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.”