Tuesday, August 31, 2010

S.Korea offers flood aid to North Korea

South Korea has offered 10 billion won in emergency aid to North Korea to help with recovery from floods that ravaged the destitute state, a government official said. The offer was made through the South Korean Red Cross and includes emergency food, relief materials and first aid kits.

The offer, if accepted by Pyongyang, would be the first large scale aid from Seoul since the sinking of one of the South's navy ships, the Chenoan, in March that it blamed on a submarine attack by the North. 

Seoul's offer came a few hours after Washington unveiled additional sanctions against the North.
Heavy rains in July and August hit the North's northern region bordering China and its eastern provinces, forcing thousands from their homes and putting farmland under water.
The United States expanded financial sanctions against the North amid signs that the isolated state, under intense economic pressure stemming from international condemnation for its provocations, is hoping for an early resumption of arms talks.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli Gomes went to North Korea

Since his release from North Korea, Robert Park has not spoken about his imprisonment—due in part, he said, to fears for the safety of his friend and counterpart Aijalon Mahli Gomes—and he declined to say anything publicly about North Korea until Gomes was safe.

It has not been an easy transition for Park, who said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and that he fell apart as a person and felt tormented.

"After leaving North Korea, I went through a lot of things—I have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and it's been very difficult because I know more now than ever how evil the situation in North Korea is," Park told Christianity Today in an exclusive interview. "Once you're there [in North Korea], in that position where you are observing what is happening and you are witnessing evil, and you come to the Western world and everyone is celebrating you are back—it can be aggravating."

During a phone interview from a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, Park said he is "haunted thinking about the people" in North Korea.

Park, who became a Christian when he was 21 and was ordained as a missionary in Arizona in 2007, said he came to love the North Korean people he met through his missionary work.

"I was working in China with North Korean refugees, and many refugees wanted to go back because they were concerned about their families," Park said. "The North Korean people are very good people, but the regime has no sense of right or wrong."

Park said he wanted to raise awareness about North Korea, confront the regime, and see human rights groups come together and unite for a mass movement.

Kim Jong-il’s “secret trip” to and special status with China

The Chinese press indicates that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Kim likely asked Beijing to concur with North Korea's long-anticipated leadership change.

Beijing has long made it clear that it aims to keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula via a normal China-North Korea relationship, and that China will continue to encourage and help North Korea open up to the world.  Many in China complain that the isolated North Korea brings too much trouble for China in international relations, and the two countries' relationship should not return to a "special" status.

The Global Times writes: “The other countries unrealistically expect China has a strong hand to teach its little brother a lesson when it gets naughty. Perhaps they do not know that North Korea has a strong mind to make its own decisions. Also, China's diplomatic principle is to not interfere with another country's internal affairs. 

"A stable relationship with North Korea does not mean China has to be an enemy of Japan, South Korea or the US.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Carter’s breach in the wall of silence between the United States and North Korea

Former President Jimmy Carter has long chosen to advance his own vision of global engagement, rather than that of the administration in power. His prickliness can offend Democrats and Republicans alike; not for him is the easy post-presidential bonhomie of the Bushes and Clintons.
But his dedication to his ideals is impressive. A month short of his 86th birthday, he journeyed to Pyongyang this week to help free Aijalon Gomes.
But more than just the family and friends of Aijalon Gomes should be appreciative of Carter’s efforts.
Even in a state of cold war, there is tremendous value in maintaining channels of communication, some hope for rational human connection. Carter’s small breach in the wall of silence between the United States and North Korea is useful for America, and for the cause of world peace.
[Boston Globe]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kim Jong Il’s apparent snub of Carter puzzles analysts

Kim Jong Il’s treatment this week of former president Jimmy Carter, who traveled to Pyongyang to secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, has struck some observers of North Korea as especially mystifying. Kim, who usually goes out of his way to try to coax American officials to Pyongyang for highly publicized meetings, did not meet with Carter and instead left the country for China.
That decision to forgo a valuable propaganda opportunity set off a flurry of speculation in Washington about the message he was trying to send.
Charles Jack Pritchard, who served as a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea under President George W. Bush, said that the fact the North Korean regime demanded a high-level US visit to secure Gomes’s release, and then snubbed it, was an attempt to humiliate the United States. “The intent was to exact a penalty from the United States and simply say, ‘You guys disrespect our laws and you want us to release him after he has been found guilty.’ ’’
John Park, director of the Korea working group at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, said Kim’s trip underscored the fact that North Korea is placing a higher priority on strengthening its relations with China — already its most important ally — than courting the United States.
A senior congressional aide who closely follows North Korea said it could be a positive sign that Kim did not seek to use Gomes to his political advantage by showcasing himself with the former president.
[Boston Globe]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Aijalon Mahli Gomes safely home from North Korea

Jimmy Carter shakes hands with Aijalon Mahli Gomes

Aijalon Mahli Gomes arrived home Friday afternoon with the man who secured his freedom, former President Jimmy Carter. Gomes, who has been living in South Korea for about nine years, will at last be home for Christmas.

Gomes' family rushed toward the steps of the private plane, wiping tears from their eyes and hugging the man imprisoned in communist North Korea since January.

The U.S. State Department and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Gomes' release. Ban commended Carter and said he "appreciates the decision" of North Korea to release Gomes on "humanitarian considerations."

The Korean Central News Agency reported, "Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes' illegal entry into [North Korea] and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again."  

Gomes didn't have only Carter as an advocate. Florida-based attorney Michael Cavendish, who doesn't even know Gomes, started a letter-writing campaign when he learned about Gomes' sentencing in April. Some of his letters criticized the U.S. government, which he argued initially did not do enough to advocate for Gomes.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes soon a free man

Former President Jimmy Carter is leaving North Korea Friday with a U.S. citizen who was imprisoned in the communist country after entering it illegally in January, according to the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a Christian activist, was imprisoned in January of this year and later sentenced to eight years of hard labor with a fine of about $600,000 for the crime of illegal entry into North Korea.

Carter was greeted by Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's chief negotiator at the six-party nuclear talks, and has also met the country's titular head of state, Kim Jong Nam, according to Seoul's Yonhap News agency, quoting North Korean media.
There have been hopes of some breakthrough in tense Pyongyang-Washington relations with Carter's visit. The two men who represent North and South Korea as their country's respective envoys in the currently stalled six-party talks met in Seoul.  These events come amid intense speculation surrounding North Korea's leadership, given that the state will be holding only its third-ever Workers Party Congress in September.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jimmy Carter’s trip to North Korea doubling as unofficial diplomacy on nuclear issue

Former President Carter’s trip to North Korea has sparked speculation that he may indulge in unofficial diplomacy on the nuclear issue. Carter has believed for years that sanctions are counterproductive and that the U.S. should engage the Stalinist regime in direct, high-level talks.

Carter also blames President Bush for the 2002 collapse of a denuclearization agreement which he (Carter) helped broker the last time he visited Pyongyang in 1994. The Bush State Department attributed its unraveling to North Korea’s admission that it had been cheating on the deal by enriching uranium.

Carter arrived in the North Korean capital Wednesday on what the administration called a “private humanitarian mission” aimed at securing the release of Aijalon Gomes.  But Carter was met at the airport by Pyongyang’s top nuclear envoy which indicated to observers that Kim Jong-il hopes the visit will achieve more.

In June 1994 Jimmy Carter visited North Korea as an unofficial envoy in a bid to defuse a crisis sparked by then leader Kim Il-sung’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Carter’s efforts then laid the groundwork for the Agreed Framework which was signed four months later – an agreement under which North Korea agreed to mothball its plutonium-based nuclear reactor and admit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the freeze, in return for U.S. heavy fuel shipments and the provision of alternative energy supplies.

Speculations on Jimmy Carter and Kim Jong-il’s North Korean travels

On Wednesday, former President Jimmy Carter arrives in North Korea to seek the release of American hostage, Aijalon Mahli Gomes.
On Thursday, reports in the South Korean media indicate that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, as well as his apparent heir apparent Kim Jong-un, decided it was a good time to head to China for a visit.

Further, there are reports that Aijalon Mahli Gomes could depart North Korea with Mr Carter some time on Thursday.

So among the reasons for Kim’s trip to China:
1.      Trade could be a motive for the trip, since North Korea relies on aid and trade from China to prop up its tottering state-run economy.
2.      Or the succession to the ailing Kim Jong-Il could be on the agenda, prior to a major conference of the ruling party of North Korea being held soon to discuss this issue.
3.      Another possible motive for the trip, say analysts, is discussion of North Korea's nuclear program, since China has been making moves to resume the six-nation talks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jimmy Carter to North Korea to secure release of American Aijalon Mahli Gomes

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is planning to go to North Korea this week in the hopes of securing the release of an American man imprisoned for illegally entering the communist nation, officials said.

Sources described the trip as a "private humanitarian mission" to free Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 31-year-old Boston, Massachusetts, resident who was sentenced in April to eight years at a hard labor camp for illegally crossing North Korea's border with China and for an unspecified "hostile act."

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said: "President Carter fits that role perfectly."

"He is someone in a position to take action as a distinguished international figure," the official said.

Carter will travel in his capacity as a private citizen and no U.S. government official will be on the trip, the sources said. They added Carter had contacted the administration of President Obama about the mission.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Canada Conference focuses on plight of North Korean women

The 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in Toronto last weekend condemned gross infringement of human rights in North Korea, and sought ways to tackle the problems through international cooperation.
Saturday's conference focused on the violation of the rights of North Korean women who escaped to China. Lee Won-woong, professor of social welfare studies at Kwandong University, said, "Women make up 70 percent of North Korean defectors, and most of them are victims of human trafficking and bonded labor. Many of them are trafficked and sold to farmers in the inland China or become sex slaves in cities."
Roberta Cohen of the conservative Brookings Institution in the U.S., said although China is a signatory of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it does not have the refugee adjudication process, and bans the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in China from contacting North Korean refugees. She said this is a violation of international law.
Chosun Ilbo

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Status of North Koreans in China less than a stray dog

The 20,000 North Korean defectors who have escaped to South Korea offer the most graphic and grim glimpses of life in austere, impoverished and isolated North Korea.

They talk of hunger and deprivation; of torture and fear; of constant suspicion and endless surveillance, and of their enduring desire to escape.

Kim Mi-ran, a 50-year-old mother of three children who are still in North Korea, says she first fled to China in 1998 when famine gripped the country and her family was starving. There, she was sold for about $1,000 as the bride of a disabled and mentally retarded Korean-Chinese man, 20 years her elder.

"North Korean women live like a bird in a cage in China," she told a conference on North Korean human rights in Toronto. "They don't even have the status of a stray dog. Some are sold into marriage because they want a bowl of rice. Others are forced into prostitution or become sex slaves or are simply taken advantage of."

[National Post]

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flooding along Yalu River, in North Korea and China

Heavy rain has sparked serious floods along the North Korean border, with Pyongyang's state media warning of "devastating" consequences.
Downpours swelled the Yalu river which forms the border between North Korea and China to untenable levels, sending floodwaters into homes on both sides of the frontier, state media in both nations said.
Floodwaters had inundated all houses, public buildings and farmland in three sectors of Sinuiju -- home to a North Korean military airbase -- and nearby rural communities, KCNA reported, without saying how many people were affected. Provincial and local officials joined military personnel in rescue efforts, North Korea's media said.
Widespread flooding this summer has caused an unspecified number of fatalities, according to state media reports from Pyongyang.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From North Korean defector to Honor Student

Ri Il-shim, now 15, is an honor student in Seoul. Back in November 2005, a 12-year-old Ri shivered as she crossed the frozen Duman River dividing China and North Korea. The bitter cold only partially explained why she was trembling. She was making her third attempt to escape from North Korea. After crossing the river with her two brothers, she hid and waited for the sun to rise. 

When Ri was 8, her mother disappeared and her father forced her to quit school and took her to a remote mountain village to do farm work. When autumn came, her father crossed the Duman River with his three children. A week later, they were caught and sent back to North Korea. The family spent 80 days in prison.
Her father disappeared a year later, and Ri and her brothers were put in solitary confinement. Unidentified people came to their cells and beat them until they bled, but Ri and her siblings said nothing about their father. A year later, they were told that their father was in South Korea.
In October 2004, they crossed the Duman River for the second time. She and her brothers stayed in a strange room for several days. Other North Korean defectors also began gathering in the room and their number almost reached 100. A man took the money he received from the defectors and ran away. Worse, he reported them to Chinese police. Despite enduring more beatings, Ri was determined to escape again.
Eventually, Ri and her brothers made their third attempt. The three siblings and eight other North Koreans reached the border between China and Mongolia, and walked and walked in the middle of the vast desert.
After eventually arriving in South Korea, Ri was placed in fourth grade at an elementary school. Since Ri had had no chance to study in North Korea, she could only read and solve simple math problems at the time. She stayed up all night trying to memorize everything she learned at school. Because she never forgot the hardship she endured, she quickly improved her grades and emerged as one of the school’s top students.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un to be recognized as Kim Jong-il’s political heir in September?

Kim Jong-Un is widely believed to be being groomed to take over at the helm from his 68-year-old father, Kim Jong-il, who suffered a stroke in August 2008. Now North Korea is reportedly making posters and badges with pictures of Kim Jong-Un, as it builds up a personality cult around the leader’s likely successor.

A state art studio began making large numbers of portraits and badges bearing pictures of the son in April, possibly as part of preparations for the death of Jong-Il, the Seoul-based Open Radio for North Korea reported.

Some analysts say the North will probably designate Kim Jong-Un as his father’s political heir when it convenes a meeting of key communist party delegates in September, which will be only the third such gathering since the communist state was founded in 1948. It is seen as the most important party event since 1980, when a convention of all party members made public Kim Jong-il’s status as the eventual successor to his father and founding President Kim Il-sung. Similar badges were issued for Kim Jong-il’s succession and for his father.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported two weeks ago that the son is expected to be elected as a member of the ruling party’s central committee at the meeting next month.

[The Telegraph]

Monday, August 16, 2010

American officials allowed to see Aijalon Gomes in Pyongyang

For the first time U.S. officials have been allowed to see 30-year-old Aijalon Gomes, who has been jailed in North Korea on charges of illegally entering the country.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday: "We did have a State Department team visit Pyongyang last week [Aug. 9-11]." Crowley said. "It was a four-person team: one consular official, two doctors and a translator. We requested permission to visit Mr. Gomes. That permission from the North Korean government was granted."
While the team was in Pyongyang on, "We requested permission to bring Mr. Gomes home," Crowley said. "Unfortunately, he remains in North Korea."
The spokesman added that the United States is continuing to seek his immediate release because of health worries. Gomes, who had worked as an English teacher in Seoul, was arrested in January and has been sentenced to eight years of hard labor and fined about $700,000.  North Korea said last month that Gomes was hospitalized after an attempted suicide, and some reports said he was on a hunger strike. The U.S. team visited Gomes "in a hospital," the spokesman said.
North Korea in June threatened to increase punishment for Gomes under a wartime law, citing what it called a U.S. campaign to condemn North Korea for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. 

Lee lays out master plan for Korean reunification

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in a speech on Sunday proposed a three-staged method of reunification with North Korea and the introduction of a "unification tax" to prepare for the massive cost.

"Today, inter-Korean relations demand a new paradigm," Lee said. "The two of us need to overcome the current state of division and proceed with the goal of peaceful reunification." The comments mark a shift from policies aimed at maintaining stability to active steps toward reunification.
The three-stage plan would start with a "peace community" that assures security on the peninsula including a denuclearized North, followed by the creation of an "economic community" developing the North's economy through exchanges, and eventually full reunification.
There have been two broad theories of reunification. One is the so-called Sunshine Policy of gradual reunification proposed by former President Kim Dae-jung and favored by progressives, favoring reunification further down the road after the two Koreas narrow their economic differences and acclimatize to each other's societies.

Conservatives say such an approach would only prolong North Korea's autocratic regime and warn that the South must prepare for a sudden regime collapse in the North. Some even say South Korea should pressure North Korea in order to trigger regime collapse.

Lee's speech is expected to lead to a major debate in South Korea over how to deal with the North.
[Chosun Ilbo]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

S. Korea allows humanitarian visit to North Korea

The government of South Korea will allow three of its citizens, including a doctor, to visit North Korea next week in the first such trip to the communist state since May when Seoul barred exchanges with Pyongyang over the March 26 naval disaster.
A doctor, who serves as an advisor to the local aid group Korean Sharing Movement, will visit the North’s border town of Gaeseong Tuesday next week to deliver anti-malaria aid worth US$336,000.

The South has only allowed infant-related humanitarian shipments to the North since a multinational investigation found Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of the corvette Cheonan.

The anti-malaria aid - funded by Gyeonggi Province - including kits to diagnose infection, mosquito nets, mosquito repellent incense and anti-malaria pills for pregnant women will be delivered to Gaeseong City, and Jangpung, Geumcheon, Tosan counties in the North.
The ministry, however, rejected the request by a religious group to send 300 tonnes of wheat flour to the North.

Friday, August 13, 2010

North Korean defectors under protection of Japanese Consulate stuck in China

Several North Korean defectors under the protection of the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, China, are unable to leave the country because the Chinese government has not issued them exit permits, according to Japanese organizations supporting North Korean defectors.
According to Hiroshi Kato, who heads the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, at least five people, including the spouse of a Japanese national who already is in Japan, and their son, have been staying in the consulate building--some of them for as long as two years.
Since it is unlikely the Chinese will grant them exit permits, the Japanese Consulate General has been unable to accept further defectors, Kato said.
According to those familiar with the matter, Shenyang, a northeastern Chinese city of about 7 million people, is home to many Chinese of Korean ancestry and has become a base for North Korean defectors.
[Yomiuri Shimbun]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Halting North Korea's belligerent actions without triggering war

"The North Koreans are fully capable of stepping over the line and creating a crisis," says Tom Schieffer, who juggled Pyongyang's provocations as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 2005 to 2009. "That is where the danger of miscalculation can occur and things can get pretty serious pretty quickly."

The challenge is halting North Korea's belligerent actions without triggering war, and without South Korea or the U.S. paying a price — either in dollars or diplomacy — for Pyongyang's good behavior. "North Korea has followed the Mafia model: 'If you don't give me some money, I'll throw a brick through your window,'" Schieffer says. "I don't think they're going to get any money, but the key question is: Do the North Koreans know that?"

"It's unclear to us exactly what North Korea feels it is trying to achieve through this ongoing chest-thumping," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "There will be no reward for North Korea for these provocations."
U.S. experts are split over how to handle the rising tensions. Michael O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, believes a "firm but finite" response — such as seeking millions of dollars in reparations for the Cheonan deaths — is the best route.
But retired Army General B.B. Bell, who commanded U.S. forces in South Korea from 2006 to 2008, believes tougher action by the South Koreans is required. "Until North Korea is punished for its frequent and continuing military strikes," he says, "they'll continue to do them without concern for what the consequences might be." Following the Cheonan sinking, Bell says Seoul should have attacked Pyongyang's sub bases and key command sites.
While serious, the skirmishes between North and South Korea can also be seen as shadowboxing by their respective protectors, China and the U.S.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trained North Korean Assassin Reborn as Pastor

Kim Shin Jo is a protestant minister - the gentle leader of his church. But the 69-year-old is best known by history as a trained killer. Three decades ago, he was the face of evil and terror for a generation of Koreans - a North Korean commando fighter who came into Seoul to assassinate the South Korean president at the time, Park Jung Hee.

In January, 1968, 31 North Korean commandos managed to slip across the border, through the woods, and make it within a few hundred meters of the president's residence. But a South Korean police officer confronted them. A gunfight ensued.

In the end, more than 30 South Koreans were killed. All of the North Korean commandos were killed, except one who managed to make it back into North Korea and Kim Shin Jo, who was captured. Kim later worked for the South Korean military, became a citizen, married and had a family. Then he became a minister. He is now the country's symbol of redemption.

Kim is living proof that even the hardest of hearts in this conflict can change. Kim reflected on footage of himself held captive in 1968. "On that day, Kim Shin Jo died," Kim said. "I was reborn. I got my second life. And I'm thankful for that."


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Devastating flooding in North Korea

North Korean television has confirmed a devastating flood has occurred. Local media has produced pictures of flooding and devastation in farming areas in Jagang, South Hamgyong and northern Pyongan provinces, with reports of casualties and many homes destroyed in torrential rains.

The official Korean Central News Agency has reported nearly 40,000 acres of farmland were submerged and over 6,000 homes, public buildings and facilities were destroyed by the floods. Landslides caused by the torrential rains wrecked bridges and roads and also resulted in power failures, according to KCNA.

North Korean State media often only reports news days or weeks after the actual event.