Thursday, April 29, 2010

The dilemma over South Korea's sunken warship Cheonan

An official funeral has taken place for the 46 South Korean sailors who died when their warship the Cheonan sank March 26.

Since the end of World War II only two navies, the British and the Pakistani, are known to have used a submarine to sink a warship.

Now though there appears to be growing evidence that North Korea's underwater fleet may have become the third. While this is certainly a South Korean military disaster, it has the potential to become much more than that.

After an initial examination the following observations and explanations have been announced to the public.

  • The skin of the ship was bent inwards, pointing to an external rather than an internal explosion, a conclusion given further weight by the fact that the ship's weapons storage area is intact
  • There are no signs of scraping, or of a collision, ruling out the possibility that the ship ran aground
  • There is no evidence of soot or melting on the skin of the ship, suggesting that the external explosion took place some distance away from the hull

Little wonder, then, that suspicion is mounting, with South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-young concluding that a torpedo attack is among the "most likely" causes.

If concrete proof of the North's involvement is eventually produced, it would reinforce with shocking clarity just how easily this smoldering cold-war conflict could reignite. And it would present the international community with a serious strategic challenge - how to send a message of deterrence without risking further escalation?


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

North Korea brags about having “taken revenge”

North Korea’s ruling party says it has “taken revenge on its enemies,” which South Korea could very well interpret as being a commentary on the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan.

Daily NK, a news site specializing on North Korea, quoted a Workers’ Party secretary as saying in a lecture to party members Saturday, “The Korean People’s Army has recently taken merciless revenge on its enemies. After our retaliation, South Korea is afraid of our military strength.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Top WHO official to visit North Korea

The World Health Organization says its top official will make a rare trip to North Korea next week to tour health facilities and meet with the country's minister of health.

WHO says Margaret Chan will arrive in Pyongyang on Monday and spend two days in the impoverished and isolated Asian nation.

The United Nations estimates about a third of North Korea's 24 million people need food aid.

The last WHO director-general to visit the nuclear-armed nation was Gro Harlem Brundtland in 2001.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Apparent glimpse at North Korean heir apparent, Kim Jong-un?

It is the pudgy but stern-faced young man next to Kim Jong-il, dressed in a snappy Western suit and dutifully scribbling in a notebook, who has spurred intense speculation. Could this unidentified man be just a plant manager? Or could this be the first public appearance of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader’s third son and heir apparent?

“There, see how his face is in focus and illuminated even more than Kim Jong-il himself?” said Cheong Seong-chang, a specialist on North Korean politics at the Sejong Institute. “There is a high possibility that this is Kim Jong-un.”

Little is known about the inner workings of the secretive North Korean government, not even the identity of the heir apparent. The only known photograph of him was taken when he was 11 years old.

Analysts say that if Mr. Kim dies too soon, his son could be pushed aside in a scramble for power among political and military elites that would end the family’s dynastic rule and might even bring about the collapse of the impoverished totalitarian state.

Not much is known about the man who could become the next leader of the unpredictable, nuclear-armed country. On Monday, the Daily NK, a Web site that specializes in information on North Korea, said it had obtained an internal propaganda document that called Kim Jong-un the Youth Captain and quoted his father (who has his own title, Dear Leader) praising his loyalty and good works. “He is a genius of geniuses,” the document says. “He has been endowed by nature with special abilities. There is nobody on the planet who can defeat him in terms of faith, will and courage.”

Mr. Cheong, the analyst, said that members of local North Korean work units and government employees had been taught a new song titled “Footsteps,” which lauds Kim Jong-un’s fitness to follow his father as leader.

Kim Jong-il has been rushing to prepare the ground for his son in other ways, analysts say. They said that wiretaps of North Korean phones by the South’s intelligence agency revealed that the younger Mr. Kim was appointed to a top post in the ruling party’s internal security apparatus last year and that he now worked in the same building as his father.

The analysts have offered many predictions about what may happen when the current leader does die. One is that his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, 64, widely seen as the second most powerful member of the inner circle, could serve as a regent until the younger Mr. Kim is ready to rule — or simply hold onto power for himself.

“The signs are that the elite do not take Kim Jong-un seriously,” said Kim Yeon-su, a professor of North Korean studies at the National Defense University in Seoul. “This is the final stage of the Kim family dictatorship.”

New York Times

Friday, April 23, 2010

North Korea Freedom Week April 25-May 1 in Seoul

North Korea Freedom Week, organized annually by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, will kick off on April 25 in Seoul this year. North Korean defectors and South Korean leaders and activists are organizing exhibits, a major rally, seminars, press conferences, prayer vigils and other events all focused on highlighting the misery the Kim Jong-il regime has inflicted on the people of North Korea, as well as citizens of South Korea, Japan and other countries.

NKFW 2010 is being co-chaired by Seoul Peace Prize Laureate Suzanne Scholte, and Professor Hwang Jang-yop. It will begin with a prayer service hosted by the North Korean defector churches and the opening of the North Korea Genocide Exhibit and will conclude with a balloon launch from the DMZ which will include radios, money, and a special message about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"With the increasing ability for North Koreans to learn about the outside world, it is fitting that North Korea Freedom Week will be held in South Korea for the first time," said Kim Seung Min of Free North Korea Radio. "North Koreans are increasingly finding out that their misery is a direct result of the Kim Jong-il regime, not South Korea and America as we were brainwashed from birth to believe."

Warning that it was a crime to remain apathetic in the face of one of the world's worst human rights violations in history, Professor Yon Hee Lee, who is organizing the NKFW prayer vigil, warned, "We cannot remain silent as this tragedy continues or we will face God's judgment."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two Spies Held in Plot to Kill Senior North Korean Defector

Two North Korean agents who entered South Korea disguised as refugees, with plans to assassinate an octogenarian former secretary of the North Korean Workers' Party Central Committee, were arrested. The spies had orders to kill senior North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop (87), prosecutors said Tuesday.

Arrested on Tuesday were Maj. Kim Myong-ho (36) and Maj. Tong Myong-kwan (36) on a warrant from the Seoul Central District Court.

According to prosecutors, Kim and Tong arrived in Yanji, China, crossed the North Korea-China border in November last year, met up with other North Korean agents and received mobile phones and operational funds at a liaison office of the Reconnaissance Bureau there. Afterward, they pretended to defect and traveled all the way to Thailand, were arrested by Thai police and handed over to the South Korean embassy. Deported from Thailand, they arrived in South Korea in January and February and were questioned by the NIS.

But their stories did not check out since both gave false names and places of birth. Under interrogation, they confessed to being spies. Prosecutors said the two admitted to having orders from Kim Yong-chol, the bureau director, to file a report about Hwang Jang-yop's activities including the location of his home, and to cut off his head. They were ordered to escape to the North Korean embassy in a third country and await further instructions if they failed to accomplish their mission.

Chosun Ilbo

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Activists claim North Korean Army officer admits North Korea sank S. Korean Cheonan

Activists in Seoul claim that a North Korean Army officer has testified that the North Korean military attacked the Cheonan before it sank in the West Sea on March 26.

Activist Choi Sung-yong of the Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea said, "It seems that the Cheonan was sunk in a premeditated North Korean operation." Choi published a transcript of a telephone conversation with what he says is a senior North Korean Army officer.

The officer claims the motive was revenge. "After the North lost the sea skirmish in November last year, Kim Jong-il gave an order to take revenge. He gave the order."

"Some of the 13 commandos who … sank the Cheonan are acquaintances of mine," the alleged officer claims according to the transcript. He claims the Cheonan's sinking lifted soldiers' morale and the 13 commandos "are being treated as heroes."

"They apparently spent a lot of time practicing camouflage by sneaking around fleet of North Korean and Chinese fishing boats operating near Baeknyeong Island," the officer says. "It seems likely that a bigger event will occur in the future given that they are operating also in the East Sea, camouflaging themselves there."

The South Korean military has asked the U.S. for intelligence about North Korean submarines and espionage operations to establish whether the North was involved in the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26, according to a source on Monday. A source said, "South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies are trying to check what the North Korean Army was doing, including what communications they exchanged and what their submarines or submersibles were doing around the time of the disaster."

Chosun Ilbo

Monday, April 19, 2010

U.S. Intelligence Expert in Seoul after Shipwreck

Chosun Ilbo reports that an officer in charge of North Korean affairs at the U.S. National Intelligence Agency made a secret visit to South Korea early this month after the Navy corvette Cheonan sank in the West Sea on March 26.

Sylvia Copeland reportedly met senior South Korean intelligence officers to exchange intelligence on what North Korea was doing around the time of the sinking and discuss a possible response.

In the meeting, Copeland focused on analyzing related intelligence reports, sources said.

"Copeland is an officer trusted by NIA Director Dennis Blair," an intelligence source said. "She was here right after the Cheonan sank due to the need for cooperation with the South. It seems the two countries re-checked their system of sharing intelligence about the North."

Before and after her visit, Copeland also went to Japan and other countries. A former U.S. military officer, she worked as case officer in charge of Far East at the CIA. In the 1980s, she was an officer in the U.S. Forces Korea.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Correspondent amongst North Koreans apprehended in China

The head of an anti-North Korean radio station in Seoul says his missing correspondent in the Chinese border city of Dandong was apprehended by North Korean security officials.

Kim Seong-min said that the 50-year-old North Korean defector was taken near the Yalu river on February 19 while waiting to meet his wife and son arriving from North Korea.

Kim said he believes the defector is one of four South Koreans who North Korea's state media has said illegally entered the North. The North's Korean Central News Agency reported on February 26 that four were under investigation, but did not identify them or say when they allegedly entered North Korea.