North Korea ratcheted up tensions with the South after firing an estimated 30 shells into the two countries’ no-sail zone, which may be a precursor to the testing of short-range missiles.
Seoul, South Korea
By Donald Kirk
North Korea raised the stakes Wednesday in the fight-talk contest for advantage in negotiations with live-fire artillery exercises that once again put tensions on edge between the two Koreas.
In a risky game of punch and counterpunch, North Korean gunners opened the episode in the morning by firing off 30 rounds into the Yellow Sea off the Korean west coast, judging from the number of geysers of water reportedly kicked up in the sea where they landed. South Korea responded with as many as 100 warning shots, according to South Korean defense officials, while the South’s Defense Ministry protested in a faxed message to the North.
The contest resumed in the afternoon with the North firing another dozen or so rounds after asserting its right to stage “exercises” in waters long disputed by the two Koreas. This time, however, the South did not fire warning shots – apparently in hopes of tamping down tensions while pursuing talks on issues ranging from the North’s nuclear program to resumption of tourism.
The shootout dramatized the dangers in troubled waters while North Korea pursues a peace treaty to mark a formal ending to the Korean War that broke out nearly 60 years ago.
North Korea earlier declared the area a no-sail zone, telling ships to stay away during test-firing.
The North Korean warning suggested that the North might plan to test short-range missiles, as it has done in the past, but the firing Wednesday was limited to artillery. Unlike in previous tests, however, the shells landed close to the “northern limit line” (NLL) set by the UN Command in 1956 three years after the Korean War, below which North Korean vessels are banned.
The General Staff of the North Korea’s Korean People’s army said the firing was part of an annual drill, that it had every right to stage live-fire exercises – and may go on doing so. South Korea’s defense ministry called the artillery exercise “a grave provocation” and demanded North Korea rescind the no-sail warning.
North Korea has repeatedly repudiated the NLL, and the area was the scene of bloody shootouts in June 1999 and in June 2002 when a number of sailors on both sides were killed. In the most recent previous incident, on November 10, a North Korean vessel retreated in flames after South Korean ships fired on it when it strayed across the line.
This time there were no reports of casualties, but South Korean officials worried that the firing was a sign of a two-track strategy in which North Korea has appeared interested in negotiations but has engaged in harsh rhetoric against South Korea.
North Korea “has been blowing hot and cold,” says Wi Sung Lac, the South’s chief nuclear envoy, back from four days of talks in Washington last weekend.
North Korea accused South Korea of making “an open declaration of war” after South Korea’s defense minister said the South would have to attack first if North Korea appeared likely to stage a nuclear attack. North Korea also responded with outrage, warning of war, after learning that the South was engaged in “contingency planning” in case of the collapse of the North Korean regime.
Mr. Wi says it’s “difficult” to ascertain the North’s intentions but hopes that North Korea would soon return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons. South Korean officials have hinted that talks on a peace treaty, long sought by North Korea to replace the Korean War armistice, might be held simultaneously with six-party talks rather than after North Korea has done away with its nuclear program.
After months of tension, South Korea has resumed shipments of aid, mostly fertilizer, to North Korea, and North and South have agreed on talks next week on easing restrictions on South Korean companies and personnel at the economic complex at Kaesong, 40 miles north of Seoul, above the line between the two Koreas. North and South Korean negotiators also are expected to open talks soon on resuming tours to the Mount Kumkang region, suspended in July 2008 after a South Korean woman was shot and killed by a North Korean soldier when she wandered outside the tourist area.
A South Korean spokesperson said Wednesday’s shelling did not endanger a South Korean vessel returning with a load of silica through nearby waters from the North Korean port of Haeju on the Yellow Sea.
Move by Turkey gives Putin way to keep treaty organization at arm’s length
Editor’s Note: The following report is excerpted from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium online newsletter published by the founder of WND. Subscriptions are $99 a year or, for monthly trials, just $9.95 per month for credit card users, and provide instant access for the complete reports.
As Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, turns away from its Western links, it is aligning itself more and more with Iran, Syria and Russia, especially because of its quickly developing energy and trade connections to the central part of what was the old Soviet Union, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
From a strategic standpoint, the development gives Moscow an opportunity to further undermine a plan by NATO to spread its security arrangement further east in a region Moscow considers to be its sphere of influence.
During a recent visit to Moscow to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed multi-billion dollar agreements on trade and energy.
While both parties agreed to increase trade from the current $35 billion to $100 billion within the next five years, the most significant development was an agreement in their strategic relationship on energy cooperation.
In addition to concessions on various pipelines between the two countries, Erdogan pledged to pursue Russian construction and operation of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Keep in touch with the most important breaking news stories about critical developments around the globe with Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium, online intelligence news source edited and published by the founder of WND.
The Turks were left with little choice but to involve Russia more in its energy future, given that Turkey imports some 70 percent of its natural gas from Russia.
That dependency also gives the Russians considerable political and economic leverage over Ankara and increases Moscow’s influence over Europe’s energy future through greater control of existing and proposed pipelines that provide European countries with more than 40 percent of their energy needs.
Various pipelines with Turkish participation as a gate to the West, however, are but one source of control Russia is exhibiting over the Turks.
The more significant one is Russia’s proposal to construct and operate Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.
Erdogan and Putin signed a commitment to construct the nuclear power plant, even though there is some domestic opposition due to the existing heavy reliance on Russia for energy.
The plant is to be built on the Mediterranean coast near Akkuyu. A consortium to construct the nuclear power plant includes Russia’s Atomstroyexport, Inter Rao Eus and Turkey’s Park Teknik.
Putin said that Russia had “significant advantages over the competition” to build the nuclear plant in Turkey. In one sense, he was alluding to the virtual energy grip Moscow enjoys over Ankara.
By Worthy News Asia Service with Worthy News’ Stefan J. Bos
SEOUL/PYONGYANG (BosNewsLife)– An international Christian advocacy group welcomed Wednesday, August 5, North Korea‘s decision to release American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling but warned that at least 200,000 religious and political prisoners remain behind bars in labor camps across the isolated Communist nation, where executions of inmates continue.
Well-informed Open Doors said it was pleased that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il issued a special pardon to the two female reporters, a move described by the North Korean News Agency as a sign of the country’s “humanitarian and peace-loving policy.”
Their return came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton made an unannounced visit to the capital Pyongyang to help secure their release. Ling and Lee had been found guilty of allegedly entering North Korea illegally across the Chinese border in March and later sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.
They reportedly were being held at what officials described as a “guest house” during their confinement. However Open Doors cautioned there is “no pardon” for thousands of Christians and other prisoners in North Korea. The country, it said, “is suspected of detaining more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world at least 200,000, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians.”
At least several prisoners are believed to have been executed. In one of the latest reported incidents North Korea publicly executed a Christian woman last month for distributing Bibles, The Associated Press news agency reported, citing information it received from South Korean activists. Ri Hyon Ok, 33, was reportedly also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and organizing dissidents.
She was said to have been executed in the northwestern city of Ryongchon near the border with China on June 16, according to a report from an alliance of several dozen anti-North Korean groups.
Ri’s parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the northeastern city of Hoeryong the following day. “This is the shocking reality of what takes place inside this Communist country where there is no basic human rights. One colleague of mine who has traveled to North Korea described North Korea “as an on-going nightmare,” said Jerry Dykstra, a spokesperson for Open Doors USA.
North Koreans can be imprisoned “for virtually any state-defined crime such as owning a Bible, making a negative comment about the regime, failing to have a picture of Kim Il-Sung in their house and traveling to China to look for food and freedom,” he added.
Dykstra said Kim Jong-Il’s government keeps its citizens in its grip through “systematic use of torture, public and private executions, brutal imprisonment, lack of due process of law, starvation and even forced abortions.” North Korea has been known to arrest not only a suspected dissident but also three generations of his or her family, rights groups say.
This year North Korea was re-designated by the U.S. State Department as one of eight “Countries of Particular Concern” for its severe religious freedom violations.
The Open Doors World Watch List of what it views as “the worst persecutors of Christians” has ranked the hermit country as the worst offender of religious freedom for seven years in a row. Open Doors said former prisoner Kim Young Soon testified about the situation earlier this year during the annual ‘North Korea Freedom Week’ in April before a group of Congressmen in Washington, D.C. The North Korean refugee is one of the few survivors of the infamous Yodok political prison camp.
She said she was thrown into prison for nine years on a trumped up charge of divulging a secret about Kim Jong-Il’s marriage. Her parents and four children were also imprisoned. “In the Yodok prison camp, her parents died of malnutrition, an eldest son drowned. Her husband was shot to death in 1970 while attempting to cross the border to escape from North Korea. Mrs. Kim’s youngest son was arrested in 1988 while attempting to cross the border and was put in prison for four years.
He was executed in 1993 by a firing squad because he tried to escape from North Korea again,” Open Doors said.
Kim escaped from North Korea and resettled in South Korea and has made it her life’s mission to expose the cruelty and truth about the prison camps in North Korea. She testified: “I entered prison camp No. 15 at Yodok. I spent nine years there; treated like an animal. What made me feel most mortified was the fact that my father, mother, daughter and three sons, who were innocent of any crime, were also sent to Yodok, all because of me.”
Kim said that she and her family members were “forced to engage in heavy labor day and night. On August 5, 1971, I lost my father. I had to wrap his body in a straw mat since there were no coffins in Yodok. Before long, my mother also died of malnutrition. Unbearable sadness cut my heart to pieces.” Kim said that still with tears in her eyes, she was “struck by another painful accident when my eldest son drowned. I was nearly mad with grief. Yodok was really a hell to me. I cried to God asking that He might burn them all to death in Yodok with lightning.”
She described how “very mountain and field in Yodok was covered with dead bodies because of malnutrition and hunger. In 1973, two detainees were killed by public execution at a place between Sector 3 and 4 on charges of trying to escape from prison. Countless numbers of detainees were killed by public execution and torture.” She said that, “Due to malnutrition and hunger, little children withered to death with their stomachs swollen.” Adults, she said, “were looking everywhere for young rats which they believed to be a kind of medicine to save their children. And they literally ate up all the snakes in Yodok to avoid painful death from malnutrition.”
Dykstra said that while the world can “rejoice” about the release of two American journalists, “praying and advocating” should continue “for those who have not received pardons; for those languishing in the “hell” that is North Korea.”
The Times quoted Western intelligence sources as saying the Iranians completed their research program to create weaponized uranium back in 2003.
Contrary to a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate report which claimed that Iran halted its nuclear activities because of the threat of an American invasion following the occupation of Iraq, the real reason for the halt was that the Iranians had figured out how to detonate a warhead that could be fitted on its long-range Shehab-3 missiles, according to the Times.
“If the Supreme Leader takes the decision [to build a bomb], we assess they have to enrich low-enriched uranium to highly-enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, which could take six months, depending on how many centrifuges are operating,” an intelligence source told the Times. “We don’t know if the decision was made yet.”
Aside from the Natanz plant, the source speculated that Iran may have built a number of small, secret facilities which store materials that can be developed for a nuclear bomb, the Times reported.
American officials briefed Israel last week on the administration’s ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to U.S. President Barack Obama‘s offer of dialogue.
In his meeting with Israeli officials, U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones indicated that Tehran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a similar message during his visit here earlier this week. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said, they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
A senior source in Jerusalem said the American message to Israel in these talks was to “lower its profile” and refrain from “ranting and raving” about Iran in public until the international evaluation on Iran takes place at the end of September. “Until that date, we must give diplomacy a chance,” the official said.
THE SUNDAY TIMES
Advances in artificial intelligence are bringing the sci-fi fantasy dangerously closer to fact
A ROBOT that makes a morning cuppa, a fridge that orders the weekly shop, a car that parks itself.
Advances in artificial intelligence promise many benefits, but scientists are privately so worried they may be creating machines which end up outsmarting – and perhaps even endangering – humans that they held a secret meeting to discuss limiting their research.
At the conference, held behind closed doors in Monterey Bay, California, leading researchers warned that mankind might lose control over computer-based systems that carry out a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting on the phone, and have already reached a level of indestructibility comparable with a cockroach.
“These are powerful technologies that could be used in good ways or scary ways,” warned Eric Horvitz, principal researcher at Microsoft who organised the conference on behalf of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
According to Alan Winfield, a professor at the University of the West of England, scientists are spending too much time developing artificial intelligence and too little on robot safety.
“We’re rapidly approaching the time when new robots should undergo tests, similar to ethical and clinical trials for new drugs, before they can be introduced,” he said.
The scientists who presented their findings at the International Joint Conference for Artificial Intelligence in Pasadena, California, last month fear that nightmare scenarios, which have until now been limited to science fiction films, such as the Terminator series, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Minority Report, could come true.
Robotic unmanned predator drones, for example, which can seek out and kill human targets, have already moved out of the movie theatres and into the theatre of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. While at present controlled by human operators, they are moving towards more autonomous control.
They could also soon be found on the streets. Samsung, the South Korean electronics company, has developed autonomous sentry robots to serve as armed border guards. They have “shoot-to-kill” capability.
Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at Sheffield University, warned that such robots could soon be used for policing, for example during riots such as those seen in London at the recent G20 summit. “Is this a good thing?” he asked.
Scientists are particularly worried about the way the latest, highly sophisticated artificially intelligent products perform human-like functions.
Japanese consumers can already buy robots that “learn” their owner’s behaviour, can open the front door and even find electrical outlets and recharge themselves so they never stop working.
One high-tech US firm is working on robotic nurses, dubbed “nursebots”, that interact with patients to simulate empathy. Critics told the conference that, at best, this could be dehumanising; at worst, something could go wrong with the programming.
The scientists dismissed as fanciful fears about “singularity” – the term used to describe the point where robots have become so intelligent they are able to build ever more capable versions of themselves without further input from mankind.
The conference was nevertheless told that new artificial intelligence viruses are helping criminals to steal people’s identities. Criminals are working on viruses that are planted in mobile phones and “copy” users’ voices. After stealing the voice, criminals can masquerade as a victim on the phone or circumvent speech recognition security systems.
Another kind of smartphone virus silently monitors text messages, e-mail, voice, diary and bank details. The virus then uses the information to impersonate people online, with little or no external guidance from the thieves. The researchers warned that many of the new viruses defy extermination, reaching what one speaker called “the cockroach stage”.
Some speakers called for researchers to adopt the “three laws” of robotics created by Isaac Asimov, the science fiction author, that are designed to protect humanity from machines with their own agenda. Each robot, Asimov said, must be programmed never to kill or injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to suffer. A robot must obey human orders, unless this contravenes the first law. A robot must protect itself, unless it contravenes either of the first two laws.
While many scientists fear artificial intelligence could run amok, some argue that ultrasmart machines will instead offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation.
Some pointed out that artificial intelligence was already helping us in complex, sometimes life-and-death situations. Poseidon Technologies, the French firm, sells artificial intelligence systems that help lifeguards identify when a person is drowning in a swimming pool. Microsoft’s Clearflow system helps drivers to pick the best route by analysing traffic behaviour; and artificial intelligence systems are making cars safer, reducing road accidents.
Homosexual former San Francisco leader Harvey Milk
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says he’s uncertain if the briefing material given to President Obama when he decided to award Harvey Milk a presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously included Milk’s well-documented advocacy for the late Jim Jones, the leader of the massacred hundreds in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978.
The issue came up during a White House press briefing the day after President Obama included Milk, a homosexual leader in San Francisco who was victim of a murder, among those listed for the president’s Medal of Freedom awards.
“Is the president – concerning the Medal of Freedom awards, is the president aware of Harvey Milk’s strong support of the Rev. Jim Jones?” asked Les Kinsolving, WND’s correspondent at the White House.
“I don’t know if that was in the briefing material,” Gibbs said. “I can tell you the president is opposed to Jim Jones, how about that?”
Jones let a cult to the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project” in the 1970s in Guyana after an extended career leading the religious organization in San Francisco.
The poisonings, including those of many children, followed by hours the murders of five people by Temple members at a nearby airport. One of the victims was Congressman Leo Ryan, the only member of Congress ever to die in the line of duty. He was investigating complaints about the cult.
Kinsolving, a journalist for the San Francisco Examiner during Jones’ ascent to power and influence there, shortly before he moved his cult to Guyana, recalled in a column just weeks ago the relationship between Jones and Milk.
His writing concerned the Sean Penn movie, “Milk.” Kinsolving cited columnist Dan Flynn’s concerns about “how Gus Van Sant could have made a film about Harvey Milk without casting a ‘Jim Jones’ role.”
The Flynn column accused Harvey Milk and “the San Francisco left” of allowing Jones to conduct his “criminal enterprise in San Francisco with impunity.”
“When veteran journalist Les Kinsolving penned an eight-part investigative report on Peoples Temple for the San Francisco Examiner in 1972, his editors buckled under pressure from Jones and killed the report halfway through,” wrote Flynn. “Kinsolving quipped that the Peoples Temple was ‘the best-armed house of God in the land,’ detailed the kidnapping and possible murder of disgruntled members, exposed Jones’ phony faith healing, highlighted Jones’ vile school-sanctioned sex talk with children and directed attention toward the Peoples Temple’s massive welfare fraud that funded its operations.
“Unfortunately four of the series of eight articles were jettisoned after Jones unleashed hundreds of protesters to the San Francisco Examiner, a programmed letter-writing campaign and a threatened lawsuit against the paper. The Examiner promptly issued a laudatory article on Jones. … ” wrote Flynn.
Kinsolving’s column revealed reports that after Milk was killed, all mention of connections between Milk and Jones “were intentionally obscured.”
Cited was the fact Milk “was a strong advocate for Peoples Temple and Jim Jones during his political career, including the tumultuous year leading up to the Jonestown tragedy. Milk spoke at the Temple often, wrote personal letters to Jim Jones…”
In another question, Kinsolving asked, “Does the president expect Israel to wait until they are nuclear bombed by Iran before they go after Iranian nuclear weaponry?”
Responded Gibbs, “Well, I think the president has said that countries make security decisions for themselves. All involved, led by the United States and others, are trying to do whatever is possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That’s our focus.”
The Taliban and al-Qaida long have been the reason for instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but neighboring nations in Central Asia now are facing increasing activities by radical Muslims, from Xinjiang province in China to the North Caucasus, according to a report fromJoseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
The uptick in Islamic militant terrorist and insurgency attacks throughout the regions of the North Caucasus and Central Asia has prompted an emergency meeting in Tajikistan where clashes between police and Islamic militants are on the rise.
The meeting to be held in Tajikistan’s capital of Dushanbe is to include Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon, who is hosting the emergency terrorism summit.
In recent weeks, there has been increased unrest on Tajikistan’s southern border with Pakistan, particularly in the remote area of Rasht, close to the Afghan border.
From Tajikistan, militants likely will renew attacks in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan. There have been numerous past militant attacks in Uzbekistan’s breadbasket and industrial center of the Fergana Valley and in the mountains that are only two hours from the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.
Keep in touch with the most important breaking news stories about critical developments around the globe with Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium, online intelligence news source edited and published by the founder of WND.
In the past, members of the group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, have staged in Tajikistan to launch attacks into Uzbekistan. It appears the IMU is regaining strength and is ready to resume its attacks. Tajik officials report that a senior IMU militant recently was killed.
The IMU actually is a coalition of Islamic militants from the Central Asian countries opposed to Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. Regarded as a terrorist organization even by Russia, the IMU fought in the Tajikistan civil war from 1992 to 1997. After the war, the IMU moved into Afghanistan and joined forces with the Taliban.
The IMU’s last spectacular strike occurred in February 1999 when militants exploded five car and truck bombs almost simultaneously in Tashkent in an effort to kill Karimov, an old Soviet communist who was elected its first president after the fall of the Soviet Union. He has been Uzbekistan’s president ever since, running the secular Muslim country with an iron fist against militants.