Saturday, November 27, 2010
China Engages Koreas in Diplomacy, With a Warning to the U.S. - NYTimes.com
By IAN JOHNSON and MARTIN FACKLER
BEIJING — China engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity on Friday, three days after a North Korean artillery attack on South Korean civilians, but its most public message was directed at the United States, which is about to begin joint exercises with South Korea’s Navy.
In a statement from its Foreign Ministry, China warned against “any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported Friday. But virtually all the waters to the west of the Korean Peninsula, where the United States said the exercises would take place, lie within that zone, and American naval traffic is far from uncommon there.
Adding yet more tension to the situation, the North’s state-run media also warned that the maneuvers could push the Korean Peninsula closer to “the brink of war.”
The West has hoped that China would use its leverage as the North’s traditional ally to press it to refrain from further attacks, but the Chinese statement on Friday failed even to criticize the North for its shelling on Tuesday of a garrison island that is also home to about 1,350 civilians, mainly fishermen. The attack killed four people.
The Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, met with the North Korean ambassador on Friday and spoke by phone with his South Korean and American counterparts, but few details emerged about the content of their conversations. A State Department spokesman said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had called Mr. Yang.
Xinhua reported that Mr. Yang stressed that China was “very concerned” about the situation, saying, “The pressing task now is to put the situation under control and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.”
In a statement about the joint naval exercises, which are scheduled to begin on Sunday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said: “We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue. We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission.”
This introduced into the mix China’s decade-old efforts to equate economic waters, which usually extend about 200 nautical miles off a country’s coast, with territorial waters, which usually reach about 12 nautical miles off a coast. In 2001, Chinese fighters intercepted and collided with a United States spy plane flying outside territorial waters but inside the economic zone, saying the American plane had violated China’s sovereignty.
A statement from the United States Navy’s Seventh Fleet, issued in apparent anticipation of Chinese complaints about the exercise, listed the number of times American aircraft carriers had operated in the waters west of the Korean Peninsula, including a mission in October 2009. The statement also noted that American aircraft carriers frequently visited South Korea and conducted port visits, including the aircraft carrier George Washington earlier this year, the John C. Stennis in March 2009, and the Ronald Reagan, the Nimitz and the George Washington in 2008.
Friday, November 26, 2010
North Korean shelling heard near Yeonpyeong | World news | guardian.co.uk
South Korea reported sounds of artillery fire emanating from North Korea today, but said it appeared to be routine training. The news came hours after Pyongyang warned that the South's joint drill with the US was pushing the peninsula to the brink of war.
Seoul-based broadcaster YTN said the shells appeared to have landed within the North, away from the disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea.
The firing came days after four people on a nearby island were killed in a Northern artillery attack. Pyongyang said that was a response to shelling by the South, which was conducting a live-fire drill exercise.
Seoul said its troops did not fire towards the North. But Pyongyang's foreign ministry said yesterday that shells were "bound to drop inside [the North's] territorial waters". It does not accept the Yellow Sea border, drawn unilaterally by the US at the end of the Korean war.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the few dozen residents who remain on Yeonpyeong fled to emergency shelters as they heard the distant explosions this afternoon.
Earlier the North had threatened "a shower of fire" in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency, warning: "The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage again war exercises targeted against the [North]."
It added that it was "ready to annihilate enemies' stronghold" and said its forces "precisely targeted and struck" South Korean artillery units on Tuesday.
Pyongyang often issues bellicose warnings when military manoeuvres are due in the area.
The US has dispatched an aircraft carrier group led by the USS George Washington to take part in training with the South Korean navy from Sunday. The exercises were planned before this week's attack but had been postponed with the US citing scheduling conflicts.
Beijing has expressed concern about the exercises in the Yellow Sea, which lies between Korea and China. But its protests were far more muted than the complaints which saw off plans for drills there earlier this year.
The US is pressing China to restrain its ally and a White House official said Barack Obama is likely to discuss the Korean situation with President Hu Jintao within days.
Domestic criticism of Seoul's response to the bombardment has continued despite the defence minister's resignation yesterday.
Hundreds of South Korean veterans demonstrated in the border town of Paju today, accusing the government of being too weak.
"The lazy government's policies towards North Korea are too soft," said Kim Byeong-su, the president of the association of ex-marines.
"It needs to take revenge on a bunch of mad dogs. We need to show them South Korea is not to be played with."
- North Korean artillery drill hikes tension (msnbc.msn.com)
- South Korea Names New Defense Minister after North Korean Artillery Attack - Voice of America (news.google.com)
Thursday, November 25, 2010
SKorea's defense chief resigns after NKorean attack | KREM 2 News | KREM.com | When it Matters Most | World News
SKorea's defense chief resigns after NKorean attack
EONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's president has ordered more troops to a front-line island and dumped his defense minister as the country tries to address lapses in its response to a deadly North Korean artillery strike.
Dazed residents of Yeonpyeong island have been foraging through blackened rubble in scenes reminiscent of the Korean War 60 years ago. Tuesday's artillery barrage darkened skies, set off fierce blazes, killed four South Koreans and raised fears of an escalation that could lead to full-scale war. One resident describes the scene as "a sea of fire" with flames rolling through the streets.
The island is home to military bases as well as a fishing community famous for its catches of crab. It lies just seven miles from North Korea, but had only six pieces of artillery.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Bishop Eddie Long Update: Trial Date Now Set for Next Summer - BV Black Spin
Bishop Eddie Long appeared in a courtroom Friday to deal with accusations of sexual coercion being brought by four young men who were once members of his church. The judge decided that the trial should begin by next summer, unless the case is settled via mediation before that time.
Attorneys in the DeKalb County courtroom gathered for both sides to determine the status of the case. A tentative trial date has been set for July 11, 2011. There will be mediation before that time, set to take place in February.
Anthony Flagg, Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris, and Spenser LaGrande are arguing that Bishop Long used his influence over them to coerce them into sexual relationships. They claim that the relationships took place during their teen years, and that inappropriate contact occurred during some of their trips together. Long's church, the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, hasn't argued for Long's innocence or guilt. Instead, they've simply acknowledged that Long did share hotel rooms with some of the young men and that they did take trips together.
Long's case is further complicated by the fact that he has preached against homosexuality for a very long time. In fact, his anti-gay marriage campaign was one of the cornerstones of his ministry. The black community's response to Bishop Long's allegations has been mixed, with some people supporting him and some arguing that he is a hypocrite. To date, Long has not specifically stated that he is completely innocent. A consistent denial of the stories being told by the young men would put Long in an awkward spot if it is proven that he did indeed have an extramarital affair with any of the men in his church.
Image via WikipediaKorean Peninsula Tense After Shelling By North : NPR
President Obama pledged Tuesday that the United States would defend South Korea after what the White House branded an outrageous attack by North Korea on its neighbor.
Yet with its options limited, the U.S. sought a diplomatic rather a military response to one of those most ominous clashes between the
Koreas in decades.
"South Korea is our ally. It has been since the Korean War," Obama said in his first comments about the North Korean shelling of a South Korean island. "And we strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance."
The president, speaking to ABC News, would not speculate when asked about military options. He was expected to telephone South Korean President Lee Myung-bak late Tuesday night, and he met into the evening with his top national security advisers to discuss next steps.
- Global alarm over N Korea attack (bbc.co.uk)
- North Korea: a deadly attack, a counter-strike - now Koreans hold their breath (guardian.co.uk)
Image via WikipediaNorth and South Korea Exchange Fire Near Border - NYTimes.com
SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire on Tuesday after dozens of shells fired from the North struck a South Korean island near the countries’ disputed maritime border, South Korean military officials said. Two South Korean soldiers were killed and 14 were wounded, four of them seriously, said Kiyheon Kwon, an official at the Defense Ministry.
The military went to “crisis status,” and fighter planes were put on alert but did not take off.
South Korean artillery units returned fire after the North’s shells struck South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island at 2:34 p.m., said Mr. Kwon, adding that the North also fired numerous rounds into the Yellow Sea. News reports said dozens of houses were on fire, and TV footage showed large plumes of black smoke spiraling from the island.
The official North Korean news agency said in a brief statement Tuesday night that the South had started the fight when it “recklessly fired into our sea area.”
A spokesman for President Lee Myung-bak said Mr. Lee gathered his security-related ministers and senior aides at a crisis meeting in the underground situation room at the Blue House, the presidential office and residence.
“We will not in any way tolerate this,” Mr. Lee’s chief spokesman, Hong Sang-pyo, said after the meeting. “Any further provocation will get an immediate and strong response and the South Korean military will strongly retaliate if there is anything further.”
Monday, November 22, 2010
2,000 Fetuses Found At Thai Buddhist Temple
BANGKOK — On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus. Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple's mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year – apparently to conceal illegal abortions.
A strong stench had drawn police to the temple in Bangkok's old city Tuesday, and authorities searching the mortuary – where bodies awaiting cremation are normally kept – initially found more than 300 fetuses. They returned Friday to find more than five times that number, according to police Lt. Col. Kanathud Musiganont.
Health officials, police and charity workers counted the fetuses, placing each one in a white plastic bag bearing the charity's name in red Thai script and Chinese characters. The group is often involved in the handling of remains, including recovering bodies from accident scenes and organizing burials.
As the remains were laid out, Buddhist worshippers left offerings for the fetuses: milk and bananas to nourish their spirits in the afterlife.
Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions – if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.
Although Thailand is home to a huge and active sex industry, many Thais are conservative on sexual matters, and Buddhist activists especially oppose liberalizing abortion laws.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Friday that more must be done to prevent illegal abortions but that his government would not revise the laws. He said his government has discussed the matter and believed that "the existing laws are appropriate and flexible enough."
- Reports: 2,000 fetuses discovered at temple (msnbc.msn.com)
Sunday, November 21, 2010
North Korea Working With Uranium at Vast New Plant - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — North Korea showed a visiting American nuclear scientist earlier this month a vast new facility it secretly and rapidly built to enrich uranium, confronting the Obama administration with the prospect that the country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb.
Whether the calculated revelation is a negotiating ploy by North Korea or a signal that it plans to accelerate its weapons program even as it goes through a perilous leadership change, it creates a new challenge for President Obama at a moment when his program for gradual, global nuclear disarmament appears imperiled at home and abroad. The administration hurriedly began to brief allies and lawmakers on Friday and Saturday — and braced for an international debate over the repercussions.
The scientist, Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that he had been “stunned” by the sophistication of the new plant, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed in a recently gutted building that had housed an aging fuel fabrication center, and that were operated from what he called “an ultra-modern control room.” The North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges were already installed and running, he said.
American officials know that the plant did not exist in April 2009, when the last Americans and international inspectors were thrown out of the country. The speed with which it was built strongly suggests that the impoverished, isolated country, which tested its first nuclear device in 2006, had foreign help and evaded strict new United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed to punish its rejection of international controls.
A delegation of American experts that included Dr. Hecker has already reported that it confirmed satellite photographic evidence of another new advance by the North — a light-water reactor being built on the site of a facility the country had dismantled as part of an agreement with the international community to end its nuclear weapons program.
Dr. Hecker did not initially mention the surprising discovery of the uranium enrichment operation as he left North Korea. He privately informed the White House a few days ago.
The White House is clearly eager to use the new information to show that North Korea, in violation of United Nations mandates, continues to make significant progress toward advancing its nuclear program, even though it remains under international sanctions for its past violations.
American officials were sent to China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, the other members in the moribund “six-party talks.” The Obama administration also hopes to persuade China, by far North Korea’s most important source of political and economic support, to put more pressure on the government of Kim Jong-il, which has shown signs of becoming more militaristic as it undergoes a leadership transition.
China has been hesitant to cut off trade or fuel to the North, and it appears determined to support its longtime, if difficult, ally during its succession process. But in the past China has taken modest steps to support a tougher line when North Korea has tested nuclear weapons or missiles, defying international commitments.
Dr. Hecker said he was forbidden from taking pictures during his tour of the uranium plant on Nov. 12, and was not allowed to verify North Korean claims that it was already beginning to produce low-enriched uranium. He also said he had doubts that North Korea would fulfill its promise to build a light-water reactor to utilize the fuel. “There are reasons to question whether that’s true,” he said.
There are two routes to a nuclear weapon: obtaining plutonium from the spent fuel produced by a nuclear reactor, and enriching uranium to weapons grade.
Since the 1950s, North Korea pursued the first path, and its arsenal of weapons was manufactured from fuel harvested from a small nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. That produced enough for roughly a dozen weapons, but the facility was decrepit, and under an agreement with the Bush administration it was shut down in 2008, with television cameras running as its cooling tower was blown up.
But meanwhile, the North was already well down the second path, uranium enrichment, much the way Iran has pursued its nuclear program. Like Iran, North Korea insists the fuel is intended for a yet-to-be-built experimental reactor to make electricity.
American officials, though, say they think the intent of the enrichment program is to make weapons fuel. Since the North has blocked international inspections, it may be impossible to monitor how much fuel it has made, or if it could be used to produce or improve atomic bombs.
- US scientist 'saw NK centrifuges' (bbc.co.uk)
- North Koreans Unveil New Plant for Nuclear Use (nytimes.com)
- US alerts Asian capitals to possible North Korean uranium enrichment program - Washington Post (news.google.com)