Friday, December 31, 2010

Inside the heart of a North Korean defector

Despite the increase in the number of North Korean defectors in South Korea, there are few films or television programs that show what their lives are like once they arrive. 

So when “The Journals of Musan” - which tells the story of a North Korean defector’s escape and resettlement in South Korea - was screened at film festivals earlier this year, it drew attention. The film focuses on how defectors deal with living in a capitalist society and their struggle to fit in.

The film, which is film director’s, Park Jung-bumm, first full-length feature has been making the rounds on the festival circuit and has already won several awards.

The film is based on Park’s year-long relationship with a close friend named Jeon Seung-chul. Jang defected from the North with his mother and older brother but died from stomach cancer in 2008 at age of 30, just six years after his escape.

In meeting people from the North, Park said he began to see how their lives had changed as a result of their escape. “They come here to be happy but when they arrive they become the poorest people in the society. I wanted to shed light on their lives, which are almost like those of orphans.”

All of the stories in the film are based on Park’s experiences with the defectors he’s met, including one who betrays another for money and another who confesses to having killed a friend out of extreme hunger.

[JoongAng Ilbo]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gifts for North Korea's Kim Jong-Un derailed

A train packed with birthday gifts for North Korea's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un derailed this month in a possible act of sabotage, reports a Seoul-based radio station.

Open Radio for North Korea, a non-profit station which often cites sources in the reclusive, impoverished North, said the train laden with gifts including televisions and watches came off the rails on December 11 near North Korea's border with China near the city of Sinuiju.

"The tracks and rail beds are so old it is possible there was decay in the wood or nails that secured the tracks could have been dislodged but the extent of damage to the tracks and the timing of the incident points to a chance that someone intentionally damaged the tracks," the source said. "It's highly likely that it was someone who is opposed to succession to Kim Jong-un."


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Former Korean orphan sends food and help to North Korean orphans

A photo of a 12-year-old North Korean boy on Sam Han's laptop computer pulls the dying man a half-century back in time, across continents to where he once wandered in search of his parents. Separated from his family during the Korean War, Han was sheltered by strangers until an unlikely meeting set him on a journey to the United States. He was adopted by a Minnesota professor and became a successful business executive.

Now Han wants to give other overseas orphans a shot at making a life for themselves, but his time is running out. In 2002, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just a few years to live. The soft-spoken man with twinkling eyes sleeps little: He works most days to ship soy flour and rice meal packages to North Korean orphanages and help build a school for orphans in Tanzania. 

Han lost his parents and sister during a chaotic exodus of his village in December 1950, when North Korean troops had reached the bridge over the Han River. Then 6, Han wandered door-to-door in a poor village, begging for food.

Run out of Han's bedroom, the Han-Schneider International Children's Foundation is a small network of volunteers who send meals to two state-run North Korean orphanages and help support orphanages in Cambodia and Tanzania. Han is lobbying for a bill to encourage the federal government to let Americans adopt North Korean orphans. Opponents say the proposal could prevent families from reuniting and prompt trafficking of North Korean children.

"I think God allowed me to survive to do my mission," Han said. "That is why I am still living, and every day what I am doing is the greatest medicine."

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

South Korean activists rally against North Korea

Dozens of South Korean activists are rallying against North Korea, burning a flag and photos of the North's leaders to protest a deadly artillery attack.

The protesters gathered Tuesday in central Seoul carried placards calling last month's shelling of a front-line South Korean island "brutal acts."

The activists burned a large photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un and chanted slogans like "Dismantle North Korea's nuclear program!" 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The effectiveness of America’s freelance diplomats

Bill Richardson, sometimes called America's ambassador to rogue states, went to Pyongyang at the invitation of Kim Kye-gwan, the country's chief nuclear negotiator. The trip, according to the US state department, was a "private visit" and the governor did not carry any official messages from Washington. 

During the drama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama's special North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth were nowhere to be seen. Also invisible was Washington's Ambassador to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens. In short, America's diplomats melted into the background as a "freelancer" took center stage.

Mr Richardson's visit genuinely seems to be the result of Pyongyang's initiative. "When they call me they always want to send a message of some kind," the New Mexico governor said recently. 
Mr Richardson seems particularly effective when it comes to getting things done in North Korea. In 1994 and again in 1996 he secured the release of US hostages in North Korea. 

Similarly, Jimmy Carter secured the release of US national Aijalon Gomes from Pyongyang this August 

Last year, former US President Bill Clinton, as a private citizen, brought back two television journalists from North Korea after the state department worked out the terms of their release.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Framework for new negotiations with North Korea

Fresh off his trip as a private citizen to North Korea, Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the trip to the isolated country a success.

"The South Koreans exercised their self defense and the North Koreans demonstrated that maybe they're ready for serious negotiations," Richardson said.

The North agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea. The fuel rods would be enough to make about six to eight nuclear weapons.

The North also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission among the United States, North Korea and South Korea as well as a separate hotline for the Koreas' militaries.

"This is a start of a new chapter," Richardson said. "I think there's a new opportunity for all countries, the six-party countries, to come together, and make potential negotiations."

But Richardson said North Korea needs to improve its behavior. "That has to be established first. But they made a move in that direction. … Right now what needs to happen is North Korea needs to abide by the 2005 declaration that says they are going to denuclearize, get rid of their nuclear weapons. That needs to be a framework for new negotiations."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reason for optimism on the Korean peninsula

North Korea did not retaliate as threatened after a South Korean military exercise that it had warned could lead to war.

At the same time, the North agreed to allow U.N. monitors access to its uranium-enrichment facility and take other steps that could defuse tension if implemented, including considering the formation of a military commission made up of representatives from the North, the South and the United States.

Those steps generated at least the possibility of rare optimism on the Korean peninsula, which has been gripped by anxiety since March.

The latest developments came amid a visit to North Korea by Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and current governor of New Mexico.

"Maybe we had a little impact with them," he said Monday of the North Korean leaders.

"I think they deserve credit for holding back," he said. "I think North Korea may be sending a signal that they're ready to re-engage after having behaved very negatively."

South Korea Prepares for Live Fire Artillery Exercises Near North Korea Border

South Korea is due to begin an artillery exercise on the border island Yeonpyeong that North Korean guns attacked last month.

North Korea has warned there could be "catastrophic" effects if the South Korean military goes ahead with its plans in the disputed area.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Defector balloons into North Korea denouncing attack on Yeonpyeong

A group of North Korean defectors flew propaganda leaflets toward the North on Saturday denouncing the communist state’s attack on Yeonpyeong island last month, as tensions spiked over a planned South Korean live-fire drill.

Several activists from North Korean defectors’ organizations, including the Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea, sent 10 balloons from Yeonpyeong that carried about 200,000 leaflets critical of the North Korean attack and its regime. The balloons also contained 500 CDs that hold the footage of the shelling and, in a bid to encourage North Korean citizens to pick them up, 1,000 $1 bills.

North Korea finds such propaganda fliers highly provocative and has repeatedly condemned the South Korean government for failing to prohibit such activities.

“While the (South Korean) people’s anxiety had yet to subside after the Cheonan incident, North Korea indiscriminately bombarded South Korean territory again,” Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and head of Fighters for Free North Korea, said, referring to the March sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. “We flew the leaflets in order to tell the North Korean people of this provocative behavior.”

The leaflets carry such messages as “Let’s bring down the third-generation hereditary succession” or “Rise up, North Korean compatriots,” Park said.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Most serious crisis on the Korean peninsula since 1953

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson provided North Korea with a series of proposals Saturday in what he described as a "good meeting" with the country's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan. 

Richardson told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the situation "by all accounts right now is the most serious crisis on the Korean peninsula since the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean war."

Prior to this, Russia summoned the South Korean and US envoys over the live-fire drill planned by Seoul amid mounting tensions with North Korea. As a member-state of the six-party negotiations on the Korean peninsula crisis, Russia hosted the North Korean foreign minister last week in a bid to help find a way out of the escalating dispute.

South Korea announced that scheduled military drills likely would not be held this weekend due to an adverse weather forecast. The drills will be held only if the weather improves in the areas surrounding Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The North Korean military threatened on Friday to strike back if South Korea goes ahead with its drill.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bill Richardson to North Korea to relieve tensions

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he hopes to "to bring down the temperature in the Korean peninsula" during his trip to North Korea. Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, is in North Korea on a four-day visit with officials during a tense time in the region.

Richardson, who spoke to CNN Thursday at a layover in Beijing as he waited to fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, said he hopes he can help the situation even if it is just "a little bit."

Richardson said he will try to get "North Koreans to curtail their aggressive behavior, to see if there is some basis for negotiations, to get them to stop the uranium enrichment."

Richardson, who has hosted a North Korean delegation in New Mexico in the past, said he hopes his past relationships will help. The governor said he was invited to the nation by North Korea's senior nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan and the meeting comes at a very pivotal time.

Tensions are "the highest I've ever seen. I've been involved with North Korea for the last 10 to 15 years," Richardson said. "I can't remember when the tension were as high as it is now. And you worry about some kind of action hastening a potential war. And we have to avoid that at all costs." 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Man Who Manages Kim Jong-il's Slush Funds

Jon Il-chun, the head of a special department in North Korea's Workers Party, manages Kim Jong-il's slush fund.

The 69-year-old Jon went to high school with Kim (68) and was appointed head of the department, known as Room 39, early this year. It manages 17 overseas branch offices and around 100 trading companies and even owns a gold mine and a bank. The US$200-300 million those companies make each year is supposedly funneled into Kim's secret bank accounts around the world.

Room 39 is targeted each time the U.S. and other foreign governments apply financial sanctions against North Korea. Kim replaced its head early this year because the former director, Kim Tong-un, was put on an EU list of sanctioned individuals late last year, making it impossible for him to manage the leader's secret overseas bank accounts.

Due to the importance of the department and the clandestine nature of its business, the director of Room 39 rarely appears in public, but he sometimes accompanies Kim Jong-il on guidance tours when they involve organizations linked to Kim's slush funds, an intelligence official said.

In a TV clip on Sunday, Jon is seen with Kim on an tour to Hyangmanlu, a popular restaurant, and Sonhung food manufacturing plant. A North Korean defector who used to live in Pyongyang, said the restaurant was built in the 1990s by a wealthy ethnic Korean from Japan.

Chosun Ilbo

Sunday, December 12, 2010

WikiLeaks: Eric Clapton asked to perform in North Korea

North Korea asked America to arrange an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang, saying that it could help to persuade Kim Jong-il to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

A confidential cable dated 22 May 2007 from the US ambassador in Seoul to Washington reveals North Korean officials "suggested" to the Americans that because Kim Jong-il's second son, Kim Jong-chol, was "a great fan" of the British guitarist, a "performance could be an opportunity to build goodwill". The report adds that "arranging an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang… could be useful, given Kim Jong-il's second son's devotion to the rock legend".

The request was portrayed by North Korea as a way to "promote understanding" between the communist nation and the west. Music has been used to advance the cause of diplomacy towards North Korea in the past, just as US orchestral visits to the Soviet Union were deployed in the 1950s during the cold war.

News of the Clapton request is revealed in a confidential cable detailing a briefing between the US ambassador in Seoul and a leading human rights worker in the region.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

U.S. steps up pressure on China to act on North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan at the State Department, where the trio pledged support for South Korea in the latest escalation of its long-running conflict with North Korea, and urged China to take on a larger role in constraining Pyongyang.

Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, is leading a delegation to Asia next week amid increased tensions on the Korean peninsula following North Korean shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island last month, as well as the March sinking of a South Korean warship and recent revelations that it is is enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. His visit will follow a trip to South Korea by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to show support for the South Korean military.

"The tensions that we see and the dangers that we see come from the fact that (there) does not seem to be effective restraints on North Korea ... in theses provocations," Steinberg said in his speech. "We need to make clear the dangers (that) come from this provocative behavior. And rather than stepping back and tolerating it, we need to make clear that there are consequences for it. … We need a clear indication from North Korea that it understands that this pattern of provoking -- and then hoping that people will reward it to stop the provocations -- is not one that we are going to sanction."

Steinberg's remarks reflect what U.S. officials call a growing frustration at Beijing's reluctance to exert its influence on North Korea and urge Pyongyang to cease its aggressive behavior.

President Barack Obama called Chinese President Hu Jintao and told him that North Korea needs to "halt its provocative behavior," according to the White House.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

North Korean Heir pledges economic recovery within 3 years

North Korea’s heir apparent Kim Jong Un has pledged economic recovery for his poverty-stricken country within three years, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun said Monday. 

“I will enable the people to eat rice and beef soup within three years,” he was quoted as saying, reiterating a goal of his late grandfather and the North’s founder Kim Il Sung. 

Citing Chinese sources familiar with the North’s situation, the newspaper said Kim Jong Un told a conference in Pyongyang early last month, “We’ll have to revive our economy to the level of the 1960s and 70s within three years, and attain a living standard at which people can eat rice and beef soup, live in tile-roofed houses, and wear silk clothing.” 

Since his selection as successor in September, Kim Jong Un has repeatedly commented on the North Korean economy, saying, “In the past, it was okay if we had no food as long as we had bullets, but today, we need food even if we don’t have bullets.” 

 [Dong-a Ilbo]

Monday, December 06, 2010

Cold War atmosphere re: North Korea

Almost two weeks have passed since North Korea (DPRK) and South Korea (ROK) exchanged fire. Now the US is trying to exert more pressure on China to "rein in" the DPRK. It is even accusing China of "enabling" the DPRK to start a uranium-enrichment program and launch attacks on the ROK. 

Top diplomats from the ROK and Japan are headed for Washington for trilateral talks on Monday, meaning that the three countries are laying aside the possibility of Six-Party Talks and trying to solve the problem through a new approach. Developments have put China in an awkward position as the host country of the Six-Party Talks. 

According to an opinion poll, about 70 percent of the people in the ROK now support a tough policy toward the DPRK, and some political figures who earlier favored the "sunshine policy" have changed their stance. 

With both sides sticking to their tough policies, the danger of confrontation has increased greatly. In the past, the DPRK threatened to launch a "total war", "nuclear war" or "set Seoul on fire" to vent its anger at the way it had been treated by the ROK, the US and Japan.

It's true, neither side wants a war, but with little buffer space for leaders of the DPRK and the ROK, the danger of a military conflict is increasing. 

[China Daily]

Saturday, December 04, 2010

U.S. - S. Korea plans for Korean Reunification

While tensions on the Korean peninsula simmer, American and South Korean officials have already discussed plans to unite the two Koreas when North Korea ultimately collapses.

WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables reveal they’ve also considered inducing China to go along with reunification, with the South Korean ambassador telling the State Department in February 2010 that economic incentives would “help salve” China should a united Korea end up in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

WikiLeaks hits North Korean Chinese relations

China's top foreign policy official arrived in North Korea to defuse concerns after WikiLeaks disclosed reports that Beijing was ready to support Korean unification.

Dai Bingguo, the state counselor for foreign affairs, was despatched to Pyongyang to press its leadership to enter regional talks.

Japanese reports said Mr Dai would offer reassurances over reported comments by more junior Chinese officials that Beijing would not stand in the way of reunification. A cable from Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, reported that South Korea had been told China foresaw the collapse of the North in "two to three years" after the death of Kim Jong-il.

The cables also reported that he did not dare tell the North Korean leader that China was growing frustrated with its neighbor.

While Beijing has not commented on the leaks Mr Dai was expected to tell Pyongyang the reported remarks did not represent the thinking of the senior Chinese leadership.

Cables released by WikiLeaks also revealed that in January of this year, then Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Yu Myung-hwan said high-ranking North Korean diplomats defected to South Korea, but refused to disclose the exact number.

[The Daily Telegraph]