Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thailand’s key role in aiding North Korean refugees

During the first two months of this year, the South Korean government admitted 140 North Korean asylum seekers arriving from Thailand. That represented the country's highest ever intake of refugees over a two-month period.

A total of 500 North Koreans were repatriated to Seoul from Bangkok last year. The Unification Ministry in Seoul was quite happy with the kind assistance Thailand has been providing but refused to elaborate. Officials here declined to discuss the matter in detail for fear that it would jeopardise the ongoing discreet arrangement.

China and Thailand topped the list of countries used as transit points for repatriation. Last year alone, 16 per cent of North Koreans who settled in South Korea came from Thailand. There were other countries used as transit points for refugees that authorities here did not want to reveal.

These freedom seekers have taken different routes, trekking thousands of kilometres from the North towards the Golden Triangle area where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.

Once they arrive at border areas adjacent to Thailand, either from the Burmese or Laotian side, they know that their freedom will be guaranteed because the Thai government will not expel them. Of course, they are detained and subsequently fined, which is just a formality.

[Excerpt of an article by Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation ]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life outside North Korea "paradise"

By the time North Korean defectors leave this rural retreat in South Korea, they should have a more winning smile.

"Most of them have bad teeth," says Choong-won Lee, showing visitors around a large and well-equipped dental surgery in the modern, comfortable center he heads that is briefly home to the growing number who flee impoverished North Korea.

Poor dentistry is just one of a host of problems defectors arrive with at this government-run center which feeds them up and prepares them for the next huge challenge -- life in South Korea.

"They have gone through a dramatic process of defection and they are exhausted, both physically and mentally" Lee told Reuters.

"Their health is not usually good. Their minds are not stable because of the stress (of escaping) and they lack nutrition."

[Excerpt of an article by Jonathan Thatcher , Reuters]

Monday, February 26, 2007

What will The Year of the Pig bring North Korea?

A couple Sundays back marked the start of the Chinese New Year and it's a lucky one for those starting out in life. But the rest of us are apparantly in for a rough ride. Expect epidemics, disasters and violence in much of the world.

'The Year of the Pig will not be very peaceful,' said Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of trying to achieve health, harmony and prosperity by using specific dates, numbers, building design and the placement of objects.

The pig is one of 12 animals (or mythical animals in the case of the dragon) on the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, which follows the lunar calendar. Pig years can be turbulent because they are dominated by fire and water, conflicting elements that tend to cause havoc, Lo said.

Hong Kong soothsayer Alion Yeo is predicting North Korea will undergo a power struggle that will bring leadership changes around May. Last year, Yeo warned that the North Korean nuclear crisis would worsen.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

10 escaped North Korean guards caught

10 of the 20 border guards who defected to China last Feb 4th are known to have been arrested by groups led by North Korean authorities and are currently being held in custody waiting return to North Korea.

A North Korean inside source informed on the 20th, "10 of the border guards who defected have already been arrested and escorted back to North Korea" and "It seems that the punishment for these defectors has already been ruled."

He said "Of the arrested, it seems that a decision has been made to punish the guard in the highest position with open fire."

More recently, North Korean authorities dispatched a team of investigators from the National Safety Agency to China, in order to arrest the defected guards and have been conducting operations in collaboration with the Chinese National Security Bureau. The whereabouts of the remaining defected guards has yet to be known.

[Read article at The Daily NK]

Saturday, February 24, 2007

North Korean Underground Railroad News

Under Helping Hands Korea’s sponsorship, in January seven more North Koreans made their way to safety under the guidance of one of our partners.

Three of the five are particularly unique, including a 65 year-old woman who had been given a 7-yr. prison sentence simply for being caught praying, obviously a crime inside North Korea!

Two of her family members are in the group rescued. We are thrilled to report that the three have made it out of China, but remain for now in a third country, still needing to make one final crossing to a safe haven in order to take them out of harm’s way.

Getting through six barbed wire fences, then crossing two roads controlled by the Chinese border patrol is a daunting task, but so many of the refugees look to the Lord’s power to sustain and light their pathway.

Another five refugees were provided resources to hide in a shelter in a remote area of China. They will be provided with six months’ lodging, food, clothing as well as the companionship and encouragement of an ethnic Korean-Chinese couple.

Additionally, Helping Hands Korea was given the privilege of sponsoring the leukemia treatment of a devoted Korean-Chinese teacher in an secret orphanage, where children of repatriated North Korean refugee women are harbored (the Chinese fathers having abandoned them.)

[--Excerpt from a communication from Tim Peters, Helping Hands Korea]

Friday, February 23, 2007

North Korea tests the fiber of South Korean commitment to democracy

As an active advocate of the plight of North Koreans, Tim Peters recently participated in a rally in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul, protesting China’s continued repatriation of North Korean refugees.

He was interviewed by a reporter for Free North Korea Radio, a basic English translation being:

The founder of Helping Hands Korea, Tim Peters, has devoted his Christian NGO’s work to assisting North Koreans in crisis for the past 8-9 years. He joined others today in publicly condemning the Chinese forced repatriation of North Korean POW’s, including family members.

“Recent news of South Korean abductees (who’d been held captive inside North Korea for 32 years) as well as the families of POW’s from the Korean War being given the cold shoulder by South Korean diplomatic compounds in China when they pled for assistance while in hiding in China, is almost inconceivable”, Peters said.

“To think that the POW’s had fought for South Korea 50 years ago, and now their spouses, children and even grandchildren are unable to get help from the South Korean consulate in Shenyang, China absolutely boggles the mind”, Peters commented.

In the NGO leader’s opinion, China is currently testing the fiber of South Korean commitment to its democratic principles to measure just how much especially young Koreans treasure these freedoms that their parents and grandparents died for.

“If today’s low turnout by young people for the rally is any indication, the future may be jeopardy for Koreans’ freedoms….”

The "axis of evil", five years later

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush listed North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as the "axis of evil." Where stands the axis five years later?

North Korea: a deal, but no seal
North Korea can be counted as a tentative - very tentative - success for diplomacy. The North Koreans must shut down their main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and allow inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency to confirm that. In return, North Korea will get some $400 million of aid, primarily for 50,000 tons of fuel oil and other humanitarian assistance. If North Korea keeps its side of the bargain, there will be further negotiations to discuss the elimination of the bomb, or bombs, it already has produced.

Iraq: a few rays of hope
Iraq has felt the full force of US military power and the outcome is still mixed. With the US public increasingly anxious about the war, Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress have been maneuvering to bring US troops home and supplant military action with peace through diplomacy in the region. The flaw in this is that without military power to buttress it, diplomacy in the wake of withdrawal would have little sway.

Iran: sanctions and military might
UN authorized sanctions against Iran appear to be having some effect. While the movement of two US carrier groups into the waters off Iran have inevitably raised the possibility of military action, the president and his secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, emphatically deny that the US plans war against Iran. While diplomacy is apparently favored as the current solution to US problems with Iran, the carriers are a quiet reminder that diplomacy is backed by military power.

Thus does the US interchange diplomacy and force of arms as it confronts the axis of evil.

[Excerpts of a Christian Science Monitor Opinion page by John Hughes, a professor of communications at Brigham Young University]

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Underground Railroad to Save North Korea’s Refugees

Inexplicably, the Bush team continues to overlook a spectacular opportunity to deliver freedom to tens of thousands of North Koreans, to pressure the country from within for fundamental change and to lay the groundwork for a peaceful, reunified Korean Peninsula. By fostering an underground railroad to rescue North Korean refugees living in China, the United States could do all these things at once.

On humanitarian grounds alone, the case for action on behalf of the wretched North Koreans in hiding north of their country’s border along the Yalu River is compelling. While the exact numbers are unknown, this refugee emergency may be second only to Darfur: the International Crisis Group speaks of scores of thousands of refugees, and recently uncovered Chinese official documents indicate hundreds of thousands.

As illegal immigrants in China (Beijing insists North Korean border-crossers are economic migrants), they live in constant fear and at terrible risk. Women are forced into the sex trade or coerced marriages; men and children on the run have less obvious utility and thus, by some accounts, correspondingly higher mortality.

Yet the North Korean refugees who end up as victims of exploitation, violence or crime in China may be the lucky ones. A far worse fate awaits those whom China “refouls,” or deports to North Korea in violation of Beijing’s commitments under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. North Korea regards fleeing Kim Jong-il’s paradise as an act of disloyalty close to treason. Captives forcibly returned to North Korea face prison, torture and death, attesting to the refugee status that official Chinese wordplay denies.

Despite a gradually hardening Chinese posture toward this humanitarian crisis (now entering its second decade), over the years a few private groups have been bravely spiriting refugees out of China and into third countries. Intrepid souls like Steve Kim of New York (jailed in China since 2003), Phillip Buck from Seattle (jailed for 15 months in 2005-2006), Adrian Hong (deported last December) and others from America, South Korea and elsewhere have rescued thousands of North Koreans from China, often by way of an arduous 6,000-mile overland journey into Southeast Asia, where North Korean refugees can seek resettlement in states that accept them. …And that trickle would grow if these North Koreans knew they could count on official protection along the way.

Some will worry loudly about international resettlement for tens (never mind hundreds) of thousands of North Korean refugees, but the logistical issues are basically solved in advance: as a matter of national law, South Korea is obliged to welcome them all. Under Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Korea’s Constitution, as reaffirmed by the country’s Supreme Court in 1996, every North Korean refugee has the right to resettle in South Korea.

The critical missing piece for getting this underground railroad up and running is safe passage through China. But because the South Korean government fears antagonizing the North and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is too timid to face down Beijing, China’s opposition to this rescue mission has gone unchallenged. Only the United States is in a position to help overcome Beijing’s recalcitrance.

The Chinese government’s cost-benefit calculus regarding these refugees would change drastically if Washington weighed in as their advocate. If the United States (along with other governments) provided informal assurances that China is merely a way station for North Koreans — assuaging any official fears about a permanent foreign refugee population — it may well be possible to convince Beijing to cooperate in the relocation mission (or at least to look the other way as it takes place).

Should it do so, many of the problems that Beijing seems to fear will vanish of themselves: if those refugees can be quickly processed by the United Nations refugee commission or similar offices, for example, Beijing need no longer worry about the risks imposed by a large, illegal population along its border with North Korea.

Additionally, with United States leadership, Seoul and the United Nations lose their cover for ignoring the North Korean refugee crisis. The governments and organizations that have responded to the calamity in Darfur could also be rallied to the front lines for North Korean refugees. And, under the international spotlight, Seoul would be forced to observe its constitutional pledge of citizenship for all Koreans despite the current South Korean government’s obvious reluctance to displease Kim Jong-il on any issue.

A North Korean underground railroad is only a first step toward an entirely free Korean Peninsula, but a terribly important one.

Bringing North Korean refugees to freedom will redound only to America’s strategic advantage and will give tangible proof to the seriousness of this country’s freedom agenda. America — and any American president — could take pride in such a legacy.

[Excerpt of a New York Times article by Nicholas Eberstadt, on the board of the United States Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and Christopher Griffin, a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

North Korean Defectors' divorce a hot issue in Koreas

Song will soon be able to get a divorce. The question is, will his wife ever find out? Song is a 49-year-old defector from North Korea who left a wife and two children behind him, took up with a Russian mother of three and brought them to South Korea. But so impenetrable is the iron curtain between the two Koreas that there's no way of communicating. There are no phone, mail or Internet connections.

Petitioners would have to make their divorce suit known on the Internet, and that, defectors fear, would make it easier for North Korean intelligence to track them. Even now, living a humble life as a gas station attendant, Song is so wary of spies that he won't let his surname be published.

Divorce for defectors has become a hot issue in South Korea as a growing number of North Koreans flee south, usually via China, to escape poverty and political repression. More than have 9,600 entered the country since the 1950-53 Korean War, and have automatically become South Korean citizens.

Song says he lost touch with his family in 1998 after he went to work as a North Korean guest laborer at a Russian lumber mill. He says he fled the camp to avoid punishment for criticizing North Korea's communist government over unpaid salaries, and was sheltered by Nazezda Tsydenova, an ethnic Mongolian Russian.

He entered South Korea in 2003 with Tsydenova, who harbored him during his years as a fugitive in Russia. A divorcee, she had sold her house and two cows to pay their travel expenses. Settling in hasn't been easy. Tsydenova entered the country on a tourist visa and has worked illegally as a janitor to boost Song's monthly $960 wage.

[Excerpt of an AP article by Bo-Mi Lim]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

North Korean Nuclear Agreement Clearing The Decks For Iran?

The deal reached between the US and North Korea has been variously described in the international media as a “landmark” and an “historic agreement”. Could it represent a temporary and tactical shift that conveniently sidelines a potentially explosive issue as the US prepares for war against Iran?

Superficially at least, the deal involves an about-face on the part of the US. After coming to office and tearing up the previous 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea, the Bush administration had adamantly refused to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang or “reward bad behavior”—that is, to provide incentives for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

For the Bush administration, it is an agreement cheaply bought. The total aid concretely being offered to North Korea—a million tonnes of fuel oil—is worth about $400 million and is equivalent to just two years supply previously guaranteed under the Agreed Framework. South Korea, which along with Russia, China and Japan has a seat at the six-party talks, has agreed to fund most of the aid.

The contradiction between the Bush administration’s attitude to Iran and to North Korea is glaringly obvious. Unlike North Korea, which has tested a crude nuclear device, Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has abided by its terms and insists that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes. Yet Washington has repeatedly refused to hold talks with Tehran, is engaged in an escalating propaganda war against Iran and is amassing a large naval armada in the Persian Gulf to menace her.

In the public debate, one voice has been so far notably absent—Vice President Dick Cheney, whose support for an aggressive policy against North Korea and for “regime change” in Pyongyang is well known. Cheney previously has vigorously opposed any watering down of the US stance on North Korea or any, even small, concession to Pyongyang.

If the most militarist elements of the Bush administration, led by Cheney, have not vetoed or sabotaged the latest agreement—as yet—it is not because they have had a change of heart. Rather it is because they have concluded that with the US military mired in an escalating war in Iraq, and preparations underway for new aggression against Iran, the US is in no position immediately to deal with a third crisis in North Korea.

Monday, February 19, 2007

North Korea forecast: keep nuclear weapons until merge with S. Korea

It’s increasingly likely North Korea will retain and even build its nuclear arsenal until it is reunified with the South, reports a high-powered US study group, including former top Bush administration foreign policy officials.

Reunification is likely to be happening by 2020, says the report, but it could be under unstable conditions that make securing Pyongyang's weapons difficult, and the burden of absorbing a disintegrating North might threaten South Korea's democracy and prosperity.

The report, titled "The US-Japan alliance, getting it right in Asia through 2020", paints an ominous backdrop to last week's six-party agreement. Written by Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state in George W. Bush's first administration, and Joseph Nye, a Clinton-era senior defence official, the report clearly assumes that a disarmed North Korea is not a realistic objective. A contained rogue nuclear state is the best likely outcome.

In that case, the chief virtue of the deal US envoy Christopher Hill brought back from Beijing last week is that it starts reversing another huge strategic miscalculation by the Bush White House.

The agreement "is a good thing", Armitage said at the launch of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies report. "Whether it's a good deal or not, however, remains to be seen.

John Bolton, one of the last and toughest rearguarders until he was recently squeezed out of his UN ambassador's posting, protested, "it is the same thing the State Department was prepared to do six years ago. If we were going to cut this deal then, it's amazing we didn't cut it then".

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Alford, The Australian]

Sunday, February 18, 2007

North Korea's Kim basks in birthday and nuclear glory

Singing soldiers and flower shows marked the birthday of the man dubbed North Korea's "invincible brilliant commander" by state media, as regional powers wondered whether he would abide by a nuclear deal.

North Korea reached a deal earlier this week to shut down its sole nuclear reactor in exchange for energy aid as well as other economic and diplomatic incentives if Kim decides to scrap his country's nuclear arms program.

"I find it difficult to believe that this is a strategic decision to dismantle its nukes. I see this as a tactical way of getting the heat off, getting concessions and keeping the Chinese happy," said Michael Breen, Seoul-based consultant and author of "Kim Jong-il: North Korea's Dear Leader".

With nuclear weapons, impoverished North Korea gets a seat at the table with global powers including the United States -- the nation it argues is trying to topple it and causes it to sacrifice so much to maintain its 1.2-million man military. Without nuclear arms, North Korea is just a poor country with failed economic policies, analysts said.

Kim's main priority is to stay in power and his media has credited him with forcing the United States to make concessions through the nuclear agreement. He is seen as a deity at home, where thousands danced in the streets of Pyongyang on Friday to mark his 65th birthday and the military hosted a gala, performing song and dance numbers for tunes such as "My Happiness is in the Bosom of the Respected General".

North Korea's official media has said flowers come into bloom when he appears and rainbows fill the sky on his birthday. "Your birth as a bright star over Mount Paektu was the greatest event as it promised the happiness and prosperity of the Korean nation," official media said.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

2007 International Year of Prayer for North Korea

On the centenary of the Pyongyang Great Revival, the South Korean Church proclaimed an international Year of Prayer for North Korea in 2007, the announcement made at the Seoul Olympic Gymnastic Stadium before an audience of 15,000.

The proclamation concludes with the words: “We hereby call on denominations and ministries around the world to promote the '2007 Year of Prayer for North Korea'. We urge for intercession to be rallied for 2007 to be the year in which the walls of darkness fall in North Korea, crosses are restored in every corner of the land and a historical tide of repentance and revival breaks out and brings peace to Korea and beyond.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's International Advocate, Elizabeth Batha, spoke earlier at the Olympic Stadium Complex, highlighting the grave need for concerted worldwide prayer for North Korea: “The contrast between the spiritual climate in North Korea today and one hundred years ago could not be starker. That Pyongyang has moved from being a city known throughout the Christian world as 'the Jerusalem of the East' to now being the capital of probably the most brutal suppressor of Christianity is chilling.”

“The population is subject to enforced idolatry of the political leadership, there is a ruthless ban on the gospel and Christians are brutally persecuted, imprisoned and executed. All these reasons make it imperative that the worldwide Church recognizes North Korea as a top prayer priority and stands in the gap to intercede for these most beleaguered of people.”

A new website address was launched as a vehicle for prayer for North Korea.


Friday, February 16, 2007

'Dear Leader' Kim turns 65

North Korea marks the 65th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il on Friday amid progress in ending its nuclear programs and lingering speculation abroad over who will eventually succeed him. Kim hasn't yet publicly named a successor, prompting speculation abroad about who might eventually take the reclusive country's helm and whether Kim will designate one of his sons as the North's next leader -- continuing the world's only communist dynasty.

Kim's birthday is one of North Korea's most important national holidays and one in which the personality cult inherited from his father, the country's founder Kim Il Sung, is arguably the most visible.

North Koreans usually receive benefits such as extra food, but it remains unclear whether the country can dole out such largesse this year, given chronic food shortages and U.N. sanctions imposed over its October 9 nuclear test.

"Holidays in North Korea mark occasions on which the leadership is obligated to show tangibly its ability to care for the people," said Scott Snyder, a senior associate at the Asia Foundation.
The North Korean "leadership will be able to perform at a higher level in this area" amid reduced tensions with the international community following this week's nuclear agreement, Snyder added.

"Psychologically, Kim Jong Il would not be in a somber mood," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, citing the nuclear deal and the prospect of winning economic aid.

Still, on the eve of Friday's birthday celebrations, North Korea escalated its anti-American rhetoric and urged its people to rally around Kim, known as the "dear leader." "We will mercilessly repel the aggressors and achieve reunification by mobilizing all potentials" in case of a U.S. attack, the North's No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam said Thursday in a speech to thousands of party members and military officers in Pyongyang. The speech was monitored in South Korea.

In a separate speech, Choe Thae Bok, a member of the Central Committee of the North's ruling party, also accused the U.S. of escalating "appeasement, pressure and sanctions" on the country, warning that the North will never tolerate any moves to tarnish its authority and prestige.

Experts, however, dismissed the harsh language as being aimed at bolstering support at home.

North Koreans in South Korea

Only a small fraction of those who cross into China get to South Korea, with either the help of Christian missionary groups or professional smugglers.

Still, the number has doubled each year since 1998, according to the South Korean government. The North Koreans get a subsidized apartment, social and vocational training, a lump-sum bonus and a monthly allowance. Even with that help, they are bewildered aliens from a tightly controlled nation frozen in the 1950s.

They arrive to a boisterous, competitive society. And despite the cliches in South Korea about brotherhood with those in the North, the defectors say they are greeted with discrimination that makes some wonder whether they made the right choice. For five years, they must regularly report their activities to authorities.

"It's not easy for us to live here," said Han, who fled when his radio was found. "South Koreans don't understand the hardships. They don't care, and they don't understand."

[Excerpt of an article by Doug Struck, Washington Post]

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Renewal of Talks between North and South Korea

The two Koreas agreed to resume stalled high-level talks, in the first concrete sign of easing tensions on the divided peninsula after the North signed a breakthrough disarmament agreement.

The Cabinet-level talks -- the highest dialogue channel between the two Koreas -- will be held in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, from February 27 through to March 2, according to a joint statement adopted at a lower-level meeting in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

South and North Korea have held 19 high-level meetings since 2000, but they have been suspended for seven months amid chilled relations following North Korea's missile launches in July and nuclear test in October. The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, but their relations have warmed significantly since the one-and-only summit between their leaders in 2000.

Cabinet-level talks -- which usually serve as a forum for discussion on Seoul's aid to the impoverished North -- could lead to a resumption of the regular delivery of rice and fertilizer to the communist nation. South Korea suspended its aid after the July missile tests.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

North Koreans face adjustment problems in South Korea

North Koreans who flee their impoverished communist country often face severe problems adjusting to life in the world's 11th largest capitalist economy, with South Korea's per capita gross domestic product almost 20 times that of the North.

Most defectors are unskilled or semi-skilled workers or farmers and face problems finding jobs that they are able to do. Some say they face discrimination by South Korean employers, who view people from the socialist system as lazy.

A 2004 survey showed that 38 per cent of North Koreans living in the South were jobless, compared to the national average of around 3 per cent. Many defectors are believed to be living below the poverty line.

To help defectors from North Korea assimilate, the South Korean government runs a training center where they attend classes in cultural studies and skills-related training. They are also taught basic skills such as how to ride the subway, use a mobile phone and buy goods in a supermarket.

The United States Committee for Human Rights in North Korea said in a report last December that South Korea had been adopting an increasingly unwelcoming attitude to the refugees. It described Seoul's policies as 'shamefully' ambivalent. The government, which pursues a 'sunshine' engagement policy with the North, 'increasingly perceives these newcomers as a source of trouble and unnecessary expenditure', the report said.

[Agence France Press]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

South Korea policy changes re: North Korean refugees

South Korea announced a new grants policy that rewards refugees from North Korea who find jobs, and at the same time reduces settlement aid to new arrivals.

The one-time settlement aid given to defectors from North Korea would be cut to six million won ($6,521) from 10 million won ($10,868), the Unification Ministry said. The grant had stood at 28 million won ($30,429) before it was cut to 10 million in 2005.

The ministry will increase cash incentives for refugees who have found jobs. It will pay each person a total of 15 million won ($16,302), up from the previous nine million won, over a three-year period once the worker has been registered on a payroll for one year.

"The past system can be paralleled to catching fish for North Korean defectors, while the new system is aimed at helping to teach them how to fish," Mr Kim Joong Tae, a ministry director, told journalists.

Another ministry official said that refugees engaged in 'self-help efforts' to settle down in South Korea would benefit the most from the new system. 'Many North Korean defectors do not bother to find regular jobs in order to benefit from the social security network,' he said on condition of anonymity.

"The government encourages them to seek jobs and provides them with job training. It also provides financial incentives to companies hiring them," he added.

[Agence France Press]

Monday, February 12, 2007

How a North Korean defector views the six-party talks

Jang Guk Cheol, a tour guide, left North Korea because he thought the country had no future. During the famine, he recalls his aging parents were forced to eat grass. In August 1999, he swam across the Tumen River into China, where he stayed for six months, working at a restaurant in exchange for food and shelter.

With the help of missionaries from Korea and from ethnic Koreans living in China, Jang made his way first to Vietnam, then to Cambodia, but he says the South Korean Embassy in neither country would help him. Finally, he went to Thailand and on to Seoul after the South Korean Embassy finally assisted him in August 2000, a year after he left.

He praised President Bush for describing North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" but has little regard for the six-party talks, involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas. Each country has different interests, and North Korea demands too much, he said.

"I personally think this dialogue is kind of a formal show to maintain the international order," he said, adding that he thinks the United States has gone too soft -- a sentiment other defectors share.

Jang also criticized South Korea's policy of engagement -- financial aid and business projects with North Korea. "Maybe it looks humane, that we're helping people. But the assets go to the military," he said. "They should stop."

[Excerpt of an article by Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Which came first, North Korea talks or Aesop's fables?

So have North Korea and the United States managed to agree on something in their tortuous talks on the state's nuclear weapons program? --Yes, Aesop's fable about counting chickens before they hatch.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started the ball rolling on Thursday. "I am, as I said, cautiously optimistic but I don't count my chickens until they are hatched," she told lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Then U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill and North Korean delegate Kim Kye-gwan echoed Rice as they met the press after discussions in Beijing on Friday.

"There are still differences on a series of issues in the overall talks, so we will try to work them out," Kim said. "You should not try to count the chickens before they hatch, as somebody said."

North Korea has always played a long game in the negotiations over its nuclear ambitions, living up to another Aesop recommendation that "slow and steady wins the race."

The United States, for its part, has always been wary of the "wolf in sheep's clothing" but may conclude that "persuasion is often more effectual than force."


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Korean-American aid group to send more medical aid to North Korea

A Korean-American aid group based in the United States said it was sending its 17th shipment of medical relief goods, worth US$4.8 million, to North Korea.

The Institute for Strategy and Reconciliation (ISR), a think tank also active in international assistance, said the shipment this month will go to helping more than 20,000 North Korean children and the handicapped by providing antibiotics, wheelchairs and crutches. The aid will also include stethoscopes and various surgical and medical equipment, it said.

The group will also provide individually tailored artificial limbs while the staff is in the North, the first American relief group to do so.ISR began its North Korea program in 1998 with the approval of the U.S. Treasury. As of this month, the group has provided medical assistance valued at approximately $27.4 million.

The group is also recruiting volunteers through the end of this month to help post-surgery rehabilitation programs for children and the handicapped in North Korea.

[Yonhap News]

Friday, February 09, 2007

Crossing the Line, the story of Joe Dresnok

Crossing the Line, a new British documentary, narrated by Christian Slater, details the story of Joe Dresnok, the last living defector to North Korea.

60 minutes also did a segment on Dresnok, using footage directly from the documentary, plus interviews with the filmmakers and some footage of their earlier segment on Charlie Jenkins.

Dresnok had enlisted in the U.S. Army to make a life for himself, but after a dispute with his Commanding Officer over trying to get a pass, he forged a pass and the 19-year-old decided to cross the line and set off for North Korea. He was eventually found by some North Koreans and debriefed. While he had no real strategic information to offer the North Koreans he was a definite PR coup. They would use him and the other defectors to denounce western imperialism.

For the first ten years in North Korea these four American defectors underwent education, which consisted of reading in between card games and drinking. (At one point they tried to defect again to the Soviet Union, but were turned away). The four American would eventually marry women from Lebanon, Eastern Europe, Japan, and Korea. After their education period of ten years ended, they became famous in North Korea as actors in a series of anti-western films, playing the "evil Americans".

The film details the dynamics of the four defectors, Jenkins being the highest ranking and often at odds with Dresnok. Two of the defectors would die in their fifties and when Jenkins left North Korea during the filming, Dresnok was the last American defector living in Korea. His first wife died (with whom he had a son) and he would eventually marry a half African half Korean woman and have a son with her.

Ultimately Dresnok describes his experience in Korea as a good one. During the his time in Korea, even during the recent famine he said his rice ration was never lowered and he is shown on the street walking around or fishing off the pier with locals. The film ends showing Dresnok in poor health, and disregarding his physician’s advice to stop smoking.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Report: U.S., North Korea signed nuclear memo

The United States and North Korea signed a memorandum during talks last month by which Pyongyang would begin closing a nuclear reactor while the U.S. starts providing energy assistance, a major Japanese newspaper reported Thursday.

In the memorandum of understanding, North Korea agreed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor as a step toward denuclearization, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, citing U.S. and North Korean officials which it did not further identify. In exchange, the United States would begin assisting the North with energy.

The paper said the memorandum, which apparently would require further agreement, also included a provision for the North to accept nuclear inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

New round of negotiations on North Korea's nuclear disarmament is set to begin Thursday following a December meeting that ended in stalemate. But since then, signs have emerged a greater willingness to compromise.

North Korean negotiator Kim Kye GwanKim told visiting Americans last week that Pyongyang also is demanding normal relations with the United States and supplies of electricity or heavy fuel oil, said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

120 inmates escape from North Korean concentration camp

Some 120 inmates escaped from a political concentration camp in northeastern North Korea several months ago in an unprecedented prison break. The prisoners escaped from Hwasong camp in North Hamgyong, a province close to the Chinese and Russian borders, in December, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Daily NK report said the area was put in a "state of emergency" after the prison break, calling it unprecedented.

North Korean authorities have since tightened inspections at Hwasong and adjacent cities to catch the fugitives, of whom 21 have so far been caught, the report said. So far, 21 prisoners have been caught, most of whom were found in China and sent back to the communist North after failed attempts to defect to South Korea, the report said.

The Hwasong prison camp -- located deep inside a mountain and encircled by high wire fences -- holds about 10,000 prisoners, Daily NK said. The escape seemed to have been carefully planned with outside help since the escapees drove off in a vehicle waiting outside the prison, according to the report.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps in the communist North for political reasons, according to U.S. government data.


Report: North Korean guards defect to China

About 20 North Korean border guards suspected of taking bribes to help defectors to China have fled their posts and entered China, a report says. South Korea's online Daily NK news outlet quoted several sources who did not want to be identified.

"The runaway officers, mostly non-commissioned officers, were suspected of taking money for helping defectors flee to China during a recent audit by the North Korean government," a North Korean resident in Hoeryong told the agency.

Daily NK quoted another source as saying the men were not all from the same military unit, and that two other guards along the border had been found guilty of taking bribes and were scheduled to be executed before the end of the month.

Some human rights organizations in South Korea have claimed as many as 300,000 North Korean defectors are in China, the Korea Times reported.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

North Korea Christians Face "Worse Persecution" Than Ever

Persecution of Christians in North Korea "is worse than ever", amid fresh reports of torture and executions, Christian investigators said Friday, February 2.

Netherlands-based Open Doors, an influential human rights group supporting Christians persecuted for their faith, said North Korea is once again number one of its 2006 World Watch List of over 50 nations with the "worst" religious freedom violations.

With 85 points it was even more serous than last year when Open Doors gave the Communist nation 82 points. “It means that the situation is worse than ever," said Open Doors Spokesman Jeno Sebok told BosNewsLife. "In 2006 an increasing number of Christians were detained and many Christian refugees who were repatriated from China were tortured and even killed."

Among those executed was a contact of US-based World Bible Translation Center (WBTC) who apparently possessed and distributed WBTC’s Easy-to-Read Korean Version of the New Testaments, officials told BosNewsLife earlier.

WBTC Vice President for Publishing and Distribution, John Andersen, said it was "the first confirmed death of a Christian martyr who was sharing the Gospel using WBTC’s Scripture texts." He added that, "throughout the history of this ministry, others have been severely beaten and some believers harassed, but this is the first confirmed death."

North Korea’s Stalinist system of carrying out Communism is based on "total devotion" of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, according to observers who visited the isolated nation. Christianity is seen as a threat. North Korean authorities have denied wrongdoing and say the North Korean people love to seve the isolated country’s "dear leader."

Open Doors estimates there are up to 70,000 Christians in labor camps, although other observers have said that figure may be even higher.

[Journal Chretien]

Monday, February 05, 2007

Experts Debate North Korea's Future

With North Korean nuclear disarmament talks likely to resume, the question of how to induce the country to abandon such weapons dominated a dinner discussion at the World Economic Forum. Several experts had different ideas on what should be done, and most were opposed to any attempt to topple Kim's reclusive communist regime, saying that could destabilize the region.

Yao Yunzhu, a senior colonel in China's People's Liberation Army, who directs the Asia-Pacific Office at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing: "China is 'very worried' a collapse could send North Korean refugees pouring into Chinese territory", she said, adding that change must come from the inside.

Yuriko Koike, a special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: "We have offered lots of carrots, and the carrots were used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles," she said. Koike said almost 20 million North Koreans are in agony and starving and lifting U.N. sanctions "will prolong the agony of those citizens."

Pei Minxin, head of the China program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the best policy is to contain the current regime and see them out. "North Korea's demise is a given,' he said, noting that Kim is 65 and his health is not the best. "He's overweight. He has no heir in his family, and the record of history shows that that kind of regime has an impossible task picking an heir outside the family."

Geun Lee, an international relations professor at Seoul National University, said he would support gradual regime change. He disagreed that Western powers had given the North too much. "So far you see very clear, meaningful and credible sticks coming from the U.S., but you haven't seen very clear, credible and meaningful carrots coming from the U.S," Geun said. He said President Bush should return to the less-muscular approach of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and offer incentives such as normalizing relations and giving the North security guarantees.

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, criticized Washington as fickle. "Unfortunately, the United States' policies on North Korea have vacillated between regime change, policy change, regime change, policy change," said Mahbubani, a former U.N. ambassador. "And unless there's some consistency we'll never get a solution."

Alyson Bailes, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, warned the collapse of North Korea could be a disaster for the entire region. "It's much better to live with the devil you know than with the chaos that you don't know," she said. "So patience and containment - the hardest things for the U.S. to do - are, I think, the natural thing for everybody else in the region to do, and probably the best of the bad solutions that we can get in the near future."

[Excerpt of an article by Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press]

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tantalizing rumor about Kim Jong Il

A tantalizing rumor swept though the thin ranks of North Korea watchers in Asia and America a few days ago, speculating that the "Dear Leader" in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il, had been placed under house arrest by disgruntled military officers.

The rumor was quickly denied in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington but not before it raised intriguing questions--how did the rumor originate and why did it make serious analysts of North Korea sit up and take notice?

As with many rumors, it was not clear where this one started. One account said a South Korean intelligence agency planted it in a Japanese news service. Another said the Tokyo news service picked it up carelessly from an advertisement for a novel about North Korea. Whatever the facts, it rippled out swiftly from there.

Even if only a rumor, it underscored how little the outside world knows about the secretive hermit kingdom in Pyongyang; North Korea watchers thus grasp at every tidbit that leaks out. More important, it raised the question of "regime change," meaning the overthrow of Kim Jong Il or otherwise seeing him pass from the scene.

Kim probably has more power centralized in his hands than any ruler in the world. So far as is known, however, he has fended off naming a successor even though he is reported to be in ill health as he approaches his 65th birthday on Feb. 16.

[Excerpt of Opinion page by Richard Halloran, Real Clear Politics]

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Korea's son of Kim lives high life

China has secretly harboured the eldest son of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in Macau for three years, despite the US-led crackdown on North Korea's finances in the former Portuguese colony, local reports say.

Kim Jong-nam, the North Korean leader's eldest son and former heir apparent, has been living with his family in Macau, dividing his time between five-star hotels and a family villa, the South China Morning Post reported citing a six-week investigation. The newspaper said the younger Kim had made Macau his home, and was not just a frequent visitor as previously thought.

In contrast to the deprived conditions, and in some cases starvation, suffered by most North Korean citizens, Mr Kim spends much of his time wining, dining and gambling in Macau's growing number of casinos and slot machine parlours, and travels frequently to the mainland and abroad using passports from the Dominican Republic and Portugal, the paper said.

The rotund younger Kim hit the headlines in 2001 when he was deported from Japan after trying to enter with his wife and then four-year-old son on a fake passport, apparently to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The humiliation led his father Kim Jong-il to cancel a planned visit to China.

If confirmed, the news that China has been harbouring Kim Jong-il's son is likely to embarrass Beijing, which has been under intense international pressure to use its much vaunted influence to pull North Korea back into line after it tested its first nuclear device last October.

[Excerpt of an article by Mary-Anne Toy, The Age]

Friday, February 02, 2007

Risking All For A New Life

Sky News Asia correspondent Peter Sharp reports from China's northern border where a savage winter is providing an impetus for an exodus of the weak and vulnerable:

Hunger is stalking the bleak, windswept hills of North Korea. And for some of the long-suffering residents of Kim Jong-il's hermit kingdom it has proved the final straw.

They cross the border at night. Winter has frozen the Tumen River that marks China's frontier with North Korea, allowing the refugees travelling in small groups to scuttle across the ice avoiding the border guards and Chinese police.

It is the start of a 2,500-mile journey to freedom. continued

[Sky News]

Risking All For A New Life, part 2

At a safe house at a secret location in Northern China we caught up with four refugees, a mother and her two girls, aged 14 and 12, and their neighbor, a woman in her forties. They had arrived in China a few days earlier.

The children's father disappeared several years ago and is believed to have been executed but what drove their mother to risk everything on this trip were the worsening conditions facing her daughters.

"Sometimes the girls are actually starving," she told us. "Sometimes they are lucky to have a little food for the day - but that is no guarantee there will be food for tomorrow."

The girls sit quietly beside her. They look no older than eight and 10, stunted by malnutrition.

On their journey they will be shepherded by South Korean activists who will help them get across China. They will teach them how to blend in with the local Chinese and buy them a new wardrobe to make them less noticeable.

The risks are great and the refugees were under no illusions about their fate if they were caught by the Chinese. "If you are arrested the Chinese will certainly send you back to North Korea," the other woman told us.

"There would be a prison van waiting for you and then almost certain death." continued

[Sky News]

Risking All For A New Life, part 3

The little group spent two days in Beijing before catching the train south. For those brought up in isolation in a Stalinist state, China's capital would have seemed overwhelming. The new high-rise office blocks, the shopping centres and the traffic all in stark contrast to the economic conditions in Kim Jong-il's bankrupt state.

At the main station we filmed secretly as the little group passed the final ticket check and boarded the express.

For the next 50 hours they stayed hidden in their bunks avoiding all contact with other passengers, terrified their North Korean origins would be detected and an informer would turn them in.

At a railway station near a south Asian country bordering China the four by-now exhausted refugees melted into the crowds on the streets outside the station without a backward glance - the children holding their mother's hands.

Our presence would only jeopardise the last border crossing that, if successful, would see them safe from the clutches of the Chinese police.

We still don't know if they made it.

But that won't stop hundreds of other refugees making that same perilous journey as Kim Jong-il's bankrupt socialist 'paradise' lurches towards free fall.

[Sky News]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Radio Station Makes Waves for North Korean Rights

Last year marked a turning point for Kim Seong-min, managing director of Free North Korea (FNK), a radio station for North Korean human rights based in Seoul. Kim, 45, made a trip to Washington to meet President George W. Bush at the White House with families of North Korean refugee Kim Han-mi and Japanese kidnapping victim Megumi Yokota.

The radio station, which is located in the basement of a crumbling building, was chosen as one of three North Korean human rights organizations to receive financial aid from the U.S. government. FNK airs a 60-minute program on short-wave radio every day at 7 p.m. Kim Seong-min first set up the radio station on April 20, 2004. He said he would define his staff members not as reporters, but as activists for North Korean human rights.

Kim Seong-min has become one of the busiest North Korean defectors in South Korea since he came to Seoul in February 1999 via China. His New Year’s Day started with greeting more than 200 guests, mostly North Korean defectors living in Seoul, in his 17-pyong (56-square-meter) apartment in Sinjong-dong, southwestern Seoul. For Kim Seong-min, who has led several North Korean defectors’ groups here in the past few years, not a day passed last month without a social gathering.

He called on the government to show more sympathy toward defectors. "I could have saved a 24-year-old boy last month. He was one of 12 North Korean defectors crossing the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, but he drowned in the water,’’ he said. "I couldn’t say a word when I got a phone call from his mom, who managed to call me from the North Korea-China border to ask about her boy.’’

He said 1 million won ($950) is enough to help two North Korean defectors find asylum in South Korea. "If it’s not possible at a government level, the Roh Moo-hyun administration should have helped nongovernmental organizations to help those refugees instead of cutting subsidies for defectors,’’ he said.

Like the defectors themselves, Kim and his radio station face many obstacles. A hatchet was delivered to the radio station on Dec. 23, with a bloody picture of Hwang Jang-yup, former secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party. Hwang defected to the South in 1997.
Often called Hwang’s spokesman, Kim has supported Hwang’s denunciations of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his regime.

[Excerpt of an article by By Lee Jin-woo, The Korea Times]