Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Four North Koreans defect to the South by boat

Four North Koreans defected to South Korea by sea this week. Yonhap, South Korea's national news agency, reported that the defectors were a husband and wife, their son and daughter-in-law.

Yonhap, which cited no sources in its report, said the four North Koreans were in a small wooden boat when a patrol boat from the South Korean Navy picked them up Tuesday night. Escapes from North Korea through the heavily guarded land and sea borders between the two Koreas are uncommon.

More than 14,000 people from the hunger-stricken North have defected to South Korea since1953, but most of the defectors have come through China.

[International Herald Tribune]

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aid to North Koreans continues from smaller agencies

Private humanitarian aid to North Korea has continued despite the virtual breakdown of government-to-government relations.

A South Korean Buddhist group announced it has shipped a fresh consignment of food aid for mothers and children in impoverished North Korea.

The shipment worth is expected to arrive in the North's north-eastern port of Rajin by Thursday, said the Seoul-based Jungto Society. It will be distributed in Hoeryong, a town in the northernmost province of North Hamkyong, which is especially prone to food shortages.

"Hamkyong province usually receives even less outside assistance than other regions because it is at the northeastern tip of the country," one organiser, Kim Ae-Kyung, told Yonhap news agency.

[Straits Times]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kim Il Sung floated U.S. contact back in 1974

Former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung proposed setting up secret contacts with the United States through Romania in 1974, declassified documents show.

The documents say an aide to Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu told U.S. President Gerald Ford that Kim wanted to have confidential contacts with the United States in the wake of President Richard Nixon's historic Cold War visit to China in 1972, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Sunday.

The document showed Ford's response to the proposal was lukewarm, quoting him as saying, "Certain things must precede such contacts. We don't want to go in without a firm understanding." He said he would discuss the matter with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was at the meeting.

Yonhap reported the document saying Ceausescu met with Ford at the White House in 1975 and told him he had delivered Washington's position to Kim Il Sung.

[Post Chronicle]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

North Korean "religion" Juche or Kim Il Sungism

In the North Korean capital Pyongyang, the year 2008 is referred to as Juche 97, based on a system that begins with the date of birth of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, who was born on April 15, 1912.

North Koreans are indoctrinated from birth to revere the country's former leader, Kim Il-sung, although the man, who was elevated to the status of a godlike leader, has been dead for years.

Juche, or Kim Il Sungism, mandates that citizens attend weekly meetings espousing Kim Il-sung's school of thought. Families are required to hang a picture of the leader in their home. In years past, unannounced home inspections ensured those pictures were in fact hanging up and were clean. Homes found to be in violation were fined.

"It's like your religion," said an interviewee, referring to Kim Il Sungism. "When people come first in a race or don't get hurt from a fall, we say, 'Thank the General Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.'"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

North Korea tough on “those who confess to religious belief”

It is grotesque what North Korea does to its own people. North Korean repression of religious liberty is particularly harsh.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has published a report, “A Prison Without Bars,” based on interviews with North Korean refugees and former security personnel.

Notes the Commission: “it is widely known that there are severe penalties meted out against those discovered practicing banned religions. Many interviewees testified that they had heard about or witnessed severe persecution of persons caught engaging in religious activity.”

Refugees cite one tragic case after another. Punishments include “torture, mistreatment, and the disappearance of those suspected of religious activity.”

One member of the secret police observed that the authorities treat more leniently refugees who flee to China simply in search of jobs and food, even if they seek aid from churches, than those “who confess to religious belief, or are suspected of spreading Christianity.”

[Source: Doug Bando, Senior Fellow in International Religious Persecution at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Activists vow that leaflets will continue into North Korea

Members of South Korea’s anti-Pyongyang civic groups said yesterday they will resume sending leaflets toward the North, in protest of Seoul’s decision to cut funds to the groups.

For years, the activists have sent massive balloons north containing thousands of leaflets criticizing alleged corruption in the North and urging the public to rise up against the government.

Choi Sung-young, head of Abductees’ Family Union, said his group and Fighters for Free North Korea would resume the leaflet campaign in January. Choi is a son of a local fisherman who was kidnapped by North Korea decades ago.

“The two Koreas aren’t exactly talking to each other, while the North shows no signs of solving the Kaesong Industrial Complex problem or the shooting accident at the Mount Kumgang resort and South Korea’s Unification Ministry slashed the budget for North Korean refugees,” Choi told reporters. “The South Korean government is no longer entitled to ask for us to stop sending the leaflets,” he added.

Choi said the groups would continue working together to send more than 300,000 new leaflets next month.

The anti-North leaflets have become the biggest political bone of contention in inter-Korea relations, as Pyongyang repeatedly denounced them as an attempt to destabilize its government. In retaliation, it put tough restrictions on operations of the Kaesong complex.

[JoonAng Daily]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

S. Korean Lawyers to help North Korean Defectors in Burma

A group of South Korean lawyers say they will do what they can to help a group of North Korean defectors on trial in Burma for illegal immigration.

The South Korean Bar Association of Human Rights says it will file a petition to a Burma court, in hopes of securing the release of 19 North Korean defectors being detained there.

The 19 North Korean defectors being detained by authorities in Burma are among those who have fled their country's harsh deprivation and political repression. Adding emotional urgency to the case is the fact that four of the defectors are apparently children whose mothers have already settled in South Korea.

A woman who says two of the children are hers tells South Korean media the group had arranged with an underground travel broker for passage to Thailand. However, they were transported to Burma, instead.

Park Min-jae says lawyers are ready to travel to Burma, if necessary. She says, as a nongovernmental organization from a third country, all her association can do is make its case based on civil rights. She says that, in terms of international law, the defectors do not have the protections that come with formal refugee status.

[VOA News]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

America to continue food aid to North Korea

The United States will continue to offer food aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday.

A US team has recently traveled to the DPRK to assess situation there, said the spokesman, adding that the United States will soon send 21,000 metric tons (about 23,100 tons) of food to the impoverished country.

Reports here said earlier this week that the DPRK's 23 million people are going to urgently need food assistance over the next several months due to chronic shortages.

[China Daily]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

North Korean defector pleads with Myanmar to release her children

Among the group of 19 North Korean defectors arrested at the border of Myanmar on December 2, and about to be tried by Burma for illegal entry are four children. The North Koreans face either deportation back to China or Thailand or between six months and two years in prison.

The mother of two of them, a North Korean woman who had preceded them to South Korea, pleaded today with Myanmar to release her two children.

"Two of them are my children, aged six and 15," said the woman in an interview with Radio Free Asia. After she heard her children were arrested by Myanmar's authorities, she had traveled to the border to meet her children. "But my requests to see my children were denied (by Myanmar authorities)."

She explained her children had fled North Korea with her mother and two sisters and arrived at China's northern border. "Then, my mother was arrested and deported back to North Korea, and two of my sisters were sold out to local brokers and have since been unheard of," she said.

South Korean NGOs and family members in South Korea are staging a humanitarian campaign to help the defectors, whose trial is expected to take place this week.

[Earth Times]

Monday, December 22, 2008

A North Korea deal only by going to the top

In a few months, a former U.S. president — Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton — may be asked to travel to North Korea in pursuit of military denuclearization.

In 1994, Carter did exactly that. Meeting personally with then-maximum North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in Pyongyang, the former U.S. president hammered out an understanding that was to lead to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated in Geneva.

The key to the overall accord was the top-down approach to diplomacy. This is virtually the only method for achieving negotiated agreements with a dictatorship like North Korea. Dealing with lower-level emissaries will inevitably be frustrating, because they inherently lack the authority and negotiating room.

Even senior North Korean officials — much less mid-level ones — are afraid of exhibiting an independence or freedom of thought in even private negotiations. (They assume, properly, that every such conversation is bugged.) They are afraid of losing their lives: For in a feral dictatorship like North Korea's, there is only one source of wisdom and political correctness, and that comes from the boss.

This leads to the second problem. The current boss of North Korea (as far as anyone knows) has been recovering from a severe medical setback, probably a stroke or strokes.

The question remains: Will the North Koreans ever truly abandon their nuclear-arms program? The answer is yes, but only if (1) the price in aid is high enough, and (2) some very high-level American travels to Pyongyang to nail down the framework of the deal with whoever is then the leader of North Korea.

[Japan Times]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

North Korean refugees not offered much hope in Burma

Burmese authorities have arrested 19 North Korean defectors and plan to charge them with illegally entering the country, a senior police official said Saturday.

The group was trying to make their way to South Korea via China and Southeast Asia, an increasingly popular route for North Koreans trying to escape chronic hunger and repression in their communist homeland.

An official, who did not want to be named, said "As they were arrested in our territory, we are taking action against them under the immigration act," he said.

The Burmese police official said he was not sure if the 19 people would be returned and said the North Korean embassy in Rangoon had not yet intervened.

Military-ruled Burma and hardline communist North Korea, which are both severely criticized internationally for human rights abuses, restored diplomatic relations in April 2007.

Burma severed ties with Pyongyang in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on then-South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan during his visit to Rangoon. The bombing killed 17 of Chun's entourage including cabinet ministers while four Burmese officials also died.

Burma, which has been ruled by generals since 1962, and North Korea have been branded "outposts of tyranny" by the United States, which imposes sanctions on both.

[Bangkok Post]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

North Korean refugee dies in Laos

A North Korean refugee, detained in an immigration camp in Laos, died this week.

The woman, identified by Yonhap news agency as Kim Kyung-Hee, 27, was pronounced dead due to 'excessive entero-haemorrhage' during medical treatment. A South Korean missionary activist, Pastor Kim Hee-Tae, said that Ms Kim, who feared deportation, died suddenly while coughing up blood.

Two other defectors are in a stable condition in hospital. They had attempted suicide by swallowing pieces of iron rather than be sent back, said the pastor, who helps North Korean refugees in the region.

The pastor told Yonhap the three had defected together through China. They travelled to South-east Asia in hopes of seeking asylum in South Korea but were captured near the Laotian border.

Authorities told them they should pay US$2,500 in fines or face deportation.

[The Straits Times]

Friday, December 19, 2008

Education of North Korean teen defectors

North Korean teenager Han Jee-hee's journey to school in South Korea began by slipping past border guards into China where she went into hiding to avoid forcible repatriation home.

Han eventually made it to South Korea, and the 19-year-old is among more than 200 North Koreans studying at the Hangyoreh Junior and Senior High School, set up by South Korea to prepare the young defectors for the huge changes they face living in a capitalist state.

The students, wearing the school's stylish blue blazers, on average have missed nearly four years of school during their escape from the North. After reaching China, they typically went into hiding and then made their way to a third country from where they sought passage to South Korea.

Up until the first students came to the school when it opened in 2006, the government did not have any special curriculum for the defectors, who were usually so overwhelmed by schools in the South that they simply dropped out.

Students stay from six months to two years at the Hangyoreh school before making the transition to a regular school, or starting a job.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

North Korean defector's flight to musical freedom

Kim Cheol Woong was the dashing new star of North Korea's music circles in October 2001 when, alone in his room, he sat down at the piano and played a tune that he had picked up while studying at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. He was secretly practicing the piece, "'A' Comme Amour," a romantic number recorded by the French pianist Richard Clayderman, in a country where playing the wrong music can land a musician in a prison camp.

When an informer heard the "capitalist" melody drifting from Kim's room and reported it to the National Security Agency, the Communist state's secret police, the authorities intervened. "They made me write a 10-page self-criticism, over and over until they were satisfied," Kim said. The fact that his father was a powerful member of the ruling Workers Party may have saved him. Nevertheless, Kim found the experience repugnant.

"Music in North Korea is a political tool," Kim said. "Its purpose is to inspire adoration of the leader and the belief that socialism will triumph."

Unlike the thousands of North Koreans who have fled famine and material privation, Kim, who had enjoyed a life of privilege, said his flight owed more to his deepening unhappiness about his treatment as an artist.

He made his way across the border into China. A fellow North Korean defector told him of a piano in a church run by a Korean-Chinese pastor. To get to it, he joined an underground Bible study group where Christian missionaries led North Korean defectors in Bible readings in return for food and shelter. It was a Christian network that later helped smuggle him to Seoul.

[International Herald Tribune]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

North Korea and Bush's hawks

A Boston Globe editorial claims: Implacable hawks on the Bush administration are gutting what could have been President Bush's prime achievement in national security.

The hawks - a group that includes Vice President Dick Cheney and former UN ambassador John Bolton - have sought to sabotage negotiations with North Korea in two ways. One is to break US commitments made in a series of six-party talks. The other is to demand that North Korea perform certain actions before any mutual agreement on those actions has been reached.

Last week, the chief US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said that four days of talks with his North Korean counterpart failed to produce a written protocol for verifying steps that the regime had taken toward denuclearization. But the administration had no grounds, under previous agreements, to demand such a document.

The six-party accords are based on a principle of action for action, and they are to be implemented in distinct phases. An October 2007 agreement on implementation of phase 2 obliged North Korea to disable its nuclear reactor and nuclear fuel rod fabrication facility at Yongbyon. In return, the United States was to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism.

And while North Korea had given Hill oral assurances that it is prepared to permit inspectors to visit undeclared sites and take environmental samples, there was nothing in phase 2 about a verification protocol.

Even worse, Hill was not empowered to offer North Korea anything in exchange for signing a written agreement on verification measures ahead of schedule. This is an attempt to get something for nothing and violates the action-for-action principle at the core of the six-party negotiations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Washington Post blasts silence about North Korean camps

Future generations will wonder why the U.S. and South Korea did nothing about human rights abuses in North Korea, the Washington Post said in an editorial comparing North Korean prison camps to concentration camps in Nazi Germany. American children "may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong-il's camps, and did nothing."

Titled "Three Kernels of Corn," the editorial recounts the torture and human rights abuse of Shin Dong-hyuk, a 26-year-old refugee and former inmate of a concentration camp. The title alludes to Shin's experience at the camp, where he found three kernels of corn in a pile of cow dung, washed them off and ate them. Shin was the first North Korean refugee who escaped from a concentration camp.

"It's horrifying, on another level, that only 500 people in South Korea, where Shin lives, have bought his book. Many Koreans don't want to hear about human rights abuses in the north; they're worried that the Communist regime might collapse and leave the more prosperous South with a costly burden of rehabilitation."

The U.S., meanwhile, is more concerned with containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's camps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps, and did nothing."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, December 15, 2008

1400 North Koreans receive EU Citizenship

More than 1,400 North Koreans became citizens of European Union member states, in the period from 2002 to 2006.

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, says most of them are assumed to be former North Korean refugees.

Germany was the most accommodating host country, with over 500 North Koreans becoming citizens during that period. Next followed France and Spain.

[Source: Arirang News]

Defectors send messages into North Korea

On a drizzly December morning, Lee Min Bok kneels on the cold ground near the North Korean border and consults his laptop. He's scanning satellite weather photos to pick just the right spot for his launch. Satisfied, he and a helper load 20 large helium tanks into a van and head west.

Lee, 52, and his partner, Kim Sung Soo, say little. Less than a mile from the border, they back the van into a cemetery. One by one, they fill plastic balloons with helium, creating 36-foot-tall cylinders that snap in the wind and tug hard on the ropes. Lee, founder of the North Korean Christian Defectors Association, attaches a plastic satchel packed with thousands of vinyl fliers to the balloon. He sets the timer, and waits for the right gust of wind.

To reach the isolated society of North Korea devoid of outside newspapers, radio and television, Lee uses a simple yet elegant method to elude North Korean intelligence watchdogs: He sends millions of leaflets northward by way of helium balloons. He prefers to see himself as a North Korean David, slinging leaflets at a mighty, but vulnerable, Goliath.

In this high-tech age, the balloons have struck a nerve with Pyongyang and placed Lee, other defectors and civic groups center-stage in the Korean Peninsula's political standoff.

Analysts say the leaflets are written in simple language by former North Koreans who intimately know the North's culture. "Dear North Koreans," one begins, taking aim at Kim. "So he's a General who eats rice gruel together with the people? But how could he get love handles and a double chin if he eats rice gruel? People are starving to death, but why does the country spend so much for Kim's [extravagances]?"

[Los Angeles Times]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Endgame for Bush and North Korea?

The effort to persuade North Korea to roll back its nuclear program was, until recently, one of the modest successes for the Bush administration's foreign policy. The man leading the effort, chief US negotiator Christopher Hill, is a hugely respected diplomat, well-versed in the intricacies of the subject.

For an administration criticized for its unilateralism, this was very much a multilateral effort, the framework for the discussions being the six-party talks.Indeed the Bush administration has significantly shifted both the tone and the substance of its policy towards North Korea. Highly symbolic was the president's decision in October to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Bush administration's effort to reach out to Pyongyang was seen as a betrayal of fundamental principle by some conservative hardliners, not least the former UN ambassador John Bolton. They believed that the administration had gone soft.

Now US President-elect Barack Obama can add this dossier too to his ever-increasing in-tray.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fallout from Pentagon's gaffe spreads

As the latest round of six-party talks on North Korea ended without any discernable progress, growing controversy over a United States defense report "mistakenly" listing the Hermit Kingdom as one of Asia's five nuclear powers has experts from the region fretting that the error was a Freudian slip.

Adding fuel to the fire is US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' remark in the January/February 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that "North Korea has built several nuclear bombs".

Many analysts in Tokyo balk at the notion of the US formally admitting that the North is a nuclear power. This is a reality which would lead to future six-party talks being reclassified as "disarmament" negotiations, a significant strengthening of the North's hand and a deepening of security fears for the North's regional rivals.

The Pentagon last week issued a 56-page report and it was the sentence, "The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia," that has so delighted North Korea. Pyongyang unilaterally declared itself a de facto nuclear power in February 2005, but despite a test in October 2006 the US has never officially said it is a nuclear power.

[Excerpt of an article by Kosuke Takahashi, Asia Times]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Any accord on North Korean nuclear program will elude Bush

The Bush administration signaled Thursday that it may not be able to reach an agreement with North Korea on its nuclear program before President Bush leaves office next month but said it will continue to try.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the North Koreans had refused to sign an agreement on how to verify their nuclear activities. Asked if the negotiations were over for the Bush administration, McCormack said, "No, no. In terms of further action in the six-party mechanism, we will see what the North Koreans' response is going to be."

He added, "There will continue to be work, there will continue to be action in terms of consultation, and certainly we, as well as others, the Chinese I would expect, would urge North Korea to accept the common understanding of the other five [countries] to move this process forward." [The “other five” countries being the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea.]


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Remembering North Koreans on the 60th Anniversary of Human Rights Day

December 10 was the 60th anniversary of the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly.

All possible human rights efforts in the international community must be sustained through not only the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly but also multilateral cooperation channels, and the roles of numerous non-government organizations working on the ground must be further recognized and supported.

In this respect, we welcome the adoption of a new (November 21) North Korea human rights resolution at the UN General Assembly. We think it particularly significant that South Korea participated as a joint sponsor alongside European countries. We should pay attention to humanitarian activities for North Koreans and the courageous acts of organizations offering assistance to North Korean defectors.

It is hoped that the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will serve to meditate on the true meaning of human rights: "Recognizing the dignity and equal and unalienable rights of all human families is the basis of world liberty, justice and peace."

[Excerpt of Chosun Ilbo column contributed by French Ambassador to Korea, Philippe Thiebaud]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Google, YouTube to Promote Human Rights in North Korea

Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday that internet company Google and online video site YouTube promised to cooperate in promoting the human rights of North Koreans and democratization of the nation via internet broadcasting.

According to the RFA, the two companies discussed measures to distribute documents and videos containing human rights' issues in undemocratic countries including North Korea, Burma and Cuba at the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit held by the U.S. State Department in New York last week.

Officials from some 17 NGOs from 15 countries, including Crossing Border, a relief organization for North Korean defectors, attended. An official at the U.S. State Department reportedly said, "It is important to use the Internet to promote North Korea's human rights."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

U.S. human rights activist calls for end of North Korean gulag

American human rights investigator David Hawk, a former executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., said Sunday in Tokyo there should be a plan for dismantling North Korea's notorious political prison camps, not just the country's nuclear facilities.

The estimates are as many as 300,000 political prisoners held in labor camps in remote regions of North Korea, with many subjected to torture and summary execution. Several former prisoners spoke at the meeting of conditions in the North Korean gulag.

On how to dismantle the prison camps, Hawk cited how Human Rights First, a prominent U.S. human rights group, came up with a blueprint for closing down the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hawk suggested that a similar blueprint could be developed in consultation with former North Korean political prisoners.

[The Japan Times]

Monday, December 08, 2008

Joy of text tops the lessons in life for teen North Korean defectors

Is learning to use mobile phones, credit cards and surf the net easier than slipping past border guards and going into hiding before fleeing to a safe haven?

North Korean teenager Han Jee-hee left behind family, friends and a broken education system where schools have a curriculum steeped in extolling communist ideology. The 19-year-old, who fled first to China before reaching South Korea, is among more than 200 North Koreans studying at the Hangyoreh Junior and Senior High School, set up to prepare the young defectors for the huge changes they face living in a capitalist state.

The students, wearing the school's blue blazers, have missed an average of nearly four years of school during their escape from the North. After reaching China, they typically went into hiding and then made their way to a third country from where they sought passage to South Korea. Almost all have emotional scars from their harrowing escapes.

Besides academic courses, the students learn how to surf the internet as well as how to use basic tools of the modern world such as credit cards. Civic groups, many of them Christian-based, have also tried to help by setting up private schools for defectors.

[The Scotsman]

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Human rights only a secondary concern in North Korean talks

As six-nation nuclear negotiations resume, let us reflect on an independent report underlining the fact that the discussion of human rights is largely an "issue of secondary concern."

So stated an independent report released last September which urged the United Nations and international nuclear negotiators to more strongly confront what was described as North Korea's dismal treatment of its citizens. The report, commissioned by the former leaders of the Czech Republic and Norway and a Nobel peace laureate, said the world has shied away from criticizing the North's human rights because of fear of its nuclear weapons.

"The international community has far too long neglected the human rights situation in North Korea because of the nuclear threat," former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel said in the report.

The report also urged the world to insist on "immediate, safe and unhindered access to all of North Korea for purposes of ensuring food distribution to the most vulnerable groups of the population."

Harsh criticism of the North's human rights by U.S. lawmakers has often stood in stark contrast with the careful language favored by U.S. diplomats working to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Although U.S. President George W. Bush once lumped North Korea into an "axis of evil," he and other top officials in recent years have worked to temper language the North finds insulting and that it previously used as a pretext for delaying nuclear negotiations.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

No easy way out of North Korea

You look at the photo on the cover of Mike Kim’s extraordinary book “Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country” and have to confront an uneasy question: How did we as humans become so savage that we have let this kind of vicious inhumanity persist?

The most disturbing sections deal with sex trafficking. China’s one-child policy and preference for sons, means there aren’t enough women for its men, making North Korean women vulnerable to traffickers. More than 75 percent of the North Korean women crossing the border into China are subject to trafficking and rape.

Kim was a fledgling financial whiz kid in Chicago before he made a trip to China that changed his life. So moved was he by the stories he heard in China about North Korean refugees in hiding he quit his job and moved to California where he spent a year training to be a missionary specializing in humanitarian aid.

Within just a couple of years he had set up Crossing Borders Ministries, an NGO that provides food, medicine and shelter for North Korean refugees.

Kim is a truly incredible man. His account of shepherding four North Korean teenagers into the British Consulate-General in Shanghai is gripping stuff - a matter of life or death for the refugees - and his equally remarkable overland trip through Laos and Thailand would make for a sensational movie.

[JoongAng Daily]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why the Leaflets to North Korea Must Continue

Excerpt of a column contributed by Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation of the U.S.

There has been much controversy about the recent pronouncements against activist groups launching balloons that carry leaflets over to North Korea. There has been a steady stream of angry declarations and threats from North Korea, starting with a threat to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, cut off all ties with South Korea, and turn South Korea into debris.

These declarations are just more evidence of how critically important these messages from the free world are in reaching out to the North Korean people, [especially because] due to a lack of electricity there are whole sections of North Korea that can only be reached with these messages.

With the election of President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea finally has a leader who cares about the suffering North Korean people. It is long overdue for someone in a position of authority in South Korea to act in the best interest of the North Korean people for a change, rather than the best interest of Kim Jong-il.

There is nothing more powerful than North Koreans living in freedom reaching out with the truth to their brothers and sisters living in enslavement. Other NGOs are sending in pamphlets with messages of hope to their loved ones, specifically those abducted to North Korea, while Christian NGOs are sending in messages of love and forgiveness about Jesus Christ and a loving God, while pointing out that Kim Jong-il is no god.

Why has North Korea reacted so vehemently to these launches? Because Kim Jong-il ironically seems to understand something that we in the free world are sadly forgetting: that the truth shall set you free.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

North Korean Army attempts to gather propaganda leaflets

North Korea has mobilized its military in a campaign to sweep up propaganda leaflets dropped by South Korean activists in large quantities in South Hwanghae Province, Radio Free Asia quoted North Korean sources in China as saying.

North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered residents not to pick up leaflets themselves but report them to state security offices first.

Harsh punishment has reportedly been given to North Koreans who have either kept or read them. It claimed one farmer was interrogated by a state security office and sent to a camp for eight years of labor and indoctrination for having told his neighbors that he had read a leaflet.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Unknown son emerges as contender to take over from Kim Jong-il

"Until now the in-fighting appeared to have been between two factions representing Kim's two sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, but there are now of another son coming forward," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Waseda University and an expert on North Korean affairs.

"The reports say he is in his 30s and has not been mentioned previously as he has an important role within the military," he said.

The third son, Kim Jong Chol, 28, is believed to have his father's blessing to succeed him, although North Korea's unofficial spokesman in Japan denies that a power struggle is going on and that when the time comes, the most appropriate person for the position will be chosen.

Other key players include Chang Song Taek, a high-ranking party official.

According to Professor Shigemura's sources inside the reclusive country, Kim's health continues to deteriorate and he has only months to live. That has triggered a power struggle that has embroiled the Workers' Party, the military and his powerful family.

[The Telegraph]

More on successors

Saturday, November 29, 2008

North Korea without Kim Jong Il

Der Spiegel suggests:

"It is quite possible that [the North Korean] regime will collapse without Kim Jong Il.

"One of the scenarios now being discussed in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington is an invasion by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. If North Korea were to descend into anarchy, China, as a 'stabilizing force,' could attempt to gain control over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. Russia is believed to have approved of this plan."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hilarious North Korean news article if it wasn’t so sad

Under the headline, “Kim Jong Il's Exploits Highly Praised”, KCNA (Korean Central News Agency of North Korea) reports:

"Round-table talks took place in the Czech Republic on November 22 on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of General Secretary Kim Jong Il's assumption of supreme commandership of the Korean People's Army.

"The chairman of the Plzen City Committee of the association who is secretary of the Plzen City Committee of the party, said that Kim Jong Il is not only a great master of politics but also a great man having the perfect qualifications as supreme commander of the revolutionary armed forces … converting the DPRK into an invulnerable socialist fortress which achieved unity and cohesion more powerful than a nuclear weapon."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

North Koreans shorter than South Koreans

The biggest hurdle for many young North Korean refugees trying to assimilate into South Korean society is not just that they face a language barrier but that, quite simply, they also look different. First, they tend to be shorter.  Read more

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

North Korean women forced into sexual slavery in China

A Sky News investigation reveals hundreds of young North Korean girls crossing the border into China to escape the North Korean regime only to become embroiled in a hidden underworld of slavery and prostitution.

Posing as business people looking for women to entertain clients, and filming with a secret camera, Sky News went undercover in some of China's brothels.

A madam introduced us to a young and very nervous North Korean girl. Dressed in knee-high boots and a tiny mini-skirt, the girl waited for the madam to leave the room before telling her story in broken Chinese. She said she had been selling her body in China for about two years, earning around £200 per month. "When I first got here I was very frightened, I cried every day," she said.

Our contact also took us to a village near the North Korean border where we met a woman who was trafficked into China. Human smugglers tricked her with the promise of work. Only when she arrived safely in China did they tell her that she'd been sold for £1,000 to a Chinese peasant farmer who couldn't find a wife in his own village.

In desperation and grave danger they escape a totalitarian state, but for North Korea's women - whether trafficked as brides, or employed in the Chinese flesh trade - there is no safe refuge in China, only exploitation and abuse.

[Sky News]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

North Korea to allow inspectors to sample nuclear sites?

The United States has said it expects North Korea to formally agree to let inspectors take samples from weapons-grade nuclear sites during a high-level international meeting next month in Beijing.

North Korea insists it never agreed to the removal of samples, saying that outside verification of its nuclear inventory will involve only field visits, confirmation of documents and interviews with technicians.

However, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters "it (sampling) is part of the agreement" which Washington reached with Pyongyang last month in exchange for striking North Korea from a terrorism blacklist.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the meeting would be held on December 8 in Beijing. The talks will bring together Christopher Hill, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, with his counterparts from the five other parties in the disarmament negotiations – the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan.

[The Telegraph]

Why now? North Korea obviously feels it can win concessions from outgoing President Bush seeking a diplomatic legacy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

UN criticizes China over widespread torture allegations

The United Nations Committee Against Torture, meeting in Geneva, has expressed deep concern over allegations of widespread torture in China and called on the country to fully probe rights abuses.

The committee also expressed concerns about the fate of North Korean refugees who were turned back at the border despite the risk that they would be subjected to torture in their own country.

The committee also criticized China’s handling of its relations with the Tibetan Autonomous Region, persecution of Falun Gong and the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown.

Earlier this month, the committee’s chief rapporteur Felice Gaer had accused the Chinese of not providing sufficient information. Gaer had said China had been unwilling to release data on individual cases by invoking its State Secrets Act to withhold information.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

North Korean Faith Remains Alive

In college, Yong learned the questions to ask when meeting a foreigner, to get a glimpse of life beyond the borders of North Korea: "What is your name? What do you do for a living? What is your religion?"

Yong asks tourists one more question: "Do you believe in God?"

During the Korean War in the early 1950s, thousands of Koreans fled the Soviet-controlled North for the South. When a cease-fire was declared in 1953, a line drawn along the 38th parallel separated millions of Koreans from family members.

Christians fleeing south formed the foundation for South Korea's dynamic church movement of today. Those who remained in the North went underground.

Stories trickle out of the reclusive country of North Korean Christians worshipping quietly in homes or in small gatherings at restaurants, while hiding Bibles to avoid internment in gulags (labor camps).

[Excerpt from Baptist Press]

Saturday, November 22, 2008

North Korea in the Dark

While the world wonders if North Korea is in the throes of a leadership crisis over Kim Jong-il's suspected stroke, for ordinary people in the hermit state the real power struggle is coping with electricity shortages. One of course cannot help but note the similarity in being in the dark over Kim's health and succession plans in Asia's only communist dynasty.

During a recent four-day stay in Pyongyang for South Koreans attending a rare joint seminar between the Cold War rivals, electrical blackouts frequently occurred in the North's showcase city itself.

When the documents of the visiting South Koreans were about to be processed at the Soviet-era Sunan Airport terminal, computer terminals lost power and lights went out. An official tried in vain to keep the line of visitors moving by checking passports in the faint light from a distant door.

North Korea's dilapidated power system also means that its factories are largely idle, dealing a heavy blow to its already battered economy. When the sun goes down in Pyongyang, people hurry along unlit sidewalks before they have to grope their way home in near total darkness. At street level there were far more apartments in complete darkness than there were enjoying the faint glow of fluorescent lights.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Defector recalls North Korea's prison camps

The condemned inmate, his body torn apart by guard dogs, slumped unconscious as the three executioners fired. The bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners forced to watch. His offense: trying to escape from the remote prison camp in North Korea.

Says former prisoner Jung Gyoung-il said, recalling the 2001 execution. "That's worse than the way animals are slaughtered."

North Korea runs at least five large political prison camps, together holding an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates, according to the U.S. State Department. The gulags remain one of the Stalinist regime's most effective means of controlling its 23 million people, analysts say.

Former prisoner Jung said he spent three years in Camp No. 15 in Yodok, about 70 miles northeast of the capital. After months of torture, Jung had lost nearly 80 pounds. The 400 inmates in his section subsisted on 20 ounces of corn each -- the equivalent of one medium-size can daily -- while toiling at mines, farms and factories for 13 to 15 hours a day. Many died of hunger and diseases brought on by malnutrition, he said. Some managed to trap vermin and insects.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

More propaganda leaflets float into North Korea

South Korean activists, many defectors from North Korea, sent propaganda leaflets over the border Thursday into North Korea, ignoring their own government's pleas to stop the practice and threats from the North to sever relations if it continues.

North Korea announced last week it would ban border crossings starting Dec. 1, citing the South Korean government's refusal to clamp down on "confrontational" activities, including the leafletting.

South Korean officials implored activists Wednesday to stop sending the leaflets critical of leader Kim Jong Il and his authoritarian regime, saying the campaign threatens to heighten tensions with the North. However, activists went ahead Thursday and sent about 10 huge helium balloons — each stuffed with some 10,000 flyers — across the heavily fortified border.

Thursday's leaflets criticize Kim's autocratic rule and call on North Koreans to rise up against his regime. "Your 'great' leader's last days are approaching. The dictator has collapsed from illness," one leaflet says.

The activists — many of them NK defectors — say their hope is that North Koreans will pick up the leaflets printed on vinyl paper and realize their government has been lying to them. The leaflets are among the most direct means of reaching ordinary North Koreans since their access to the outside world is strictly regulated by the government. Several defectors to the South have said the flyers prompted them to plot their defections.

The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of propaganda warfare — including broadcasts by radio and loudspeaker and messages printed on leaflets. However, the South Korean government says it cannot ban people from sending the leaflets themselves because of laws protecting freedom of speech.

[International Herald Tribune]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama administration to engage North Korea directly

The Korea Herald reports that the Obama administration will engage North Korea directly without preconditions to persuade the communist state to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

According to the report, Obama will send a prominent figure as his special envoy to Pyongyang soon after his inauguration on January 20 to prepare for a possible visit there himself to make a breakthrough in the on-and-off multilateral nuclear talks that began in 2003.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

South Korea to legally bar activists from sending leaflets into North Korea

The South Korean Unification Ministry said that the government is seeking legal means to bar the country's activists from sending propaganda leaflets across the border to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said the move is part of Seoul' s efforts to rekindle the chilled inter-Korean ties, as DPRK officials intensify their protests against the leaflets they claim are defamatory of their leader and regime.

North Korea has demanded the South Korean government to take measures to stop the leaflets spreading into DRPK territory.


Monday, November 17, 2008

South Korea would welcome Obama meeting with Kim Jong Il

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Sunday he would "welcome" and "support" a meeting between President-elect Barack Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il if Obama were to take such a step after taking office.

In an interview with CNN's Alina Cho at the Group of 20 financial summit in Washington, Lee said that when he spoke with Obama after the U.S. presidential election, Obama promised to consult with South Korea before taking any major action on North Korea.

In response to a question at a presidential debate, Obama said he would meet without preconditions during the first year of his administration with leaders of several nations whose governments have been at odds with the United States, including North Korea.

Lee told CNN he has high expectations for Obama, calling him "the right leader at the right time." He said any damage done in recent years to U.S. global leadership may be because the country relied too heavily on "hard power," and that he believes Obama will be effective in utilizing "soft power."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

North Korea stokes another crisis

North Korea appears to be testing the will of South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, while looking forward to a cozy working relationship with the incoming US administration of president-elect Barack Obama.

That is the optimistic scenario as the North runs through a catalogue of measures, symbolic and substantive, all geared to force South Korea's conservative president towards softening his seemingly hardline stance on the North.

The pessimistic scenario, as the North prepares to close its border with South Korea and sets new conditions on inspections of its nuclear facilities, is that a cabal of militarists is taking control in North Korea at an extremely critical juncture in which leader Kim Jong-il is too ill to rule effectively.

Whichever theory is correct, North Korean strategists seem to have adopted a policy of steadily escalating confrontation that began with insulting rhetoric aimed at Lee for talking tough about verifying North Korea's compliance with an agreement to disable its nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

Washington's problem in the eight years of George W Bush's presidency was how to mesh his initially hardline outlook with the "Sunshine" policy of reconciliation initiated by Kim Dae-jung. Now the question is whether Obama will want to go along with the conservative outlook of Lee.

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What about North Korea terrifies South Korea, China, and the USA

What terrifies South Koreans more than North Korean missiles is North Korean refugees pouring south when North Korea falls.

The Chinese, for their part, have nightmare visions of millions of North Korean refugees heading north over the Yalu River into Manchuria.

North Korea worries about China. The Chinese have always had a greater interest in North Korea’s geography—with its additional outlets to the sea close to Russia—than they have in the long-term survival of Kim Jong Il’s regime.

A meltdown of North Korea could face the American military with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II. “It could be the mother of all humanitarian relief operations,” Army Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell told me.

On one day, a semi-starving population of 23 million people would be Kim Jong Il’s responsibility; on the next, it would be the U.S. military’s, which would have to work out an arrangement with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (among others) about how to manage the crisis.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly]

Friday, November 14, 2008

North Korean Refugee film previews at U.K. Parliament

On the Border,” a documentary on North Korean refugees, previewed at the Houses of Parliament in London on Thursday.

The preview, co-hosted by European activist group Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Lord David Alton, was attended by over 40 people, including 10 MPs, human rights organizations, and the press.

The documentary shown was a 25-minute abridged English version edited by the BBC from the original four parts, each 50 minutes long. Viewers were gripped by scenes of trafficking of North Korean women, drug smuggling by North Korean soldiers and North Korean refugees’ crossing the border.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When North Korea falls - the next military nightmare

In 1980, 40 percent of North Korean combat forces were deployed south of Pyongyang near the DMZ.

In 2003, more than 70 percent were.

Given that North Korea’s army of 1.2 million soldiers has been increasingly deployed toward the South Korean border, the Korean peninsula looms as potentially the next military nightmare when Kim Jong-il is gone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Power shift underway in North Korea?

The brother-in-law of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il has become even more powerful since Kim fell sick, officials and analysts say, with some believing he is effectively standing in for the supreme leader. (Tokyo Broadcasting System, citing a US intelligence source, said the 66-year-old suffered a second stroke in late October.)

The influence of Jang Song-Taek has become greater than ever since Kim was reportedly hit by a stroke, Cheong Seong-Chang, of South Korea's private Sejong Institute think-tank, said Tuesday. "Jang is apparently in charge of receiving orders from Kim and channeling them (to state agencies)," he told AFP.

A senior South Korean intelligence official went further, saying Jang was acting like a stand-in in day-to-day state affairs. The intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Jang, 62, is now in full charge of the security and police agencies including the dreaded secret police. "That's why people say Jang is in effect number two in terms of real power in the North. For Chairman Kim, the most trustworthy person at a time of ill health is Jang, the husband of his sister," the official said.

Analysts said Jang's new powers do not necessarily mean he is in line to take over. Cheong of the Sejong Institute did not believe he is acting as a stand-in and said the extra powers could easily be taken away depending on the state of Kim's health or on a whim. "It's better to say Chairman Kim is ruling through Jang than Jang is ruling the North," former unification minister Chung Se-Hyun said.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Film “Crossing” on North Korean refugees Oscars choice

The film “Crossing” has been selected as the Korean submission for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Oscars, to be held February 22 in Hollywood.

The film is based on the true story of 25 North Korean refugees who stormed through the gates of the Spanish Embassy in Beijing back in 2002. Directed by Kim Tae-kyun and starring Cha In-pyo, the drama focuses on a North Korean father and son who individually cross over into China but struggle to find each other.

“Crossing” will compete against 67 other international contenders, with the five nominees being announced on Jan. 22 next year.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Concentration camps in North Korea

Satellite images show the concentration camps in valleys tucked between mountain ranges in North Korea . Former prisoners say the camps are encircled by high-voltage electrified fences and have schools, barracks and work sites.

“Inmates there don’t even have time to try to catch and eat rats,” North Korean defector An Myeong-chul said in a recent interview in Seoul.

An said he served as a guard and driver at four camps before defecting in 1994. If a female inmate got pregnant, he said, she and her lover would be shot to death publicly. Then, An said, prison guards would cut open her womb, remove the fetus and bury it or feed it to guard dogs.

If babies are born many are killed, sometimes before the mother’s eyes, defectors say.

[Taipei Times]

North Korea prepares for dialogue with Obama Administration

Barack Obama's election heralds a new era for the two Koreas, a pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo said as analysts began gauging the new U.S. administration. North Korean diplomat Ri Gun said Pyongyang is prepared for whatever policy changes the Obama administration makes. “We will have dialogue if (the U.S.) seeks dialogue. If it seeks isolation, we will stand against it,” he said Thursday in New York in comments shown in Seoul on YTN television.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was confident Obama will push forward with a policy of negotiating with “belligerent, exiled” North Korea to abide by its promise to disarm the peninsula of nuclear weapons. During his campaign, Obama sought to distance himself from hard-line tactics and emphasized his willingness to hold direct talks with the North including possibly meeting with authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il.

Analyst Hong Hyun-ik of the Sejong Institute called it an “openhearted policy” that has faith Pyongyang could be convinced to give up its nuclear ambitions if its concerns are addressed. Under Obama, “relations between the United States and North Korea could improve at a much faster pace than we expected,” he said.

The deputy of Washington envoy Christopher Hill and North Korean diplomat Ri Gun discussed a way to verify North Korea's nuclear declaration, energy assistance and disablement of the North's nuclear facilities, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Friday.

He said Hill's deputy, Sung Kim, and Ri also met for talks that Wood described as substantive, serious and focused on “how to move the six-party process forward.” Wood provided no other details of the talks.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Defectors tell of North Korea abuses

Offenses meriting banishment to a North Korean prison camp include everything from disparaging North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to trying to flee the country, defectors say.

Former prisoner Jung said he spent three years in Camp No. 15 in Yodok, about 110km northeast of the capital, Pyongyang , on charges of spying for South Korea . Jung, who was working for a state-run trading company, claims the charges were fabricated by security agents seeking promotion. After months of torture, Jung said he acknowledged the charge. By then he had lost nearly 36kg.

At Yodok, Jung said, the 400 inmates in his section subsisted on 0.5kg of corn each — the equivalent of one medium-size can daily — while toiling at mines, farms and factories for 13 to 15 hours a day. Many died of hunger and diseases brought on by malnutrition, he said. Some managed to trap vermin and insects.

“People eat rats and snakes. They were the best food to recover our health,” said Jung, 46, adding he still suffers from ulcers, headaches and back pain.

One inmate, Choe Kwang-ho, sneaked away from his work for 15 minutes to pick fruit. He was executed, his mouth stuffed full of gravel to stop him protesting, Jung recalled. “I still can’t forget his emotionless face,” he said.

Life at the four other camps was even worse, Jung said. A former North Korean prison guard said only two inmates have ever escaped from the camps known as “total control zones.”

[ Taipei Times]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama and the North Korea problem

The universal expectation is a different tone under President Obama.

Among the challenges, North Korea. Kim Jong Il, the leader of the world's weakest nuclear power is in uncertain health. With no obvious succession plans and with recent bellicose threats to resume a nuclear program, North Korea will require close watching.

The six-party process that draws in North Korea's four neighbors, plus the United States, will remain the strategic platform, with China the key player in nudging Pyongyang along.

Meanwhile, China, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian export-driven nations will be nudging the new U.S. President to do what will be his first priority anyway: fix the U.S. economy.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

North Korean weapon technology intercepted to Iran?

A senior official confirmed press accounts that last August India turned back - at the request of the United States - a North Korean plane that had sought to cross Indian airspace bound for Iran.

The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal said U.S. officials suspected the plane, owned by the North Korean state airline, carried advanced weapons hardware such as long-range missile components.

The United States has long accused North Korea of selling missile technology to countries like Iran, Syria, and Libya. Such activity is to be accounted for, and ended, under the six-party accord.

This revelation comes to light as meetings are scheduled between a senior U.S. diplomat and a North Korean foreign ministry delegation on Thursday in New York to discuss the next steps for the six-party accord. And after the Bush administration removed North Korea from the U.S. list of State sponsors of terrorism.

[VOA News]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Famine emerging in North Korea

North Korea is experiencing its worst food shortage since the 1990s famine.

Painting a picture of a population in distress, the Los Angeles Times reporter saw people combing through the grass looking for edible weeds. “Sprawled on the lawn outside a bathhouse, poorly dressed people lie on the grass, either with no better place to go or no energy to do so at 10 a.m. on a weekday,” it said.

Aid agencies are quoted as saying children were suffering from kwashiorkor, or hunger belly, the swollen abdomen and other symptoms associated with extreme malnutrition. “Hospitals complained to aid workers of rising infant mortality and declining birth weight,” the daily said. “The number of patients with digestive disorders caused largely by poor nutrition rose 20 percent to 40 percent.”

A recent survey of 375 North Korean households by the World Food Programme showed that more than 70 percent fill the shortage with weeds collected from fields. Most adults have started skipping lunch, reducing their diet to two meals a day, according to another survey.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, November 03, 2008

North Korean Defector, Girl Boxer, Choi Hyun-mi

A girl whose family fled North Korea is breathing a hint of new life into boxing in South Korea by winning a world championship at age 17.

Choi Hyun-mi and her parents and an older brother fled North Korea for a better life only to run into prejudice. South Koreans view the approximately 10,000 refugees a bit like poor relations, less skilled and less urbane than the South’s highly educated citizens.

Ms. Choi’s father -- who had been a successful businessman in the North -- has been unable to find work in South Korea, and the family has been reduced to living mainly on government handouts to the refugees.

Government scouts in North Korea detected Ms. Choi’s potential when she was 13. In 2004, her father, Choi Chul-soo, decided that the family should flee the North’s rampant repression and poverty. He had gotten a taste of the freedoms other countries offered while on business trips abroad.

From China, the family was smuggled into Vietnam. After four months there hiding in hotel rooms, the family was granted asylum by the South Korean government and flown to Seoul.

“I sometimes miss my life in North Korea and wonder whether I made the right choice,” Mr. Choi said. One bright spot is his daughter’s budding career. In September 2007, she turned professional. Raising her gloved hand into the air, she says, “My parents gave up everything in North Korea to give their children a better life in the South. Boxing is my way to prove that my parents made the right decision.”

[New York Times]

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Henry Kissinger and William Perry to negotiate with North Korea?

The next U.S. president should send former White House officials Henry Kissinger and William Perry (a former defense secretary) to negotiate with North Korea, a think tank says. The non-partisan National Committee on American Foreign Policy says the men could help end the stalemate over Pyongyang's nuclear program, The Korea Times reported Saturday.

The New York think tank's proposal will be officially announced at the end of a close-door discussion by the committee next week that will be attended by North Korean officials, Perry, Kissinger and the current chief American nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, among others.

The proposal calls for North Korean officials to complete a verifiable denuclearization, and in turn Washington would offer a security guarantee as well as other economic and political concessions.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

North Korea refugees suffer abuse and torture

Many refugees from communist North Korea face abuses including torture and other violence during their perilous flight, UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights Vitit Muntarbhorn said on Friday.

Muntarbhorn said, “North Korean refugees often land up in very dangerous situations before arriving in South Korea, and many suffer from stressful experiences before reaching a safe haven.”

Many are “victims of multiple abuses, including torture and other forms of violence,” the Thai academic said. “Their psychological and other scars, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, run deep. This results in the need for long-term support for social recovery and reintegration.”


Friday, October 31, 2008

So what is happening with Kim Jong-il?

North Korea's elite turned out for the funeral of Pak Song-chol, 95, the last of what the state considers its great, original communist revolutionaries.

Telling it seems is the fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il failed to attend the funeral, of one of the most senior members of the communist state, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said.

Kim has attended funerals for lower ranking members of the communist state before and his absence from this week's funeral of an old-guard cadre who served with his father raises questions if he is fit enough to appear in public.

Pak Song-chol had been awarded the title of Hero of the Republic and Kim Il Sung Order, the highest order of the DPRK, and the Order of the National Flag First Class, the Order of Freedom and Independence First Class and many other orders and medals for the distinguished feats performed by him for the Party and the revolution, the country and its people.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Defectors gather to tell of North Korea abuses

The condemned inmate, his body torn apart by guard dogs, slumped unconscious as the three executioners fired. The bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners forced to watch.

His offense — trying to escape from the remote prison camp in North Korea.

“People were seized with fear, but no one could say anything,” former prisoner Jung Gyoung-il said, recalling the 2001 execution. “That’s worse than the way animals are slaughtered.”

For a decade, North Korea has denied such accounts from defectors and South Korea has shied away from them to maintain good relations with its wartime rival. But now, under new President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea is investigating alleged abuses, including the prison camp system.

South Korea’s state-run human rights watchdog is interviewing defectors and is hosting a two-day international forum on the issue this week.

[Taipei Times]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

South Korean spy: Kim Jong Il still running North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appears to have recovered enough from a stroke to run the country without difficulty, South Korea's spy chief told lawmakers Tuesday.

Kim is "not physically perfect" but has no trouble carrying out his duties, South Korea's spy chief, Kim Sung-ho, told legislators, according to opposition lawmaker Park Young-sun of the Democratic Party.

The National Intelligence Service chief also said the agency believes Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, recently traveled to France. Japan's Fuji Television reported Monday that the son met last week in Paris with a neurosurgeon who later left for North Korea. The account could not be verified.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More North Korean Whining

Last week, North Korea threatened to cut all ties with South Korea, saying the new conservative government is a U.S. toady engaged in reckless confrontation with its neighbor.

The North's warning, issued in a commentary carried in the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, said if the South "keeps to the road of reckless confrontation with the (North), defaming its dignity despite its repeated warnings, this will compel it to make a crucial decision including the total freeze of the North-South relations."

South Korea has played down the threat. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said, "There is no change in the government's intention to improve South-North relations through dialogue."

Basically, North Korea has been unhappy with South Korea's new President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February with a pledge to get tough on the rival state. By contrast, Lee's two liberal predecessors had aggressively sought reconciliation by providing massive aid to the impoverished nation.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Koreas hold talks, while more anti-North leaflets planned

Military officers from the divided Koreas held talks on Monday aimed at easing tension, while South Korean activists are meanwhile planning to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North despite heated protests from the communist state.

North Korea asked for the meeting last week, saying it wanted to discuss military hotlines, but officials in the South expect the North to use the forum to complain about the leaflets. (The two sides have set up hotlines in order to prevent hostilities along one of the world's most militarized borders from escalating into fighting.)

The North's official cabinet newspaper said last week the leaflets were "getting on the nerves of the army and people of the DPRK (North Korea)," and could lead to fighting.

South Korean groups have been sending the leaflets, which travel by balloon into the North, for years. Analysts said the recent wave appears to have touched a nerve because they mention a taboo subject in the North -- the health of leader Kim Jong-il.

The 100,000 leaflets to be released, printed on plastic sheets and in water-proof ink, will carry the names of South Korean civilians and prisoners of war believed to be held in the North, and a family tree that supposedly maps Kim's relationships with the several women who bore his children.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

North Korea in effect recognized as a nuclear power

U.S. nuclear negotiations with North Korea, led by chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill, returned to their point of departure after several years and many detours.

The general assessment of the Washington-Pyongyang negotiations is that North Korea was in effect recognized as a nuclear power when the U.S. removed it from the list of states sponsoring terrorism with that status.

Launched vigorously by the Bush administration branding North Korea part of an “axis of evil," it ends not with a bang but a whimper. The biggest cause, according to the American media, was to save at least something after the administration took such heavy blows in Iraq and Afghanistan and a full hit in the financial crisis at the end of its term.

[Excerpt of an article by Kim Dae-joong, Chosun Ilbo]

Japan being squeezed out of leverage at North Korea talks

The five countries participating with North Korea in the six-party talks over its nuclear arms development agreed in February 2007 to provide energy assistance equal to 1 million tons of heavy oil. Japan had been asked to shoulder a share of about 200,000 tons.

The United States is now discussing the option of asking several countries, including Australia, to provide energy assistance to North Korea equivalent to the level of aid Japan has postponed, citing the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents not being resolved.

If Japan's share of the energy aid is provided by other countries, Japan will lose one of its important tools for pushing North Korea to resolve the abduction issue.

[Yomiuri Shimbun]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

North Korean defectors live secretively under Japan's watch

Almost daily, a batch of bento boxed meals is quietly carried past the Chinese sentry at the gates of the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang, China, for “guests” in a drab two-story building located deep within the compound.
The guests are defectors from North Korea who have sought refuge inside the compound.

The Japanese Embassy in Beijing and the consulate-general in Shenyang have been forced to take in dozens of defectors who have barged through gates and scaled walls seeking refuge.

According to a government source, defections have risen since the late 1990s, soon after famine gripped North Korea. Japan has taken in more than 160 defectors, many of whom are Japanese or ethnic Koreans who emigrated to North Korea from Japanese soil. Beijing officially insists that no refugee situation exists between China and North Korea.

The situation forces the Japanese diplomatic corps to act with secrecy and, as a result, the government has yet to seriously debate how to deal with the problem.

Both Tokyo and Beijing have bitter memories of an ill-fated attempt by five North Korean defectors to seek refuge at the Shenyang Consulate-General in 2002, an incident which drew an international outcry. Japanese officials watched impotently as Chinese security officials hauled the defectors from the gates of the compound and took them into custody.

[Asahi Shimbun]

Friday, October 24, 2008

North Korea's human rights and food crisis

North Korea is using public executions to intimidate its citizens and has imposed restrictions on long distance calls to block the spread of news about rising food shortages, the U.N. investigator on human rights in the reclusive nation said.

Vitit Muntarbhorn told the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee that North Korea has also imposed more severe sanctions on people seeking to leave the country and those forcibly returned, and still detains "very large numbers" of people in camps.

"Particularly disconcerting is the use of public executions to intimidate the public," he said. "This is despite various law reforms in 2004 and 2005, which claim to have improved the criminal law framework and related sanctions."

He cited the "great disparity" in the access to food by the country's elite and the rest of the population, nonexistent political participation, rigid control over the media and those professing religious beliefs, and the persecution of dissidents.
Muntarbhorn also said there is a "very, very serious problem this year with food."

His remarks coincided with a warning from the head of the U.N. food agency in North Korea that millions face a food crisis. Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program's country director, said some areas in the northeast are facing "a humanitarian emergency" and about 2.7 million people on the west coast will also run out of food in October.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

North Korean defectors vow more propaganda leaflets

South Korean activists, led by Choi Sung Young, say they plan to float about 100,000 leaflets into communist North Korea next week, despite threats from Pyongyang that to do so threatens a military confrontation.

The leaflets contain messages criticizing North leader Kim Jong Il, describing him as a murderous dictator and calling for an end to his rule.

Mr Choi said his group and its partner organization of former North Korean defectors, the Fighters for Free North Korea (FFNK), had another 200,000 leaflets ready to fly northward at a later date.

The FFNK released 10 large balloons loaded with 100,000 leaflets from a fishing boat near the border in the Yellow Sea on October 10.


What else is in the North Korean defectors’ leaflets

After releasing a balloon from a small fishing boat off Korea's west coast, North Korean defector Park Sang-hak says, "I am trying to tell the truth to North Koreans who do not even know they are living under dictatorship."

The black-and-white leaflets urge North Koreans to rise up against Kim Jong Il. Also featured on the leaflet: a diagram of Kim's alleged romantic relationships, including his wife and eight other women and their children - a tactic designed to encourage traditional North Koreans to question their leader's morals.

Some leaflets contain $1 bills or 10-yuan notes from China (worth $1.50) - an amount believed to surpass the average monthly wage in North Korea.

Suzanne Scholte, chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition in the U.S., says to prevent people from reading the leaflets, Pyongyang warns its citizens: “If you pick up this pamphlet, it will burn your hands,” citing accounts from North Koreans who defected to the South.

One defector, writer Kang Chol-hwan, said the leaflets serve as a wake-up call to North Koreans who are brainwashed to believe they live in a paradise. “South Korea's leaflets show North Koreans that they can live well in the South,” Kang said.

Many were taught at school that Kang and another man pictured on the leaflets were executed after being caught trying to flee the North. But the photo on that leaflet showed that Kang, who later wrote a best-selling memoir, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” about his childhood in a North Korean prison camp, was alive and well in South Korea.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

North Korean official daily accuses S. Korea groups of distributing anti-DPRK leaflets

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s official Minju Joson daily on Tuesday accused South Korean organizations of distributing anti-DPRK leaflets in some areas of the country.

The newspaper accused the organizations of dropping anti-DPRK leaflets in Kaesong Industrial Zone, the Mt. Kumgang resort, vast areas of South and North Hwanghae provinces and Kangwon Province along the (MDL).

It warned that this "psychological warfare" may trigger off military conflicts between the two sides along the Military Demarcation Line.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kim Jong Il’s promoted view of life

Lest we forget, quoting KCNA, the North Korean Central news agency, Kim Jong Il’s promoted view of life:

“The Korean people live and strive in a revolutionary manner: ‘Let us live not for today but for tomorrow!’ “General Secretary Kim Jong Il implanted this revolutionary view of life in the hearts of the Korean people during the ‘Arduous March.’ The aphorism means that a man should live with a determination to dedicate his all to the future of the motherland and the happiness of the posterity though he does not enjoy the pleasure in his generation.

“Laudable successes give the Korean people confidence and optimism that the long arduous march will certainly entail prosperity and happiness and arouse them more powerfully to the cause of building a great, prosperous and powerful nation. The lofty outlook on life is well illustrated by the fact that the whole country is replete with the habit of optimistic and emotional life.

“Under the slogan ‘Push ahead through the thorny path in high spirits’, [North Koreans] lead a confidence-and-optimism-filled life while conducting mass cultural work and mass physical culture and sports activities. The revolutionary view of life is an ideological and spiritual source that makes it possible to bring the construction of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist country to victory.”


Monday, October 20, 2008

North Korea buys weapons not food

North Korea has bought weapons worth $65 million over the past five years despite severe food shortages, says a South Korean lawmaker. Kwon Young-Se said North Korea had previously spent about $13 million a year.

Mr Kwon, of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, said his information came from intelligence sources, although this was not confirmed.

North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world, and about a quarter of its national income is believed to be spent on the military.

About 1.7 million people make up the armed forces in a country with a population of 23 million.

Correspondents say the North has not asked for food aid from Seoul this year, and has been bitterly critical of the conservative government which came to power in South Korea in February.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

South Korea intelligence says no unusual signs in North Korea

South Korea's government and private analysts questioned media reports that North Korea was poised to make an important announcement possibly concerning the health of its leader, Kim Jong Il, or a power shift in the communist nation.

Kim has been the focus of intense speculation since he disappeared from public view in mid August. U.S. and South Korean officials suspect he suffered a stroke and had brain surgery. North Korea has flatly denied there is anything wrong with its 66-year-old leader.

On Sunday, Japan's Sankei newspaper reported that the Japanese government had information North Korea would issue an "important announcement" on Monday and that it could be about Kim's death or a government change induced by a coup. North Korea will also ban foreigners from entering the country starting Monday, the Sankei said.

The report came a day after Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, said North Korea had ordered its diplomats abroad to be on standby for an important announcement.

South Korean Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said it has not detected any unusual signs across the heavily fortified border with North Korea such as a strengthened security posture or an increase in telephone calls. The National Intelligence Service — South Korea's main spy agency — also said it could not confirm the Japanese reports.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Food is the real crisis in North Korea

Apart from the focus on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, another crisis is unfolding in Asia's secretive Stalinist state: a worsening food shortage that appears to be the worst food crisis since the 1990s.

Erica Kang, director of Seoul-based human rights group Good Friends, says that a "few hundred thousand people are in danger or at risk of famine" in North Korea. Marcus Noland, an expert on the North Korean economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, believes that "hunger deaths are almost surely returning."

Anecdotal reports leaking out of the country suggest life for some North Koreans is returning to the dark days of the 1990s famines. Families have been scavenging for wild roots and plants to supplement meager diets. Many children have stopped attending school because of hunger, while their parents are choosing to spend their days searching for food rather than show up for work.

The World Food Program has stepped up its relief effort in recent months. The agency plans to provide food in coming weeks for more than six million North Koreans — about a quarter of the population. In certain parts of the country, particularly the northeast, the situation is "reaching a level of humanitarian emergency," says Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP's country director for North Korea in Pyongyang.


Friday, October 17, 2008

North Korean defectors struggle to build a new life in South Korea

Building a new life in South Korea has become harder for North Korean refugees since the government cut cash grants paid to help the settlement process from 28 million won ($24,000) to 10 million won in 2004. They were cut again to 6 million won last year.

Reverend Kim Sung Won, who runs the Great Vision School for North Koreans outside Seoul, said one student left for the U.K. last year, explaining he wanted to live in a place where he wouldn't be discriminated against.

"I thought all I had to do was bring them to South Korea and things would all be okay," said Kim, who helped more than 400 North Koreans escape to the south before he opened the school with seven teenagers in 2004. Kim may be forced to close the school because of dwindling public and private financial support.

The young North Koreans in the south "are the future of a unified Korea, who will help bridge the gap between the two countries," Kim said. "People's brutal treatment of these youngsters just goes to show how South Korea is so not ready for unification."


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Accompany North Korea refugees escaping to China, Laos and Thailand

A video posted on YouTube documents a family of North Korean refugees escaping to China, and then traveling to Laos and Thailand, in search of freedom.

A 23-minute, true-life defector documentary peppered with camera phone footage.

Watch Video of North Korean family escaping

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

North Korean female spy sentenced to 5 years

North Korean woman spy, Won Jeong Hwa, who came to South Korea claiming to be a defector and allegedly used sex to secure military secrets was jailed for five years on Wednesday.

'Taking all the evidence into account, the accused is guilty on all charges,' Judge Shin Yong-Seok said.

The court in Suweon city, just south of Seoul, found Won had collected information on key military installations and passed it on to North Korean agents in China.

She was also found guilty of involvement in the kidnapping of a South Korean businessman from China to her hardline communist homeland in 1999, and of trying to trace the whereabouts of a top defector living in the South, Hwang Jang Yop.

North Korea has denied she was its agent, calling her 'human scum' and describing the trial as a 'threadbare charade' orchestrated to heighten tensions.

Her stepfather Kim, 63, went on trial on October 1 and will next appear on October 22.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

North Korean defectors drop leaflets

The North Korean trembled when he spotted the leaflet that had fluttered down from a balloon. He snatched it, stuffed it into his pocket and ran to the bathroom to read it.

Park Sang-hak says he read that slip of vinyl - which bragged about the good life North Korean defectors were enjoying in South Korea - more than 15 times in disbelief. Fifteen years later, Park is now on the other side of the border. He defected to South Korea in 1999 and now helps launch propaganda balloons filled with leaflets denouncing the Stalinist regime.

The 40-foot balloons - fueled by hydrogen and shaped like missiles - are the most direct way to reach people living in one of the world's most isolated nations. Few North Koreans have access to cell phones or the Internet, and millions have no way of getting in contact with relatives living in South Korea.

Activists and defectors in South Korea continue to send balloons filled with leaflets across the border, despite pleas from Seoul to stop at a time when inter-Korean relations are at their lowest point in years. The activists hope to spark a rebellion to overthrow Kim Jong Il

Park, 40, says he's an ardent advocate of the propaganda campaigns. “I am trying to tell the truth to North Koreans who do not even know they are living under dictatorship.”


Monday, October 13, 2008

Reaction from China and Japan: North Korea off Terror List

The China Daily cites Chinese experts stating that removing North Korea from its terror list reflects the Bush administration's strong wish to seek a final settlement of the issue before President Bush steps down.

"The US administration has been working on this issue for years and doesn't want to see it remain unresolved when Bush leaves office early next year," Fan Jishe, a senior researcher on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said. Given these circumstances, removing Pyongyang from the terror blacklist was Washington's only choice, he said.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japanese officials were caught off guard by the timing of the U.S. decision on Saturday to remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

It also dealt a blow to Prime Minister Taro Aso, who was informed of the matter by Washington just 30 minutes before the announcement.

It predicts that the U.S. action will likely complicate efforts to achieve progress on the thorny issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang and even shake Tokyo's trust in Washington, its key ally.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eight North Koreans detained for illegal entry

Thai immigration police have detained eight North Koreans -- one man and seven women -- after they crossed the Mekong River by boat from Laos. The would-be transmit party have been charged them of entering Thailand illegally.

More than 1,500 North Koreans were arrested for illegal entry to Thailand in 2007, and police also apprehended three guides and seized three Laotian speed boats used in transporting the Koreans.

[Bangkok Post]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It’s official – U.S. takes North Korea off terror list

The United States on Saturday removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack said the United States and North Korea had reached agreement "on an number of important verification measures" of North Korea's nuclear program. These include participation by all members of the Six Party Talks, the role of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, access to all of North Korea's nuclear facilities and what procedures would be used in the verification process.

The official said verification of North Korea's statements about its nuclear program will start right away, and the North Koreans will immediately reverse actions they have taken in recent weeks to restart their reactor and reprocessing facilities that produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The question of removing North Korea from the terror list had been under intense deliberations in the Bush administration over the past several days, since the U.S. point man in the negotiations, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, had returned from talks in North Korea.

South Korea’s collective shrug on North Korea

At a coffee bar in downtown Seoul, Kim Seong-hun, 28, said he was too busy with his 12-hour-a-day job as an official at the national police agency to bother about [news from North Korea.] "We're living a stressed, pressured life in Seoul and there are lots of more fun things we want to talk about," he said over a cup of iced coffee. "It just doesn't have anything to do with our real lives."

After decades of separation from their brethren in the north, South Koreans have become blase, often even indifferent, about developments there. A recent poll showed that just 3 per cent named North Korea as their main concern.

North Korea fatigue is especially acute among the young, who barely seem to think about the repressive regime that lies just an hour's drive north of the teeming South Korean capital.

"To them, it is almost another planet," said Tim Peters, an American who heads Helping Hands Korea, a charity that works for North Korean refugees.

He said that southerners are so cut off from the North that they are often "dumbfounded" when he tells them about North Korean human-rights abuses from torture to prison-camp abuses. "I marvel at the depth of their ignorance."

As South Koreans have become more urbanized, globalized and wealthy, northerners seem more and more like distant country cousins, out of sight and out of mind. The per capita gross domestic product in the North is estimated at $1,900; in the South it is more than 10 times that.


Friday, October 10, 2008

North Korea harvest could be 30% below average

Early estimates predict this year's harvest will be as much as 30% below average, due to a lack of fertilizers, which means the food shortage in 2009 could well be worse.

There are no signs that Kim Jong Il's regime is making any efforts to resolve North Korea's food problem at home. In fact, government policy has been responsible for the crisis.

Part of the way North Koreans coped with the crippling famine in the 1990s was that food distribution, usually dominated by the state, became somewhat privatized. The regime allowed farmers' markets to pop up around the country, and their emergence gave people an alternative source of food.

But in 2005, the government tried to reassert its control, broke up the markets and confiscated grain from the farmers, which led to a fall in output. Then in 2007, severe flooding delivered another blow to the agriculture sector; by this year, the country's shortfall of grain was the worst since 2001.

The regime's leadership "would rather have a proportion of their population starve to death" than pursue reform, says Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Pyongyang believes market reform "would risk ideological and cultural infiltration, which is how they see the Soviet system going down."


Thursday, October 09, 2008

S. Korea May Punish North Korean Refugees Who Seek Asylum Abroad

Refugees who risked their lives fleeing repression, famine and the threat of torture in North Korea may now be pursued by authorities from another country: South Korea.

Authorities in Seoul have warned they may punish North Korean refugees who pocketed money meant to help them settle in the south and then sought asylum overseas.

The issue of whether to punish North Korean refugees who turn their backs on South Korea highlights the various difficulties refugees face when they try to build new lives in the south. One of the biggest problems is finding jobs, and it could worsen as economic growth slows.

Says Lee In Hee, a spokeswoman at online recruiting site Career. "It's very difficult for companies to hire defectors when they obviously lag behind South Koreans in their ability."


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

North Korea spy awaits sentencing on Oct 15th

Won Jeong-hwa, the 34-year-old North Korean native, was arrested during the summer along with her 63-year-old stepfather and accused of engaging in espionage and deceit for seven years after defecting to South Korea. Under questioning, she detailed for investigators a double life working for one of the world's most repressive regimes.

The case of Won, only the second North Korean spy to face trial here in the last decade, has riveted the South Korean public and embarrassed the nation's vaunted intelligence network.

After arriving in 2001 at Seoul's Incheon airport, Won was touted by South Korean authorities as a model defector and assigned to tour military bases to lecture troops on the evils of the Stalinist state. All the while, prosecutors said, she pursued her real agenda: collecting photos of military installations and weapons systems and keeping lists of North Korean defectors and personal data about Southern military officers.

[Some say] Won seriously damaged the cause of the 15,000 legitimate North Korean defectors now living in the South.

"There's already a deeply embedded reluctance by South Korean society to accept these people. Now there's an excuse for people to give in to their worst instincts," said Tim Peters, a Christian activist and founder of Helping Hands Korea, a defector support group.

"People may use this spy case in an amplified and exaggerated way to say: 'This is what we were afraid of. Let's put on the brakes and protect our economy rather than help those poor North Korean relatives sitting on our doorstep.' "

[L.A. Times]