Monday, August 27, 2007

North Korea Continues Erecting Fence

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Six North Korean refugees released in Shenyang

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

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

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

Friday, August 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

[Yonhap News]

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rescue News from Helping Hands Korea

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

North Koreans seek refuge in Indonesian Embassy in Hanoi

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

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

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

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

South Korean Missionaries in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 20, 2007

Many nations offer flood relief to North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 19, 2007

UN projects North Korea food shortage to increase

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, August 18, 2007

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

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

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

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


Friday, August 17, 2007

Outpouring of relief to North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Aid agencies rush in to assist North Korea flood victims

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Last US defector in North Korea alive but ailing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[International Herald Tribune]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

South Korea pledges flood aid to North Korea

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, August 13, 2007

North Korea admits severe flood damage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Peninsula, Qatar]

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

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

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Summit to mean massive aid for North Korea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 10, 2007

North Korea: Something is about to happen

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

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

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

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

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

[Free Republic]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

North Korea willing to disarm even if aid takes time?

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

North Korea expects "investment-based" international aid

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

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

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

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

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

[RIA Novosti, Russian press]

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Envoys to Hold Talks on Aid to North Korea

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

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

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

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


Monday, August 06, 2007

Kim Jong Il a shrewd dictator

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kim Jong Il in blood and bandages

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

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

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

Kim makes rare public appearance for 5th straight day

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

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

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

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Censorship in North Korea

Censorship in North Korea is more thorough than anywhere.

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

Mobile telephones were banned in 2004.

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 03, 2007

North Korean workers suffering from hunger

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

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

[Yonhap News]

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Reunification Demographics of North and South Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

But reunification will take a long time.

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

North Korean defectors leave Vietnam, heading for Seoul

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

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

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