Thursday, May 31, 2007

North Korean Human Rights Record

The U.S. Department of State says that North Korea has not taken any measures to improve its abysmal human rights record.

The report submitted to the U.S. Congress by the department's special envoy on North Korean human rights said that Pyongyang's conduct showed disrespect for the North Korean people and did not conform to international standards.

The report projected that as many as 200-thousand were imprisoned in political concentration camps in the reclusive communist state, adding that the North Korean people were robbed of their rights of speech, religion, assembly, fair trial and emigration.

It pointed out that Pyongyang was in complete control of information and only supported those close to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

[Radio Korea International]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

North Korean refugees yoked like cattle

We drove to the border city of Tumen, where the Chinese army has built a prison on a hill to house their North Korean captives.

At the frontier bridge over the river, three shopkeepers said they often witnessed vanloads of prisoners being taken back. They are unloaded outside two grey office buildings visible on the far side. A giant color portrait of Kim Il-sung, Stalin’s ally, who founded North Korea, greets the victims on their return.

Often, North Korean guards skewer the prisoners with wire through their hands or under their collarbones to be yoked like cattle, according to Chinese soldiers who have seen the practice.

“We’ve got Koreans hiding in our village,” confided a gruff farmer in his sixties, who stood looking at the view. “Of course we don’t report them! They are just poor people.If we report them they are sent back to serious punishment. How could we do that? It would betray our own consciences.”

Private Chinese consciences apart, the prison vans are still rolling.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

In Mind and Body, North Koreans Still Suffer After Defection

Even those lucky North Korean defectors who manage to survive famine, violence, and criminal gangs to escape North Korea suffer from extremely poor mental and physical health long after resettling in affluent South Korea, a new survey has shown.

The survey by a research team from Seoul National University comprised more than 200 participants. It found that many defectors suffer severe mental health problems, largely as a result of overwhelming anxiety about loved ones they left behind.

And their physical health, measured across a range of indicators, was generally worse than that of a typical South Korean hepatitis patient.

[Radio Free Asia]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Gruesome murders of babies born to North Korean prisoners

Soon Ok Lee was once a senior cadre of the ruling Communist Party. One of her most terrible recollections is about the murder of babies born to North Korean prisoners: "In [a] medical room, I noticed six pregnant women awaiting delivery ... while I was there, three women delivered babies on the cement floor without blankets. It was horrible to watch the prison doctor kicking the pregnant women with his boots.”

"When a baby was born, the doctor shouted, 'Kill it quickly. The women covered their faces with their hands and wept ... The prisoner/nurses, with trembling hands, squeezed the babies' necks to kill them. The babies, when killed, were wrapped in a dirty cloth, put into a bucket and taken outside through a backdoor."

Soon added she witnessed such scenes twice while in prison. "In my nightmares, I still see the mothers weeping for their babies."

Soon, the daughter and wife of senior Communist functionaries, was released from prison after seven years. She could have returned to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, and led a quiet life there.

But she was determined to tell the world what she had seen. She fled to South Korea, risking recapture, torture and death, where she became a Christian.

[Excerpt of an article by Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI religion editor]

Sunday, May 27, 2007

North Korean Prisoners Become Human Fertilizer

Soon Ok Lee, once a senior cadre of [North Korea's] ruling Communist Party, testified that the bodies of hundreds of North Korean prisoners served as fertilizer for orchards that produced especially large and sweet apples, pears, peaches and plums reserved for senior party and police officials. She herself was there when 150 prisoners were buried under these trees.

She said that in the meantime, prisoners were kept starving to such a degree that they ate the raw flesh of rats they had caught coming out of their latrine holes. She described special punishment cells, 24 inches wide and 44 inches high, where people were confined for seven to 10 days, without being able to stand up straight, or sit or lie down.

Such confinement was the penalty for "offenses such as leaving an oily mark on clothes, failing to memorize the president's New Year message or repeated failure to meet work quotas."

"When the prisoners are released from the cells, their legs are badly bent, with frostbite in the winter, and so they can hardly work," Soon went on. "Many victims are permanently crippled from lack of adequate exercise and eventually died as a result of the work resumed immediately after the lease."

[Excerpt of an article by Uwe Siemon-Netto, UPI religion editor]

Saturday, May 26, 2007

South Korea delaying the shipment of rice aid to North

South Korea is seriously considering delaying the shipment of rice in aid to the North until after the process of implementing the North Korean nuclear agreement has been set in motion.

When the South promised on April 22 to provide the North with 400,000 tons of rice, it told the North Koreans that it would retain the right to adjust the "time and speed of delivery" depending on a follow-through on the Feb. 13 nuclear accord or the lack thereof. But the North refused to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facilities and take other initial measures of the accord, insisting that it first take possession of $25 million deposited with the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia.

A better idea would be to make an initial shipment and adjust the speed of delivery thereafter while watching what the North does or does not do in connection with the nuclear accord.

For its part, the United States will do well to help arrange the transfer of the funds as soon as possible. That surely is what it needs to do if it does not want the hard-won nuclear accord to collapse.

[The Korea Herald]

Friday, May 25, 2007

Killing North Korean prisoners without using violence

Yodok, in North Korea’s country's mountainous center, is a huge labor camp where political prisoners are sent, sometimes with their families. Estimates of this prison's population range from 20,000 to 50,000.

Inmates soon learn that while physical brutality is not as severe as that meted out by the security agencies, those who fall out of favor face a slow death.

"In Yodok, there is a way of killing prisoners without using violence," said Kim Gwang-soo. "That is starvation, which is considered legal. The guards assign inmates who were targeted for killing hard work which they can never finish."

Rations, of about 600 grams a day, are given only after completion of labor assignments. If work is unfinished, all the prisoners receive half rations, a system that turns inmates against one another.

Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, or NKHR, a Seoul-based civic group, urges nations to engage North Korea while simultaneously pressing it on human rights and offering help to upgrade its penal system. While the organization supports Seoul's engagement with Pyongyang, it criticizes its silence on human rights. "We should take the initiative to promote North Korean human rights," said Lee Young-hwan, author of NKHR's April report.

[World Peace Herald]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

North Korean Prison Camp Report by Freedom House

A report by Freedom House concludes that the North Korean prison camps breach almost every definition of crimes against humanity under modern international law. Read more

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Defectors reveals conditions of North Korean labor camp

North Korea's most feared labor camp, Yodok, is a grim place where "a father robs a son's food for his survival," survivors say, but a report by an authoritative human rights group states that reforms to the North Korean penal code may have ameliorated the worst abuses.

Conditions at the camp were described vividly to foreign reporters this month by North Korean defector Kim Gwang-soo, who escaped to South Korea in 2004 after a sentence at Yodok. He was held in an underground cell, where he was beaten for weeks, suffering a fractured skull and the loss of his teeth. He said the most agonizing torture was "the pigeon," in which his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was hung for 10 hours at a stretch.

Kim Eun-cheol (no relation), 26, was captured in 1999 after escaping to Russia and China and tortured by officials in North Korea's National Security Agency. For months, he was forced to kneel on a hot iron plate and beaten. However, he did not confess until he, too, was subjected to the "pigeon torture."

"Pumping" is a common practice: Prisoners are stripped naked, then forced to sit and stand repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times, forcing their body cavities to deposit anything hidden.

Conditions in the North Korean penal system may have improved since the two Mr. Kims' experiences, according to Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, or NKHR, a Seoul-based civic group. The group in April published the first comprehensive report on torture in North Korea based on interviews with 20 defectors who had survived the interrogation centers and camps.

[World Peace Herald]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

North Korea inmates face inhumanity in labor camps

Political prisoners held in North Korea's work camps are sometimes forced to defile the bodies of public execution victims, a study by a US-based rights group said Monday.

The report by Freedom House concludes that the camps breach almost every definition of crimes against humanity under modern international law. "The phenomena of repression associated with the political prison camp system of (North Korea) are clear and massive crimes against humanity as now defined in law," said the report written by David Hawk.

It said prisoners who break camp rules, mostly by stealing food, or who try to escape are executed by hanging or firing squad, usually in public.

In the study, former prisoners recalled compulsory gatherings for executions as "the most sickening experience in the camps," the report said. In some cases prisoners were compelled to stone or strike the corpse to rob the victims of dignity and instil fear in remaining inmates, it said.

The report estimates that up to 200,000 people, including offenders and up to three generations of their family, are held without trial and subjected to forced labor under extremely severe conditions.

Freedom House's findings were based on interviews in South Korea with former northern prisoners who escaped or defected after their release.


Monday, May 21, 2007

S. Korea sending promised aid to North Korea

South Korea plans to complete shipping 300,000 tons of fertilizer aid promised to North Korea by the end of next month, the Unification Ministry said Sunday.

South Korea decided to resume the aid in late March, a few weeks after agreeing with North Korea to resume humanitarian projects in an inter-Korean ministerial meeting.

In addition, Seoul plans to soon complete shipments of pharmaceutical equipment aimed at preventing foot-and-mouth disease, as well as flood relief supplies including 650 tons of iron bars, 10,500 tons of rice and 35,000 tons of cement.

The relief shipments, which began in late March, will be completed by early June, the ministry said.

[Yonhap News]

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Destination Thailand on North Korean Underground Railway

Nearly all North Korean refugees caught in Thailand are charged with illegal entry and end up spending a token 10 days in prison as they are unable to pay the maximum 2,000 baht fine. They are then put in line for deportation to "a third country" -- nearly always South Korea -- although the process can drag out for months.

Last month, 400 North Koreans went on hunger strike in Bangkok's main immigration detention center to protest at being kept for months in overcrowded, sweaty cells while Seoul weighed their claims for asylum. Eventually, Seoul agreed to take 20 a month, human rights workers said, although there were also suggestions the real total could be higher.

But with at least 60 new refugees arriving every month, more backlogs and more hunger strikes look inevitable.

Immigration officials on the border say they are now under unofficial orders to stretch out the time it takes for a refugee to get to Bangkok, from the normal 30 days to 45.

Meanwhile, the various ministries and agencies in Bangkok that should be dealing with the issue -- the immigration police, National Security Council and Foreign Ministry, among others -- appear to be busy passing the buck. Nearly 1,000 km (600 miles) away on the border, it is easy to see Bangkok as too mixed up in its own domestic politics to care, especially since September's military coup ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

WFP has to halt food aid for 400,000 North Koreans

The United Nations food agency said on Friday that it would have to suspend rations next month for 400,000 of the 700,000 people it is feeding in North Korea because of a lack of donations.

"Due to a lack of funds, we will have to suspend distribution of food to 400,000 of the 700,000 people we are helping," WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told a briefing. This is particularly worrying as the reclusive communist country entered a "lean season" last month during which families' personal food supplies are at their lowest until September, she said.

A school feeding programme will have to be cut in September if funds are not forthcoming, she added. Berthiaume repeated WFP's appeal for donors to "make a difference between humanitarian needs and politics", but declined to be more specific.

Australia and Switzerland are the largest of a dozen donors, which do not include either South Korea or the United States, according to Berthiaume.

Several million North Koreans face hunger and malnutrition from a food shortage of nearly 1 million tonnes, or about 20 percent of its needs, the WFP said after a visit in late March. The WFP had been feeding some 2 million people, but reduced the number after the government said it expected a good harvest and more bilateral contributions.

[ Reuters]

Friday, May 18, 2007

North Korean "underground railway" to Thailand

As the numbers of North Koreans smuggled in via China then Laos and Myanmar grow from a trickle to a steady flow, Thailand's inability to cope is becoming all too clear.

After China cracked down on fugitives from Kim Jong-il's isolated communist state three years ago, forcing many back despite concerns they would be tortured or killed, Thailand emerged as an attractive route for those seeking a new life in South Korea.

Playing a good guy role in the international community, Thailand, which has 30,000 workers toiling illegally in South Korea, chooses to deal with the problem quietly.

But the numbers are swelling rapidly. In Chiang Saen, a now sleepy outpost once alive with the comings and goings of the nearby "Golden Triangle" opium trade, more than 160 have arrived so far this year.

That compares to 157 for the whole of 2006 and 94 in 2005, local police records show. In the whole of northern Thailand, 293 have arrived this year, up from just 40 in 2003, the first year North Koreans started to get caught.

One group arrested last week -- four women, a man and two babies, all sunburnt and covered in mosquito bites -- were kept at the police station for four days before they were questioned.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

First trains cross Korean Cold War border since 1951

Two trains from North and South Korea crossed the heavily armed border today, restoring for the first time an artery severed in the 1950-1953 fratricidal war and fanning dreams of unification.

The trains carried 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans.

It took the two Koreas 56 years to send the trains -- one starting in the South and one in the North -- across the Cold War's last frontier for the runs of about 25 km (15 miles).

The two Koreas, still technically still at war because their conflict ended only in a truce, have lived with a razor wire and land-mine strewn border dividing the peninsula for decades and over a million troops are stationed near the countries' demilitarized buffer zone.

To entice the North to allow the crossing, South Korea has offered some $80 million in aid for its light industries.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

North Korean defector "just trying to survive"

Han, a stoic boy with the flowering scar, crossed from North Korea into China in 1998, at the age of 15, but on four occasions was arrested by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea, where he was severely beaten.

Eventually he joined a loosely stitched group of 13 other refugees, and with the help of a religious group was able to find his way to another safe house, where he lived with 90 other people for five months.

Finally he was given a fake passport, and he flew to Thailand and then to Seoul. In his case, the entire journey -- 5,000 miles, with four illegal border crossings -- took 19 months.

When I delicately inquired about his scar, he said, unconvincingly, that it was a result of ''food poisoning.''

Now I asked again what dreams he had for himself. He considered for a moment, looking more wary than excited by what tomorrow might bring. ''Dreams,'' he said. ''I don't understand that word anymore. I'm just trying to survive.''

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dissent in North Korea may be a sign of change

Whiffs of political dissent have come wafting out of North Korea, widely considered to be the world's most authoritarian and secretive state, giving rise to speculation that the iron grip of dictator Kim Jong-il may have been jarred loose.

The wreckage of North Korea's economy has been fairly well documented. Now, the critical question is whether the deprivations North Koreans have long suffered have led to political rumbles challenging Kim's harsh rule.

Bradley Babson, a former World Bank official who specializes in the North Korean economy, raised the question in a recent article as to whether North Korea might experience "an internal political breakdown that could be triggered by a coup, social unrest, or unforeseen incapacitation of Kim's leadership."

Little about North Korea is ever certain, given the restrictions on information from the Hermit Kingdom. Even so, a picture emerges from occasional travelers to North Korea, defectors, South Korean sympathizers of North Korea and international organizations that have received aid requests.

The lack of food is basic to fostering dissent. Rations for the armed forces were first cut to 80 percent of normal and recently to 60 percent despite the Kim regime's "Military First" policy, which give priority to the armed forces in everything. Civilians have lost even more.

Pyongyang has recently confirmed the UN's World Food Program estimate that North Korea's food shortage comes to 1 million tonnes. North Korea has reluctantly asked for international aid.
A lack of heat in many places compounded the food shortage this past winter. Uncounted numbers of people have died, especially the elderly.

A particularly grim report said that corpses of the dead have polluted drinking water in some places. Health care has been neglected. In one province, measles has been rampant while scarlet fever has raged in another.

[Taipei Times]

Monday, May 14, 2007

Study Reveals North Korea’s Grim Economic Realities

While all North Korean children are in principle entitled to free education, parents are often called on to give financial support to schools under various pretexts.

That emerges from a study by Rhee Kee-choon and Rha Jong-youn of the College of Human Ecology at Seoul National University. The two professors said the income level of parents is becoming an ever more decisive factor determining the quality of a child’s education in North Korea after the regime unveiled economic reform measures incorporating market economy principles on July 1, 2002.

Lee and Rha wrote the paper based on in-depth interviews with 11 North Korean defectors who had escaped the poverty-stricken country.

◆ Private loans
North Koreans cannot take out bank loans and are theoretically banned from conducting financial deals with each other. But the growing private economy promoted the emergence of private loans. Especially in North Pyongan and Hyamkyung provinces, North Koreans borrow money from loan sharks at 10-30 percent interest to start their own business or buy food.

◆ Food and housing
North Koreans spend most on food, no matter which class they belong to. One North Korean defector said spending on food accounted for 80-90 percent people’s entire spending. Among the upper class, the staple is rice. But lower-class North Koreans live on corn and noodles.

Houses are rented to people under permanent leases, since there is no private ownership of houses. But due to the extreme shortage, housing rights are bought and sold surreptitiously. Some North Koreans sell their housing rights due to financial difficulties, ending up being homeless.

Few North Koreans have the money to buy clothes and shoes with any frequency. Some young people in Pyongyang buy clothes and shoes to catch up with fashion trends, but generally North Koreans wear them until they are worn out, the study finds.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Sunday, May 13, 2007

North Korean Teenage Defectors' Troubles

According to a 2006 study conducted by the Korean Institute of Criminal Justice Policy, about 47 percent of 210 North Korean defectors interviewed [in South Korea] were experiencing difficulties adapting to life in South Korea. Only one out of 10 respondents reported no difficulties at all.

Another study by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in 2005 used a sample of 460 North Korean teenagers. Only one out of four respondents had a regular job. The rest had an insecure employment status, as irregular workers or day-laborers.

Over half had trouble studying in South Korea, because the subjects taught in school were too difficult, and also because the subjects and material they had studied in North Korea proved useless. The North Korean teenagers had trouble making friends in the South and some of them had no hope of finding adequate jobs after graduation.

On Feb. 9, 2007, Prof. Kim Hye Ran of Seoul National University's Department of Social Welfare announced the results of a survey based on a questionnaire answered by 65 teenage North Korean defectors. According to the survey, one-third of the subjects missed life in the North. Also, while about one-third of respondents still thought of themselves as North Korean.

The National Institute of the Korean Language found that it commonly takes defectors up to three years to overcome language differences in the South.

[Radio Free Asia]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tale of Uncertainty of a North Korean Refugee

When Kum left North Korea in October 2001, he was 18. He was able to sneak onto a train north, randomly bribe a border guard and make the dangerous crossing to China.

Once there, he met a South Korean pastor and joined a group of refugees on an underground railroad, living the next month in a twilight state of paranoia at every new encounter.

Making their way through a complicated system that included do-gooders and shady black-marketeers, they used a combination of paid escorts, pastors and safe houses. They rode trains south through China and passed illegally into two Southeast Asian countries, which humanitarian aid groups asked not to be identified.

On the second crossing, Kum remembers that they started at 9 one night and then at 5 the next morning found themselves on a huge plain at sunrise.

The group spent two and a half months in a safe house until they were flown to yet another country and then to South Korea, where they were met by men in dark suits.

''That was the first time I felt afraid, when I saw those men,'' Kum said. ''I thought they were going to send us back.'' He soon found out that they were South Korean intelligence officers.

''Now, I feel like I was scared the whole trip, but at the time I didn't know.''

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

Friday, May 11, 2007

Increase of asylum seekers for U.S.

Forty-eight South Koreans applied for asylum in the United States during fiscal year (FY) 2006, but only one was approved, according to an immigration agency record made available Thursday.

Six North Korean asylum seekers were approved for the year period from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006.

[Yonhap News]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

North Korea's 'Juche' Counts as Major World Religion

North Korea has 10 principles designed to uphold its monolithic one-party system. Article 3, Clause 6 of the 10 principles -- a set of guidelines for everyday life -- stresses the need to "respectfully care for, and thoroughly protect, the Dear Leader's portraits, statues, and publications."

An official from the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was in North Korea to assist in building a light-water nuclear reactor. He found himself in trouble when he inadvertently sat on a copy of "Rodong Sinmun" that carried a photo of Kim Il-sung and his son.

American religion website said Monday that North Korea's "juche" (self-reliance) ideology ranks 10th in the world's major religions in terms of the number of believers.

With its 19 million followers, juche ranks second after Sikhism (23 million) below the world's four major religions -- Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism -- and a few non-establishment religions, such as primal-indigenous beliefs and animism.

Juche outnumbers several better-known religions, including Judaism (14 million), Bahaism (7 million), Jainism (4.2 million), Shinto (4 million), and Zoroastrianism (2.6 million).

"From a sociological viewpoint, juche is clearly a religion" considering that it is so influential in its adherents' lives and that it is exclusive of other ideologies, said.

In fact juche has all the necessary religious elements, including a founder (Kim Il-sung), a successor (Kim Jong-il), a sacred ground (Mangyongdae), an organization (Workers Party and the military), doctrines, and precepts.

A prevailing view in academia also considers juche a religion. Rhee Sang-Woo, former president of Hallym University, said, "Juche is in the same vein as a monotheistic religion. North Korea is a strict theocracy."

Shin Eun-hee, a professor of religious studies at Simpson College in the U.S., regards juche as a "spiritual force that has sustained the North Korean people since the 1990s."

Seeing juche regarded as one of the world's major religions, we are reminded once again that it is not easy to free the North Korean people spiritually.

[Excerpt of a column in Chosun Ilbo by Lee Seon-min]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

North Korean tells Bush joke during top-level talks

A North Korean general cracked a joke about US President George W. Bush at the start of military talks yesterday with South Korea that takes aim at the president's unpopularity for being mired in the Iraq War and other issues.

"I read a political joke, called `Saving the President,' on a US Internet site a while ago," Lieutenant General Kim Yong-chol told his South Korean counterpart as they opened three days of meetings at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Koreas.

"US President Bush, distressed by the Iraq issue, Iran, the Afghanistan issue and the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, went on a morning jog," Kim began, telling the joke of Bush narrowly avoiding being hit by a car while running by high school students who grab his arm to save him. As told by Kim, the grateful Bush asks one student if he can do anything in return, and the student asks to go to a US military academy and be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Asked why, the student says his parents would kill him if they knew he saved Bush.

Kim's South Korean counterpart told Kim he believed the existence of such a joke about Bush means the US is an advanced democracy, saying such jokes are banned in many countries.

North Korea is one of those countries and tolerates no criticism of leader Kim Jong-il, who rules the nation's poverty-stricken 23-million population with a strong cult of personality. Access to outside media such as the Web is also strictly limited only to the top elite.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Upon first arriving in South Korea, North Korean refugees are taken to an intelligence facility for a month of ''interrogation,'' during which the government questions them, in part to determine if they're spies.

Afterward, they're bused to a barbed-wire compound among cornfields an hour and a half southeast of downtown Seoul called the Hanawon facility, where all new refugees spend two months learning the concepts of a new society. There are lessons on food, culture and the Anglicized dialect of the South Korean language -- and then the magical things: computers, cellphones, newspapers, bank accounts, credit cards and insurance.

Even as the Hanawon facility is adding more dormitory space, South Korea doesn't quite yet know what to do with its increasing refugee population.

Since the death of Kim Il Sung and the floods and famine of 1995, more and more people have risked their lives to cross the Chinese-Korean border. Last year alone, with the increased activity of South Korean religious and evangelical groups working surreptitiously to establish an underground railroad in China, 1,200 North Koreans made it to South Korea, twice as many as the year before.

And with an estimated 200,000 North Koreans living in China now, many of them hoping to immigrate to South Korea, the South Korean government may soon have a crisis on its hands.

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

A daunting leap from Stalinist homeland to life in what has become Asia's third biggest economy. Read more on the subject:
"Unification of Koreas compared to Germany"

Monday, May 07, 2007

South Korea backs North Korea for IMF inclusion

South Korea has announced it will back North Korea's bid to join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Korea Times reported on a news briefing in Seoul, in which five lawmakers who had visited Pyongyang said North Korea is considering membership in the World Bank, based in Washington.

"We've promised to help North Korea become a member of international organizations," said Rep. Kim Jong-yull, who met with North Korean leaders.

The Times reported that the United States and other developed countries have had a reluctant attitude toward North Korea's entry into international organizations, including the Asian Development Bank. The United States -- a major shareholder in the IMF, ADB and the World Bank -- has played a large role in rejecting Pyongyang's applications for admission, based on objections to North Korea's nuclear program.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Latest on North Korean defectors in Thailand

Some 30 North Korean defectors who arrived in Thailand last month seeking asylum in the United States face likely deportation to South Korea, said Chun Ki-won, director of the Durihana Mission, a Seoul-based missionary group that arranged North Koreans' defections to the U.S.

Chun said the group of 30 defectors - who arrived in Thailand earlier last month - had been identified as North Koreans who had already been settled in South Korea.

The U.S. began accepting North Korean refugees after it passed the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act, which mandates assistance to refugees fleeing the North. However, Washington has said that North Koreans who had already settled in South Korea would not be eligible for asylum in the U.S.

So far, about 31 North Koreans have been accepted as refugees in the U.S. since 2004.

Chun said eight other North Korean defectors - who flew to Bangkok from Seoul last month to seek asylum in the U.S. - were deported to Seoul where they had already been settled.

The deportation of that group has prompted the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to stop extending temporary refugee permits to North Koreans who arrived in Bangkok via China after fleeing the North - raising the possibility that their bid for asylum in the U.S. will be rejected, said Chun.

Separately, more than 400 other North Korean refugees have been staying in a Thai immigration facility, hoping to fly to South Korea, according to a separate South Korean group that aids North Korean asylum seekers.

[The China Post]

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Psychological troubles of North Korean Teenage Defectors

Kim Hye Young, a graduate of Ehwa Women's University's Nursing School, wrote her master's thesis on the depression symptoms affecting teenage North Korean defectors. She said the difficulties faced by the youngsters could seem overwhelming, and lead to depression and other psychological problems.

"In order to be successful in South Korea, one needs to have a good grip on mathematics. But while in North Korea, these teenagers neglected their studies, as having food on the table was more important than anything else back then," Kim Hye Young said.

According to Chun Jeong Soon, a North Korean defector who resumed her job as a math teacher in the South, North Korean youths need about three years to adapt to life in South Korea, and after that they become very similar to their peers.

"North Korean girls go through a quicker adaptation to life in South Korea. It is easier for boys to fall into the many temptations of life in the South, such as underage drinking or enjoying all forms of entertainment available here," Chun said.

"Many of the North Korean kids lag behind in their studies and speak with a North Korean accent and are consequently ostracized and outcast by their South Korean classmates," she said.

"Most of them are still suffering from the long-term effects of past psychological trauma... The luckier ones were just beaten or abused by their families in the North... The unlucky ones watched their parents or relatives die from starvation or get arrested and dragged away by the authorities," Chun added."Some of the girls have been victims of human-traffickers... It is simply unrealistic to expect these children to easily and naturally adapt to a normal school life in South Korea."

[Radio Free Asia]

Friday, May 04, 2007

North Korean Defector wins passport lawsuit

A senior North Korean defector will travel to the United States to testify about conditions in his communist homeland. Kim Dok-hong, who served as head of the North's state trading firm before defecting to Seoul in 1997, won a lawsuit Thursday against the South Korean government, which had refused to issue him a passport.

Kim applied for a passport in July 2003 when he was invited by a U.S. think tank to speak about the human rights situation in North Korea. The government refused, citing concerns about Kim's safety during overseas trips.

The government apparently banned Kim's trip to the United States for fear that his possible campaigns against North Korea could upset the fragile inter-Korean reconciliation process.

Kim defected to the South along with Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official ever to defect to Seoul.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bush Admin now sees shade of gray toward North Korea

President Bush appears to have changed his approach to making foreign policy with respect to North Korea, the most extreme of the three states that were his original "axis of evil." In most instances, foreign policymakers are confronted with a choice between shades of gray; rarely is it an easy choice between black and white. It was Mr. Bush's failure to recognize this that got him and the United States in so much trouble in Iraq and that is threatening to do so in Iran.

The lives of most people involve a series of trade-offs. If you can't have it all, what do you want most, and what are you willing to give up to get it? Since 9/11, Bush has insisted on having it all. With respect to North Korea, Bush resisted bilateral diplomacy and cooperated with the four other countries who had their own national interests at stake: South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.

The plot was thickened by the presence of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate. This time, after Richardson reached South Korea on his way home, he said that North Koreans had told him that as soon as they got their $25 million from Banco Delta Asia they would stop work on their reactor and invite inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to return.

In this kind of diplomacy, one is well advised not to count promises in advance of delivery, but if all of this works out as it now seems it might, it could be a considerable boost to Richardson's presidential campaign.

Since none of it could have happened without at least the acquiescence, if not the approval, of Bush, the question arises of why the president did it.

[Excerpt of an opinion by Pat M. Holt, former chief of staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mixed, inner feelings of young North Korean Defectors

[With young North Koran defectors in Seoul], one minute they would be joking, laughing, roughhousing, and the next they would reveal something startling about themselves -- they ate only roots for a year, they were badly beaten -- something they didn't regard as out of the ordinary but that resembled nothing in the lives of most South Koreans.

Sometimes it was hard to understand their conception of time, as it was hard for them to understand the South Korean fixation with schedules. There were days when they attended classes at their schools, and there were days when they just decided not to. A number had been out of school for so long that they were in classes with South Korean students five or six years younger.

Because the North Korean dialect varies just enough from the South Korean -- and because most of the fluttering swallows speak a colorful patois of Chinese and North Korean with a few saucy words of English -- [it was often necessary for someone to translate] Seoulite Korean to a version they understood.

While they had South Korean acquaintances, none said they had any real South Korean friends.

When I playfully asked them one day when they planned to marry, they immediately moved away from each other, and Se-ok, who was wearing a shirt with the English phrase ''Change From Usual'' on it, said that in North Korea men weren't permitted to date until they were 18, which was usually when they went into the military, often for 12 years. And then it was only when they got out that a matchmaker found them a wife, usually in her mid-20's.

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

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Escape Story of the 3 North Korean Refugees in Laos

In their short lives, the three young North Korean refugees recently released in Laos have been unluckier than most North Korean refugees and bad fortune has dogged every step.

Choi Hyok and his sister lost their parents in the 1990s, when more than 1m died of famine under Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship. They were reduced to begging in the streets of Hoeryong in one of the poorest parts of North Korea, on the border with China.

“I was always very hungry, cold, worked hard and was beaten all over my body when I was a beggar,” the boy recalled. “All our relatives were too poor to help us,” his sister said, “so we escaped to China in 2005.”

There they met Choi Hyang-mi, whose father had died in the 1990s and who fled to China across the Tumen river in December, 2003. She appears to suffer from a congenital heart complaint, made worse by malnutrition and stress.

The children came together in the care of a group of Christian missionaries near the city of Shenyang. After months of preparation, they boarded a train to Beijing, with just enough money to get by and two precious phone numbers for Korean Christians in the United States. They evaded document checks in the Chinese capital and caught another train for the long haul down to Kunming, in China’s southwest.

From there they went by bus and taxi to where China blends into Laos under a canopy of tropical jungle. They walked for 10 hours over seven hilltops to reach the first Lao settlement. Then they rode on rickety buses down trails to the Lao capital on the banks of the Mekong.
They were picked up within hours. Their bad luck then turned into terrible misfortune when the Lao authorities allowed three heavyweight “counsellors” from the North Korean embassy to visit them. It was, by the children’s accounts, a terrifying experience.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, The Sunday Times]