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North Korea accuses UN of double standard over missile firings

Seoul: North Korea accused the United Nations of a “double standard” over its reaction to the North’s recent missile launches, warning it of a serious consequence.

Last week, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea in a defiance of UN resolutions that ban such launches by North Korea. The UN Security Council subsequently adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of UN experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea.

 “It constitutes a denial of sovereignty and an apparent double standard that the UNSC takes issue, on the basis of the UN ‘resolutions’ — direct products of the US hostile policy toward (North Korea),” senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official Jo Chol Su said in a statement carried by state media.

Jo said it “doesn’t make any sense” for the UN council to take issue with only North Korea’s missile launches, while not doing anything on similar weapons tests by other countries. He said such a “double standard will invite more serious consequence” but didn’t elaborate.

Observers say North Korea could test-fire longer-range missiles in coming weeks.

At a recent meeting of the committee monitoring sanctions and North Korea, where all 15 Security Council members are represented, UN diplomats said a significant majority expressed concern at Pyongyang’s latest violations of council resolutions banning ballistic missile launches. They said the Security Council is likely to hold a closed discussion on the missile launches this week.

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Kim Jong-un’s sister warns Joe Biden

Seoul: Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister warned the United States to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.

Kim Yo Jong’s statement was issued as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Asia to talk with US allies Japan and South Korea about North Korea and other regional issues.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new US administration trying hard to give off (gun) powder smell in our land,” she said. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

Kim Yo Jong, a senior official who handles inter-Korean affairs, also criticized the US and South Korea for holding military exercises. She also said the North would consider abandoning a 2018 bilateral agreement on reducing military tensions and abolish a decades-old ruling party unit tasked to handle inter-Korean relations if it no longer had to cooperate with the South.

A senior official from the Biden administration that US officials have tried to reach out to North Korea through multiple channels since last month, but had yet to receive a response.

While Kim in recent political speeches has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program, he also has said the fate of US relations depends on Washington’s actions.

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N Korea ‘tried to hack’ Pfizer for vaccine info: Reports

Seoul: North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in a search for information on Covid-19 vaccine and treatment technology, South Korea’s spy agency said, according to reports.

The nuclear-armed North has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year to try to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in neighboring China and has gone on to sweep the world, killing more than two million people.

Leader Kim Jong-un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases, although outside experts doubt those assertions.

And the closure has added to the pressure on its tottering economy from international sanctions imposed over its banned weapons systems, increasing the urgency for Pyongyang to find a way to deal with the disease.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service “briefed us that North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the Covid vaccine and treatment by using cyber-warfare to hack into Pfizer”, MP Ha Tae-keung told reporters after a parliamentary hearing behind closed doors.

North Korea is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have attacked firms, institutions and researchers in the South and elsewhere.

Pfizer said in December that documents relating to their vaccine were “unlawfully accessed” during a cyberattack on a server at the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicine regulator.

The comments came after the Amsterdam-based EMA said it had been the victim of a hacking attack, without specifying when it took place or whether its work on Covid-19 was targeted.

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‘N Korea stole $300 mn in crypto to fund nukes’

Seoul: North Korea has stolen more than $300 million worth of cryptocurrencies through cyberattacks in recent months to support its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, a confidential UN report said.

Compiled by a panel of experts monitoring sanctions on Pyongyang, the report said the country’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million”, citing a UN member state.

The vast majority of the proceeds came from two thefts late last year.

The North is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who have attacked firms, institutions and researchers in South Korea and elsewhere.

The North is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have made rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-un.

The UN panel said it was investigating a September 2020 hack against a cryptocurrency exchange that resulted in $281 million worth of cryptocurrencies being stolen.

A second cyberattack siphoned off $23 million a month later.

“Preliminary analysis, based on the attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder the illicit proceeds strongly suggests links to the DPRK,” the report said, using the initials for the North’s official name.

The North is also blamed for a huge, $81 million cyber-heist from the Bangladesh Central Bank, as well as the theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.

Pyongyang has denied the accusations, saying it has “nothing to do with cyber-attacks”.

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N Korean justice system treats people ‘less than animals’: HRW

Seoul: Torture, humiliation and coerced confessions are rampant in North Korea’s pretrial detention system which treats people as worth “less than an animal,” a rights group said in a report on the country’s opaque legal processes.

US-based Human Rights Watch drew on interviews with dozens of former North Korean detainees and officials to highlight what it called inhuman conditions at detention facilities that often amount to torture.

Nuclear-armed North Korea, accused of widespread rights abuses by the United Nations and other critics, is a “closed” country and little is known about its criminal justice system.

Mistreatment of detainees — beating with a stick or kicking — was “especially harsh” in the early stages of pretrial detention, interviewees said.

“The regulations say there shouldn’t be any beatings, but we need confessions during the investigation and early stages of the preliminary examination,” a former police officer said.

Former detainees said they were forced to sit still on the floor, kneeling or with their legs crossed, for as long as 16 hours a day, with even a flicker of movement leading to punishment.

The punishments ranged from hitting — using hands, sticks, or leather belts — to forcing them to run in circles around a yard up to 1,000 times.

“If I or others moved (in the cell), the guards would order me or all the cellmates to extend our hands through the cell bars and would step on them repeatedly with their boots,” said former detainee Park Ji Cheol.

Kim Sun Young, a former trader in her 50s who fled North Korea in 2015 said she had been raped by her interrogator at a detention centre.

The report called on Pyongyang to “end endemic torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention” and urged South Korea, the United States and other UN member states to “publicly and privately pressure the North Korean government.”

Pyongyang maintains that it protects and promotes “genuine human rights,” and says there is no justification for the West to try to set human rights standards for the rest of the world.

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‘I have failed’: North Korea’s Kim breaks into tears

Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un broke down in a rare display of emotions on Oct 13. The emotional side of the North Korean leader, whose alleged illness followed by rumors of death and subsequent “resurrection” have been the talking points this year, took the world by surprise.

A video taken at a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party shows Kim Jong-un taking off his glasses and wiping tears, according to reports.

“Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily,” the Korea Times quoted him as saying. “I am really sorry for that.”

“Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives,” he said.

North Korea’s economy, already severely restricted by international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, took a further hit as the country shut down nearly all border traffic in an effort to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

The United Nations has said that as much as 40% of the population faces food shortages, which may have been exacerbated by severe summer floods and typhoons.

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N Korea can make 6 nuclear devices every year: US Army

Seoul/Washington: North Korea is believed to have between 20-60 nuclear bombs besides maintaining a 2-500-5,000 ton stockpile of 20 chemical weapons, making it the world’s third-largest holder of chemical agents, according to a US Army report.

The US Department of the Army headquarters made the assessment in its report, titled “North Korean tactics”, saying Pyongyang is unlikely to give up these weapons to ensure the regime’s survival, the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported.

“Estimates for North Korean nuclear weapons range from 20-60 bombs, with the capability to produce six new devices each year,” the report said.

The report also showed that Pyongyang is estimated to possess “2,500-5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons of approximately 20 different types.

It is “highly likely” that the North Korean military would use chemical artillery shells.

The regime has also done research on biological weapons and possibly weaponized anthrax or smallpox, which could be mounted atop missiles for use against South Korea, the US and Japan, it added.

“Only 1 kilogram of anthrax could kill up to 50,000 people in Seoul,” Yonhap News Agency quoted the report as saying.

North Korea is also believed to have secured advanced computer warfare capabilities, which is another key means of coercive diplomacy, according to the report.

Under the Cyber Warfare Guidance Unit, more commonly known as Bureau 121, the North manages more than 6,000 hackers, many of whom are operating in foreign countries, such as Belarus, China, India, Malaysia and Russia, the report added.

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Pyongyang suspends military plans against South

Pyongyang: North Korea has suspended “military action plans” against South Korea during a Central Military Commission meeting presided over by leader Kim Jong-un, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The decision came as a surprise because the North had widely been expected to convene a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party to endorse military action threatening to take on the South in retaliation over its anti-Pyongyang leaflets, Yonhap news agency reported citing the Norths’ KCNA report.

Leader Kim Jong-un presided over a preliminary meeting of the Central Military Commission via videoconferencing and decided to hold off for now any military action plans against Seoul, KCNA said.

“At the preliminary meeting, the WPK Central Military Commission took stock of the prevailing situation and suspended the military action plans against the South brought for the fifth meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission by the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army,” KCNA added.

North Korea has ratcheted up tensions by taking retaliatory steps against South Korea over the leafleting issue. It has called South Korea an “enemy” and cut off all cross communication lines, threatening more “punishment” is coming.

Last week, it blew up an inter-Korean liaison office that was created in its border town of Kaesong as a result of a 2018 summit between the two Koreas.

Pyongyang has said it will redeploy troops to border areas of Kaesong and Mount Kumgang, which were disarmed under inter-Korean agreements for joint business projects, and threatened to resume “all kinds of regular military exercises” near the border.

North Korea recently reinstalled military propaganda loudspeakers along the inter-Korean border after they were removed under the 2018 summit agreement.

North Korea’s state media outlets earlier said that Pyongyang is preparing to send around 12 million anti-South Korea propaganda leaflets via some 3,000 balloons and other means in a tit-for-tat move against leaflets dispatched from the South.

In response to Seoul’s call against it, the North said it has no intention to cancel its leaflet-sending plan across the border, calling an inter-Korean agreement that bans such activity “a dead document.”

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Pyongyang blows up inter-Korean joint liaison office

Seoul: North Korea blew up the inter-Korean joint liaison office in its border town of Kaesong, sharply escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula after near-daily threats against Seoul over anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets.

The surprise move sparked concern that the communist nation could put other threats against the South into action, including taking military action and moving troops to border regions disarmed under inter-Korean agreements, reports Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea’s state media confirmed that the liaison office was “completely ruined”.

“The relevant field of North Korea put into practice the measure of completely destroying the North-South joint liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone in the wake of cutting off all the communication liaison lines between the north and the south,” Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report.

The two Koreas launched the liaison office in September 2018 to facilitate inter-Korean exchange and cooperation amid a reconciliatory mood created by summit talks between their leaders.

The office suspended its operations in early January due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The destruction was in line with “the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes”, KCNA said, referring to North Korean defectors in the South sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets.

The explosion came after Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, warned on June 13 that “before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen”.

The North has been lashing out at the South almost daily for failing to stop defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border via balloons.

Pyongyang has vowed to deal with South Korea as an “enemy”, cutting off all cross-border communication lines, and threatened to take other measures, including military action.

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