North Korean Leader’s Sister Demands South Drop ‘Hostile Policies’ – KCNA

File Photo of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, March 2, 2019. JORGE SILVA / POOL / AFP

 

The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday said it was “admirable” of the South to propose a formal end to the Korean War but demanded Seoul first drop its “hostile policies” towards Pyongyang.

Kim Yo Jong’s remarks, carried by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency, were in response to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s recent calls for declaring an official end to the 1950-53 conflict that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides technically at war for more than half a century.

In a speech at the UN General Assembly earlier this week, Moon proposed the declaration of an end to the conflict that broke out 71 years ago, stressing such an act would “make irreversible progress in denuclearisation and usher in an era of complete peace”.

Kim, a key policy adviser to her brother Kim Jong Un, said it was an “admirable idea” to propose a formal end to the war but insisted the South should remove its hostile attitude first.

Making such a declaration with “double-dealing standards, prejudice, and hostile policies” still in place “does not make any sense,” she said.

“For the termination of the war to be declared, respect for each other should be maintained and prejudiced viewpoint, inveterate hostile policy, and unequal double standards must be removed first,” she said.

She added making such a declaration would “hold no water and would change nothing” under current conditions.

But the North would be willing to have talks on improving ties with Seoul if the South withdrew hostility “after breaking with the past when it often provoked us”.

Kim Yo Jong last week accused Moon of “slander” after both Koreas carried out missile launches.

North Korea carried out two missile firings this month alone, one involving a long-range cruise missile and the other short-range ballistic missiles.

Moon described Pyongyang’s recent launches as “provocations” when he oversaw a successful test-firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) last week, making the South one of a handful of nations with the advanced technology.

That prompted Kim Yo Jong to condemn Seoul’s “illogical attitude that describes their similar behaviour as a legitimate action to support peace, and ours as a threat to peace”.

Communications between the North and South have largely been cut in the aftermath of a second US-North summit in Hanoi that collapsed in February 2019 as then-president Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un couldn’t agree on the terms of an agreement.

Biden Warns North Korea Against Escalation After Suspected Ballistic Tests

A photo combination of US President, Joe Biden and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

 

President Joe Biden warned North Korea Thursday that the United States will “respond accordingly” if it escalates its weapons testing, after Pyongyang fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea in its first substantive provocation of the new US administration.

The nuclear-armed North has a long history of using weapons tests to ramp up tensions, in a carefully calibrated process to try to forward its objectives.

Biden said that the United States was “consulting with our partners and allies,” and warned North Korea that “there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly.”

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“I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization,” he added.

Pyongyang had been biding its time since the new administration took office, not even officially acknowledging its existence until last week.

But Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff said the North fired two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, known as the East Sea in Korea, from South Hamgyong province.

File photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Samuel Corum/Getty Images/AFP

 

They travelled 450 kilometres (280 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 60 kilometres, the JCS added, and after an emergency meeting South Korea’s National Security Council expressed “deep concern” at the launch.

North Korea is banned from developing any ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions, and is under multiple international sanctions over its weapons programs.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was unequivocal, telling reporters that “North Korea launched two ballistic missiles” which Tokyo said came down outside the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

It had been a year since the last such incident, he added, saying: “This threatens the peace and security of our country and the region. It is also a violation of the UN resolution.”

Rebukes poured in from Germany, France and Britain which, in addition to Biden, each condemned the tests as violations of UN Security Council resolutions.

Britain’s Asia minister Nigel Adams also warned North Korea to refrain from further provocations and “engage in meaningful negotiations with the US.”

At Washington’s request, the UN North Korea sanctions committee will meet Friday morning behind closed doors, according to diplomatic sources, although no public statement is expected.

– ‘Familiar pattern’ –
Biden said Thursday that North Korea was the top foreign policy issue he was watching.

Pyongyang has made rapid progress in its capabilities under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, testing missiles capable of reaching the entire continental United States as tensions mounted in 2017.

File photo: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) and ex-US President Donald Trump meet in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

Ex-US president Donald Trump’s first year in office was marked by a series of escalating launches, accompanied by a war of words between him and Kim.

The two then embarked on an extraordinary diplomatic bromance, holding two headline-grabbing summits in Singapore and Vietnam.

The United States pulled back on some joint military exercises with South Korea while the North froze intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

But the February 2019 Hanoi summit broke up over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.

Communications then dried up, despite a third encounter in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, and no substantive progress was made towards denuclearization.

“North Korea appears to be returning to a familiar pattern of using provocations to raise tensions and garner attention,” said Jean Lee of the Wilson Center in Washington.

Pyongyang carried out a series of weapons tests last year that it called “long-range artillery” but others described as short-range ballistic missiles.

“I suspect the Biden administration will confront any confirmed ballistic missile launches that violate UN Security Council resolutions,” Lee said.

– Asia outreach –
Thursday’s launch comes after Pyongyang fired two short-range, non-ballistic missiles in a westerly direction towards China at the weekend, which US officials played down as not violating UN resolutions.

That launch followed joint exercises by the US and South Korean militaries and a visit to the region by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss alliance and security issues.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Monday’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, in the State Dining Room at the White House on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.

 

During their trip to Seoul and Tokyo, Blinken repeatedly stressed the importance of denuclearizing North Korea.

Biden administration officials say they have sought to reach out to Pyongyang through several channels but have received no response so far.

They are now finalizing a strategy that the White House will discuss with Japanese and South Korean security officials next week.

AFP

North Korea’s Kim Vows To Strengthen Nuclear Arsenal

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to strengthen his country’s nuclear arsenal as he delivered his closing address to a top ruling party meeting, state television showed Wednesday, days before Joe Biden takes office as US president.

Kim is looking to grab the attention of the incoming Biden administration, analysts say, with his country more isolated than ever after closing its borders to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

A nuclear summit between Kim and outgoing US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

“While strengthening our nuclear war deterrent, we need to do everything in order to build the most powerful military,” Kim told the Workers’ Party congress, footage broadcast on Korea Central Television showed.

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Thousands of delegates and attendees — none of them wearing masks — repeatedly rose to their feet in the cavernous April 25 House of Culture venue to interrupt his speech with applause.

Earlier in the eight-day meeting, which has lasted twice as long as the previous gathering in 2016, Kim called the US “the fundamental obstacle to the development of our revolution and our foremost principal enemy”.

Its policy towards the North “will never change, whoever comes into power”, he added, without mentioning Biden by name.

The North had completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, he said — a strategic game-changer — and offered a shopping list including hypersonic gliding warheads, military reconnaissance satellites and solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The North’s weapons programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, and at a parade in October it showed off a huge new ICBM that analysts said was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile in the world.

The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang: Biden is associated with the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach and characterised Kim as a “thug” during the presidential debates.

The North, meanwhile, has called Biden a “rabid dog” that “must be beaten to death with a stick”.

Kim and Trump had a tumultuous relationship, engaging in mutual insults and threats of war before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance featuring headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the outgoing US president.

Kim’s latest comments built on his rhetoric earlier in the congress while leaving a door open for dialogue, said Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

“It is a message to the US that it will continue to build up its strategic arsenal unless the US changes its course on North Korea policy,” he told AFP.

“If Washington treats it nicely, it will act nice, but if it treats it harshly, it will act harshly too.”

– ‘Senseless’ –
The congress is the top ruling party gathering, a grand political set-piece that reinforces the regime’s authority and can serve as a platform for announcements of policy shifts or elite personnel changes.

At the gathering, Kim was named the party General Secretary, a title previously reserved for his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, in what analysts said was a move to reinforce his authority.

The official KCNA news agency reported that the congress will be followed on Sunday by a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s rubber-stamp legislature.

The North’s economy is struggling in the face of its self-imposed coronavirus blockade, chronic mismanagement and sanctions, and Kim repeatedly admitted to the party delegates that mistakes had been made.

And his influential sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong indicated that a military parade had been scheduled to accompany the congress.

In a statement carried by KCNA, she derided the “idiot” authorities in Seoul for a “senseless” declaration this week by the South’s joint chiefs of staff about a possible military parade in Pyongyang that she said demonstrated a “hostile attitude”.

“We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything.”

Kim Yo Jong had appeared to suffer a demotion at the party congress, not being listed as a party central committee appointee after previously being an alternate member.

But the issuing of a statement in her own name is an indication she remains a key player in the North’s diplomacy, having been behind its destruction of a liaison office on its side of the border last year.

The South’s President Moon Jae-in brokered the talks process between Kim and Trump, and said in his New Year address on Monday that Seoul remained willing to talk to Pyongyang “at any time and any place”, including online.

But since the process with Washington became deadlocked, the North has repeatedly said it has no interest in discussions with the South.

AFP

US Is North Korea’s ‘Biggest Enemy’, Says Kim Jong Un

This picture taken on January 8, 2021 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 9, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during the fourth day of 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This picture taken on January 8, 2021 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 9, 2021 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking during the fourth day of 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the United States is his nuclear-armed nation’s “biggest enemy”, state media reported Saturday.

The declaration comes less than two weeks before the inauguration of Joe Biden as US president, and after a tumultuous relationship between Kim and the outgoing Donald Trump.

Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the US president.

But no substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after a meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.

Pyongyang “should focus and be developed on subverting the US, the biggest obstacle for our revolution and our biggest enemy”, Kim told the five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, the official KCNA news agency reported.

“No matter who is in power, the true nature of its policy against North Korea will never change,” it quoted him as saying, without mentioning Biden by name.

Pyongyang has poured vast amounts of resources into developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, which it says it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion.

The programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, including by far its most powerful nuclear blast to date and missiles capable of reaching the whole US, at a cost of increasingly stringent international sanctions.

The North has completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, Kim said — something that would change the strategic balance.

“New planning research for a nuclear-powered submarine has been completed and is to enter the final examination process,” Kim told the congress.

The country should “further advance nuclear technology” and develop small-sized, lightweight nuclear warheads “to be applied differently depending on target subjects”, he added.

The comments came in Kim’s nine-hour work report to the meeting, spread over three days, which KCNA was reporting in detail for the first time.

 

AFP

Kim Jong Un Offers Apology Over Killing Of South Korean

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology Friday over what he described as the “unexpected and disgraceful” killing of a South Korean at sea, Seoul’s presidential office said.

Apologies from the North — let alone attributed to Kim personally — are extremely unusual, and the message comes with inter-Korean ties in deep freeze as well as a stand-off in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Analysts said the North was looking to placate its neighbour after the shooting — the first time its forces killed a Southern citizen for a decade — provoked outrage in the South.

The fisheries official was shot dead on Tuesday by North Korean soldiers, and Seoul says his body was set on fire while still in the water, apparently as a precaution against coronavirus infection.

Kim was “very sorry” for the “unexpected and disgraceful event” that had “disappointed President Moon and South Koreans”, rather than helping them in the face of the “malicious coronavirus”, said Suh Hoon, the South’s National Security Adviser.

Suh was reading out a letter from the department of the North’s ruling party responsible for relations with the South.

In it, Pyongyang acknowledged firing around 10 shots at the man, who had “illegally entered our waters” and refused to properly identify himself.

Border guards fired at him in accordance with standing instructions, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation of the contents from the North, whose state media did not mention the incident on Friday.

North Korean defector turned Seoul-based researcher Ahn Chan-il said it was “extremely rare for the North’s supreme commander to offer an apology, especially to South Koreans and their President”.

“I think this is the first since the 1976 Korean axe murder incident,” he said, referring to the killing of two US officers in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, added: “Kim Jong Un’s supposed apology reduces the risk of escalation between the two Koreas and keeps the Moon government’s hopes for engagement alive.”

It was a “diplomatic move” which “avoids a potential fight in the short-term and preserves the option of reaping longer-term benefits from Seoul”, he said.

– ‘Abominable act’ –

The killing provoked fury in the South, with President Moon Jae-in — a consistent advocate of better relations with Pyongyang — saying it was “shocking” and could not be tolerated for any reason.

In an editorial Friday, the Korea JoongAng Daily said it was “enraged at the North’s abominable act”.

“The act of murdering an unarmed man and burning his body cannot be excused in any way,” it said.

The man — who was wearing a life jacket — disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, and North Korean forces located him in their waters more than 24 hours later.

South Korean media reports said he was in his forties with two children, but had recently divorced and had financial problems.

Seoul military officials say the man was interrogated while in the water over several hours and expressed a desire to defect, but was killed after an “order from superior authority”.

The North’s letter said his body was no longer visible after the shooting and troops set his flotation device — which was covered in blood — on fire in accordance with national emergency prevention regulations.

North Korea’s crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak but it has not confirmed a single case of the disease that has swept the world after taking drastic steps to prevent local coronavirus infections.

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January and state media said authorities had raised a state of emergency to the maximum level in July.

Pyongyang put the border city of Kaesong under lockdown in the same month after a defector who had fled South three years ago sneaked back over the heavily fortified border, with he could have carried the disease into the country.

US Forces Korea commander Robert Abrams said earlier this month that North Korean authorities had issued shoot-to-kill orders to prevent the coronavirus entering from China, creating a “buffer zone” at the border.

AFP

Nearly 60 Bridges, 2,000 Houses Wrecked By Typhoon In North Korea

In a photo taken on September 7, 2020, a man holding an umbrella walks next to the Taedong river during overcast weather brought by Typhoon Haishen in Pyongyang. (Photo by KIM Won Jin / AFP)

 

A typhoon that struck North Korea wrecked nearly 60 bridges and destroyed or inundated more than 2,000 houses, state media reported Wednesday, with leader Kim Jong Un saying the damage had disrupted central planning for the rest of the year.

Typhoon Maysak brought days of heavy downpours to the country’s east coast last week even as the North was still reeling from earlier flooding and typhoon damage, and this week it was followed by Typhoon Haishen.

Maysak “destroyed or inundated” more than 2,000 houses and tens of public buildings in the affected regions, the official KCNA news agency said, while 60 kilometres of roads and 59 bridges collapsed, with over 3,500 metres of railway roadbeds “swept away”.

Natural disasters tend to have a greater impact in the North due to its creaking infrastructure, and the country is vulnerable to flooding as many mountains and hills have long been deforested.

The damage obliged the authorities to “change the direction of our struggle after comprehensively considering the year-end tasks that were underway”, Kim told a top committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, according to KCNA.

It did not give specific details.

– Pyongyang march –

Kim has ordered some 12,000 Pyongyang-based party members to help with recovery efforts in affected rural regions, and they attended a rally on Tuesday before being dispatched.

“We are afraid of nothing,” said Kang Chol Jin, a party member at the event in front of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the giant mausoleum that holds the bodies of Kim’s grandfather and father, the North’s founder Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il.

“We firmly confirm our determination to go to the typhoon-afflicted areas and complete our missions as soon as possible,” Kang added.

Residents cheered and waved flowers as the rally participants marched in uniform through the streets of the capital.

Kim stressed the importance of completing the recovery efforts before next month’s commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party founding on October 10.

Authorities have previously promised to open the Pyongyang General Hospital, currently under construction, on that date, and according to reports preparations are underway for a possible military parade.

It was not clear whether the “change” Kim mentioned was a reference to either of those.

While localised, the typhoon damage is testing the North’s state capacity and resources, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“The political risk to Kim of failing to deliver promised reconstruction may be limited, but an accumulation of economic failures will strain his regime.”

The impoverished country is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes.

AFP

North Korea ‘Looking To Blame Seoul’ For Its COVID-19 Infection – Analysts

This picture taken on July 26, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 27 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking at a ceremony to confer "Paektusan" commemorative pistols on leading commanding officers of DPRK armed forces on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire in Pyongyang. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This picture taken on July 26, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 27 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaking at a ceremony. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea is seizing on the return of a defector from the South to point the finger at Seoul for the arrival of coronavirus in the country after months of denying it had any cases, analysts said Monday.

Pyongyang imposed a lockdown on the border city of Kaesong, saying it had found a suspected COVID-19 infection in a defector who had returned across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, state media reported at the weekend.

For months the North had denied having any cases of the virus that swept the world after first emerging in neighbouring China — its main diplomatic backer and trade partner — raising scepticism among observers.

And Seoul officials said Monday that the man believed to be the re-defector has never been confirmed as a coronavirus patient in the South, nor a contact of a confirmed case.

The South has carried out more than 1.5 million tests as part of an extensive “trace, test and treat” model that has largely brought the outbreak under control.

Analysts said the North was likely to have already had virus cases, and Pyongyang was looking to blame Seoul for the outbreak, rather than its own longstanding ally Beijing.

“North Korea may try to use the defector’s return to deflect the blame for an outbreak that has already occurred, or for any future quarantine failures,” said former US government North Korea analyst Rachel Lee.

“It could take issue with South Korea’s poor frontline security,” she told AFP. “It could even claim that South Korea purposefully sent the defector back to North Korea to spread the virus there.”

Duyeon Kim, a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group, added that by blaming an imported case from the South, the North “can now legitimately and openly accept” aid from Seoul.

The North could “further send a message about defectors painting them as enemies of the state”, she added in a tweet.

Pyongyang has repeatedly excoriated leaflet-sending defectors and the Seoul government in recent weeks, worsening already frozen inter-Korean ties and culminating in the North blowing up a liaison office on its side of the border.

Return visitor

It is extremely rare for North Korean defectors to return to their original country, where rights groups say they face severe punishment for leaving — the South’s Unification Ministry says only 11 are known to have done so in the last five years.

It is even rarer for them to travel through the Demilitarized Zone, one of the world’s most secure borders, replete with minefields and guard posts.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 23, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Kwangchon chicken farm under construction in Hwangju County. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

But the South Korean military said a North Korean defector was believed to have returned to the North from Ganghwa island, on the Han river estuary northwest of Seoul.

He was not officially identified but according to multiple media reports and defectors he is a 24-year-old who defected in 2017, also by swimming across a river.

He is being investigated on rape allegations in the South, they added.

Last month he appeared on a YouTube channel run by another defector, and said it took him more than seven hours to swim across the inter-Korean border when he went south.

Afterwards, he “cried for 10 days, as I kept on thinking about my family” back home, he said in the interview.

Seoul’s health authorities said his name did not appear in the South’s database of confirmed coronavirus cases, nor its list of their contacts.

Two individuals who had contact with the suspected re-defector were tested on Sunday and both tested negative, added Yoon Tae-ho of the Central Disaster Management Headquarters.

The North’s medical infrastructure is seen as woefully inadequate to deal with any epidemic and Pyongyang closed its borders in late January — the first country in the world to do so — in an effort to protect itself against the coronavirus.

The situation in Kaesong “may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster”, official news agency KCNA reported at the weekend.

 

AFP

COVID-19: North Korea Reports First Suspected Case As Global Cases Top 16 Million

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 23, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visiting the Kwangchon chicken farm under construction in Hwangju County. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

North Korea declared its first suspected coronavirus case on Sunday, becoming one of the last countries to do so as the number of people infected worldwide passed 16 million.

The isolated, impoverished state had until now insisted it had not detected a single COVID-19 case — even as the pandemic swept the planet, overwhelming health systems and trashing the global economy.

At least 645,000 people around the world have succumbed to the respiratory disease, with North Korean arch-rival the United States the worst-hit country by far.

“The vicious virus could be said to have entered the country,” leader Kim Jong Un said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Authorities locked down the city of Kaesong, near the frontier with South Korea, as state media said a defector who left for the South three years ago had returned and was suspected to be infected with the coronavirus.

But experts believe the contagion is likely to have already entered North Korea from neighbouring China, where the new disease emerged late last year.

The pandemic’s spread is still accelerating, with more than five million cases declared since July — a third of the total number of cases since the catastrophe began.

Even in recent days, there has been an alarming uptick in infections, including in places that had appeared to have controlled their outbreaks.

One of those was Australia, which on Sunday suffered its deadliest day since the pandemic began, with 10 fatalities and a rise in new infections despite an intense lockdown effort.

“These things change rapidly, but we have to say these numbers are far too high,” said Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state, where the latest outbreak is centred.

 No fireworks 

Around a quarter of the world’s 16 million confirmed COVID-19 cases are in the United States, which recorded more than 68,000 new infections in the past 24 hours.

After a drop in transmission rates in late spring, the country has seen a virus surge — particularly in California, Florida and Texas, which is also bracing for the first Atlantic hurricane of the year.

Daily US fatalities have exceeded 1,000 for the past four days, rapidly increasing the country’s death toll to more than 146,000.

“I’m still concerned that America doesn’t take it as seriously as the rest of the world,” said British golf star Lee Westwood, voicing his hesitation to travel there despite a new quarantine exemption for professional golfers.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, which also count for a quarter of total cases, governments are not planning a return to normality any time soon.

New Year’s Eve celebrations on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro have been cancelled as Brazil grapples with a spiralling virus crisis.

“There is no great reason to celebrate, with more than 80,000 deaths” from coronavirus in Brazil, an official told AFP.

 Holiday woes 

Meanwhile, Europe has reported around three million infections — despite being largely open for summer holidays within the continent.

However, in a snap decision, Britain’s government said passengers arriving from Spain will have to self-isolate for two weeks, after a surge in cases in the Mediterranean country, with health officials pointing to nightlife as a possible culprit.

The move, effective from Sunday, has reportedly caught out its Transport Minister Grant Shapps who is holidaying there.

“Various government ministers would have known in advance there was a possibility of imposing a quarantine on holidaymakers returning from Spain,” tweeted opposition MP Diane Abbot.

“But apparently no-one bothered to tell @grantshapps,” she joked.

It marked another hit to Spain’s tourism industry, which is desperately seeking a rebound after lockdowns and border closures pushed around 13 percent of bars, hotels and restaurants to permanently close.

It mirrors the fiscal pain wrought around the world by the pandemic, particularly in precarious economies where livelihoods are fast crumbling.

In India, for instance, millions of migrant workers who fled cities when COVID-19 hit say they are too scared to return.

Asia’s third-largest economy has reported more than 1.3 million virus cases and is the third worst-hit country behind the US and Brazil.

“We are trying our best to bring back migrant workers, even going to the extent of giving them air tickets, COVID-19 health insurance … (and) weekly checkups by doctors,” real estate developer Rajesh Prajapati said.

AFP

South Korean Prosecutors Begin Probe Into Kim Jong Un’s Sister

In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS
In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang.
STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

Seoul prosecutors have opened an unprecedented probe into North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister over Pyongyang’s blowing up of a liaison office last month, officials said Thursday.

The move is likely to infuriate the nuclear-armed North, which has repeatedly condemned South Korea in recent months, including directing personal insults at President Moon Jae-in.

Seoul Central District prosecutors received a criminal complaint against Kim Yo Jong from a Seoul-based lawyer and had started an investigation, a spokeswoman told AFP.

Last month, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, days after Kim Yo Jong — one of her brother’s closest advisers — had said the “useless” property would soon be seen “completely collapsed”.

Before the demolition, it had issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of South Korea over anti-North leaflets that defectors send back across the heavily-militarised border — usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

It raised pressure further by threatening military measures against Seoul, but later said it had suspended those plans in an apparent sudden dialling-down of tensions.

A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP
A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP

 

In his complaint, lawyer Lee Kyung-jae claimed the now-demolished liaison office was South Korean property as it was renovated using South Korean government funds, despite its being located in the North.

Kim “used explosives to destroy” the South’s “quasi-diplomatic mission building that served the public interest”, he said in the complaint.

Lee also filed a complaint against Pak Jong Chon, chief of the general staff of the North Korean military.

Under South Korea’s criminal code, he stressed, damaging property or disturbing the peace using explosives was punishable by death, or a prison sentence of at least seven years.

Capital punishment remains on the statute books in South Korea, although it has not executed anyone since 1997.

In practice, it would be virtually impossible for Seoul officials to punish Kim Yo Jong or Pak, but Lee told the South’s Yonhap News Agency that he wanted to “inform the North Korean people of their leader’s hypocrisy”.

The announcement came a week after a Seoul court ordered Pyongyang’s leader to compensate prisoners of war who spent decades in North Korea, in a move that could set a far-reaching legal precedent on the divided peninsula.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

 

AFP

Kim Jong Un Makes First Public Appearance In Nearly Three Weeks: State Media

This file photo taken on April 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. ED JONES / AFP
This file photo taken on April 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from a balcony of the Grand People’s Study House following a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang. ED JONES / AFP

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance since speculation about his health began last month, cutting the ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory, KCNA reported Saturday.

Kim “attended the ceremony” on Friday and “all the participants broke into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!'” when he appeared, the Korean Central News Agency said.

He also inspected the facility and was “briefed about the production processes,” the report said.

Kim “said with deep emotion” that his grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il “would be greatly pleased if they heard the news that the modern phosphatic fertilizer factory has been built,” KCNA added.

Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers’ Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported on him inspecting fighter jets at an air defence unit.

Conjecture over his health had grown since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

A top security advisor to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said less than a week ago that Kim was “alive and well,” downplaying rumors that he was ill or incapacitated.

The advisor, Moon Chung-in, told CNN that Kim had been staying in Wonsan — a resort town in the east of North Korea — since April 13, adding: “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, has reported Kim was undergoing treatment after a cardiovascular procedure last month.

Citing an unidentified source inside the country, it said Kim, who is in his mid-30s, had needed urgent treatment due to heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

Soon afterwards, CNN reported that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery, quoting what it said was an anonymous US official.

US President Donald Trump appeared to confirm that Kim was alive earlier this week.

Trump refused to comment Friday on Kim’s reported re-emergence.

Previous absences from the public eye on Kim’s part have prompted speculation about his health.

The North is extremely secretive, and doubly so about its leadership.

Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il had been dead for two days before anyone outside the innermost circles of North Korean leadership was any the wiser.

In 2014, Kim Jong Un dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane.

Days later, the South’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

 

AFP

Trump Appears To Confirm That North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un Is Alive

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to confirm that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is alive, saying he wished him well after days of speculation over the dictator’s whereabouts.

Asked if he had new information about Kim’s health, Trump said “yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.”

“I hope he’s fine,” Trump continued, speaking at a White House press conference. “I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking.”

Trump said the media would “probably be hearing in the not-too-distant future” about Kim.

Conjecture has grown since Kim’s conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers’ Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported on him inspecting fighter jets at an air defense unit.

Amid media reports that he was ill and speculation that he might even have died, a top security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday that Kim was in fact “alive and well.”

 

AFP

Seoul Plays Down Report On North Korean Leader’s Health

 

South Korea played down a report Tuesday that the North’s leader Kim Jong Un was being treated after surgery, as speculation mounted over his absence from a key anniversary.

Pyongyang marked the birthday of its late founder, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, on April 15 — by far the most important date in its annual political calendar — but Kim was not seen in attendance.

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, said Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure earlier this month and was recovering at a villa in North Phyongan province.

“Excessive smoking, obesity, and fatigue were the direct causes of Kim’s urgent cardiovascular treatment,” it cited an unidentified source inside the country as saying.

No confirmation of the report was immediately available.

But it triggered widespread speculation, with CNN citing a US official saying that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery.

In a statement, a spokesman for the South’s presidential Blue House said: “We have nothing to confirm and no special movement has been detected inside North Korea as of now.”

The South’s Yonhap news agency, meanwhile, cited an unnamed government official saying that reports Kim was seriously ill were “not true”.

But there were no explicit denials that Kim, who is in his mid-30s, had had some kind of procedure.

Previous absences from the public eye on Kim’s part have prompted speculation about his health.

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In 2014 he dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane. Days later, the South’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

“No-one knows what’s going on inside North Korea,” said Martyn Williams, who is affiliated with the 38 North research website.

“Kim Jong Il had been dead several days before it was announced and it took everyone by surprise,” he tweeted.

“Kim Jong Un has been ‘missing’ before, and has always reappeared. That said, his absence this week was more notable.”

– Closely guarded –

The North Korean leader has not made a public appearance since presiding over a meeting of the Workers’ Party politburo on April 11.

His powerful sister Kim Yo Jong was named as an alternate politburo member and the meeting called for stronger measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Pyongyang has closed its borders and imposed tight restrictions to protect itself from the virus that emerged in neighbouring China and has since swept the world, and insists it has had no cases.

On April 12, the North’s official news state media KCNA reported that Kim had inspected drills by fighter jets at an air defence unit.

There were no state media reports of any drills after the South said two days later that Pyongyang had launched a series of short-range cruise missiles.

But analysts have said his absence from the April 15 commemorations suggested he could be looking to emphasise his own authority over his family’s legacy.

China is the North’s key diplomatic backer and main provider of trade and aid, but Beijing declined to be drawn on Tuesday’s developments.

In response to questions, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know the source of the reports and added: “China and North Korea are friendly neighbours connected by mountains and rivers.”

Reporting from inside the isolated North is notoriously difficult, especially on anything to do with its leadership, which is among its most closely-guarded secrets.

Thae Yong Ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat who last week became the first defector ever to be directly elected to the South’s parliament, expressed doubts over the reports.

“The movements and personal affairs of the Kim family are national top secret issues which are little known to not only ordinary people but also high-ranking officials,” he said in a statement.

Kim’s father Kim Jong Il died on December 17, 2011 but even two days later it was still business as usual at the North’s foreign ministry, Thae recalled, adding that “everyone was caught by surprise” when the announcement was made.

AFP