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DATE=12/24/98 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT NUMBER=5-42229 TITLE=NORTH KOREA YEARENDER BYLINE=AMY BICKERS DATELINE=HONG KONG CONTENT=VOICED AT: INTRO: NORTH KOREA'S RELATIONS WITH ITS ASIAN NEIGHBORS REMAIN TENSE, AND THE COUNTRY IS STILL TECHNICALLY AT WAR WITH SOUTH KOREA. DESPITE SOME UNPRECEDENTED CONTACT ACROSS THE DIVIDED PENINSULA THIS YEAR, PYONGYANG'S AGGRESSIVE STANCE HAS KEPT RELATIONS FROM IMPROVING SIGNIFICANTLY. AMY BICKERS LOOKS BACK AT SOME OF THE MAJOR EVENTS IN NORTH KOREA DURING THE LAST YEAR. TEXT: NORTH KOREA REMAINS THE PARIAH OF ASIA. IT IS ONE OF THE POOREST AND MOST ISOLATED OF THE REGION'S COUNTRIES. 1998 MARKED THE REOPENING OF NORTH KOREA'S FORMAL POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS THAT HAD BEEN SUSPENDED AFTER THE DEATH OF FORMER LEADER KIM IL SUNG. HIS SON, KIM JONG IL, WAS CONFIRMED AS THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NATIONAL DEFENSE COMMISSION-- THAT MEANS HE NOW RUNS THE COUNTRY, BUT STILL SHUNS THE LIMELIGHT. ANALYSTS SAY THE NDC'S FORMAL EMERGENCE AS THE HIGHEST ORGAN OF THE STATE IS THE CLEAREST SIGN YET OF THE MILITARY'S PREDOMINANCE IN NORTH KOREAN POLITICS. FOOD SHORTAGES AND FLOODS BOTH PLAGUED THE NATION THIS YEAR-- BUT THE DEGREE OF THE CRISIS IS UNCLEAR. TWO FOREIGN RELIEF GROUPS CLAIM THAT AS MANY AS THREE-MILLION PEOPLE-- MORE THAN 12-PERCENT OF THE ENTIRE POPULATION -- HAVE DIED OF HUNGER OR RELATED DISEASES IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. MOST AID AGENCIES REPORT THAT CONDITIONS IMPROVED IN 1998 THANKS TO THE INTERNATIONAL RELIEF EFFORT. POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR MASAO OKONOGI OF KEIO UNIVERSITY IN TOKYO, SAYS PYONGYANG IS WILLING TO JUSTIFY STARVATION FOR NATIONALISTIC PURPOSES. /// OKONOGI ACT /// THE SITUATION IS QUITE DIFFERENT FROM FAMINE OR STARVATION IN AFRICA AND OTHER DEVELOPING COUNTRIES. NORTH KOREAN FAMINE IS CONTROLLED. THEY ARE QUIETLY, CALMLY STARVING. SOME PEOPLE IMAGINE STARVATION COULD LEAD TO A CHANGE OF REGIME. BUT THEY NEVER LOSE CONTROL OF THE PEOPLE. THE NORTH KOREAN REGIME IS A KIND OF STALINISTIC REGIME PLUS A KOREAN TRADITIONAL AND RELIGIOUS REGIME. /// END ACT /// NORTH KOREAN MEDIA REPORTED FLOOD DAMAGE TO CROPS AND INFRASTRUCTURE AT SEVERAL POINTS IN THE PAST FEW MONTHS. HOWEVER, SATELLITE PICTURES INDICATE FLOODS WERE NOT AS SEVERE AS IN PREVIOUS YEARS . SOUTH KOREA CONTINUES TO PROVIDE AID TO ITS NORTHERN NEIGHBOR TO HELP IT COMBAT FLOODS AND FAMINE. 1998 SAW SOME PROGRESS IN THEIR TENSE RELATIONSHIP, BUT ANALYSTS SAY SUSPICION AND DISTRUST ARE STILL SETTING THE TONE . SOUTH KOREA'S NEW PRESIDENT IS PURSUING WHAT HE CALLS A SUNSHINE POLICY WHICH EMPHASIZED DIALOGUE WITH THE NORTH, AND HAS EVEN LED TO CROSS-BORDER TOURISM. BUT TWO INTRUSIONS BY NORTH KOREAN VESSELS INTO SOUTH KOREAN WATERS THIS YEAR ANGERED SEOUL. JAPAN, NORTH KOREA'S TOP TRADING PARTNER, WAS ALSO OUTRAGED BY PYONGYANG WHEN IT FIRED A MULTI-STAGE ROCKET OVER JAPAN WITHOUT ANY WARNING IN AUGUST. PYONGYANG CLAIMED IT WAS A HARMLESS SATELLITE LAUNCH. MR. OKONOGKI SAYS THE MOVE SUGGESTS THAT NORTH KOREA IS DEVELOPING THE TECHNOLOGY TO MAKE LONG RANGE MISSILES OR EVEN INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC MISSILES. /// OKONOGI ACT /// IF THEY ARE SUCCESSFUL IN DEVELOPING A BALLISTIC MISSILE AND LATER THAT IS LINKED WITH THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS THAT MEANS A SERIOUS SITUATION. THEY CAN ALREADY COVER THE ENTIRE JAPANESE ARCHIPELAGO. /// END ACT /// THE UNITED STATES SAYS IT SUSPECTS NORTH KOREA IS DEVELOPING A SECRET, UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR FACILITY. WASHINGTON IS DEMANDING ACCESS FOR INSPECTORS TO THE SUSPECTED SITE, SAYING IT VIOLATES AN EARLIER BILATERAL AGREEMENT. PYONGYANG IS DEMANDING AN EASING OF U-S ECONOMIC SANCTIONS FOR ALLOWING THE INSPECTION. THE TWO NATIONS PLAN TO RESUME TALKS ON THE SUBJECT IN GENEVA NEXT MONTH. (SIGNED) NEB/AB/PLM 24-Dec-98 7:30 AM EST (1230 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .