Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on release of American missionary Jun Young-su

Official reports from the Korean Central News Agency has said that Jun Young-su, 60, of Orange County, California, was released by North Korea on humanitarian grounds. The reports stated: “The investigation proved that Jun committed a serious crime … which he frankly admitted himself.”

Pyongyang did not report under precisely what charges it was holding Jun under, however it is understood that he was accused of attempting to spread Christianity in North Korea.

American citizen Jun Young Su (R)

Visiting U.S. delegates had called for Jun’s immediate release, with the calls climaxing with the visit of Robert King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean Human Rights. He was successful in overseeing the final details of Jun’s release.

Other high profile names to add their weight to calls for Jun’s release were former U.S. President Carter, and the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.

Sam Kim, the executive director of the Korean Church Coalition (KCC), an NGO advocating for human rights on behalf of North Koreans, has released a statement greeting the release. He said, “While we are thankful for Missionary Jun’s release, there are millions who are still living in North Korea and there can never be peace on the Korean Peninsula when half of Korea remains in bondage, in darkness and under religious persecution. Kim emphasized that “no person should be arrested for simply exercising his religious beliefs”.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kim Jong-il completes his third visit to China in a year

The China Daily reports Kim Jong-il’s week-long trip to China “sends a strong signal to the outside world that the two will make joint efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

Kim Jong-il paid a visit to China from May 20 to 26, his third visit to China in a year, a clear indication that China and the DPRK maintain frequent high-level contacts. During Kim’s visit, President Hu Jintao and other state leadership held talks on issues of mutual concern ranging from bilateral ties to the situation on the peninsula.

Beijing supports Pyongyang’s efforts to improve people’s livelihoods and promote economic and social development and is willing to share experiences with Pyongyang on many facets of nation building and development.

China’s stance is that the six-party talks should be revived at an early date. Launched in 2003, the six-party talks include China, the DPRK, the United States, the ROK, Japan and Russia. The talks, the only platform for discussing security matters on the peninsula in East Asia, have been suspended since December 2008.

During his visit, the DPRK leader reaffirmed his support for denuclearization on the peninsula, an early resumption of the six-party talks and improving inter-Korean relations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

American freed by North Korea without aid promise, US says

North Korea freed an American it held for a half year for reportedly proselytizing. US envoy, Robert King, accompanied Eddie Jun on a flight from the North Korean capital. After Beijing, Jun flew to Seoul where he told reporters he would have a medical checkup.
Jun, a Korean-American from California who traveled to North Korea several times and had business interests there, was arrested in November, with the North's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, saying he was accused of committing a serious crime. Pyongyang didn't provide details, but South Korean press reports say Jun was accused of spreading Christianity. 

North Korea officially guarantees freedom of religion but often cracks down on Christians, who are seen as a Western-influenced threat. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution, defectors have said.

King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, traveled to Pyongyang this week with specialists to assess the severity of the latest of North Korea's chronic food shortages, tried to quash any speculation that the U.S. had offered aid to obtain his freedom.

Friday, May 27, 2011

American Eddie Yong Su Jun freed by North Korea

An American detained by North Korea since November has been released, state-run news agency reported Friday, following a four-day visit by a U.S. delegation assessing the country's food shortages.

Eddie Yong Su Jun, a Korean-American businessman, was detained for "committing a crime" against North Korea after entering the country, state-run KCNA reported. Jun admitted his crime during an investigation, the news agency said, but it did not specify what crime he allegedly committed.

Jun's release follows a visit by special envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Jon Brause, to assess food shortages that have left thousands starving after floods and harsh weather devastated North Korea's crops.

The news agency also said former President Jimmy Carter asked North Korea to pardon Jun.

In 2010, Carter helped secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a U.S. citizen who was fined about $600,000 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing over the Chinese border into North Korea. Gomes was also a Christian activist.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making it difficult for North Korea defectors to send funds

The Korean Herald reports North Korean defectors are strongly opposing a South Korean government plan to require them to gain approval before making remittances to relatives in the cash-strapped state.They say that the approval process could put them and their loved ones in the North in dangerous situations and make brokers demand more money for delivering funds. They also say that since their remittances are made through “complicated multi-layered” procedures, it would be difficult to detect those sending money without approval.

“We have been scrimping on food, clothes and others to send some of the hard-earned money ― at most 1 million won ($917) ― to help our family, not the North Korean regime. The approval system is wrong,” a 43-year-old North Korean defector, who has taken asylum here since 1997, told the Korea Herald, declining to be named.

He also pointed out that the planned system may not be effective. “All these have so far taken place secretly. Who would ever like to willingly tell the authorities about their remittances at the risk of revealing their identities and those of their relatives in the North? One out of 10 may be willing,” he said.

North Korean defectors usually send their money through ethnic Chinese people here, who ask their Chinese relatives or acquaintances inside the North or near the North Korea-China border to deliver the money. The brokers are known to take 30 percent of the total remittances.

According to a survey by a private Seoul-based group, which was released early this year, nearly half of North Korean defectors here have sent money to their families in the North.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

US human rights envoy visiting North Korea

U.S. human rights envoy Robert King has begun a week-long visit to North Korea to assess the country's food shortage and a possible resumption of U.S. food aid.

King, the first U.S. official to visit North Korea in 17 months -- and the first by a human rights envoy since 2004 -- arrived to little fanfare. He has been highly critical of North Korea's record on human rights. In January last year, during his first trip to Seoul after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate in his post, King said the North was "one of the worst places in terms of the lack of human rights." He also said human rights issues will play a part in any agreement with the United States.

King is to remain in Pyongyang until at least the weekend, although some of the delegation may stay longer if they decide to travel to remote parts of the country.

"We will be making a decision on [resuming food aid] over the next few days," U.S. Envoy to South Korea Stephen Bosworth said.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not apparent if Heir Apparent Kim Jong-un visiting China

South Koreans pay close attention to the movements of the leadership of North Korea, perhaps the world's most secretive regime.

Midst the conflicting accounts of whether Kim Jong-il's heir apparent son, Kim Jong-un, accompanied his father to China on Friday, The Korea Herald reports that a source in a Chinese border city confirmed the junior Kim Jong-un’s presence. The junior Kim appeared to be heading to Mudanjiang in northeast China after arriving in the Chinese border city of Tumen early Friday morning, the source in Tumen told Yonhap News Agency.

Open Radio for North Korea, a South Korean NGO partly staffed by defectors from the North, and who maintains a network of informants in North Korea, reports: "I checked through my sources, and one had heard from a military officer working at the border yesterday that there was some kind of 'emergency' along the border," said Ha Tae-kyung, the organization's president.

"According to that military officer, it was Kim Jong Il who is going -- not his son."

The term of Chinese President Hu Jintao's term is set to expire next year, prompting some to anticipate greater diplomatic interchange between Beijing and Pyongyang as Kim seeks to forge relations with the incoming leader.

"Kim Jong Il wants to get something from South Korea or the U.S. or China -- economic aid or security assurances -- but at the moment he is not getting anything and China is preventing North Korea from further provocations," said Choi Jin-wook of Seoul's Korea Institute of National Unification. "Kim wants to know what China is going to do for them."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

North Korean cyber army increasingly sophisticated

South Korea’s intelligence agencies now believe that North Korea has the capability to "paralyze the U.S. Pacific Command and cause extensive damage to defense networks inside the United States,” Fox News reported Tuesday. According to Washington and Seoul, their abilities rival those of the CIA, it said.

Among the most frequent visitors to U.S. military websites, according to the U.S. Defense Department, are computers traced to North Korea, the report said.

The North Korean military has amassed as many as 30,000 electronic warfare specialists and they have become the elite core of the military, Fox News said, quoting defectors.

Defectors say that the regime now culls the brightest students from the nation’s universities and funnels them into special “secret” schools that concentrate on hacking and developing cyber warfare programs targeted at South Korea, the broadcaster said. At one secret school, security is so tight that only one outsider ― dictator Kim Jong-il ― is allowed to drive onto the campus.

According to Jang Se-yul, a defector who attended one of the schools and was an officer in the North Korean electronic warfare command, the heart of the effort is centered at Automation University, where “100 to 110 hackers a year” trained in advanced electronic espionage every year often, Fox News said.

“Modern war is electronic warfare. Victory or defeat in a modern war depends on how to carry out electronic warfare,” Kim told his military several years ago. Kim has since made cyber warfare a top, though secret, priority of his paranoid regime, it said.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Report highlights North Korean abductions

A new report detailing North Korea's decades-long policy of abducting foreign nationals has been published by a US-based human rights group. The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says more than 180,000 people from 14 countries have been taken.

The vast majority of these cases are not typical abductions. They involve prisoners not returned after the 1950-53 Korean War and Japanese who settled in North Korea but were never allowed home. Other reports highlight North Korea's foreign operations - including a Japanese college student and his girlfriend snatched from a beach in Japan by North Korean agents.

The figure includes more than 3,000 South Korean fishermen forcibly towed into North Korean waters and students in European cities - including London, it says - lured to the secretive state with the promise of jobs and then denied permission to leave.

The figure of 180,000 is much larger than usually quoted because researchers have added together all the groups that may have been affected by North Korea's alleged practices.

Some abductions, they say, are apparently a bid to train its intelligence agents, but the report also cites more recent claims that North Korean agents are targeting those in China's border areas who are suspected of helping their people escape the closed state.

The allegations are almost impossible to verify.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Debate over food shortages in North Korea continues

The U.N. says hunger is driving some North Koreans to eat wild grass, and humanitarians are pressuring the U.S. and South Korea to send food. But South Koreans who study the North say the crisis has been overstated.

American televangelist Franklin Graham, who has warned of famine and joined calls for more food aid, arrived in the North Korean capital Tuesday to discuss possible contributions from a Christian charity.

After a visit there last month, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter blasted Washington and Seoul on the issue. "One of the most important human rights is to have food to eat, and for South Korea and the U.S. and others to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people is really a human rights violation," Carter said.

The U.N. in March called for more than 430,000 metric tons (474,000 tons) of food aid to fend off disaster, and activists want the U.S. and South Korea to override any political reasons for not giving.

"It is an exaggeration to say there is a looming crisis," said Kwon Tae-jin, a South Korean expert on North Korean food and agriculture.

Figures for the North's food production are likely to undercount the total, said the Daily NK, a Seoul-based media outlet that specializes in the North and has sources inside the country. Many collective farms in the North underreport their food production to the central government so they can sell extra food to raise money for fertilizer and farm equipment, Daily NK said in a report posted online.

There also are suspicions Pyongyang is exaggerating shortages and seeking food donations in part so it can devote more resources to its campaign to build a prosperous society during the 2012 centennial of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

The U.N. report from March paints a stark picture: More than 6 million North Koreans, about a quarter of the population, need urgent international food aid. The World Food Program said last month it is launching an emergency operation to help feed 3.5 million hungry people in North Korea.

Activists say that if food is sent and if the North allows outsiders to properly monitor it, the aid generally gets to the intended recipients.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Only 101 North Korean refugees accepted by US over 5 years

The United States has received 101 North Korean refugees during the past few years under legislation to help improve human rights conditions in the reclusive communist state and accommodate North Korean refugees, statistics showed Saturday.

US Immigration admitted 73,293 people in total to the U.S. as refugees in 2010.

South Korea has received more than 20,000 North Korean defectors.

The US total breaks down to 9 for 2006, 22 for 2007, 37 for 2008, 25 for 2009 and 8 for 2010, according to figures released Saturday by the Office of Immigration Statistics at the Department of Homeland Security.

The North Korean refugees were admitted into the U.S. under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which calls for the provision of financial aid to help improve North Korea's human rights and accept North Korean defectors into the U.S.

In 2008, Congress approved the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act for another four years, calling for "activities to support human rights and democracy and freedom of information in North Korea," as well as "assistance to North Koreans who are outside North Korea," and 12-hour daily broadcasting to North Korea.


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

American Christians challenged to emulate North Korean underground church

Rev. Eric Foley, co-founder of Voice of the Martyrs/Korea, has authored "The Whole Life Offering," a new manual designed to help American Christians grow by emulating discipleship practices of the North Korean underground church.

"The North Korean church is the most persecuted church in the world," says Foley. "They have had to learn ways of worship that do not depend on special buildings or paid pastors or freedoms granted by the government. 

“The early church was born in homes, with worship centered in families. The North Korean church still worships that way today, and they are stronger Christians than we are because of this. They treasure the word of God more than we do because it is so scarce for them. Their living rooms have become sanctuaries for God, not just places to watch television. They lack our worldly freedoms, but because of this they have become freer than we are in Christ."

“I am hopeful that [this book] can reawaken American Christians to true freedom in Christ, which leads to real maturity, not permanent Christian adolescence," says Foley.

Monday, May 02, 2011

North Korea crackdown on mobile phones

North Korea has started a drive to confiscate mobile phones in an attempt to suppress news from the outside world, a group of North Korean defectors said.

North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said in its latest newsletter police in North Hamkyong and Yangkang provinces bordering Russia and China have started urging residents to voluntarily surrender mobile phones or face punishment. It cited sources in the border cities of Hyesan and Hoeryong.

The police warned that special devices to detect mobile phone use had been brought in to punish "those spreading capitalist ideas and eroding socialism", the group quoted one of the sources as saying.

Many residents in border areas that can receive mobile reception from China are known to use smuggled phones to talk to relatives and friends who escaped the impoverished state to settle in China or South Korea.

At present users restrict conversations to five minutes, the minimum time authorities need to trace a call, said the source.