Thursday, December 27, 2007

North Korean activist Yoo Sang-joon released

Miraculously, Yoo Sang-joon was released and returned to Korea, in amazing accordance with our prayers, claiming that he would be returned by Christmas.

As you know, other activists like Choi Young-hoon and Steven Kim served four years, others over two years, etc. So only four months was amazing!

In November, a representative from our coalition here in Seoul to help Yoo attended a judicial proceeding in China dealing with Yoo's case.

We had heard beforehand that a penalty fee for Yoo's "crimes" had been decided upon by the court. So we coalition members contributed to this amount and a legal fee. Of course, no one here is so naive as to believe that some unpleasant roadblocks would not lie ahead, but there was genuine hope (and faith) that the combined effects of international advocacy from the US, Europe, UK, HK, etc. and the pre-Olympic timing might work.

And [as we put feet to our prayers], the Lord answered wonderfully!

--Tim Peters

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Urgent appeal for North Korean activist facing trial in China

A brief of an urgent appeal for North Korean activist facing trial in China, from Norbert Vollertsen:

A very brave Nth Korean man, Mr Yoo Sang-joon, tragically lost his young son as he tried to escape from China and has since been trying to rescue other North Korean refugees from danger in China.. Sadly he was arrested near the Mongolian border and we have just heard that Mr Yoo is due to be tried in China on 26th November 2007.

Activists in South Korea consider this a unique case, highlighting both the tragic background and the redemptive sacrificial motivation of Mr Yoo. Clearly his own loss has motivated immense humanitarian concern for others at risk and we sincerely hope that China will not punish Mr Yoo for simply seeking to implement the protection which China should be providing as a party to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol.

The trial date has come unusually quickly and it is felt that the Chinese may be seeking to deal with the issue swiftly before further international attention is attracted, especially in the light of
the forthcoming Beijing Olympics.

We would be most grateful if you could write to the Chinese authorities to convey your concern for Mr Yoo as a matter of urgency before the trial on Monday. Addresses are provided below.

Lobbying addresses:

Her Excellency Ms Fu Ying,
Embassy of the People's Republic of China to the UK,
49-51 Portland Place,
London W1N 1JL
> (Salutation: Your Excellency)
> Fax: +44 (0)20 7636 2981 / 5578
> E-mail:
> Tel: +44 (0)20 7299 4049, 07970 292561 (24 hours)
> If you are writing from outside the UK please refer
> to the following
> link for the relevant embassy address:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

US lashes out at North Korea's 'horrendous' human rights record

The United States lashed out Wednesday at North Korea's "horrendous" human rights record and said the international community must be "blunt" to make the hardline communist state change its ways.

The strong words by Washington came as North Korea prepared to start disabling Thursday its nuclear facilities for the first time as part of a multilateral effort.

"The human rights situation for North Koreans in North Korea and those who have fled (to China) has not improved markedly, it remains horrendous," said Mark Lagon, the State Department's director of the office to monitor and combat human trafficking. "If you want a prescription of what we should do from this point forward -- 'we must be frank and blunt with the North Korean authorities about their human rights record, which is abysmal," Lagon said.

[Agence France-Press]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How North Koreans-turned-South Korean stand out

China can verify whether a South Korean citizen is a North Korean defector by checking a social-security number, the last four digits of the social-security number indicate where the identification was issued. North Korean refugees are issued a code that indicates they are from Ansung city, the locale of a training center called Hanawon where all North Korean refugees go through a few months of settlement training to adapt to their new life in the South.

Based on this peculiar ID pattern, many North Korean settlers are often denied a Chinese entry visa. At the same time, they are also subject to employment discrimination from South Korean companies that avoid hiring them because of their lack of job skills and cultural differences.

The South Korean government abolished the problematic system in June and initiated a new one in which North Koreans receive social-security numbers that show the place of their choice of residence, not Ansung.

The remedy, however, is still not perfect. Those who received their social-security numbers before the launch of the new system still have to use their old ID, and it's impossible for them to change their ID numbers because doing so would require a change of the relevant law and parliamentary approval.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, The Asian Times]

Friday, October 12, 2007

S. Korea and China Scuffle Over North Korean Defectors

South Korea's Foreign Ministry office filed an official protest against the treatment of South Korean diplomats by Chinese police following a tussle during the arrest of North Korean defectors, reports the Korea Daily.

Four individuals were found hiding in the restroom of a South Korean school in Beijing, where they were seeking asylum and safe passage to South Korea.

Thirty police officers arrived on the scene, blocking officials from the South Korean embassy from approaching the defectors. At one point, the report notes, police tussled with the embassy officials, pinning the arms of two and forcing them from school grounds.

Since 2004 roughly sixty North Koreans have sought asylum in the school, which is not protected by diplomatic immunity. Still, most have been allowed to go on to South Korea by Chinese authorities, which legally term such persons as 'economic migrants.'

Sunday, October 07, 2007

And what of North Korean refugees?

In South Korea, one can spot the North Koreans by their stunted stature, the result of growing up on inadequate diets. They often seem befuddled in banks and restaurants, and they speak Korean with a noticeable accent.

They risked their lives to get here, but even when they're assimilated they earn half of what their South Korean brethren do — for drudge work. There are 11,000 of them in South Korea, trickling in at the rate of only 2,000 a year, but increasingly they're the unwanted relatives at the doorstep.

Earlier this year, South Korea cut the initial stipend that refugees receive, with an additional [amount] for housing, adding payments at the back end if immigrants hold jobs for more than a year.

The South Korean government, which fears that any crisis with Pyongyang could unleash a flood of North Korean migrants, seems to be pulling up the welcome mat. Experts say South Korea is seeking to slow the stream of refugees, in order to avert a mass exodus from North Korea and ease tensions with its unpredictable neighbor.

That will leave thousands of North Koreans stranded en route in China, Mongolia and Southeast Asia.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Historic Korean Pact Signed

Leaders of the two Koreas, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korea's Kim Jong Il, began formal talks Wednesday at the first summit between the divided countries in seven years.

This week's summit is only the second time that leaders of North and South Korea have met since the Korean peninsula was divided after World War II.

The leaders of North and South Korea signed a pact pledging to seek a permanent peace agreement.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

North Korean defector’s death raising concern in South Korea

A North Korean defector who had entered South Korea early this year ended her life by throwing herself from a window of a 10th-floor apartment in downtown Seoul this past month.

Kim Young-sil, 36, committed suicide in the early hours, South Korea's Yonhap said, adding that her death came as a cold shock to some 1,000 North Korean settlers who live in the same apartment complex.

Kim had been previously repatriated back to North Korea from China at least four times in her attempt to flee the starving country before she finally made it to South Korea. She was known to suffer from depression due to her post-traumatic stress from repatriation.

North Korean refugee groups in the South, however, vehemently point out that behind her death lie more fundamental problems such as the cold attitude and indifference as well as a lack of accommodative policy in South Korea for North Korean settlers, all of them acting as a trigger for her death.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, The Asian Times]

Monday, October 01, 2007

Another North Korean defector accepted by the U.S.

A North Korean defector has departed for the United States, becoming the latest refugee to be accepted by America under a 2004 law, [thanks in part to] South Korean activist Rev. Chun Ki-won, who helps North Korean defectors.

The latest refugee brings to 31 the number of North Koreans accepted in the U.S. since 2004 when U.S. President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act, which mandates assistance to refugees fleeing the North, according to Chun, who heads the Seoul-based missionary group Durihana Mission.

The U.S. has said it would accept about 50 North Korean defectors living in Thailand if they meet certain criteria, but the process is being delayed due to the lack of cooperation by the South Korean government, Chun said, citing an unnamed official in the U.S. State Department.

Separately, Chun said some North Korean defectors held in a Thai immigration facility complained of skin diseases as they have been staying in a cramped detention center that accommodates about 500 North Koreans — roughly twice normal capacity.

[Excerpted from International Herald Tribune]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Major famine likely in North Korea this winter

Social phenomena unfolding in North Korea point to a tragic famine this winter, with international assistance stalled, a South Korean religious leader said Wednesday.

Ven. Pomnyun, chairman of the Good Friends Center for Peace, which engages in extensive North Korean assistance, said international standards on monitoring are still an obstacle to solving North Korea's food shortage.

[Yonhap News]

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Activists cast light on North Korean underground church

Son Jong Nam …was the son of a high-ranking officer in the all-powerful military. … As an adult he became part of Kim Jong Il's personal security detail—paid well, and trusted implicitly.

All of which makes him a potent symbol now. … Son turned to one of the missionaries operating clandestinely along the border, helping refugees escape. Like many others Son converted to Christianity. Unlike most, he returned to North Korea to spread the Gospel. Today he sits on death row in Pyongyang, accused of being a spy.

Evangelicals have taken up Son's cause, drawing rare attention to the North's underground church. "To be a Christian is not just to follow a different religion," says Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs, one of several U.S. and South Korean Christian groups urging Son's release. "It's really seen almost as treason against their whole political system."

It's hard to say how many covert Christians the North has; estimates range from the low tens of thousands to 100,000. Missionaries say Christians often keep their Bibles buried in the backyard, wrapped in vinyl. Preachers based in China sometimes conduct services by mobile phone. In five to 10 minutes the pastor reads Bible passages and prays for the sick and needy. Services are kept short; the regime uses GPS trackers to locate the phones.

The Christian activists along the border are a dedicated bunch, but they have a vested interest in dramatizing the plight of their brethren in the North. The latest U.S. State Department human-rights report says that "members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested, detained in prison camps, tortured or killed" in the North, but emphasizes that such accounts are unconfirmed. Son hasn't been heard from in months. But his supporters remain convinced that they can help him to survive and, in so doing, win one small battle for a beleaguered faith.

[Excerpt of an article by Christian Caryl and B. J. Lee, Newsweek]

Sunday, September 02, 2007

North Korea to shut down nuke programs

North Korea agreed Sunday to declare and disable all its nuclear programs by the end of the year, the chief U.S. negotiator said -- the first time the communist country has offered a timeline to end its secretive atomic program.

The North Korean envoy, in separate comments, told reporters his country was willing "to declare and dismantle" its nuclear program, but mentioned no dates.


Monday, August 27, 2007

North Korea Continues Erecting Fence

North Korea has started building a fence along parts of its border with China in an apparent move to prevent people from fleeing the impoverished communist country, a news report said Sunday.

The North has put posts on a six-mile stretch along a narrow tributary of the Yalu River, which marks the border between North Korea and China. It has also built a road to guard the area, Yonhap news agency reported. The North has yet to string barbed wire fencing between the posts, the report said.

Less than a year ago, China built a massive barbed wire and concrete fence along its side of the same river.

China had left their border lightly guarded but it has became a security concern for Beijing in the past decade as tens of thousands of North Korean refugees began trickling across into northeast China.

Many of the refugees take a long and risky land journey through China to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries on their way to eventual asylum in South Korea.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Six North Korean refugees released in Shenyang

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) has announced that six North Korean refugees imprisoned by Chinese authorities last December were recently released from a prison in Shenyang. They arrived in South Korea.

The six - which include two teenage boys, one woman in her early twenties, and three older women - were arrested in Beijing last December after seeking asylum at a foreign mission in China.

Three of LiNK’s field workers were also apprehended for aiding the six North Korean refugees, and imprisoned for ten days before being deported to the United States. LiNK actively operates a network of underground shelters for North Korean refugees in unfriendly nations.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Vietnam to handle North Korean refugees "on basis of humanity"

Vietnam will deal with the issue of five North Korean refugees who have sought refuge in the Indonesian embassy there this week "on the basis of humanity," officials said.

Le Dung, spokesman for Vietnam's Foreign Ministry, said, "Vietnamese authorities will coordinate with related parties to settle this issue in accordance with Vietnamese and international laws and practices on the basis of humanity."

On Wednesday, one man and four women climbed the fence of the Indonesian mission in Vietnam carrying a piece of paper that said, "We are North Korean refugees. We want to go to a free country."

The North Korean group is the latest to seek asylum at foreign missions in Hanoi. Last month, another group took refuge in the Danish embassy and was later sent to South Korea .

[Yonhap News]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rescue News from Helping Hands Korea

Helping Hands Korea partnered with another NGO to support the cost of sheltering 14 refugee orphans in China. Of the 14, eleven are so-called “2nd Wave orphans”, that is, offspring of trafficked North Korean women and the Chinese men who ‘purchased’ these vulnerable women. Such North Korean women, who have no Chinese ID, are oftentimes caught by Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea. In such tragic circumstances, the children become even more vulnerable

In addition, Helping Hands Korea arranged for the sheltering of one family of four for a year, while continuing to support on a month-by-month basis 54 other North Korean refugees living in the mountains & wilderness areas of China.

One refugee whose escape was supported by Helping Hands Korea, was part of the group of four refugees who boldly dashed into the Danish embassy in Vietnam and found sanctuary there. (Related to this situation, Tim was interviewed by BBC’s Vietnamese Service on the plight of the North Korean refugees.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

North Koreans seek refuge in Indonesian Embassy in Hanoi

Five North Korean defectors have entered the Indonesian embassy in Hanoi, apparently seeking asylum in South Korea, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

“One man and four women climbed the wall of the Indonesian Embassy around 3:30 p.m.,” an official said. “Right now, embassy officials are looking into why the defectors entered the Indonesian compound.”

He said the defectors, who speak neither English nor Vietnamese, “wrote something indicating they are from North Korea. They wish to be sent to a free country.”

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

South Korean Missionaries in Afghanistan

When Taliban militia ambushed a bus taking the highway from Kabul to Kandahar July 19, it was not the first time the Muslim extremists kidnapped foreigners for ransom. This time, however, they took 23 Korean Christians on a medical missions trip.

The South Korea's church has blossomed in size and zeal over the last few decades, sending abroad the second-largest number of missionaries after the United States. The premise is that the gospel began in Jerusalem when Jesus gave the Great Commission, spread westward, and should circle back to its origin, leaving traditionally hard-to-reach nations ripe for missions.

"There's a real fever to try to evangelize the nations between Korea and Jerusalem," said Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, a Seoul group that aids North Koreans.

Paul Kim, a staff member of Fuller Theological Seminary's Korean Doctor of Ministry program, explained that Koreans see missions almost as a way to "repay debts" to Western countries that spread the gospel on their peninsula.

For Kim, the group's kidnapping is perplexing in another way. As in the United States, short-term missions trips are popular for college students and other young adults during the summer. But he says they are not always done right.

"When I heard the news, I was sad and kind of angry about why non-professional missionaries went to such a dangerous place," Kim said. At 34, Kim has done his own short stints in India and Japan. "The main thing for short-term missionaries is to help long-term missionaries. If you miss the point, then it could be really dangerous."

[Excerpt of an article “Zeal for the Lost” by Priya Abraham, WORLD magazine]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Many nations offer flood relief to North Korea

The international community has pledged relief aid for North Koreans. According to the United Nations, more than 14 nations -- including South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Ireland -- pledged as of Saturday to offer flood relief to North Korea.

Singapore is also taking part in the aid drive, pledging $50,000 in humanitarian assistance, along with the country's Red Cross Society offering another $19,000, its Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

German Agro Action, a Germany-based aid organization, said it would give about $335,000 worth of emergency supplies and the German government pitched in another 150,000 euros ($202,000) of funds for the flood victims.

The International Red Cross reportedly has already shipped kitchen sets, blankets, and water purification tablets to about 80 percent of the 16,000 hardest-hit families last Friday.

The U.N.'s World Food Program is set to assist about 320,000 flood victims with emergency food supplies -- 4,000 tons of flour, beans, vegetable oil and sugar.

Medical relief is also expected to come from the Spiritual Awakening Mission, a medical relief organization, and relief agency World Vision plans to send $200,000 worth of medicine and other necessities sometime today.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said an average of 524 millimeters of rain poured onto nation, the most amount of precipitation in the past 40 years.

North Korean state media said that the rainstorms washed away about 144,000 tons of coal, flooded about 200 mines and 30 coal storage sites and another 300 mines collapsed. The downpours and landslides cut off 63,900 meters of rail and roads used to transport coal and 13 rail substations were submerged. Another 1,160 communication and electric poles were destroyed, the KCNA said.

About 11 percent of the already-impoverished country's grain harvest -- equivalent to 450,000 tons -- was also lost, North Korean officials added.

[Excerpt of an article by Cho Ji-hyun, Korea Herald]

Sunday, August 19, 2007

UN projects North Korea food shortage to increase

The U.N. warned that North Korea's food situation will worsen after record rains wracked the country's agricultural heartland, and an aid group said the numbers of dead and missing from floods has risen to more than 300.

South Korea, the U.S. and Germany offered aid to help Pyongyang cope with the storms, which have prompted an unusual amount of candor from the usually secretive regime over the scale of the damage.

The North has said a week of storms has destroyed 11 percent of its rice and corn fields. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that would mean 200,000-300,000 tons of cereals may have been lost to floods. It said the situation could change, depending on the weather over the next few months.

Some 87 percent of the country's annual production of cereals is harvested from October to November and the rains arrived at a critical development stage, the agency said. Cereals are the main staple in North Korea.

"The country's already tight food supply situation will deteriorate" with this year's anticipated shortage, the agency said in a statement.

Some of the hardest-hit regions were along the border with South Korea. "We have difficulties accessing these areas because the roads are gone."


Saturday, August 18, 2007

US offers $100,000 in humanitarian aid to North Korea

The United States will extend $100,000 in humanitarian aid to flood-stricken North Korea through a nongovernmental organization, a State Department spokesman told reporters Friday.

''The intention is that the money would be used to provide blankets, shelter materials, water containers and other supplies to those in need,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack said the aid will be divided evenly between and distributed through U.S. NGOs Mercy Corps and Samaritan's Purse, both which have a history of operating in North Korea.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Outpouring of relief to North Korea

North Korea's neighbors and international aid agencies sought to help the impoverished country cope with floods that have decimated large swaths of farmland, endangering citizens already struggling with food shortages.

South Korea said it would provide aid beginning with an initial package that will total $7.5 million in relief supplies.

U.S.-based relief organization Mercy Corps said it planned to provide some $500,000 in food, medicine, clothes and tools to North Korea after discussing the situation with its counterparts there.

Japan also said it would consider giving aid if asked by North Korea, but it did not yet have specific plans.

The North Korean government granted the World Food Programme permission to send four emergency teams Friday to stricken areas, providing a wider independent assessment of the damage.

A senior U.N. official in New York said 58,000 homes had been destroyed along with nearly 222,400 acres of farmland, leaving 300,000 people homeless. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Margareta Wahlstrom, deputy emergency relief coordinator, said 83 people were dead and about 60 missing.

The U.N. said its relief officials in the region reported floodwaters had wrecked more than 800 public buildings, 540 bridges, 70 stretches of railway and more than 500 electricity towers. More than 30 water reservoirs and 450 agricultural structures were damaged, it said.

The series of unusually detailed official reports on the disaster were viewed as a public cry for help from the government, which is usually extremely reluctant to reveal any signs of internal trouble to the outside world.

However, North Korea has a history of overstating the effects of disasters to get aid.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Aid agencies rush in to assist North Korea flood victims

International aid agencies are speeding up efforts to get assistance to victims of the devastating floods in North Korea.

Heavy rains over the last few weeks have destroyed more than 10 per cent of the country's farmland at the height of the growing season.

North Korean officials says hundreds of people are dead or missing, and several hundred thousand are homeless.

Tong Chang Son from the Pukchang People's Committee says his region and others have been badly hit.

"What is badly needed first is rice, cement, daily necessities and medicines," he said. "I would be grateful if there is international aid, for there is great damage on a nation-wide scale."


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Last US defector in North Korea alive but ailing

Former U.S. Army private James Dresnok defected to North Korea in 1962. The film of his life, "Crossing the Line," opens for wider release this month in the U.S. and South Korea.

The documentary shows Dresnok to be suffering a variety of ailments from a life of hard drinking and smoking. British director Daniel Gordon said he had initially been unsure Dresnok would live to see the completed film.

"He's still roughly alive," Gordon said he was told of Dresnok's condition when he spoke to his North Korean contacts earlier this summer.

Dresnok, in his mid-60s, has been admitted to hospitals several times but has lived through two winters since filming was completed, the director told foreign journalists.

Dresnok, born in the U.S. state of Virginia, grew up in a foster home and joined the U.S. military in his teens to seek adventure. However, he eventually chafed at military restrictions as a U.S. Army private.

He was being threatened with a court-martial for taking an unauthorized overnight leave when he walked to the North across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula on Aug. 15, 1962. He then started a new life in a land where Americans were seen as the main enemy of the authoritarian regime.

Gordon said that the North Koreans did not censor the filmmakers while working in the country, but that official minders monitored them wherever they went as is done with all outside visitors.

[International Herald Tribune]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

South Korea pledges flood aid to North Korea

South Korea has pledged 100,000 tons of rice and construction material to flood-ravaged North Korea.

The pledge comes on top of a US$20m donation that the South's government and civic groups have promised to their communist neighbour. Pyongyang had originally declined an offer of aid from the Red Cross in South Korea, but asked for help to recover from mid-July's storms.

North Korea was hit by torrential rains and high winds last month. A South Korean aid group reported the storms left 58,000 people dead or missing, the AP news agency reported.

"We are grateful the South Korean government has decided to help us, although it is also having difficulties due to flood damage in the south," a North Korean delegate was quoted as saying by South Korean news agency Yonhap.

The BBC's Kevin Kim, in Seoul, says the rice shipment agreed this weekend is only 20% of what North Korea had requested in earlier talks, but officials in Seoul hope it could help improve increasingly soured relations.


Monday, August 13, 2007

North Korea admits severe flood damage

North Korea has reported widespread damage to homes, railways and roads following heavy rains that battered the nation last week, in a rare admission of problems within the reclusive country.

“A large acreage of land under cultivation” has been washed away or buried, with roads, railways, houses and public buildings destroyed,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.

The agency gave no figures on damage or casualties. Last year monsoon rains swept through much of the impoverished nation, killing hundreds of people.

Experts say decades of reckless deforestation have stripped North Korea of tree cover that provides natural protection from catastrophic flooding.

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has called for efforts to boost fertiliser production, state media reported, amid concerns of increasing starvation in the impoverished country.

In a rare admission of a “problem” with food supplies, the reclusive leader issued a directive during a trip to a fertiliser complex in the northeastern port of Hungnam, the Korean Central News Agency said late Saturday.

“In order to solve the problem of food (production), a key point in the issue of clothing, food and housing, it is necessary to actively develop agriculture and increase the supply of fertilizers for successful farming,” Kim was quoted as saying.

[The Peninsula, Qatar]

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

A study of post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean defectors found that they reported certain traumatic events with a high frequency. Read more

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Summit to mean massive aid for North Korea?

South Korea may be ready to offer billions of dollars to rebuild the failing North Korean economy when leaders meet for only the second ever summit between the enemy states later this month, analysts said.

Leaders from the two countries, technically at war for more than half a century, will meet in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on August 28-30.Analysts said the South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's government has been trying to put together a massive aid package.

North Korea wants help to rebuild the port of Nampo that serves Pyongyang and build at least four industrial complexes, former Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, told local media. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will also likely push for more tourism ventures to attract South Koreans, said Lee, who went to the North earlier this year and served as premier under Roh.

South Korea has made clear that a major focus of the summit will be revival of its communist neighbor's destitute economy, but has not yet said what might be on offer.

A study by the state-run Korea Development Bank estimated the cost of refurbishing the North's infrastructure would top 60 trillion won ($64 billion) over 10 years.

Some in South Korea argue it makes sense to get a head start and avoid a bigger financial burden when unification occurs and the South has to absorb its neighbor.The Roh government has been criticized for being too accommodating to what many consider a renegade state. But officials argue that South Korea's economy would buckle under the strain if the North collapsed and its poorly trained population fled south in search of work, and it is far safer to gradually bring the country out of its primitive economic state.

[Excerpt of an article by Jack Kim, International Business Times]

Friday, August 10, 2007

North Korea: Something is about to happen

North Korean tactics have not changed much over the last half century. There is lots of drama, lots of delays, and maximum effort to extort as much as they can in the negotiations. Then the cycle is repeated, endlessly.

What has changed is the lack of predictable subsidies from Russia and China. Until the Cold War ended, these subsidies kept North Korea comfortably afloat. But in the early 1990s, those subsidies ended, and starvation and economic collapse ensued. Now the economy has been loosened up, and some people are making money.

But many North Koreans are starving, and the government fears collapse, or a revolution.

The hard liners still have a police state operating, while the reformers have South Korean firms coming in and opening factories, and there are now free markets, with uncontrolled prices, throughout the country. Corruption is way up, and discipline is falling.

Something is about to happen, but no one is quite sure what.

[Free Republic]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

North Korea willing to disarm even if aid takes time?

North Korea is willing to move quickly on its nuclear disarmament even if it has to wait for foreign oil aid, an official said Wednesday, in a rare sign of flexibility in negotiations.

"Even if North Korea's denuclearization proceeds faster than the reciprocating economic and energy aid measures, North Korea is willing to agree, based on the principle of mutual trust," South Korea's deputy nuclear envoy, Lim Sung-nam, told reporters after two days of working talks with Pyongyang.

The North's long-standing demand of simultaneous "action for action" in abandoning its nuclear programs had threatened to stall disarmament progress.

North Korea is to receive the equivalent of 950,000 tons of oil for declaring all its nuclear programs and disabling its facilities. However North Korea has limited facilities for receiving oil, meaning that the deliveries would drag on for many months. However, the U.S. has said it wants North Korea to complete the next step of its disarmament by the end of the year, prompting discussions on alternatives for oil aid such as helping to rebuild the North's infrastructure.

At Wednesday's talks, the North also requested machines and raw materials to repair power plants, Lim said.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

North Korea expects "investment-based" international aid

North Korea expects to receive consumer goods and investment as international aid in exchange for denuclearization, the country's delegation said Tuesday at six-nation working group talks.

The working group at the South Korean village of Panmunjeom is expected to address details for the shipment and storage of 950,000 metric tons of heavy oil or equivalent aid to the North.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean delegate as saying: "We cannot reveal everything North Korea brought to the table this time, but we can say they did have ideas for what can be called consumption-based assistance and investment-based assistance."

Yonhap cited the negotiator as saying Pyongyang expected support for building or maintaining facilities that could help produce energy or sources of energy.

One of the other four working groups is expected to hold a meeting in China on August 13 to develop a plan for scrapping North Korea's nuclear program. The working group on peace and security in Northeast Asia will meet in Moscow on August 21.

[RIA Novosti, Russian press]

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Envoys to Hold Talks on Aid to North Korea

Working-level talks this week between the Koreas, the United States and regional partners will seek to iron out the details of an aid-for-disarmament deal with North Korea, a top South Korean nuclear envoy said Monday.

The two-day talks - set to open Tuesday at the truce village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas - are a follow up on a February agreement under which Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program and allowed the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for aid and diplomatic concessions.

The six parties including China, Russia and Japan will 'discuss on how to give energy aid to the North,' South Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, told The Associated Press.

North Korea has received 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil provided by Seoul in return for the shutdown of its sole operating nuclear reactor last month. The energy-starved North is to eventually get further energy or other aid equivalent to 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil in return for irreversibly disabling the reactor and declaring all nuclear programs.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Kim Jong Il a shrewd dictator

Despite his reputation as being very odd, some experts maintain Kim is quite rational. "He's not crazy. He might be somewhat emotional. He might be somewhat eccentric. But crazy? Absolutely not," said Peter Maass from The New York Times Magazine. Indeed, Kim's persona seems to have been carefully cultivated to become a leader who has played a poor hand of cards skillfully.

As supreme leader of an impoverished, backward country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage and his reputation may work to his advantage.

Indeed, behind it all he seems to be a shrewd dictator. "Really, everybody who's met with Kim Jong-il, and there've been quite a few -- South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who've since defected -- they all come out saying this man knows what he's doing," said Maass.

Kim's deceased father was deemed "eternal leader" and the presidential post left unclaimed. Kim Il Sung's unique style of Stalinism, suffused with the Korean "juche" philosophy (roughly translated as "self reliance") was subordinated to the more militant theme of Kim Jong-il's "Red Banner" policy, introduced in 1996.

Since its inception, North Korea has demonized America as the ultimate threat to its social system and has molded its policies toward the eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control, according to the CIA.

While it boasts a million-strong army, North Korea faces desperate economic conditions and massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the people to escape mass starvation since famine threatened in 1995.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kim Jong Il in blood and bandages

Kim Jong Il in blood and bandages: 500ml of Phil Hansen’s blood was used to make this picture of Kim Jong Il on a canvas of 6,000 bandages on a canvas measuring 44" x 104".

The giant portrait was made as a protest against nuclear proliferation. He applied 6,000 adhesive bandages on a plywood backdrop. Then, using a quart-sized bag of his own blood, he painted Kim's face on the exposed gauze. His sister-in-law, a doctor, helped him draw the 500ml he needed.

Phil Hansen is not only tearing down the “gallery” walls that keep many people from seeing and enjoying art. He’s also showing us how it’s made -- all on the Internet.

Kim makes rare public appearance for 5th straight day

Yonhap News reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il Saturday has made his fifth public appearance in as many days, this time visiting a machinery assembly factory in a northeastern city.

Prior to this, Kim Jong-il had not been seen in public for months since the North's nuclear weapons test in October last year created internal tensions.

Kim Jong Il has made a series of visits to army bases recently, according to the North's official media, prompting speculation in the South over what all the unusual visits mean.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Censorship in North Korea

Censorship in North Korea is more thorough than anywhere.

Televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only Government-controlled frequencies.

Mobile telephones were banned in 2004.

Access to the internet is banned. The designated North Korean web suffix ".kp" remains dormant.

Educated North Koreans have no understanding of developments in the outside world, or any understanding of how backward their country is.

The censorship is so total that when confronted with the truth they assume that it is all lies.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Backman, The Age]

Friday, August 03, 2007

North Korean workers suffering from hunger

A South Korean civic group on Thursday called for sending 100,000 tons of corn in emergency aid to North Korea, claiming hundreds of North Koreans have died from hunger over the past few months.

Due to a worsening food situation, 80 percent of North Korean workers in South and North Hamkyong provinces are suffering from hunger, while an increasing number of North Koreans have become homeless drifters in South and North Pyongang provinces, said Good Neighbors International, a Buddhist civic organization which provides aid to North Korea.

[Yonhap News]

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reunification Demographics of North and South Korea

Reunification with South Korea is inevitable. The only question is when.

South Korea will benefit from reunification. An enormous peace dividend will be earned. Each Korea maintains an enormous army largely to balance out that of the other. Combining the two militaries will be a big task. But it will also involve a big reduction in servicemen, releasing manpower for the civilian workforce.

South Korea faces two demographic crises: it has a serious gender imbalance, particularly among younger South Koreans; and it is ageing faster than any other nation on Earth. The median age for South Korea's population is forecast to rise to 50.9 years by 2040, up from 36.8 now. And by 2050 it will be about 52 years. This means that more than half the population will be aged over 50 in a generation.

Supporting that number of older people will be an enormous drain on the economy.

Furthermore, South Korea's birth rate is way below the replacement rate. Its population is forecast to start shrinking from 2027. North Korea does not face these problems. Whereas each woman in the South gives birth to just 1.28 children, on average, the figure in the North is 2.05. This means that reunification will give South Korea a demographics rejuvenation.

The biggest instance of economic co-operation is South Korea's Gaeseong Industrial Zone in North Korea. It employs 7000 North Koreans and about 500 South Korean managers in 15 factories. The zone will employ 700,000 workers and house 2000 companies when completed in 2012. This alone will educate many North Koreans about life outside North Korea — the wealth, the choices and the opportunities.

But reunification will take a long time.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Backman, The Age]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

North Korean defectors leave Vietnam, heading for Seoul

Four North Koreans, who fled to Vietnam in a bid to get asylum in South Korea, have left the Danish Embassy and headed for Seoul,

Thousands of North Koreans have fled their communist homeland to escape hunger and harsh political oppression, many taking a long and risky land journey through China to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries on their way to asylum in South Korea.
Since the Korean War ended in 1953, more than 10,000 North Koreans have defected to the South, with most arriving in recent years.

South Korea has said it would accept any North Korean who wants to resettle in the South, but is concerned that the rapid increase in arrivals could strain inter-Korean ties and complicate international efforts to resolve the issue of the North's nuclear program.


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Four North Koreans turned over to South Korean officials

Four North Koreans who sought asylum in South Korea after entering the Danish Embassy in Vietnam earlier this month have been handed over to South Korean officials in a third country, a U.S. government-funded radio station reported Tuesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The defectors, a family of two adults and as many children, had initially requested help from the South Korean Embassy, which was allegedly rejected. After their entry into the embassy compound, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and Danish Embassy consulted on how the case would be treated.

The Danish Embassy handed over one male and three female North Korean defectors to the South Korean authorities, which went very smoothly, Thomas Moller, an official of Denmark's Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia (RFA). RFA reported that the handover was made in a third country.

[The Korea Herald]

Monday, July 30, 2007

How North Koreans are received in the South

Anthropologist Gene-woong explains, "Korea has been a discriminatory culture dating back hundreds of years to the late Lee Dynasty. Your place in this society is determined by money, status and appearance.''

In the early years, North Korean defectors [arriving in Seoul] were celebrated as heroes; now they're sometimes looked down upon as well-subsidized freeloaders. Despite all the talk of brotherhood and eventual reunification, the North Korean refugees often feel isolated, even years after living here.

Humanitarian and church organizations maintain that depression, alcoholism, unemployment and suicide run higher among these refugees and that this hopelessness is passed to the children as well.

Some defectors say that they struggle against a certain South Korean animosity and snobbishness, which, interpreted correctly or not, can be summed up as follows: kiss my ring; now collect my garbage.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

Sunday, July 29, 2007

North Korean total-control zone

According to a report released in June by the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul: "Prisoners sent to a total-control zone [in North Korea] can never come out. They are put to work in mines or logging camps until they die. Thus the authorities don't even bother to give them ideological education. They only teach them skills necessary for mining and farming."

Shin was born and raised in a North Korean gulag. His life changed in 1996, when his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. Guards interrogated him in an underground torture cell about a suspected family plot to flee the camp. They stripped and hung him by his arms and legs from the ceiling, and held him over hot charcoal.

During the interrogations he learned for the first time that his father's family belonged to a "hostile class" - a category that entailed punishment over three generations - because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.

On Jan. 2, 2005, when Shin and his co-worker were collecting firewood near the camp's electrified fence and could not see any guards, they ran.

In July 2005, Shin reached China. In February 2006, a South Korean helped him seek asylum at the South Korean Consulate in Shanghai. He arrived in Seoul last August.

Today, Shin bears burn scars from the torture and the electrified fence, and walks with a slight limp. He says he has recurring nightmares about being back in Camp No. 14.

Telltale signs [of a North Korean political prisoner]: the avoidance of eye contact and arms warped by heavy labor from childhood.

"An instruction drilled into every guard's head is: Don't treat them like humans."

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

North Korea defectors' capitalist dreams wilt in South

Most North Korean defectors have been bystanders to the South's economic boom, overwhelmed by their new environment, facing employers who see them as under qualified for a cutthroat labor market and criminals who target them as easy prey.

The first of the more than 10,000 North Koreans who defected to the South came in a trickle, often members of the hermit-state's elite with the skills to find jobs in a land that celebrated their arrival.

Nowadays, they are more likely to be women laborers and farmers from North Hamkyong province, a rocky land bordering China known for its prison camps and as an economic backwater in an already impoverished country.

They started arriving en masse in the mid to late 1990s, fleeing a famine that experts say may have killed about 10 percent of the 22 million population.

With few skills and speaking Korean with an unmistakable accent, they rarely fit in.

Even though South Korea trains defectors to adjust to their new lives, more than half wind up unemployed and those who do find work often earn only a pittance, according to a survey from Seoul National University.

About one in four defectors has fallen victim to crime in the South, most often defrauded of their welfare stipends by earlier defectors, a government study earlier this year said.

Defectors say they often feel like second-class citizens in a country where many see them as a burden on the welfare system.

Yet, despite the prejudice, a few defectors say they have found a receptive audience by selling the idea of a shared Korean identity which transcends their heavily armed border.

Defector Lim Yoo-kyung, 20, jumped on that bandwagon with her accordion. Lim is a member of the Tallae Music Band, a group of young female defectors who play traditional Korean tunes virtually unknown to young South Koreans who are fed a diet of hip hop.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Hunger deaths rise in North Korea

An increasing number of North Koreans are dying from starvation or hunger-related diseases in recent months as food shortages have further worsened.

Famine-driven deaths began to occur across North Korea since late June and the deaths are on the rise this month, a Seoul-based civic group said.

"In the North's east port city of Hamhung alone, some 300 people died from hunger and famine-driven malnutrition in the past month," the agency said in a statement.

About 10 people on average have died every day in every city and town in the North's mountainous northeast provinces of North and South Hamkyong, it said.

The group also said prices of rice and other grains have jumped in the North's markets due to acute shortages.

The aid agency, which has campaigned for poverty reduction in the North, is believed to have a wide range of sources in the communist country.

The report comes as many relief agencies are warning that the North could face its worst food shortages since the mass famines of the mid-1990s that killed approximately 2 million people.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

430 North Koreans Die of Hunger in Past Month

About 430 North Koreans have died of hunger in a northern region of the impoverished communist country in the past month because of chronic food shortages, a South Korean aid group said Wednesday.

The number of people who starved to death is also on the rise in other northern regions, with an average of four people dying per day in hospitals in each county and city in that area, the Good Friends aid agency said in a newsletter.

North Korean authorities have said illnesses were to blame for the deaths but they were caused by long-term malnutrition, the aid agency said, citing an unidentified doctor in the North.

Despite the food shortages, the North doled out food rations to people in the capital, Pyongyang, the agency said, in an apparent move to draw loyalty from the country's top elite. The North also supplied food to the military, easing its complaints and enabling the military to regain stability, said the aid agency.

The North's leader Kim Jong Il has placed top priority on the military, channeling the country's scarce resources to the military under his "songun," or military-first policy.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Success story of North Korea defector in the South

Kim, who runs a restaurant in the Seoul suburbs specializing in North Korean cuisine, is one of a handful of defectors making a living in the capitalist South selling goods linked to the communist country of his birth.

"Many North Koreans come here to escape starvation. They do not bring skills or money with them," said Kim, adding few had the business acumen or capital to crack into the market. So many defectors try to open their own business, but they disappear within a year. They don't realize how competitive capitalism is in the South."

Kim, who fled to the South about 16 years ago and soon became a TV personality, now runs a restaurant called Morangak, in the Seoul suburb of Ilsan, with branches across the country. Its best-selling dish is Pyongyang cold noodles at 6,000 won ($6.54), served in a clear, vinegar broth garnished with slices of beef. Kim has also pitched his instant noodles on TV home shopping channels.

Kim weathered a year where he did "little more than chase flies" because his North Korean cuisine was not to the taste of customers in the South. He learned to include more meat, make portions generous and change a way of cooking from the North based on stretching sparse ingredients to that of the South where food is abundant.

His restaurant now serves about 1,000 people a day on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends.


Success story of North Korea defector in the South

Kim, who runs a restaurant in the Seoul suburbs specializing in North Korean cuisine, is one of a handful of defectors making a living in the capitalist South selling goods linked to the communist country of his birth.

"Many North Koreans come here to escape starvation. They do not bring skills or money with them," said Kim, adding few had the business acumen or capital to crack into the market. So many defectors try to open their own business, but they disappear within a year. They don't realize how competitive capitalism is in the South."

Kim, who fled to the South about 16 years ago and soon became a TV personality, now runs a restaurant called Morangak, in the Seoul suburb of Ilsan, with branches across the country. Its best-selling dish is Pyongyang cold noodles at 6,000 won ($6.54), served in a clear, vinegar broth garnished with slices of beef. Kim has also pitched his instant noodles on TV home shopping channels.

Kim weathered a year where he did "little more than chase flies" because his North Korean cuisine was not to the taste of customers in the South. He learned to include more meat, make portions generous and change a way of cooking from the North based on stretching sparse ingredients to that of the South where food is abundant.

His restaurant now serves about 1,000 people a day on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fight to Save North Korean Christian Not Over

Two more letters have been delivered, one by hand, to two Korean leaders in hopes of saving the life of a Christian being held for execution.

Congressman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., hand delivered a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at a mutual meeting asking him to intercede on Son's behalf.

Lantos, who is a holocaust survivor, is the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. "My experience as a survivor of the Holocaust reinforces my own commitment to working to ensure that no individual faces the threat of death on the basis of his or her religion," Lantos wrote in the letter to Ban.

Lantos also sent another letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il asking for a stay of execution for Son. "Chairman Kim, in recent weeks you have shown important leadership in working with the international community on the issue of North Korea's nuclear program. Now it is time to underscore your leadership and show mercy toward Son Jong Nam. Doing so will be a tremendous credit to your countrymen in the eyes of the world," he pointed out.

Lantos took action after Son Jong Nam's situation was highlighted by Voice of the Martyrs and Senator Brownback, the Kansas Republican.

[Excerpt of article by Donna Russell, CBNnews]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Life in a North Korean Political Prison

According to Shin [an escaped North Korean prisoner] the prison authorities matched his father, Shin Kyong Sup, with his mother, Chang Hye Kyong, and made them spend five days together before separating them. This sort of arrangement was known as "award marriage," a privilege given only to outstanding inmates. An exemplary worker might be allowed to visit the woman chosen as his wife a few times a year.

Shin's brother was born in 1974 and Shin in 1982. Young children lived with their mothers, who worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. Once they turned 11, children were moved to communal barracks but were allowed to visit their mothers if they excelled at their work.

"I got to visit my mother only once or twice a year," Shin said. "I never saw my whole family together. I don't think I saw my brother more than a few times."

There were up to 1,000 children but no textbooks in the school at Valley No. 2, the part of the camp where Shin lived. Pupils were taught to read and write, and to add and subtract, but little more. After school, children worked in the fields or mines.

Inmates were fed the same meal three times a day: a bowl of steamed corn and a salty vegetable broth. They scavenged whatever else they could find: cucumbers and potatoes from the fields, frogs, mice, dragonflies and locusts. Shin said he once ate corn kernels he found in cow droppings.

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Boycott China Olympics Over North Korea Refugee Repatriation

US human rights activists urged people not to travel to Beijing to see the 2008 Olympics unless China grants the UN refugee agency access to North Koreans hiding in its territory.

The religious and civic activists also said international media outlets should limit coverage to sporting events as part of the effort to deny China publicity.

They demanded the United States keep the issue of human rights in North Korea high on the agenda in six-party talks to end the communist North’s nuclear weapons programme.

"The message is very simple: China, if you want to host the 2008 Olympic Games, stop the persecution of the North Korean refugees," Sam Kim, executive director of the Korean Church Coalition, said at a news conference.

The coalition, which will unveil similar drives in Japan and South Korea next month to publicise the plight of North Korean refugees, proposes that athletes compete in the Beijing Olympics, but that spectators shun the games.

The activists said they want to force Beijing to live up to its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

More female North Koreans flee their country than male

Some observers believe that the reason there are more female North Koreans willing to flee their country is the relatively less severe punishment that women expect to receive if caught and repatriated than men. Also considered is the fact that women find it easier to get jobs in China than men, who are more likely to be under suspicion from the Chinese authorities.

Ben Sanders of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants confirmed in a recent interview with Radio Free Asia that some local governments in China allow female North Korean refugees who are married to Chinese men to obtain an ID. He believes that China must have given some thought on how such a practice can be introduced within its own legal framework. "It's hard to say whether such a practice is completely legitimate or illegitimate. It's in between."

Last year, China sent about 1,800 refuges back to North Korea, which was a sharp reduction from about 5,000 it had repatriated in 2005.

There is no authoritative estimation about how many North Korean refugees are in China, given the caution and the secret manner in which they behave there. Sanders believes there were about 30,000 North Korean refugees in China last year. However, some non-governmental organizations estimate the number could go as high as 300,000.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, Asia Times]

Friday, July 20, 2007

China more tolerant of North Koreans?

There are some signs that China is easing up on its policy on North Korean refugees who have escaped from the starving Stalinist country. China reportedly issues temporary-resident permits to some North Korean refugees.

The beneficiaries of the temporary IDs are female North Korean refugees who are married to Chinese men, who have children with those men, and who have lived in China for a prolonged period without causing any problem drawing the authorities' attention.

The South Korean official said some villages in China have set up rules stipulating the criteria for issuing such identification cards, adding: "Given the Chinese political structure, without the implicit nod or direction from Beijing, this rule wouldn't have been in place."

China has apparently been carrying out such measures since as early as 2004 in a very low-key manner. It has been less forthcoming in accommodating the demands from the international community for better humanitarian treatment of North Korean refugees for fear that doing so might anger its often irascible neighbor, with which it has a repatriation treaty.

The identification cards issued to North Korean refugees are temporary residential permits or cards that show they are Chinese citizens, said a South Korean expert on North Korean human-rights conditions. He said they are issued only in certain villages and under a limited scope. Most are reportedly in China's inner and western regionsrather than the northeast near the North Korean border where the Korean refugee population is concentrated.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, Asia Times]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Int'l Red Cross to continue North Korea aid

The international Red Cross will continue to help North Korea in treating measles-related illnesses, including medicine aid, the organization said Wednesday in its program update, Yonhan News Agency reported.

In the first phase of a joint immunization plan, the International Federation of Red Cross and North Korea campaigned to vaccinate 6 million children between 6 months and 15 years old.

"The DPRK Red Cross and the federation are contributing 10.2 million doses of vitamin A. The federation is also contributing 262,000 doses of ampicillin to health facilities in four provinces for the treatment of measels-related complications," the update said.

[ The Korea Herald]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Seoul Train Wins at Human Rights Film Festival in Washington

The first Shenzhou International Film Festival took place in Washington D. C. on Sunday, July 15, with several of the filmmakers in attendance. Instead of the typical hierarchy of prizes, just two awards were given: One for Courage, and the other for Justice.

Film Festival Organizer Jingwei Wang explained that the festival has three main themes: exposing the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party, examining human rights issues, and helping to stop the persecution of innocent people.

In the Courage category, the winning film was Seoul Train. With its riveting footage of a secretive "underground railroad", it is a gripping documentary exposé into the life and death of North Koreans as they try to escape their homeland and China, where if caught, will be forcefully deported back to North Korea to dire consequences. Adrian Hong of Liberty in North Korea (LINK), whose full-time job is relocating North Korean refugees in China to a safe, third country, accepted the award on behalf of Jim Butterworth, Lisa Sleeth, and Aaron Lubarsky, the film directors.

[Excerpt of an article by Lidia Louk, Epoch Times]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

North Korea’s brutal form of human rights abuse

On Nov. 29, 1996, a 14-year-old North Korean, Shin Dong Hyok, and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions. Shin assumed they were among those to be put to death. Instead, the guards brought out his mother and his 22-year-old brother. The mother was hanged, the brother was shot by a firing squad. Read more


Monday, July 16, 2007

More on Christian condemned to death in North Korea

A campaign to save Son Jong-nam was launched by Voice of the Martyrs – a group which aids persecuted Christians worldwide – by the condemned man’s younger brother, who has traveled to Washington to ask for their help.

Senators explain to the UN and US government “Future engagement with North Korea will be more challenging if its leaders continue to persecute people for their religion. The United States has made political and religious freedom important elements in its diplomatic relations and we are gravely concerned about abuses of such rights in North Korea”.

Son first defected to China in 1998 and became a Christian after meeting a South Korean missionary. He was arrested in 2001 and sent back to the North. He was imprisoned for three years but released on parole in 2004.

The execution, confirmed by the authorities in the North, will take place in public: this form is often used by the Stalinist regime lead by Kim Jong-il, in attempts to “persuade” the population from “breaking the law”.

[Pakistan Christian Post]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

North Korea nuclear reactor shut down?

North Korea told the United States it shut down its nuclear reactor, the State Department said Saturday, hours after a ship cruised into port loaded with oil promised in return for the country's pledge to disarm.

If confirmed by a U.N. inspection team headed to the Yongbyon reactor, the shutdown would be the North's first step in nearly five years toward de-nuclearization.

An initial shipment of oil aid arrived hours earlier Saturday, in return for Pyongyang's pledge to close down its main nuclear reactor.

Chief U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said he expected the North to submit a list of its nuclear facilities within months, as was agreed to in February's round of talks. After the IAEA team installs monitoring equipment, personnel will remain at Yongbyon to ensure the reactor remains shut down, said a diplomat familiar with North Korea's file at the IAEA.

The agreement eased a standoff that began in October 2002, when the U.S. said North Korean officials had admitted during meetings in Pyongyang to having a secret uranium enrichment program.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Born and raised in a North Korean gulag

Shin, now 24, was a political prisoner by birth. From the day he was born in 1982 in Camp No. 14 in Kaechon until he escaped in 2005, Shin had known no other life. Guards beat children, tortured grandparents and, in cases like Shin's, executed family members. But Shin said it did not occur to him to hate the authorities. He assumed everyone lived this way.

He had never heard of Pyongyang, the capital city 90 kilometers, or 55 miles, to the south, or even of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

"I didn't know about America, or China or the fact that the Korean Peninsula was divided and there was a place called South Korea," he said. "I thought it was natural that I was in the camp because of my ancestors' crime, though I never even wondered what that crime was. I never thought it was unfair."

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Friday, July 13, 2007

Race To Save a North Korean Evangelist

Efforts to save the life of Son Jong Nam, a North Korean evangelist who faces a death sentence from the communist regime for practicing Christianity, will reach the State Department today, when Mr. Son's younger brother is scheduled to meet with administration officials and plead for their intervention.

Son Jong Nam fled North Korea for China with his wife, daughter, and nephew in 1998 after his pregnant wife was severely beaten by North Korean government interrogators, resulting in a miscarriage. She would later die from her injuries.

Mr. Son was converted to Christianity by Chinese missionaries and returned to North Korea to evangelize — a criminal act under the regime of Kim Jong-il. In 2001, Mr. Son was arrested by Communist Chinese authorities and extradited to North Korea. He was released in 2004, but then arrested again in 2006 and sentenced to public execution by the Kim regime.

Although the charges against Mr. Son — illegal border crossing, meeting with enemies of the state, and disseminating anti-state literature — are vague, advocates for him said he is essentially being executed because he is a Christian.

[The New York Sun]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On North Korea, Hippocrates Not Hypocrisy

In 2002, President George W. Bush marked Kim Jong Il's regime as evil, the Congress passed the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, and the State Department's first special envoy on this matter, Jay Lefkowitz, was appointed in 2005. But the circle of awareness and debate has remained limited, with political and religious conservatives yelling the loudest about how the U.S. should counter the abuses in North Korea.

U.S. approaches have been ineffective because goals other than improving North Korean lives have been promoted. The 2004 Act, its more hostile predecessor, the North Korea Freedom Act of 2003, and the Bush administration's hawkish stance toward Pyongyang generated the view that human rights was just a foil for regime change. Some members of Congress also used the North Korean human rights issue not as an end in itself, but as a way to attack China on human rights.

It adds to cynicism that North Korea is really a means to get at China and sends conflicting messages to Beijing, whose help is needed on Pyongyang's nuclear and human rights problems. Given the political parameters of the six-party talks, progress on human rights is not possible: China and Russia face their own problems on human rights and have no interest in pursuing a human rights agenda with the United States or North Korea; South Korea has gone out of its way to keep the human rights issue off the inter-Korean radar as part of its engagement strategy. That leaves Japan as the only country willing to back the U.S., but Japan is badly positioned to have credibility or clout on the issue of human rights in Asia, given its inability to face up to its wartime violations. And its human rights agenda regarding North Korea is too narrow to be compatible with that of the United States.

Those of us who genuinely care about North Korean human rights need to put North Korean lives first.

[Excerpt of an article by Katharine H.S. Moon, an associate fellow at the Asia Society and professor in political science at Wellesley College]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

S. Korean group donates medicines to North Korea

A South Korean pharmaceutical association said Wednesday it had provided North Korea with drugs worth about 3 billion won (US$3.25 million) in May in response to a request from the impoverished country.

In February, the North Korean Red Cross Society sent a letter requesting antibiotics, tuberculosis medicine, pneumonia medications, and other basic drugs, the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (KPMA) said.

[Yonhap News]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Emotional and Physical anguish of North Korean Refugees

“For North Korean defectors, living in South Korea is emotionally and physically demanding,” Professor Choi Myung-Ae of Seoul National University’s College of Nursing told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

More than 80 percent of respondents said they had contracted at least one disease after leaving North Korea, with an average of two to three different diseases affecting each participant. Vitamin deficiency and muscular-skeletal disease from malnutrition were frequently reported, while gastritis, arthritis, and depression were also common.

“The health status of defectors who left their families in the North is five times worse than that of defectors who escaped North Korea with relatives or friends,” said Park Jeong Ran, an expert on defectors at the Institute for Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

“The research indicates that 20 percent of the ailments affecting North Korean defectors are mental in nature,” she said.

Medical staff at the Hanawon reception center for defectors have indicated that around 70 percent of North Koreans in their care exhibited symptoms of depression or other stress-related syndromes.

[Radio Free Asia]

Monday, July 09, 2007

North Korean refugees a Korean matter

A complaint among some South Koreans today is that their government does more for the North Korean refugees than for many of its own citizens.

One high-ranking official in the Ministry of Unification told me, with typical South Korean optimism, ''These refugees [that we receive from North Korea] serve as a litmus test for how the reunification of the two Koreas is going to work one day. We view their situation not just as a humanitarian matter but as a Korean matter.''

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

North Korean on the South: "Everything’s about money"

Many North Koreans say that they are treated like second-class citizens in the South.

“Everything’s about money here,” he said. “You go to work in the morning — you can’t even take phone calls on your cell at work — then you go home and go to sleep. In North Korea, there is a fence around people to control them. But it’s very collective, so people help one another out. In that system, people do find ways to have meaningful relations with one another.”

As with many North Koreans, Mr. Lee’s nostalgia about the North increased in direct proportion with his sense of alienation in the South.

It was getting late, and maybe because he had to wake up early for work in the morning, Mr. Lee’s mood darkened. He had already worked three jobs in as many months, including aboard a small sun-baked fishing boat. He lingered outside a butcher’s shop near his apartment, delaying, it seemed, his return to an empty apartment.

After they left Hanawon, he and his girlfriend spent nine days together, then split up. They had shared their journey to South Korea. But, once here, they saw that the reality of their relationship, as with many things, was different from their expectations.

And there was also South Korea, the country he had longed to reach. Differences stemming from half a century of a divided peninsula, his telltale accent from the North, a word misused, all these things betrayed him as an outsider. He had found, like the 10,000 North Koreans now living in the South and holding South Korean citizenship, that he was not in from the cold, not yet.

“It was so hard to get here,” he said. “Before, I thought that once I got to South Korea, everything would be all right. But now I know that I’ve just opened the front gate and come in. The journey’s just begun.”

[The New York Times]

Saturday, July 07, 2007

North Korean defects ― three times

Cigarettes, a used bicycle and cash. Those were some of the things a North Korean defector used to bribe border guards as he went back and forth three times between his homeland and South Korea, the National Intelligence Service said yesterday.

The last time, the man brought North Korean neighbors with him. They couldn’t keep their story straight, and that led to him getting caught, the agency said. The 30-year-old North Korean defector, who was not identified, was arrested yesterday on charges of having the secret visits, which violated the National Security Law. The arrest carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

The man escaped North Korea in September 2003 by crossing into China through the Tumen River. He met with his mother and an older sister, who had earlier defected to China, and the three all came to South Korea via Mongolia.

The South Korean government gave the man an apartment and 30 million won ($33,000) to assist his settlement after he finished the government’s training program in February 2004.

[Excerpt of an article by Ser Myo-ja, JoongAng Daily]


More on 3-time North Korean defector

[After defecting from North Korea, and arriving in the South via China and Mongolia] he worked at motels in Seoul but was disappointed with his life, the intelligence agency said. The man also missed his wife, whom he left in the North, the agency said. In October 2004, the man visited China with a tourist visa and smuggled himself back to the North by crossing the Tumen River again.

To re-enter, the man bribed North Korean security officials with money, cigarettes and a used bicycle, the intelligence service said. For eight months, the man lived with his wife, again working as a trader. He worried, however, about his mother and sister in the South.

Bribing the North Korean border guards again, he escaped to China in June 2005 and then returned to the South. While he was in the South, his wife gave birth to a daughter. In December 2005, the man went to the North again through China via the same route and met his newborn, the intelligence service said.

In September 2006, he went back to the South. This time, he guided his neighbors. The secret visits were uncovered, however, during questioning at the National Intelligence Service because the neighbors didn’t coordinate their story.

[Excerpt of an article by Ser Myo-ja, JoongAng Daily]

Friday, July 06, 2007

The mystery that surrounds Kim Jong Il

For all the attention he gets, North Korea's Kim Jong Il is one of the most mysterious leaders in the world.

The reclusive communist leader has been portrayed variously as an unstable nuclear-armed madman and a cognac-swilling playboy serviced by a team of women known as the "Joy Brigade."

It is unclear where or when he was born, how many times he has been married or even exactly how many children he has. Kim is thought to have been married three times -- although it's not clear if all were official -- and he is known to have three sons and at least one daughter.

Kim is believed to have been born in the far eastern region of the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942. But his birthplace is often listed instead as sacred Mount Paektu, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula. According to legend, the peak on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria is the site where the Korean nation came into existence 5,000 years ago. "At the time of his birth there were flashes of lightning and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up," according to the official line.

Kim's younger brother drowned as a child and his mother died when he was 7 years old.

But despite the hardships suffered by most Koreans, Kim was presumably surrounded by luxury and privilege throughout most of his childhood.

Kim had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy as a young man -- and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies. "He recruited attractive young girls of junior high school age to take part in 'Joy Brigades,' whose function was to help in relaxation to his senior officials," said Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler.

His taste for the high life extends to a fondness for fast cars and fine dining. One 2003 account by Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who accompanied Kim on a train journey across Russia, described how live lobsters and roasted donkey -- reportedly the North Korean leader's favorite food -- were flown out to supply the train each day.

Kim is also a huge film buff boasting a collection of as many as 20,000 films.

While Kim tends to stay behind the scenes, when he does go live on television, it is carefully choreographed official visits to prestigious public works projects or large scale ceremonies, accompanied by an entourage of approving advisors.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Footage of North Korea's leader indicate signs of possible illness

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in video shown this week looked thinner and appeared to have less hair than in April, raising speculation about his health.

The reclusive leader made a rare public appearance on Tuesday when he granted a surprise meeting to China's foreign minister in Pyongyang. Chinese television footage showed Kim shaking hands with the guest and brandishing a big smile.

On Thursday, however, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper compared the latest Kim footage with that shown in April [and speculated that] such symptoms are common in a patient who has undergone heart surgery, citing an unidentified doctor at Seoul's respected Severance Hospital. Previous news reports have said that he had heart surgery in May and could not walk more than 30 meters (yards).

South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said last month that Kim has long had heart disease and diabetes. Kim's health has been a focus of international attention because his fate is believed to be tied to that of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation he leads.

[International Herald Tribune]