Thursday, November 30, 2006

US seeks to take gadgets away from Kim Jong Il

The Bush administration wants North Korea's attention, so like a scolding parent, it's trying to make it tougher for that country's eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters.

The list of proposed luxury sanctions, obtained by The Associated Press, aims to make Kim's swanky life harder: No more cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis.

The new ban would extend even to music and sports equipment. The 5-foot-3 Kim is an enthusiastic basketball fan; then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him with a ball signed by Michael Jordan during a rare diplomatic trip in 2000.

The U.S. government's first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run his communist nation.

Experts said the effort, being coordinated under the United Nations, would be the first ever to curtail a specific category of goods not associated with military buildups or weapons designs. U.S. officials acknowledge that enforcing the ban on black-market trading would be difficult.

Much of the U.S. information about Kim's preferences comes from defectors, including Kenji Fujimoto, the Japanese chef who fled in 2001 and wrote a book about his time with the North Korean leader.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Slow Starvation in North Korea

North Korean refugees are a result of a bankrupt country, a sinister society: they talk of hospitals without heat, of ghost cities without electricity where "we cannot even see if someone is dying next to us," and where water is contaminated, of girls who sell themselves to Chinese women traders and end up in brothels.

The most desperate eat tree bark, leaves and grass, which are hard to digest and cause intestinal problems and internal hemorrhage.

With broken words and mimicking punches, a North Korean child tells us that young prisoners are beaten. "The strongest steal from the others" he says.

These testimonies confirm the bleak picture drawn by German Doctor Norbert Vollertsen, a member of the organization Cap Anamur, who was deported from the DPRK in December 2000 for denouncing the daily violations of human rights.

They also confirm suspicions that a portion of the foreign food aid does not make its way to the segments of population most threatened. In the course of the past two years, some humanitarian organizations (Doctors without Borders and Action Contre la Faim, among others) left the DPRK because they estimated that they could not control the aid that they were contributing.

According to Dr. Vollertsen, the scenes he has seen in the hospitals (including surgery without anesthesia) convinced him that "foreign aid is not used to save the lives that it should."

[Excerpt of an article by Philippe Pons, Le Monde]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Babies killed by North Korean super race

Choi Yong-hwa, 28, described how she was made to accompany a heavily pregnant woman, who had been returned to North Korea across the bridge from China, to a clinic where doctors induced labor. After the infant was born, Ms Choi said she and other women stood by in disbelief as it was suffocated with a wet towel. The mother passed out.

A 66-year-old grandmother also testified to witnessing the deaths of babies at Sinuiju, two of them healthy boys born at full term. The first belonged to a 28-year-old woman called Lim. The witness was holding the newborn in a blanket when a guard grabbed him by a leg and threw him into a large box lined with plastic.

A total of seven babies - five born prematurely after labour was induced - were left to die in the box. Two days later the premature babies were dead. The two full-term boys were still blinking, although their lips had turned blue. A guard battered them to death with forceps, the witness said.

At the Nongpo centre in Chongjin, witnesses saw the so-called "children of betrayers" tossed into a wicker basket, covered in plastic sheeting and left to die.

One woman watched the killing of seven babies, taken from their mothers and left face-down on the ground within their view. After two days the guards smothered any that were still alive. "Guards would say the mothers had to see and hear their babies die because they were Chinese," the report said.

[Agence France-Presse]

Monday, November 27, 2006

North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity

The North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity has led to the killing of disabled infants and forced abortions for women suspected of conceiving their babies by Chinese fathers, according to a growing body of testimony from defectors.

This was first detailed in a 2003 report for the US Committee of Human Rights in North Korea, compiled by David Hawk, a human rights investigator. Mr. Hawk found "extreme phenomena of repression ... unique to North Korea" and concluded that its regime practised "ethnic infanticide".

He traced eight female witnesses who gave distressing accounts of child murder.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

North Korea "Democracy" Judged Lowest in world

In “The World in 2007”, the British weekly magazine, The Economist, analyzed the level of democracy in 167 countries with the five categories; electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties, maximum of 10 points per each category.

The Economist based on its analysis, classified the countries into four stages of democracy; full democracy, 28 countries; flawed democracy, 54; hybrid democracy, 30; and authoritarian regime, 55.

Although the recent wave of worldwide democratization, only 13% of the world population is considered to be living in ‘full democracy,’ whereas 40% of them are still under authoritarian regime.

North Korea received an average score of 1.03 out of 10, and the 167th out of 167 in the ranking.

Not surprisingly, North Korea received no point at all in civil liberties category.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

False image created by the North Korean capitol, Pyongyang

People who have visited Pyongyang for sightseeing report that they saw no signs of a bad food situation. Sightseers to Pyongyang will find lots of food, beer and other beverages, fruits, and candies.

Without a special permit specifically indicating the necessity for a visit, ordinary citizens of North Korea are prohibited from access to Pyongyang. And they long ago expelled every physically handicapped person from Pyongyang.

We would be quite happy if the starvation were simply a vicious rumor spread by anti-communists, and if the people in North Korea were really living in comfort.

Unfortunately, however, the truth is different. The food shortage worsened after 1990, and especially so after 1994. Rations were completely stopped [in most of the country]. Workers do not go to work. Children do not go to school; instead, they go to the hills in their neighborhoods and try to fill their stomachs with grass.

Murders and the sale of human flesh in markets were no longer uncommon.

Drowned bodies of people who had starved to death have been found floating in the rivers at the border - bodies so swollen from being in the water that their clothes had split. I directly heard the following story in China from one of the priests who care for [North Korean] orphans. Dead bodies become caught in the reeds and grass along the riverbank on the Chinese side, where they gave off a foul smell. The priests cannot stand the stench, and in one month alone they had to dig fifteen graves along the riverside to bury the decomposed bodies of starved victims.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A tale of one North Korean family

Seated between the legs of her mother, the little girl turns the pages of a magazine with the unskilled hands of a four year-old. She counts them aloud, and, at the end, she takes the magazine and holds it tight against her, lifting her head smiling. Then her empty eyes appear: she is blind.

At first we can only see the top of the head a nearby teenager, then a little more: he is sitting on a mat, shoulders sunk, knees under the chin. Then the camera shows his feet: he has no toes. They froze while spending some time in jail. He is 15.

The blind girl arrived in China with her mother and brother to meet their father from whom they had been separated [for 3 years. The father] came to China for the first time to seek help from humanitarian organizations, the mother had to sell everything the family owned and was left to scavenge for food with her infant daughter. "We ate like beggars: herbs, roots, but then we felt nauseous and had diarrhea," she told us. Malnourished, she was never able to lactate, and the little girl, fed boiled corn, became blind when she was 8 months old.

Her brother, along with their father, was captured, tied up and repatriated to the DPRK. The teenager was detained in a camp in Onsong, a mining town near the border. It was winter (temperatures hovered around -10 to -15° C and the camp had no heating), and he did not have shoes; after a few days his toes froze.

The images of these two North Korean children are part of some five hours of recorded video testimony of hunger migrants, collected on the Chinese side of the Sino-Korean border by a humanitarian organization that we shall not identify for security reasons. The thirty or so interviews, of which more than half come from refugees that have crossed the Tumen river (demarcating the border) since the beginning of this year, reveal aspects of life under the rule of the last Stalinist regime on the planet.

[Excerpt of an article by Philippe Pons, Le Monde]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

North Korean Sanctions: A Cruel Mirage

U.S. leaders are congratulating themselves for convincing China and Russia to go along on a UN Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions on North Korea.

Even when sanctions are imposed on a comprehensive multilateral basis, they have a mixed record at best. North Korea is an unpromising candidate for a successful campaign of economic coercion because it is already economically isolated, and it is hard to see how additional pressure is likely to succeed where it has failed in the past.

Kim Jong-Il's government is a vampire regime. It will suck whatever resources it needs from the North Korean people to pursue its objectives. Although Kim must ultimately be held responsible for the policies of his government, and while his wanton disregard for the well-being of his people is extreme even among dictators, it is typical of economic sanctions that they hurt the most vulnerable members of society.

Indeed, this fatally undermines the effectiveness of sanctions. On the one hand, they are intended to inflict pain and suffering on a target population to the point where the target country capitulates to the demands of the sanctioning powers. On the other hand, the sanctioning powers are troubled by the moral implications of their policies, and they employ other measures for getting food and needed supplies to the neediest people.

Malnutrition and famine are already pervasive. The government-run system for distributing food provides, on average, 250 grams per person per day – 40 percent of the minimum calorie intake recommended by international food aid experts. The UN's World Food Program reports that a survey taken in October 2004 "found 37 percent of young children to be chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anemic."

Neither China nor South Korea is willing to support broad-based sanctions. The Chinese and the South Koreans also worry about a collapse of the North Korean state, which would unleash hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees across their borders.

[Excerpt of a commentary by Christopher Preble and Ted Galen Carpenter in the Houston Chronicle]

Monday, November 20, 2006

North Korean Camp larger than Auschwitz or Dachau

An MI6 file describes Camp 22 as "larger than Auschwitz or Dachau."

"Hundreds of prisoners die there each week, the victims of biological or chemical experiments to test out [chemical and biological] weapons for North Korea's CBW arsenal," claims an MI6 report.

In one intelligence file is the allegation that newborn babies are taken from their mothers and injected with biological agents or given injections of chemicals that blister the skin, leaving huge keloids, the sores seen on the bodies of Hiroshima victims.

One woman, Lee Sun-Ko, who escaped from North Korea, eventually ended up in America. She told her CIA debriefing officer about Camp 22's experimental laboratories, adding they are buried underground to avoid aerial reconnaissance and bombing.

Lee Sun-Ko's affidavit states: "I watched guards select 150 prisoners, mostly women. Some had just given birth. Their babies were ripped from them. Some of the babies were laid face down on the ground and a guard injected them at the top of the spine. Other guards carried the babies away. When the mothers screamed and protested, they were severely beaten."

David Hawk, a former United Nations official who was involved in monitoring Camp 22, said that while reports of baby-killing are often hard to prove, in the cases he has investigated the evidence is plausible.

"I spoke to eight refugees who had first-hand evidence. Their stories tallied," said Hawk.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

North Korean Killing Compound

They call it "the Killing Compound", an area within Camp 22 in North Korea's largest concentration camp.

Most North Koreans are imprisoned simply because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime. Many are Christians, a religion believed by Kim Jong-il to be one of the greatest threats to his power. According to the dictator, not only is a suspected dissident arrested but also three generations of his family are imprisoned, to root out the bad blood and seed of dissent.
Thousands of men, women and children are trucked to the nearby town of Haengyong. There they wait and the North Korean physicians single out those who will die in gas chambers, or in biological tests, or face death in the human dissection rooms.

Those not selected to immediately go to the Killing Compound will be kept in other compounds, surviving on minimum rations, to replace those who have died from inhuman experiments.

They are all branded as enemies of the state, "political victims" who have dared to speak out against President Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader" of North Korea. Their "offenses" may have been as little as to have allowed a portrait of Kim to get dusty – every home must display one. Or not having given the mandatory bow when passing his thousands of posters that line every street.

Kang Chol Hwan's North Korea Story

Kang Chol Hwan, a former child prisoner at Yoduk Prison in North Korea, currently works as a newspaper reporter for Chosun Daily in Seoul. Below are excerpt of his account:

I became a prisoner in August '77. I was 10 years old at the time. My younger brother was 7. The reason why we were imprisoned was my grandfather and grandmother were residents in Japan. My grandfather was purged politically and disappeared. And because of my grandfather, all the family members were forced to go to the prisoners camp.

In North Korea, the prisoners camps are divided into two parts, economic prisoners camp and political prisoners camp. Also they are divided into two types. One is camps, the other is prison. The prisoners with light crimes are in the camps. And prison is for the serious criminals. Hundred of thousands of people do forced labor just like previous camps in Russia.

When I was 10 years old, we were put to work digging clay and constructing a building. And there were dozens of kids, and while digging the ground, it collapsed, and they died. They buried the kids secretly, without notifying their parents, even though the parents came. It was the first atrocity I witnessed.

Most people died because of malnutrition. I saw such cases many times, malnutrition. It was really a miserable scene. And once I saw a public execution by rifle.

The most unforgettable image I have is when one of my close friend's sisters died in the wintertime. In burying her, we couldn't dig the ground very deeply, because it was frozen. When spring came, the ground thawed, and the dead body floated up. I cannot forget that miserable scene.

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Monday, November 13, 2006

Human guinea pigs in North Korean gulag

Soon Ok-lee was imprisoned in North Korea for seven years. 'An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,' she said. 'One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women.

I gave the cabbages out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.'

Defectors have smuggled out documents that appear to reveal how methodical such chemical experiments were. One stamped 'top secret' and 'transfer letter' is dated February 2002. The name of the victim was Lin Hun-hwa. He was 39. The text reads: 'The above person is transferred from ... camp number 22 for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas for chemical weapons.'

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Gas chamber horror of North Korea's gulag

A series of shocking personal testimonies sheds light on Camp 22 - one of North Korea’s horrific secrets. Among them:

Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They are left to an agonising death while scientists take experimental notes.

Kwon Hyuk, who has changed his name, was the former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. He was also the chief of management at Camp 22. Hyuk claims he now wants the world to know what is happening.

'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'

Hyuk has drawn detailed diagrams of the gas chamber he saw. He said: 'The glass chamber is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metres wide, 3m long and 2.2m high_ [There] is the injection tube going through the unit. Normally, a family sticks together and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners. Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass.'

[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rats the only source of meat

Chol Hwan Kang, in his memoir "Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag" recollects:

"As prisoners eat rats in the camp, rats were almost depleted and became harder to find. The surviving rats are wary.

“Rat is the only source of meat for prisoners for 10 or 20 years.

“Rat tastes strange and somehow unpleasant at first. The revolting taste, however, soon disappears.

“The children never miss the opportunity to catch rats, as they watch so many other prisoners dying of undernourishment.”

Friday, November 10, 2006

North Korean concentration camps

At least two North Korean concentration camps, Hoeryong and Hwasong in Hamkyong Province, are larger in area than the District of Columbia. All the gulags are located in remote and desolate mountain areas to further their anonymity. Presently, there are six gulags known to the outside world where it is speculated that some 150,000 to 200,000 inmates are imprisoned.

The most striking feature of the gulag system is the philosophy of "guilt by familial association" or "collective responsibility" whereby whole families within three generations are imprisoned. This policy has been practiced since 1972 when Kim Il Sung, the founder of communist North Korea, stated, "Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations."

Another characteristic of this oppressive policy is that those arrested are not detained, charged or tried in any sort of judicial procedure. The victim, along with his immediate family, is shipped off in the early hours of the morning to an interrogation facility. He is only permitted to bring the clothes on his back. The presumed offender is then tortured in order to make him "confess" before being sent to the political penal-labor colony.

On arrival at the camp, the victim is issued a pick and shovel, simple cooking utensils and a used army blanket. All contact with the outside world is blocked: he is now a non-person.

Prisoners are provided just enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. They are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, as well as plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes and anything remotely edible. In committing such desperate acts driven by acute hunger the prisoners simultaneously incur the extreme risk of being detected by an angry security guard and subjected to a brutal, on-the-spot execution.

Not surprisingly, the prisoners are quickly reduced to walking skeletons. The descriptions parallel those provided by survivors of the Holocaust in infamous camps like Auschwitz.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Senseless Killing in North Korea

The job of fifty-three-year-old Chul-min Kim, was to drive trolleys that transported coal within "the complete control zone" of camp 14 in Kaechon of Southern Pyong-an province.

One day, he saw some chestnuts roll down the mountain slope and stop in front of his trolley. Chul-min stopped on the tracks to pick up the chestnuts.

A nearby security guard spotted Chul-min as he began to gather the nuts.

Upon reaching Chul-min, the guard started kicking him and became increasingly violent. His anger mounting, soon the hard soles of his boots were laying heavy blows to poor Chul-min's head.

Finally, the guard drew a pistol from a pocket in his uniform, held down Chul-min's head with one foot and blew a hole in the forehead of the horrified victim.

Chul Hwan Kang’s Yoduk Story

Chul Hwan Kang arrived in South Korea in 1992, having survived detention in living hell. He served in the labor camp for political prisoners called "Yoduk" from the age of 9 to 19 for the sole reason that his grandfather was accused of criticizing the North Korean regime.

Kang recounts his experience as a young person in the camps stating that children would spend the day beginning at 6 o'clock in the morning working hard manual labor. The failure to accomplish the work quota may result in reduced food rations.

At age 17, he was less than 150 centimeters tall (5 feet) and weighed about 40 kilograms (88 pounds). In fact, Kang's size was characteristic of all detained children, whose growth was universally retarded by continuous malnutrition and brutality.

Girls were no taller than 145 centimeters by their late teens. With unkempt hair and lacking the nutrition critical to adolescent development, they did not look like girls, forced to become part of an androgynous and anonymous prison population.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

North Korean Storms Leave Many Homeless

Heavy weather that battered North Korea’s eastern coast left more than 7,300 people homeless, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, but no deaths were reported due to a successfully functioning early warning system.

Only 14 people were reported injured because an early warning system was activated two days ahead of the heavy weather and people had evacuated their homes, the Red Cross said.

Rebuilding and repairs have already begun in the storm area, said Jaap Timmer, head of the International Red Cross in the North.

'The national Red Cross society is getting more and more effective for this type of activity,' he told The Associated Press from Pyongyang. 'This can be handled by themselves.'


Monday, November 06, 2006

Atrocities in North Korean labor camps

Grandsons are condemned to life-long terms as slave laborers alongside their grandfathers, both equally helpless in the brutal surroundings. Prisoners are arbitrarily murdered by security guards. Women suffer from forced abortions at the hands of unlicensed doctors. Newborn babies are beaten to death. And sons and daughters are publicly executed in front of their mothers.

This is not the story of an age of slavery from centuries past, or of a survivor of Nazi Germany's Holocaust. It is what is happening at this moment inside the gulags of North Korea.

The stories of gulag survivors are often too horrible to believe for the citizens of civilized countries. If one were to have the opportunity to speak with a survivor of a North Korean gulag, what they would reveal might be well beyond the threshold of the listener's imagination.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ex-Diplomat Faults U.S. Policy on North Korea

A former State Department official who maintains contact with North Korea said U.S. dealings with that country have been hampered by missteps and lack of a coherent policy. 'You can't get anywhere without a clear roadmap, and we don't have one,' said Kenneth Quinones, who served as State Department liaison with North Korea's U.N. mission between 2004 and 2006.

He said a promising effort last year to resume six-party nuclear disarmament talks fell by the wayside when President Bush referred to North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Il as a 'tyrant.' The North Koreans told U.S. officials, 'We're not coming back until the president stops the criticism.'

Weeks later, he said, there was fresh progress toward a new round, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld soured the atmosphere when he announced stealth fighter planes were being sent to South Korea.

Talks were finally resumed in Beijing in September 2005, and the session ended with a breakthrough communique that included broad agreement on a number of issues, including a North Korean commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons. But the good feelings dissipated within 48 hours, Quinones said, when a dispute erupted over whether North Korea should receive light water reactors before carrying out nuclear disarmament.

He said mistrust has permeated the U.S.-North Korean relationship. 'The North Koreans don't want to negotiate with a government they do not comprehend,' he said. 'They found that the rules constantly changed.'

Mistrust 'can be devastating to diplomacy,' he said.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bush 'more of a threat than Kim Jong-Il'

US President George W. Bush is more of a threat to world peace than the leaders of North Korea and Iran, a poll of British voters has found.

A majority of voters in Britain, Canada and Mexico, all key American allies, also thought US foreign policy had made the world less safe since 2001, the survey published in The Guardian showed.

Three-quarters of Britons said Mr Bush presented a great or moderate threat to peace in the world, bested only by Osama bin Laden at 87 per cent.

By contrast, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il was considered a threat to peace by 69 per cent of voters.

As well, 69 per cent of British voters along with 62 per cent of Canadians and 52 per cent of Mexicans, said US policy had made the world less safe.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Turn North Korea Into a Human Rights Issue

Vaclav Havel, Elie Wiesel, and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik have co-authored a powerful argument for confronting Kim Jong Il’s atrocities against the North Korean people. Excerpts follow:

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the North Korean government is responsible for one of the most egregious human rights and humanitarian disasters in the world today.

North Korea allowed perhaps one million — and possibly many more — of its own citizens to die during the famine in the 1990’s. This was caused in part by the government’s decision to reduce food purchases as international assistance increased so that it could divert resources to its military and nuclear program.

Hunger and starvation remain a persistent problem today, with more than 37 percent of North Korean children chronically malnourished. And yet North Korea has requested less food assistance from the World Food Program and refuses to let the program monitor food distribution in some 42 of 203 counties in the country.

As a result of the cuts in food aid, the program has said that millions of North Koreans will face real hardship this winter and many aid groups have warned of another famine.

For more than a decade, many in the international community have argued that to focus on the suffering of the North Korean people would risk driving the country away from discussions over its nuclear program.

But with his recent actions, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, has shown that this approach neither stopped the development of his nuclear program nor helped North Koreans.

Our report recommends that, as a first step, the Council should adopt a non-punitive resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief, the release of political prisoners, access for the special rapporteur and engagement by the United Nations.

We also urge the incoming secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, to make his first official action a briefing of the Security Council on this dire situation.

[Excerpts from New York Times Op-ed]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Not Over Until the Great Leader Sings

North Korea's surprise decision to return to the suspended six-party talks over its nascent nuclear program may be the first positive glimmer from the Korean peninsula in nearly a year, but any celebration by the U.S. or its allies would be way too premature. The multilateral negotiations have been replete in the past with false starts and dashed hopes. And it's not clear that all six parties — North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the U.S — are on the same page.

Pyongyang had reaffirmed its commitment to a preliminary agreement that had been reached last September, shortly before the talks fizzled when the U.S. cracked down on North Korean bank accounts in the Chinese city of Macau.

The resumption of the talks, however, does represent a diplomatic win for China, which had been forced to take the central role in reining in its wayward ally Pyongyang. It was China's decision to support the U.N. sanctions that gave them teeth, and Chinese envoys made repeated trips to Pyongyang over the last several weeks.

The message was clear: North Korea had embarrassed Beijing by testing a nuclear device despite repeated warnings by the Chinese against doing so. By at least agreeing to return to the six-party talks, Kim is preventing a loss in international face for his status-conscious friends in Beijing.

The real test will be how all six parties react once the talks resume — assuming, of course, the talks really do resume this year.

[Excerpts from TIME Asia]

Burden of North Korean sanctions most felt by common people

U.S. activist Adrian Hong, whose group Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) helps refugees gain asylum in Western countries, said a recent tour of the region left him “very worried at the moment for the people we have in our shelters.”

China has stepped up security on its border with North Korea, a move that may have represented compliance with U.N. sanctions on illicit weapons trade. But Hong said China was also fencing part of the border in a sign it might be trying to “eliminate the refugee problem by stopping refugees entirely.”

“Once those fences go up and this winter gets difficult, more people are going to try to leave,” said Hong, who talked with recent refugees in China last week and said all relayed accounts of hunger and malnutrition.

Marcus Noland, a scholar at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, said low grain output this year due to floods, appears to reflect hoarding by farmers after the state seized crops last year.

“In certain areas, it’s clear the government just sent the army in to take grain,” said Noland. History and the political structure of North Korea suggests the army will pass the pain of sanctions on to the population. “The military is going to get the resources it needs and ultimately the burden of these sanctions is going to be felt by common people,” said Noland.


An overview of US sanctions against North Korea

Since 2002, when relations began to seriously deteriorate, the US has been calling for a much tougher stance by the international community against North Korea.

In 2003, it launched the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) with the aim of interdicting weapons from North Korea, Iran and other countries of concern. Participating countries were called on to search aircraft and ships suspected of carrying weapons-related material.

In September 2005, Washington imposed financial sanctions on North Korea, accusing it of involvement in the laundering of drug money and counterfeit currency. It froze the assets of eight firms it believed to be linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and acted against a bank in Macau accused of helping launder money and of having links with the North Korean leadership.

Following North Korea's July 2006 test launching of seven missiles, the UN Security Council condemned North Korea and called on all members to stop missiles and missile-related technology being transferred to North Korea.

Following North Korea's October 2006 nuclear test, the US pushed for UN condemnation of North Korea, including reference to the UN's Chapter Seven, which could eventually allow for military action.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Dear Leader's 11 "holes-in-one"

Reuters suggests that golfers might get a kick just from teeing off in the world's most reclusive state. The trouble is there may not be too many golfers at the picturesque Diamond Country Club golf course in North Korea due to international sanctions that followed Pyongyang's October 9 nuclear test.

Despite the difficulty of reaching the course -- only by bus across one of the world's most heavily defended borders -- it has one great attraction for golf-mad South Koreans: it is cheap.

The price of membership is up to $21,120, a snip compared to a minimum of $250,000 for a standard club membership south of the border. (Membership fees in South Korea can rise to as much as $1 million at exclusive clubs.)

The course will have 19 holes instead of the usual 18. The extra hole -- the 14th -- has been dubbed the "unification" hole, a reference to bringing the two halves of Korea closer since they were divided during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

That hole is designed so that all the golfer need do is knock the ball onto a special "green" and it will automatically tumble in for a guaranteed hole-in-one. No putting required.

But that would still be a long way off the achievement of Kim Jong-il, the "Dear Leader" whose considerable feats -- including on his first round of golf when he reportedly hit 11 holes-in-one -- are frequently cited by North Korea's official media!