Monday, June 30, 2008

On Humanitarian Relief to North Korea

Humanitarian relief organizations operate according to the principle of proportionality: the greatest aid to the greatest need.

[With respect to humanitarian relief to North Korea,] Good Friends quoted a figure of 30% of international food aid going to the military, 10% allocated to workers in the munitions industry, and 10% to the staff of Kim Il-sung holiday houses. (On the surface, this adds up to 50%. However, it turns out that Good Friends had lumped all international assistance in this figure, including Chinese bilateral aid that had no strings attached and cannot therefore be considered diversion. )

Given the DPRK's "military-first" policy, this kind of sleight of hand would not be surprising. But how well did the military and party cadres fare during [previous] food crisis?

Even under the military-first policy, the North Korean military has suffered severe shortages of food. In fact, as the 2004 report from Good Friends points out, hunger among the rank and file in the army presented a major social problem: the plunder of civilian stocks.

Party cadres, too, suffered during the famine. One high-level DPRK official told former top North Korean government adviser Hwang Jong-yop (before he defected) that 10% of those who died of famine-related causes in 1996 were cadre members, a figure that roughly matches the rate of party membership in North Korean society. This anecdotal evidence of hunger and malnutrition among soldiers and cadre suggests a more egalitarian distribution of food than alleged in human rights reports.

[Excerpt of article by John Feffer, co-director of FPIF]

Sunday, June 29, 2008

North Korea Nuclear Background

Bruce Cumings is a professor of history at the University of Chicago, and the author of several books on North Korea. Following are excerpts of an interview he did with “Democracy Now!”:

We nearly had a war in 1994, which forced the United States to negotiate directly with North Korea.

We had the Framework Agreement in 1994, which froze their plutonium reactor, kept it frozen for eight years. That was a great success, but the U.S. didn't hold up its side of the bargain to go ahead and normalize relations with North Korea, to provide light-water reactors as a substitute for the plutonium reactors, and eventually the North Koreans decided that we weren’t upholding the agreement, and they started their second enriched uranium program.

It’s important to understand that North Korea is a garrison state with a million men under arms. It has another several million who have served for long periods of time in the military. It’s been sanctioned since 1950, when the Korean War began.

It’s been isolated by the United States since the regime was formed in 1948. They are used to outside pressure. They’ve lived with it. And they continue to live with it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The North Korean Nuclear and Financial Squeeze

To appreciate the recent North Korean nuclear development, and U.S. leverage in its diplomacy over the issue, first one needs to understand a unit within the US Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), as explained in an ICH article by John McGlynn.

To understand what FinCEN does, [we go] back in history to September 2005, when the US Treasury Department, based on the investigatory work of FinCEN, sanctioned a small bank in Macau, which in turn got North Korea really upset.

On September 20, 2005 FinCEN issued a finding under Section 311 that Banco Delta Asia (BDA) was a "primary money laundering concern." BDA was alleged to have knowingly allowed its North Korean clients to use the bank to engage in deceptive financial practices and a variety of financial crimes (such as money laundering of profits from drug trafficking and counterfeit US $100 "supernotes").

By publicizing its allegations, FinCEN let the world know that BDA was now at risk of having all "correspondent relationships" with US banks severed, a disaster for any bank wanting to remain networked to the largest financial market in the world. Frightened BDA customers reacted by staging a run on the bank's assets. In the interest of self-preservation, BDA was forced to act. After a quick conference with Macau financial authorities the bank decided to freeze North Korean funds on deposit.

It just so happened that the day before the FinCEN finding was made public, the US and North Korea, working through the Six-Party talks process (also involving host China, Russia, South Korea and Japan), had formally agreed on a new diplomatic roadmap that promised to lead to a denuclearized and permanently peaceful Northeast Asia. But because of Treasury's BDA sanctions, North Korea was now labeled an international financial outlaw and the Six Party process stalled.

Other banks began severing their business ties with North Korea, leaving the country more isolated than ever from global commerce and finance. These other banks had no choice. Treasury repeatedly made clear that any bank that continued to do business with North Korea was a potential Patriot Act Section 311 target.

In anger, North Korea withdrew from the Six-Party process.

Treasury had come up with a way to go beyond governments to use the global banking sector to privatize banking sector sanctions against an entire country. Through a little extraterritorial legal arm-twisting of the international banking community the US was able to put "enormous pressure on the [North Korean] regime – even the most reclusive government depends on access to the international financial system" said [a Treasury official].

North Korea destroys nuclear reactor tower

North Korea destroyed a water cooling tower at a facility where officials acknowledge they extracted plutonium to build nuclear weapons. The massive implosion, which came at about 5pm local time Friday at the Yongbyon facility, was intended to be a powerful public symbol of a move to end nuclear activities.

"This is a very significant disablement step," the U.S. envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, said.

"This is a critical piece of equipment for the nuclear reactor," said analyst John Wolfsthal, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has been following North Korea since the 1980s. "Without this facility, the reactor can't operate and can't produce more plutonium for weapons."

North Korean officials turned over to China a 60-page declaration, written in English, that details several rounds of plutonium production at the Yongbyon plant dating back to 1986. In it, North Korea acknowledges producing roughly 40 kilograms of enriched plutonium -- enough for about seven nuclear bombs, according to the U.S. State Department.

In response, Bush said he would lift some U.S. sanctions against North Korea and remove the country from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. "The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang," Bush said. "We remain deeply concerned about North Korea's human rights abuses, uranium enrichment activities, nuclear testing and proliferation, ballistic missile programs and the threat it continues to pose to South Korea and its neighbors."

VideoWatch what's still unknown after Pyongyang's declaration »


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bush welcomes North Korea nuclear move

U.S. President George W. Bush, who once branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil," welcomed moves Thursday to remove itself from a U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.

North Korea Thursday handed over its long-awaited nuclear program declaration to officials from China, which led the six-nation talks that hammered out the conditions of the agreement.

The declaration is expected to contain details on North Korea's plutonium stockpile. North Korea will also continue preparations to publicly dismantle a controversial nuclear reactor -- key steps meant to ease international fears about nuclear activities in the Communist nation.

Bush said he will call for the lifting of sanctions against North Korea and move to take it off the terror list. But, he added, North Korea will have to end its nuclear activities in a "verifiable" way."The United States has no illusions about the regime in Pyongyang," Bush told reporters. "Yet we welcome today's development as one step of a multi-step process. … If North Korea continues to make the right choices, it can repair its relationship with the international community," he added.

VideoWatch a report on the step toward curbing N. Korea's nuclear activities »


Monday, June 23, 2008

Widespread deaths in famine-hit North Korea

Deaths from starvation are being reported in famine-hit North Korea, South Korean groups said today.

The Peace Foundation, a private think-tank, issued a statement by its leader Beomryun calling for urgent food aid. "The number of people dying of hunger is visibly increasing in the rural areas of Hwanghae provinces, with news about deaths by starvation heard across North Korea," said Beomryun, a Buddhist monk "The feared tragedy of massive deaths by famine has finally begun."

South Korean aid group Good Friends, which operates in North Korea, listed 26 famine-hit cities or counties, including 17 in North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are the main grain production region. "An average of two to four people are dying of hunger every day in each named North Korean county or city," a Good Friends spokesman said.

The unification ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said it could not immediately verify the claims by the groups, and intelligence authorities were cautious. "We have received no such report as the Peace Foundation or Good Friends have claimed," an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

[The Straits Times]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

China Persecution of North Koreans

Fleeing North Koreans - especially Christians - find that the Chinese are no big help in providing asylum the brutality and state-sanctioned killing in North Korea. While thousands of North Koreans seek asylum in China, it is believed by Human Rights Watch and other human-rights organizations that China actively contributes to the misery of North Koreans by arresting and forcibly repatriating the tens or hundreds of thousands of them.

Once returned to North Korea, they face abuse, mistreatment, torture, incarceration and sometimes even death. These victims include women, some with children, who may be in de facto marriages to Chinese men. Some of the worst torture and mistreatment is said to be perpetrated against North Korean Christians

Chinese government officials - no paragons of human rights - continue to routinely repatriate the North Koreans it finds, saying their plight is a "domestic matter" for North Korea. This is a violation of Beijing's duty as a party to the International Refugee Convention and Protocol: people who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home are not to be repatriated. The Chinese government goes as far as refusing to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border area in order to investigate complaints. This is a bold act designed to coverup the atrocities committed against North Koreans.

The North Korean government ranks among the world's most repressive, and it respects hardly any basic human rights, according to human-rights experts. The regime arrests and tortures its citizens arbitrarily and runs large-scale prison camps for those who are accused of having committed a political offense. The worst treatment by the North Korean government appears to be reserved for those who profess their Christianity, according to the human-rights group Open Doors.

[The Post Chronicle]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Missionary lost to North Korea

Kim Dong-shik, a U.S. permanent resident and Christian missionary was abducted in 2000 by North Korean agents in northeastern China and taken to North Korea for interrogation and imprisonment, according to testimony in South Korean courts.

The State Department has all but ignored the pleas of lawmakers and Kim's wife for greater attention to the case.

Kim, a South Korean who had trained as a missionary in the United States, was 53 years old at the time of his abduction and is now believed to be dead, according to his wife, Young-hwa "Esther" Chung Kim, who lives in Skokie, Ill. She said she received reports a year ago that her husband's health had deteriorated quickly as his weight dropped from 180 pounds to 75 pounds within a year of being taken to North Korea.

"He was given no food, only water," she said, adding that she was told his corpse remains in a restricted area controlled by the North Korean army.

In 2005, a South Korean court convicted an ethnic Korean man from China of helping North Korean agents kidnap Kim from Yanji, China. The trial revealed that an abduction team spent 10 months plotting the seizure, grabbing Kim in front of a restaurant when he got into a taxi. The taxi took him to another car, which brought him to the border.

[Washington Post]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

North Korean desperation and defection on film

Often cast as villains in Hollywood and wayward kin in South Korean movies, North Koreans have now taken on the atypical, and arguably more realistic, role of desperate souls caught in an oppressive regime in the movie “The Crossing” and the TV documentary "On the Border."

"Most South Koreans are not oblivious, but indifferent, to what's happening right across the border," says Kay Seok, a researcher with the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.

"For the last 10 years… the words 'North Korean defector' and 'refugee' were not really welcome or familiar to people in Korea," said Lee Hak-joon, producer of "On the Border."

Left-leaning South Korean presidents over the past 10 years had largely avoided any criticism of North Korea's human rights record fearing they may antagonizing their prickly neighbor and endanger a so-called "Sunshine Policy" of engagement. But a new conservative leader who became president earlier this year has called on his communist neighbor to clean up its act, which may make it easier for the feature film and documentary on defectors to find receptive audiences.

"(They are) being released in a more conducive environment, because for previous governments, defectors have been an irritant to North-South relations," Peter Beck of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told Reuters by phone.

[From Reuters article by Ben Weller]

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Screening of North Korean Refugee "Crossing" in Los Angeles

The first feature film touching upon the North Korean human rights and refugee crisis, "Crossing", is slated for theatrical release in South Korea on June 26.

If you’re in southern California, you have the opportunity to attend a private screening of Crossing on Thursday, June 19 at 7:00 pm, as presented by LiNK, KoreAm Jounral, and ImaginAsian Entertainment.

Time: 7:00 pm
Location: ImaginAsian Center, 251 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

RSVP with name, affiliation, and reference:

*Seating is limited and RSVP's will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

UN food inspectors granted access to North Korea

Staff from the UN World Food Program (WFP) have been given rare access to the North Korean countryside to assess the country's food shortages. The visit is a condition for an American donation of 500,000 tonnes of grain.

North Korea is estimated to have a shortfall of 1.6 million tonnes of grain because of last year's flood-affected harvest, but a true picture of the scale of the crisis is very difficult to determine. There are anecdotal reports from a South Korean aid organisation with access to the North that people are already beginning to die of hunger.

But the South Korean Government has suggested that the situation is not yet critical.

Some observers warn that Pyongyang may have an interest in exaggerating its food shortages to win international aid, some of which it uses to feed its military.


No U.S. plan if North Korea collapses

A former senior official in President Bush's White House dropped a proverbial bombshell by asserting that the United States and South Korea have no coordinated plan to cope with a collapse of the North Korean regime of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.

Victor Cha, who was director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007, wrote: "In what would be the single most important contingency that could impact the South Korean economy and security for decades, there is no agreed-upon plan for how to deal with a collapsing North Korea."

In an article in the Chosun Ilbo, Cha blamed the former president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, whose term ended in February. "The Roh Moo-hyun government," Cha said, "rejected planning discussions because it believed such discussions would offend Pyongyang and give the impression the U.S. and Seoul were actively conspiring to collapse the regime."

[Excerpt of Opinion page by Richard Halloran, Honolulu Advertiser]

Monday, June 16, 2008

McCain Has Harsh Words for North Korea

Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Senator John McCain, has called North Korea "the most horrible regime probably on earth." McCain said in an interview, this is the regime “that has got hundreds of thousands of people in the gulag. They’re terrible." He added, "So the regime offends me, just in their terrible mistreatment and abuse of their own people."

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, has maintained a consistently hardline stance on North Korea, but this was his clearest statement yet why. Asked if he would remove North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, as the Bush administration is expected to do if the North abandons its nuclear program, McCain said, "I would not.”

[Chosun Ilbo]

Saturday, June 14, 2008

North Korea: Kim Jong Il calls for increased food production

Kim Jong Il has called for better use of existing cultivated land and the cultivation of more land to resolve the national food crisis.

Following his inspection of a tideland reclamation site and a farm in North Phyongan province, Kim said the development of the tideland on Taegye Islet was important for the country's prosperity, the official Rodong Sinmun daily reported Friday.

Kim also underscored the importance of agro-science and technological development in agriculture.
Leaders of the country have repeatedly vowed to solve the problem this year.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Famine predicted in North Korea

Seoul-based human rights group, Good Friends, has released a video containing testimonies of highly influential North Koreans, in an effort to highlight the urgent need for desperately needed food aid to be flown into the country.

Group director Erica Kang has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program evidence gathered from within North Korea points towards another possible famine as experienced in the 1990s. She says this famine killed as many as 3 million.

"Army officers in Pyongyang are actually deserting their army bases because they are so fed up with the malnutrition problem," she said.

The United Nation's World Food Program also believes the situation in North Korea has become serious. The program's Asia spokesperson Paul Risely says chronic food shortages have been exacerbated by the cessation of aid from regular donors.

[Excerpt from Radio Australia, Girish Sawlani reporting]

Thursday, June 12, 2008

North Korea's Food Crisis

A South Korean human rights group Good Friends has released what it says are video interviews with influential North Koreans to underscore their urgent plea for international food aid for the North. The group implies they are North Korean officials-- describing them only as "substantially" influential in the North.

In some districts, workers have not received a month's worth of rations. "This is the reason why workers are not coming to their factories,” an unidentified Korean said.

The group says one or two people are dying each day in every district of several of North Korea's southern provinces, which were hardest hit by last year's heavy flooding. One North Korean man says farmers have consumed all of their seed corn and grain and are suffering the most.

Hunger has also brought education to a halt. "Teachers are saying that if food conditions remain in this precarious state, children will not report to school regularly,” another said. “When the teachers try to get the students to come to school, they are always told that either the children have to go begging for food with their parents, or that they are lying in bed because of starvation."

Good Friends says the hunger problem is compounded by North Korea's unequal food distribution system, which ranks ordinary civilians far below party officials and members of the military. The system excludes farmers altogether.

[Excerpt of an article by Kurt , Voice of America]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

S. Korea Urges Hungry North Korea to Accept Corn Aid

Current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has adopted a far stiffer approach to aiding North Korea than his two predecessors - both of whom sent hundreds of thousands of tons of rice and fertilizer across the border every year, with no strings attached.

South Korea says it is willing to send
50,000 tons of immediate food aid to impoverished North Korea. The aid would fulfill a deal made during the previous South Korean administration, but may not ease a stalemate between Pyongyang and the South's current president.

North Korea angrily responded by labeling Mr. Lee a traitor and threatening to turn Seoul into ash. Pyongyang has suspended practically all diplomatic contacts with the Lee administration and has remained silent on the South's offer to provide aid without preconditions as long as the North makes a formal request.

Do Hee-youn, president of the Seoul-based Citizen's Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, says decades of hunger in North Korea are to be blamed on the North Korean government's own decisions. He says handing over food aid without changing Pyongyang's basic food policies would be like "pouring water into a broken jar."

[Excerpt of an article by Kurt Achin, Voice of America]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

China moving to eliminate house churches

A report released two months ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games details the current Chinese government’s crackdown on unregistered Christians, including funding a campaign to eradicate house churches throughout China. The report, entitled “China: Persecution of Protestant Christians in the Approach to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games,” by U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide and U.S.-based China Aid Association, provides information on different tactics used by the government to restrict the religious freedom of Christians.

“While Chinese house churches have long suffered persecution, this is believed to be the first time that the authorities have systematically cracked down on the ‘third wave churches,’” the report noted. “These are churches amongst the more educated and wealthy sections of society with greater awareness of their rights, which generally meet in urban areas and have been tolerated, even though operating under certain restrictions.”

Tactics used to crack down on unregistered Christians include: targeting well-established unregistered churches; sending landlords directives ordering them to not rent space to those engaging in religious activities; charging Christians in the Xinjiang region of separatism; expelling foreign Christians; targeting repression at the Chinese House Church Alliance; and carrying out the largest mass sentencing of house church leaders in 25 years.

The report also highlights the “disturbing news” that some house church Christians were arrested and fined for trying to help victims of the massive earthquake in Sichuan Province.

[Excerpted from Church Executive]

Monday, June 09, 2008

Abducted South Korean escapes from North Korea

A South Korean abducted more than 30 years ago has reportedly escaped from North Korea.

Sixty-five-year-old Yoon Jong-soo fled last month and is now under South Korean protection at a consulate in northeastern China. Yoon and 32 others ended up in the North when their fishing boat was seized off South Korea's east coast in 1975.

South Korean officials say Yoon's North Korean wife and their daughter have since been arrested.

Of those who were seized with Yoon, three have returned to South Korea in recent years. Yoon was among 480 South Korean civilian abductees, mostly fishermen, believed still alive in the North.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Focus on Non-Implementation of North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004

OneFreeKorea reports that a bill is working its way though the Senate, to reinforce the provisions of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

An excerpt from the Committee Report for H.R. 5834:

“Executive Branch implementation of the refugee provisions of the 2004 Act has been too slow and too weak. On February 21, 2006, a bipartisan group of 9 senior House Members and Senators …wrote the Secretary of State ‘to express our deep concern for the lack of progress in funding and implementing the key provisions of the North Korean Human Rights Act.’ Foremost among their concerns, they noted that, ‘despite the fact that the Act calls for the Department of State to facilitate the submission of North Korean refugee applications, not one North Korean has been offered asylum or refugee status in the 16 months since the unanimous passage of the legislation.’ The first North Korean refugees did not arrive in the United States until 3 months later, in May 2006.

“North Koreans who have requested resettlement in the United States as refugees have also faced extended delays, in some cases longer than 2 years, while residing in circumstances that are frequently unsafe, unhealthy, and insecure. Delays sometimes continue even after the refugees have passed U.S. assessment and security screening, due to foot-dragging in the issuance of exit visas by the governments of the countries where they are located. These delays have been the source of considerable discouragement, frustration, and anxiety among North Korean refugees. Just last month a group of North Koreans awaiting U.S. resettlement in Thailand reportedly conducted a hunger strike in an attempt to obtain information about the status of their cases.

“In the intervening 3 1/2 years since the 2004 Act became law, the United States has resettled fewer than 50 North Korean refugees.”

Read more

Read more

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A North Korean story of starvation, torture and living in caves

“Jia - A Novel of North Korea” by Hyejin Kim, tells the story of a woman’s relationship with North Korea’s authoritarian state. Jia begins her life in a community of outcasts who are forced to work in coal mines because her father refused to toe the state line. He was taken away and charged with political treason before she was born, never to be seen again.

She has a happy childhood despite her harsh conditions, including the loss of her mother in childbirth, but when her paternal grandparents, who are raising her, hatch a plan to send her to Pyongyang to be with her mother’s parents. At the age of 7, she lands in an orphanage.

When famine descends on North Korea in the mid-1990s, Jia’s problems with the authorities deepen. Jia decides the time is right to cross the border into China. Once in China, the North Korean regime takes a more distant if still threatening role, and Jia has to survive being sold into the sex trade, being picked up by the Chinese police who want to send her back to North Korea.

Kim tells a compelling story. In the forward, the author writes that Jia’s experiences and character are based on amalgam of people she spoke with when researching her book in China. That being said, characters who lose children to starvation, undergo torture after being caught defecting and live in caves in China breaks your heart and provides what seems like an authentic account of life in North Korea.

[Excerpt of an article by Christopher Carpenter, JoonAng Daily]

Thursday, June 05, 2008

U.S. blasts China over treatment of North Korean refugees

The United States on Wednesday criticized China for rampant human trafficking and slave labor taking place within its borders, and deplored Beijing's treatment of North Koreans subjected to sexual exploitation.

In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department said China lacks efforts to combat human trafficking, although it acknowledges that Beijing has made some progress.

[Kyodo News]

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

North Korean Regime Acknowledges Food Problems

Kim Jong Il's regime has acknowledged problems feeding its people, South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Ha Joong said as the government in Seoul tries to organize the delivery of 50,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea. “They have said that, yes, they are experiencing some difficulties, but not to the level of large scale famine-related deaths,'' Kim told reporters in Seoul.

Aid agencies are warning that North Korea may experience a repeat of food shortages [as per] the mid 1990s. The United Nations warned in April of a "potential humanitarian crisis'' in North Korea and the World Food Programme last week asked the government in Seoul to provide food aid to the nation of 23 million people.

The regime is diverting more than 90 percent of international food aid to the military in order to maintain its grip on power, defectors told reporters in Seoul yesterday.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

North Korean Refugee Trail of Shame

As North Korea steps closer to a second great famine and North Koreans continue to endure the depredations of the repressive regime that rules over them, an exodus of refugees slips out of the country. The twin imperatives of food and freedom (much more of the former, at least initially) are driving them hundreds or thousands of kilometers from their homes.

While U.S. President George W. Bush has given speeches on the plight of the North Korean people, his concern for them has clearly taken a back seat to his desire to score a diplomatic success, however fleeting, in the ongoing nuclear talks with Pyongyang. Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea … was sternly rebuked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who told reporters ``[Lefkowitz is] … doesn't know what's going on in the six-party talks and he certainly has no say in the six-party talks.''

Lefkowitz ... and his portfolio have become ghettoized in the State Department.

The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 mandates that the United States accept North Korean refugees. Although there are up to 300,000 North Korean refugees in hiding, including hundreds in Southeast Asia, the U.S. has only admitted a few dozen. Of the estimated 150,000 refugees from around the world United States has resettled since 2004, fewer than 50 have come from North Korea.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Andy Jackson, The Korea Times]

Monday, June 02, 2008

Drama focuses on horror of North Korean re-education camps

Some of the most tragic experiences of a [North Korean refugee's] life have made it into a wrenching South Korean film, a father and son attempting to escape North Korea and the brutal re-education camps.

As a North Korean miner whose undernourished, pregnant wife contracts tuberculosis, [the lead character] with no medicine available in the impoverished nation, leaves his wife and 11-year-old son to travel to China to work, earn money and buy drugs. While away, his wife dies, and his son becomes a wandering orphan. The starving child attempts to escape to China, but is captured and placed in a re-education camp - where the film's most harrowing scenes take place. A bribe arranged by his father, now in South Korea, breaks him out of the camp. The film's jarring finale takes place in the Mongolian Desert.

Avoiding the melodrama of many South Korean films, "Crossing" is relentless in its detailed, docudrama approach. A cross-border trader and his family are seized by secret police in a midnight raid. Ragged orphans beg in destitute markets. Camp guards kick a pregnant woman in China in the stomach.

The life of Yoo Sang-jun, now a Seoul-based Christian activist, mirrors much of the plot of "Crossing."

After losing his wife and a son during the North Korean famine of the late 1990s, he escaped to China with his surviving son, Chul-min. Despairing of making a living, and in fear of deportation - Chinese authorities routinely send North Korean defectors home, where many face terrible punishment - Mr. Yoo put the boy into foster care while he attempted to escape to Seoul. He reached South Korea and worked as a laborer, earning money to pay smugglers to bring his son out of China. In 2002, Chul-min set off from China for Mongolia to reunite with his father. In the barren frontier between the countries, lost, weak and exhausted, his second child died from exposure. Yoo Chul-min is buried under a wooden cross in the Mongolian desert. He was 10 years old.

German human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen, who briefly knew Yoo Chul-min, has arranged for the film to be screened in July at the European Parliament. He said the film took him back to his time working as an aid doctor in rural North Korea.

"It would be pertinent if China's leadership watched this film," said Tim Peters, an American activist and friend of Mr. Yoo's who attended the screening. "With the stroke of a pen, they could stop thousands of tragedies."

[ Excerpt of an article by Andrew Salmon, The Washington Times]

Sunday, June 01, 2008

`Shoot-on-sight' orders given to North Korean border patrols

Helping Hands Korea claimed it has been receiving reports of "shoot-on-sight'' orders given to North Korean border patrols regarding refugees. It reported eyewitness accounts of "snipers'' being posted at elevated border stations along the Tumen River.

Police officials in border regions, Helping Hands Korea said, are also being authorized to give "substantial bribes'' to local ethnic Korean-Chinese to make them disclose the whereabouts of North Koreans hiding in their neighborhoods. These bribes have reportedly been increasing in recent months.

Helping Hands said the border tightening has resulted in some reduction in successful crossings of North Koreans into China, with some 30 percent of refugees being caught and sent back to the North.

The group also said there have been widespread reports at border areas confirming that food shortages are now critical in the central part of North Korea. The group's observation is among one of many reports in recent weeks about food shortages in the North. The average North Korean's monthly salary is worth roughly three kilograms of rice, a couple of days supply for a family of four.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Ha, The Korea Times]