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Pyongyang engaged in image overhaul

Published By United Press International
SEOUL, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A string of visits to North Korea by foreign officials and private media executives is part of Pyongyang's efforts to improve its image, a scholar said.

John Daniszewski, the vice president for the Associated Press, arrived in North Korea this week. His visit follows a tour from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Yonhap news agency in South Korea said there was speculation that Pyongyang may be trying to send conciliatory messages to the international community given recent concerns expressed about its nuclear ambitions.

"There seems to be a move to use the visits and foreign exchanges to bolster the country's image," Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, told Yonhap.

North Korea deployed a three-stage rocket Dec. 12 as part of a program the government said was for peaceful space research. Washington and its allies, however, said it was a de facto attempt to test ballistic missile technology. Similar launches in 2006 and 2009 coincided with North Korean nuclear tests.

Yonhap reports that it's unusual for Pyonyang to host this many foreign visitors.

The reported image overhaul comes as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed frustration with the government's human rights record. She called for an independent probe into the situation, saying nuclear concerns often overshadow other pressing issues regarding North Korea.
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