdown.

“North Korean traders mainly use WeChat to communicate with Chinese traders. However, if they get caught, they are also punished without exception. The authorities go over every single text message and when they discover even a small problem, you cannot get away even if you pay a bribe,” an additional source in North Pyongan Province added.

“Therefore, traders delete messages, pictures, and videos immediately and leave no trace. “There are even traders and residents who delete WeChat during the day but reinstall it at night when it’s more convenient to use.”

Daily NK recently reported that the North Korean authorities are installing monitoring equipment and electronic jamming devices to prevent internal information from being leaked to the outside world.

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