Monday, July 31, 2006

3,000 believed dead, missing in North Korea

Agence France-Presse reports that 3,000 North Koreans were believed dead or missing following floods and landslides in the impoverished country, quoting a respected South Korean human rights group Good Friends.

AFP reports an estimated 60,000 North Koreans are left homeless and 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres) of farmland destroyed in the recent flooding, according to UN relief agency WFP.

"Damage and casualties are far heavier than known so far to the outside world," Good Friends said in a statement.

North Korea stopped accepting UN food aid late last year and asked for development assistance instead, citing better harvests and aid from China and South Korea. However, South Korea earlier this month angrily rejected a North Korean request for rice aid after Pyongang launched a series of missile tests that earned it international condemnation.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) said, "Approximately 75 percent of the estimated 60,000 persons made homeless/displaced due to the floods are located in South Pyongan province." It said flooding of farmland caused the loss of 100,000 tonnes of food supplies, adding to a chronic food crisis in the communist country.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Vollertsen: “Wake up to the North Korean Reality!”

North Korean human rights activist, Norbert Vollertsen, has been on an indefinite hunger strike in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The strike began on July 11th, in protest to urge the Korean government to take action on, and responsibility for the improvement of North Korea human rights.

Vollersten first went to North Korea as a volunteer to do humanitarian aid work and offer medical assistance. The turning point came when he saw a young soldier lying dead on the ground, ruthlessly beaten and abandoned.

Why has he chosen to embark on a hunger strike, a strategy uncommon to foreigners?

The reason is that as a German he cannot understand why the South Korean government does not take action for their people in the North, oppressed and dying of hunger. In regard to why he began the hunger strike, Vollersten says that he is “Fed-up!” with the Korean government.

When asked if he felt tired, he said “Whenever I feel tired, I look at the North Korean children (on the picket). How can I tire when I see their poor faces?” He discloses that the suffering he is enduring now is nothing compared to the suffering of the people and in particular the children of North Korea, and that the hunger strike will be over “when I fall down and I get taken to the hospital.”

[Excerpt of article by By Kim Yong Hun and Kim Yun Yi, Daily NK]

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Three North Korean exiles accepted to US

Human rights groups in Seoul welcomed the United States' decision to accept three North Korean refugees as political exiles, while some North Korea experts worried about Washington's “political'' motives.

Three of the four refugees, who had stayed at the U.S. Consulate in China's northeastern city Shenyang since May, left for the United States last weekend, diplomatic sources said.

Washington reportedly declined to accept the fourth's application as he formerly worked for a prison camp in the North. He now hopes to come to South Korea, sources said.

It is the second time the United States has accepted North Koreans as refugees since the enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, and the first to airlift them directly from China.

Washington granted asylum to six North Koreans on May 6, but they received refugee status in a third country in Asia.

[Excerpt of article by Park Song-wu, Korea Times]

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Tale of North Korean Hunger and Survival

One hears of “hunger” and “starvation”, but these are just words until you hear it described from a child’s point of view, a child refugee in China:

My name is Lim Chol and my sister is Lim So-yon. I am 10 years old and she is eight. We were born in a small coal-mining town [in North Korea].

My parents were desperate to find food. They already had sold everything they had to buy corn. My mother roamed around, collecting edible grass in order to make soup with corn flour. She served one bowl of that soup to my father, sister and me, but took only half a bowl for herself.

One day, my father decided to go to Hwanghae Province to get corn from his relatives. He asked us to take good care of mother and we asked him to bring home lots of rice and corn. That was the last time we saw him.

[As my mother got weaker], I walked four kilometers to the old coal mine to get some coal and went to the mountain to get some edible grass and put them in the kitchen. My mother could barely stand up to boil the water to make soup with the grass. She was so weak she couldn’t lift the bar by herself to grind the grass in the mortar. I had to assist her to hold the bar and pound the grass. She wept and murmured, as tears streamed down her face. “Please forgive me for making you suffer like this,” she said.

In front of my mother, my eyes welled with tears, but I never made any sound. We supported our lives with the grass paste mixed with our tears for three months. Everyday we had only two meals instead of three. My sister sat next to mother and put a cold compress on her feverish face. But she passed away after suffering for three months.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Tale of North Korean Hunger and Survival (pt 2)

[After our mother died,] we begged and sometimes we worked by doing some errands, cleaning and serving. If we were lucky, we would get a leftover bowl of soup that we shared.

One day, after finding my sister lying in the mud, I decided to steal some food for her. First I begged the lady of the noodle shop, but when she refused I stole a bowl and started to run away while she was busy with other customers. I didn’t make 10 steps before the woman caught me. She and two other adult customers in the store beat me and yelled, “You little bastard and useless thief!” But I only thought about my sister.

To save her life, I poured noodle soup on my belly that I covered with a cloth. The broth dripped down through my pants, but under the cloth some strips of noodle hung over my belt. I walked to my sister, clenching my bleeding nose with one hand while holding up my belly with the other. Then I shook her. She had been lying with her eyes closed for hours and hours. I took off my belt and took the noodles from my belly and put them into her mouth. How eagerly she ate! My stealing saved her life.

At the market, I heard that there was a lot of food in China across the Tumen River. They even said that people in China would give away food to the beggars from North Korea. Those words kept ringing in my ears and never left.

It was 11o’clock in the morning when I reached the bank of the Tumen River with my sister. On the bank, some armed soldiers were on guard duty. We pretended to collect and eat some young grass. I told So-yon that we had to be prepared to overcome some expected whipping in order to go to the better place.

Fortunately, we safely reached the other side. Our bodies shivering, we ran to the town squeezing water out of our clothes.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

China now world's third biggest food donor

After 26 years of receiving food aid, China has emerged as the world's third largest food donor, according to a report by the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP).

China donated 5,77,000 tonnes of food to more than a dozen countries around the world in 2005, with the great majority sent across the border by rail to North Korea, which relies on food aid to feed its poverty stricken rural population.

The report's findings, which track all international food donations, underline China's growing economic and political clout in Asia, and show how far the country has come since the great famines of the late 1950s killed an estimated 30 million peasants.

For the past few years, WFP and other countries have steadily cut donations to North Korea. China is keen to prevent a refugee crisis in North Korea spilling over its borders.

Paul French, a Shanghai-based expert on the so-called “Hermit Kingdom,'' said: “If food didn't come from China, the trickle of refugees could quickly turn into a flood.'' Beijing also sees food aid as a carrot with which to persuade the North Koreans to come to the negotiating table.

[The Guardian]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Helping Hands Korea's aid to North Koreans

Tim Peters came to be one of the founding members of the effort to aid North Koreans long after he first arrived in South Korea. In 1975, [Peters went to] Seoul as a lay missionary, when … South Korea was an authoritarian state under the leadership of Chun Doo Hwan.

As part of his missionary work, Peters became involved in human-rights issues, and was soon thrown out of the country for handing out leaflets that criticized the Seoul government. He returned to live in Seoul in the late '80s, and then for a third time in 1996. South Korea was by then a democratic, prosperous nation, "and for a time I wondered why the Lord had brought me back to this place," says Peters.

But North Korea was in the midst of a horrific famine. "One night it just dawned on me, I wasn't here this time for South Korea, I was here for the North, to try to do the Lord's work and help people there. It couldn't have been any clearer."

Peters formed Helping Hands Korea in 1996, and within just two years, as refugees tried to escape the famine, the beginnings of the Underground Railroad took shape. "We were overwhelmed," he says now. That's when the organization's mission became more focused: helping North Koreans in crisis, people who really needed help getting to freedom."

[Excerpted from TIME magazine “Long Walk to Freedom”]

Monday, July 24, 2006

Food situation in North Korea

North Korea is facing greater international isolation over missile tests this month and the prospect of less food aid from its major donor, South Korea.

Up to 2.5 million North Koreans, or about 10 percent of its population, died in the 1990s due to famines caused by droughts, flooding and mismanagement of the agriculture sector, the WFP has quoted studies as saying.

Even in a good year, North Korea's harvest falls about 1 million tons short of its needs, experts have said.

At the end of 2005, North Korea said it no longer wanted handouts from international agencies, causing the WFP to suspend its operations there providing food for 6.5 million people. But in May, North Korea agreed to again accept aid from the WFP but on a smaller scale, for 1.9 million people.

South Korea has rejected the North's latest request for 500,000 tons for rice for this year, unless Pyongyang returns to stalled talks on ending its nuclear weapons programs.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

UN ready to help North Korean flood victims

The United Nations World Food Program is willing to help the victims of widespread flooding in North Korea but wants to thoroughly assess the damage and monitor the aid it gives, a WFP official said.

Two major storms over the past two weeks have drenched the impoverished North with some of its heaviest rains in years, severely damaging crops and raising the possibility of famine in a country that already battles chronic food shortages.

WFP officials are on the ground in North Korea, but the North so far has granted them access only to one county that experienced damage, Banbury said.

As a condition for aid, the WFP wants to conduct a full assessment of damage to find out North Korea's needs and then monitor the aid to make sure it gets to the people who need it most, he said. Aid workers say this monitoring is aimed at ensuring the aid goes to the needy and does not end up in the hands of North Korea's powerful military.

[Excerpt of an article by Jon Herskovitz, Reuters]

Saturday, July 22, 2006

American Pastor invited to North Korea

Baptist mega-church pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren shocked evangelical circles this week when on Thursday he traveled to North Korea to meet with Christian pastors. The visit was at the invitation of the North Korean government and was in preparation for a longer stay next spring when political leaders have granted permission for worship services to be held commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Pyongyang Revival, one of the greatest spiritual movements in the history of the Christian church. Warren will be the featured preacher at that event.

North Korea has the most repressive government on earth. It makes no secret of its animosity toward the Christian faith. And the country’s leader, President Kim Il Sung, threatens the United States so frequently that he’s become the poster child for lunatic political leaders.
I recalled how President Bush labeled North Korea part of an international “Axis of Evil” that creates instability and terror throughout the world, a judgment confirmed in the nation’s recent missile test firings.

Warren isn’t just a pastor, author and church leader. In recent years he has expanded his concern into some of the most pressing social issues of the day, including AIDS and world poverty. He has turned into something of an itinerant minister, traveling across the world like a modern day John Wesley, calling the church back to its core purposes of worship, fellowship, evangelism and ministry and service.

With Warren’s visit to North Korea, he’s fully aware that the government there is in all likelihood using his visit for its own purposes, to present to the world community a softer, less oppressive side. They can certainly use some positive publicity right now.

Warren doesn’t care, though. “I know they’re going to use me. So I’m going to use them,” he said in an interview earlier this week.

He added on his personal blog, “Regardless of politics, I will go anywhere to preach the Gospel.”

[Mike Turner, writing in Jacksonville Daily News]

Friday, July 21, 2006

North Korean flooding could affect country’s food supply

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said heavy rains in North Korea these past weeks have caused flash floods that totally or partially destroyed 11,524 houses, leaving more than 9,000 families homeless.

The federation said the heavy weather could also affect North Korea's food supply — critical to the country that suffered famine in the 1990s believed to have killed 2 million people.

"Extensive areas of arable fields have been inundated, wiping out much of the anticipated harvest," the federation said.

North Koreans' efforts to grow food on any possible arable land has led to deforestation in the mountainous areas of the country's South Pyongan, North Hwanghe and Kangwon provinces, leading to landslides, Timmer said.

"Erosion is most likely the main cause of this large disaster," he said.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

South Korean press speaks out against its government

Referring to Roh Moo-hyun’s South Korean administration and “its reckless protection of the North”, one South Korean daily Dong-a Ilbo concludes, “There has been no government that has ever dealt with the North as unskillfully and foolishly as this one.”

Another editorial in the Joongang Ilbo adds, “Mr. Roh remained silent after North Korea’s missile launches except for a warning against Japan’s muttering about pre-emptive strikes against North Korea. … It is really sad to see the administration closing its eyes to international society as it indulges in the naive thought that North and South are the same nation and rushes to embrace Pyongyang.

And then in article in Chosun Ilbo, entitled “Paying North Korea to Laugh at Us”, another journalist writes:
North Korean Senior Cabinet Counselor Kwon Ho-ung told a stunned South Korean delegation at ministerial talks in Busan that his country’s military-first policy “helps the security of South Korea too, and a vast majority of South Korean citizens have benefited from it.” North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear weapons program are apparently a boon to us?

“The economic cooperation funds that [South Korea] provided to [North Korea] since the 2000 inter-Korean summit amounts to 1.3 times North Korea’s entire budget. There is a high chance that some of the money went into development of the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles, but the government has maintained there is nothing it can do about it.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Balancing Act, Fatally Fumbled

Pyongyang’s missile tests not only gave Japan an excuse to re-arm, but also sort of spread a red carpet for the country to walk right into the heart of the international community. Some pundits expect Japan to renew its frustrated effort to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In the wake of China's first-ever support for a North Korea resolution, Chinese President Hu Jintao reaffirmed his position when the meeting of Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in Russia published its own statement condemning the missile tests

North Korea must have felt a sense of betrayal. But the North forced China’s hand when it went ahead with the tests despite pleas from Beijing to desist.

North Korea's play with fire has had all sorts of unexpected results in the region. Japan, which committed itself to pacifism after its World War II excesses, has gained a foothold for transforming itself into a "normal state" by revising the "peace constitution," and China is showing signs of abandoning its special relationship with North Korea.

Our [South Korean] government did not support the Japanese draft, expecting China to prop it up where its own influence fell short. It reckoned entirely without China's change of heart. Where are they now, the [South Korean] government figures who bragged only last year that Korea would play the role of a “balancer” between Japan and China?

[Excerpt from Chosun Journal editorial]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The totalitarianism of North Korea’s totalitarian government

It is important to take into account the unique nature of the North Korean regime. This is a regime that has isolated its people, not just from the outside world, but from all knowledge of the outside world. This dictatorship has tried to deny its people the ability to even imagine an alternative way of life. Probably no totalitarian government in history has succeeded in doing this to the extent that the North Korean government has. Read more

Monday, July 17, 2006

North Korea rejects U.N. missile call

North Korea staunchly rejected a U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning the communist nation for recent missile tests, and warned the measure was a prelude to a renewed "Korean war." The North also said, without elaborating, that it would "bolster its war deterrent for self-defense" -- a phrase often used to refer to its nuclear weapons program.

But the U.S. warned of more action against the North if it continues to abstain from international talks on its nuclear program, which it has boycotted for more than eight months.

North Korea drew international condemnation earlier this month after launching a long-range missile believed capable of reaching the U.S., violating a self-imposed moratorium.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution criticizing the launches and banning all U.N. member states from dealing with North Korea on material or technology for missiles or weapons of mass destruction.

The North's U.N. ambassador promptly rejected the resolution at the Security Council and left the chamber, a breach of typical diplomatic protocol.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Criminal to leave North Korea

In other countries, criminals are people who commit murder, people who steal. But in North Korea, the criminals are people who are hungry and left the country, or people who sought freedom and left the country.

--Hannah, North Korean refugee (now in the U.S)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

$685 Million of missiles could buy a lot of food

“If [Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea] would have taken the money he used to build one missile and given it to his people, they would have so much to eat.”

--Hannah, North Korean refugee (now in the U.S)

For an estimate of what North Korea is investing in its missiles, and how much food this could instead buy for its starving millions, see the Korean Liberator

Friday, July 14, 2006

North Korean Torture

[North Korean] defectors reported that pregnant female prisoners underwent forced abortions and in other cases babies were killed upon birth in prison camps. Prisoners reportedly continued to die from beatings, disease, starvation, or exposure.

According to a 2003 report by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, torture was “routine” and “severe.”

Methods of torture reportedly included severe beatings, electric shock, prolonged periods of exposure, humiliations such as public nakedness, confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down, being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods, being hung by one’s wrists, being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, and forcing mothers recently repatriated from China to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report that many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure, or a combination of these causes.

-- Excerpt of latest State Department’s Human Rights report, country section on North Korea

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The other North Korean crisis

Whatever it does or doesn't signal about the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea's nuclear capability, North Korea's brief test of a nuclear-capable missile will create real casualties by aggravating ordinary North Koreans' suffering. With U.S. sanctions already biting and U.S. humanitarian aid halted, Japan is considering calling for more U.N. sanctions, and even South Korea says continuing food aid, hitherto decoupled from Pyongyang's behavior, "will be difficult under the circumstances."

At risk amid Pyongyang's growing isolation are North Koreans facing persecution, forced labor, economic collapse and chronic food insufficiency there, as well as those attempting to flee across the border into China. By diverting attention from their plight, heightening tensions and increasing pressure to cut humanitarian assistance amid security flaps, the latest missile crisis makes the humanitarian crisis harder to resolve.

At a recent conference at the Asia Society in New York, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Lefkowitz hinted that linking resumed humanitarian aid to progress on human rights is an idea that "could very much be on the table."

This suggestion is hopeful. Instead of a reward for bad behavior, it implies that working for humanitarian and human-rights progress, even amid acute tensions, might give Pyongyang an incentive to be less intractable on other fronts. In any case, human rights and humanitarian concerns remain primary in themselves. Even nuclear security threats don't trump the imperative to raise them consistently, through all available channels, until they are respected.

[Excerpt of article by Shyama Venkateswar & Joel R. Charny San Francisco Chronicle]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

China: Sanctions against North Korea “overreaction”

China has described Japanese efforts to pass a U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on North Korea for conducting missile tests an "overreaction," recommending the draft be revised. "If adopted, it will intensify contradictions and increase tension," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.

Japan delayed a vote on its resolution in order to give China's mission to Pyongyang time to negotiate. Still, the Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations added: "This does not mean that we will be prepared to wait for any lengthy period of time."

He said the draft resolution had already had an impact. "I think we have already sent the sort of message that we wanted to give. Of course, it needs to be formalized."

China's president has urged North Korea to refrain from increasing tensions over its nuclear program and to return to disarmament talks as diplomats worked to forestall U.N. sanctions against the regime.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that supporters of the resolution "believe very strongly that North Korea has to have a message from the international community that their current course is destructive and will isolate them, but we do think that the Chinese mission to North Korea has some promise and we would like to let that play out."


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

UN special rapporteur for North Korean human rights

Prefaced with a touch of sarcasm, allow me to note that the UN progress in gathering information on North Korean human rights is proceeding rather slowly, as reported by Yonhap News:

The term of a U.N. council's special rapporteur for North Korean human rights has been extended by another year. Vitit Muntarbhorn, a professor of law at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Muntarbhorn was named special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name, on July 13, 2004.

The special rapporteur is mandated to investigate the human rights situation in the North and report his findings to the council and the General Assembly.

Since his appointment two years ago, the Thai professor has made several trips to South Korea, but his repeated requests for the North to allow him to visit the communist state have yet to be accepted.
[Boldface mine]

Monday, July 10, 2006

China, North Korea and the US

Pentagon officials tell us China's government failed utterly to come through on private pledges to the Bush administration to halt North Korea's missile tests.

Worse, some officials say, it is likely Beijing deceived the United States about its efforts to dissuade North Korea from the apparent tests and that China may have tacitly backed the seven missile launches.

[Washington Times]

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Symposium on North Korean human rights

The Peace Foundation, a private South Korean organization dedicated to peace issues will hold an international symposium on North Korean human rights conditions next week in Seoul.

About 300 human rights experts and activists from South Korea and abroad will discuss alternative ways to improve human rights conditions in North Korea. They will compare different approaches proposed by South Korean conservative and progressive groups, the South Korean government and the international community.

The symposium aims to establish a "mutually beneficial relationship" among the parties concerned, the Peace Foundation said in a statement.

[Korean Herald]

Saturday, July 08, 2006

On Chinese Perceptions of the USA

In the past few years, Zhan Bingkui foreign-trade manager of the Shanghai Flag and Tent Factory, says Chinese attitudes toward America have improved significantly: "China is more open now and is more friendly to the U.S." Still, the relationship remains complicated, he adds, noting that many Chinese resent America's "bullying" of other countries:

The U.S. occupies a unique place in the Chinese imagination. To immigrants and students, it is the "Gold Mountain"—a land that, ever since the gold rush in 19th century California, has epitomized the promise of wealth, progress and modernity. The flip side is the global "bully" with which China first clashed in the Korean War, and that to many Chinese still seems intent on preventing their country from rising to its natural place among the world's great powers.

"Chinese perceptions of the United States are deeply ambivalent," says Minxin Pei, China program director at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They mix resentment and admiration, fear with respect, jealousy with the desire to emulate." So long as that volatile mixture constitutes a central, "brittle part of the national psyche," says Pei, there's always the possibility that these emotions will boil over.

[Excerpts from an article in TIME Asia]

Chinese self-confidence has blossomed

Today, Chinese still tend to admire American wealth and technological prowess. But one crucial aspect of the relationship has changed: as China's economy has boomed and the nation's importance on the world stage has dramatically expanded, Chinese self-confidence has blossomed. The U.S. may still be the world's undisputed superpower, but the gap is narrowing.

Why look upon America with awe or fear when an endless trail of foreign leaders and corporate titans now flocks to China to grab a piece of the action and to pay their respects? Indeed, even Washington now looks to China to play a more pivotal role in global diplomacy, not least seeking Beijing's help in contending with the twin threats of nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.

Beijing is hardly averse to making pointed displays of China's burgeoning wealth and power, including recently signing no less than $16 billion in contracts with American behemoths like Microsoft and Boeing. The endlessly mutating relationship between China and the U.S. has entered a new phase—one in which the balance of power has subtly but significantly shifted.

[Excerpt from an article in TIME Asia]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Big Brother China not speaking out against North Korea

The Washington Post included this piece on North Korea’s beligerance concerning recent missile tests:
“Our military will continue with missile launch drills in the future as part of efforts to strengthen self-defense deterrent,” said a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement published by the country’s official news agency. “If anyone intends to dispute or add pressure about this, we will have to take stronger physical actions in other forms,” said the statement.

And despite the worldwide uproar, what does Big Brother China have to say about Little Brother NK’s missile tests?
“I don’t think China will take at this moment stronger political or economic action against North Korea,” said Chu Shulong, a political science professor at Tsinghua University and expert in international security.
“We Chinese believe basically, fundamentally it is not our problem, the missile launch problem. It’s a problem between North Korea and the U.S., it’s a problem between the DPRK and Japan, it might be a problem between North Korea and South Korea. But basically it’s not a China problem.”

Kind of how the North Korean refugees in China is also “not a China problem.”

Thursday, July 06, 2006

China Key in treatment of North Korean refugees

Addressing China’s treatment of North Korean refugees is an important first step towards an international solution, according to Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea.

"Everyone wants a piece of China’s booming economy – but the refugee issue pits politics and lucrative trade agreements against human rights issues, and the pocketbook usually wins."

“We need to link trade with human rights issues,” Peters insisted. “International trading partners need to take a real hard look at their own policies towards China.”

“I personally feel we’re within a year or two of some type of seismic shift in North Korea,” Peters added. “But we should be aware that China is not sitting idly by. They’re moving in – building infrastructure, buying access to North Korean ports for shipping, propping up the North Korean economy for their own purposes.

“These signs are extremely troubling.”

[Excerpt of article in Compass Direct]

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Economic Migrants or Political Asylum Seekers?

China defends the repatriations [of North Korean refugees back to North Korea] by claiming that the refugees are "economic migrants".

“Yet as soon as a North Korean crosses the border, they immediately fit the definition of a political asylum seeker because it is a crime against the state for a North Korean to leave the country.

“We know from eyewitness testimony that when North Koreans are repatriated they are subjected to harsh sentences, in some cases they are executed.”

--Suzanne Scholte U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

North Korea launches missiles

North Korea just launched at least six missiles -- one of them the long-range Taepodong-2 missile, according to senior State Department sources, with the Taepodong-2 test failing in midair.

The missiles were launched from a site other than the one intelligence officials have watched for weeks ahead of a possible long-range missile test, a senior State Department official said.

The United States, Japan and other countries have warned North Korea against a long-range missile test, saying it would be considered a provocation.

Monday, July 03, 2006

10 North Korean refugees in U.S. Embassy in Thailand

According to a source familiar with the North Korean refugee issue, a group of 10 North Korean refugees have entered the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.

It is not yet confirmed that these are the same refugees who were arrested in northern Thailand last month for entering the country illegally, as reported by Japan's Kyodo News Agency. Thai police are quoted as saying that the North Korean defectors were caught on a bus heading to the capital Bangkok from Phayao Province in northern Thailand.

Local police reported it uncommon to see such a large number of North Korean defectors in a single group, especially traveling on a bus.

An increasing number of North Koreans have fled to neighboring countries in Asia of late to escape hunger and oppression at home.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Homeland Security wary of North Korean refugees

More than a dozen North Koreans have entered American diplomatic missions in Russia and Thailand. According to a source familiar with the North Korean refugee issue, … some are reportedly demanding to be taken to the U.S., while others have said they would like to come to South Korea.

Four of the North Koreans currently in the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang China had earlier gone to the South Korean consulate in September of last year. They reportedly changed their minds when they learned through television about the official U.S. policy of accepting North Korean refugees.

It is said that unless there are special grounds for rejecting a defection request, once North Koreans are inside a U.S. diplomatic embassy, the State Department there wants to accept them. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, however, is reportedly uncomfortable with the idea, citing reasons of security.

The U.S. government has reportedly decided to accept three of the four defectors who entered the U.S. consulate in Shenyang the middle of last year. The fourth individual worked for state security in North Korea, and as such was not granted asylum.

[Hankyoreh Media Company]

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Rising Tide of North Korean Refugees

Several human rights groups are involved in an “underground railroad” transporting North Koreans out of China via several Asian routes to safety in third countries. Most refugees choose South Korea as a final destination. The United States welcomed its first North Korean asylum seekers in May of this year.

Tim Peters [and Helping Hands Korea] requested prayer for Christian activists who put their own freedom at risk to help the refugees.

As for the regime change predicted by some North Korean observers, he said, “There’s just no way you can predict with meaningful accuracy, because there are so many factors involved.”

Desperation is clearly growing. Peters said 95 percent of those who have escaped North Korea since 1953 have done so in the past five or six years, with a clear increase from 2002 onwards. At the same time, it has been reported that the amount of refugees declined for the first time in 2005 as the difficulty of crossing the border increased.

[Excerpt of article in Compass Direct]