Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Four North Koreans defect to the South by boat

Four North Koreans defected to South Korea by sea this week. Yonhap, South Korea's national news agency, reported that the defectors were a husband and wife, their son and daughter-in-law.

Yonhap, which cited no sources in its report, said the four North Koreans were in a small wooden boat when a patrol boat from the South Korean Navy picked them up Tuesday night. Escapes from North Korea through the heavily guarded land and sea borders between the two Koreas are uncommon.

More than 14,000 people from the hunger-stricken North have defected to South Korea since1953, but most of the defectors have come through China.

[International Herald Tribune]

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aid to North Koreans continues from smaller agencies

Private humanitarian aid to North Korea has continued despite the virtual breakdown of government-to-government relations.

A South Korean Buddhist group announced it has shipped a fresh consignment of food aid for mothers and children in impoverished North Korea.

The shipment worth is expected to arrive in the North's north-eastern port of Rajin by Thursday, said the Seoul-based Jungto Society. It will be distributed in Hoeryong, a town in the northernmost province of North Hamkyong, which is especially prone to food shortages.

"Hamkyong province usually receives even less outside assistance than other regions because it is at the northeastern tip of the country," one organiser, Kim Ae-Kyung, told Yonhap news agency.

[Straits Times]

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kim Il Sung floated U.S. contact back in 1974

Former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung proposed setting up secret contacts with the United States through Romania in 1974, declassified documents show.

The documents say an aide to Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu told U.S. President Gerald Ford that Kim wanted to have confidential contacts with the United States in the wake of President Richard Nixon's historic Cold War visit to China in 1972, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Sunday.

The document showed Ford's response to the proposal was lukewarm, quoting him as saying, "Certain things must precede such contacts. We don't want to go in without a firm understanding." He said he would discuss the matter with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was at the meeting.

Yonhap reported the document saying Ceausescu met with Ford at the White House in 1975 and told him he had delivered Washington's position to Kim Il Sung.

[Post Chronicle]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

North Korean "religion" Juche or Kim Il Sungism

In the North Korean capital Pyongyang, the year 2008 is referred to as Juche 97, based on a system that begins with the date of birth of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, who was born on April 15, 1912.

North Koreans are indoctrinated from birth to revere the country's former leader, Kim Il-sung, although the man, who was elevated to the status of a godlike leader, has been dead for years.

Juche, or Kim Il Sungism, mandates that citizens attend weekly meetings espousing Kim Il-sung's school of thought. Families are required to hang a picture of the leader in their home. In years past, unannounced home inspections ensured those pictures were in fact hanging up and were clean. Homes found to be in violation were fined.

"It's like your religion," said an interviewee, referring to Kim Il Sungism. "When people come first in a race or don't get hurt from a fall, we say, 'Thank the General Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.'"

Saturday, December 27, 2008

North Korea tough on “those who confess to religious belief”

It is grotesque what North Korea does to its own people. North Korean repression of religious liberty is particularly harsh.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has published a report, “A Prison Without Bars,” based on interviews with North Korean refugees and former security personnel.

Notes the Commission: “it is widely known that there are severe penalties meted out against those discovered practicing banned religions. Many interviewees testified that they had heard about or witnessed severe persecution of persons caught engaging in religious activity.”

Refugees cite one tragic case after another. Punishments include “torture, mistreatment, and the disappearance of those suspected of religious activity.”

One member of the secret police observed that the authorities treat more leniently refugees who flee to China simply in search of jobs and food, even if they seek aid from churches, than those “who confess to religious belief, or are suspected of spreading Christianity.”

[Source: Doug Bando, Senior Fellow in International Religious Persecution at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Activists vow that leaflets will continue into North Korea

Members of South Korea’s anti-Pyongyang civic groups said yesterday they will resume sending leaflets toward the North, in protest of Seoul’s decision to cut funds to the groups.

For years, the activists have sent massive balloons north containing thousands of leaflets criticizing alleged corruption in the North and urging the public to rise up against the government.

Choi Sung-young, head of Abductees’ Family Union, said his group and Fighters for Free North Korea would resume the leaflet campaign in January. Choi is a son of a local fisherman who was kidnapped by North Korea decades ago.

“The two Koreas aren’t exactly talking to each other, while the North shows no signs of solving the Kaesong Industrial Complex problem or the shooting accident at the Mount Kumgang resort and South Korea’s Unification Ministry slashed the budget for North Korean refugees,” Choi told reporters. “The South Korean government is no longer entitled to ask for us to stop sending the leaflets,” he added.

Choi said the groups would continue working together to send more than 300,000 new leaflets next month.

The anti-North leaflets have become the biggest political bone of contention in inter-Korea relations, as Pyongyang repeatedly denounced them as an attempt to destabilize its government. In retaliation, it put tough restrictions on operations of the Kaesong complex.

[JoonAng Daily]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

S. Korean Lawyers to help North Korean Defectors in Burma

A group of South Korean lawyers say they will do what they can to help a group of North Korean defectors on trial in Burma for illegal immigration.

The South Korean Bar Association of Human Rights says it will file a petition to a Burma court, in hopes of securing the release of 19 North Korean defectors being detained there.

The 19 North Korean defectors being detained by authorities in Burma are among those who have fled their country's harsh deprivation and political repression. Adding emotional urgency to the case is the fact that four of the defectors are apparently children whose mothers have already settled in South Korea.

A woman who says two of the children are hers tells South Korean media the group had arranged with an underground travel broker for passage to Thailand. However, they were transported to Burma, instead.

Park Min-jae says lawyers are ready to travel to Burma, if necessary. She says, as a nongovernmental organization from a third country, all her association can do is make its case based on civil rights. She says that, in terms of international law, the defectors do not have the protections that come with formal refugee status.

[VOA News]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

America to continue food aid to North Korea

The United States will continue to offer food aid to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday.

A US team has recently traveled to the DPRK to assess situation there, said the spokesman, adding that the United States will soon send 21,000 metric tons (about 23,100 tons) of food to the impoverished country.

Reports here said earlier this week that the DPRK's 23 million people are going to urgently need food assistance over the next several months due to chronic shortages.

[China Daily]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

North Korean defector pleads with Myanmar to release her children

Among the group of 19 North Korean defectors arrested at the border of Myanmar on December 2, and about to be tried by Burma for illegal entry are four children. The North Koreans face either deportation back to China or Thailand or between six months and two years in prison.

The mother of two of them, a North Korean woman who had preceded them to South Korea, pleaded today with Myanmar to release her two children.

"Two of them are my children, aged six and 15," said the woman in an interview with Radio Free Asia. After she heard her children were arrested by Myanmar's authorities, she had traveled to the border to meet her children. "But my requests to see my children were denied (by Myanmar authorities)."

She explained her children had fled North Korea with her mother and two sisters and arrived at China's northern border. "Then, my mother was arrested and deported back to North Korea, and two of my sisters were sold out to local brokers and have since been unheard of," she said.

South Korean NGOs and family members in South Korea are staging a humanitarian campaign to help the defectors, whose trial is expected to take place this week.

[Earth Times]

Monday, December 22, 2008

A North Korea deal only by going to the top

In a few months, a former U.S. president — Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton — may be asked to travel to North Korea in pursuit of military denuclearization.

In 1994, Carter did exactly that. Meeting personally with then-maximum North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in Pyongyang, the former U.S. president hammered out an understanding that was to lead to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated in Geneva.

The key to the overall accord was the top-down approach to diplomacy. This is virtually the only method for achieving negotiated agreements with a dictatorship like North Korea. Dealing with lower-level emissaries will inevitably be frustrating, because they inherently lack the authority and negotiating room.

Even senior North Korean officials — much less mid-level ones — are afraid of exhibiting an independence or freedom of thought in even private negotiations. (They assume, properly, that every such conversation is bugged.) They are afraid of losing their lives: For in a feral dictatorship like North Korea's, there is only one source of wisdom and political correctness, and that comes from the boss.

This leads to the second problem. The current boss of North Korea (as far as anyone knows) has been recovering from a severe medical setback, probably a stroke or strokes.

The question remains: Will the North Koreans ever truly abandon their nuclear-arms program? The answer is yes, but only if (1) the price in aid is high enough, and (2) some very high-level American travels to Pyongyang to nail down the framework of the deal with whoever is then the leader of North Korea.

[Japan Times]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

North Korean refugees not offered much hope in Burma

Burmese authorities have arrested 19 North Korean defectors and plan to charge them with illegally entering the country, a senior police official said Saturday.

The group was trying to make their way to South Korea via China and Southeast Asia, an increasingly popular route for North Koreans trying to escape chronic hunger and repression in their communist homeland.

An official, who did not want to be named, said "As they were arrested in our territory, we are taking action against them under the immigration act," he said.

The Burmese police official said he was not sure if the 19 people would be returned and said the North Korean embassy in Rangoon had not yet intervened.

Military-ruled Burma and hardline communist North Korea, which are both severely criticized internationally for human rights abuses, restored diplomatic relations in April 2007.

Burma severed ties with Pyongyang in 1983 following a failed assassination attempt by North Korean agents on then-South Korean president Chun Doo-Hwan during his visit to Rangoon. The bombing killed 17 of Chun's entourage including cabinet ministers while four Burmese officials also died.

Burma, which has been ruled by generals since 1962, and North Korea have been branded "outposts of tyranny" by the United States, which imposes sanctions on both.

[Bangkok Post]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

North Korean refugee dies in Laos

A North Korean refugee, detained in an immigration camp in Laos, died this week.

The woman, identified by Yonhap news agency as Kim Kyung-Hee, 27, was pronounced dead due to 'excessive entero-haemorrhage' during medical treatment. A South Korean missionary activist, Pastor Kim Hee-Tae, said that Ms Kim, who feared deportation, died suddenly while coughing up blood.

Two other defectors are in a stable condition in hospital. They had attempted suicide by swallowing pieces of iron rather than be sent back, said the pastor, who helps North Korean refugees in the region.

The pastor told Yonhap the three had defected together through China. They travelled to South-east Asia in hopes of seeking asylum in South Korea but were captured near the Laotian border.

Authorities told them they should pay US$2,500 in fines or face deportation.

[The Straits Times]

Friday, December 19, 2008

Education of North Korean teen defectors

North Korean teenager Han Jee-hee's journey to school in South Korea began by slipping past border guards into China where she went into hiding to avoid forcible repatriation home.

Han eventually made it to South Korea, and the 19-year-old is among more than 200 North Koreans studying at the Hangyoreh Junior and Senior High School, set up by South Korea to prepare the young defectors for the huge changes they face living in a capitalist state.

The students, wearing the school's stylish blue blazers, on average have missed nearly four years of school during their escape from the North. After reaching China, they typically went into hiding and then made their way to a third country from where they sought passage to South Korea.

Up until the first students came to the school when it opened in 2006, the government did not have any special curriculum for the defectors, who were usually so overwhelmed by schools in the South that they simply dropped out.

Students stay from six months to two years at the Hangyoreh school before making the transition to a regular school, or starting a job.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

North Korean defector's flight to musical freedom

Kim Cheol Woong was the dashing new star of North Korea's music circles in October 2001 when, alone in his room, he sat down at the piano and played a tune that he had picked up while studying at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. He was secretly practicing the piece, "'A' Comme Amour," a romantic number recorded by the French pianist Richard Clayderman, in a country where playing the wrong music can land a musician in a prison camp.

When an informer heard the "capitalist" melody drifting from Kim's room and reported it to the National Security Agency, the Communist state's secret police, the authorities intervened. "They made me write a 10-page self-criticism, over and over until they were satisfied," Kim said. The fact that his father was a powerful member of the ruling Workers Party may have saved him. Nevertheless, Kim found the experience repugnant.

"Music in North Korea is a political tool," Kim said. "Its purpose is to inspire adoration of the leader and the belief that socialism will triumph."

Unlike the thousands of North Koreans who have fled famine and material privation, Kim, who had enjoyed a life of privilege, said his flight owed more to his deepening unhappiness about his treatment as an artist.

He made his way across the border into China. A fellow North Korean defector told him of a piano in a church run by a Korean-Chinese pastor. To get to it, he joined an underground Bible study group where Christian missionaries led North Korean defectors in Bible readings in return for food and shelter. It was a Christian network that later helped smuggle him to Seoul.

[International Herald Tribune]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

North Korea and Bush's hawks

A Boston Globe editorial claims: Implacable hawks on the Bush administration are gutting what could have been President Bush's prime achievement in national security.

The hawks - a group that includes Vice President Dick Cheney and former UN ambassador John Bolton - have sought to sabotage negotiations with North Korea in two ways. One is to break US commitments made in a series of six-party talks. The other is to demand that North Korea perform certain actions before any mutual agreement on those actions has been reached.

Last week, the chief US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said that four days of talks with his North Korean counterpart failed to produce a written protocol for verifying steps that the regime had taken toward denuclearization. But the administration had no grounds, under previous agreements, to demand such a document.

The six-party accords are based on a principle of action for action, and they are to be implemented in distinct phases. An October 2007 agreement on implementation of phase 2 obliged North Korea to disable its nuclear reactor and nuclear fuel rod fabrication facility at Yongbyon. In return, the United States was to remove North Korea from the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism.

And while North Korea had given Hill oral assurances that it is prepared to permit inspectors to visit undeclared sites and take environmental samples, there was nothing in phase 2 about a verification protocol.

Even worse, Hill was not empowered to offer North Korea anything in exchange for signing a written agreement on verification measures ahead of schedule. This is an attempt to get something for nothing and violates the action-for-action principle at the core of the six-party negotiations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Washington Post blasts silence about North Korean camps

Future generations will wonder why the U.S. and South Korea did nothing about human rights abuses in North Korea, the Washington Post said in an editorial comparing North Korean prison camps to concentration camps in Nazi Germany. American children "may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong-il's camps, and did nothing."

Titled "Three Kernels of Corn," the editorial recounts the torture and human rights abuse of Shin Dong-hyuk, a 26-year-old refugee and former inmate of a concentration camp. The title alludes to Shin's experience at the camp, where he found three kernels of corn in a pile of cow dung, washed them off and ate them. Shin was the first North Korean refugee who escaped from a concentration camp.

"It's horrifying, on another level, that only 500 people in South Korea, where Shin lives, have bought his book. Many Koreans don't want to hear about human rights abuses in the north; they're worried that the Communist regime might collapse and leave the more prosperous South with a costly burden of rehabilitation."

The U.S., meanwhile, is more concerned with containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's camps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps, and did nothing."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, December 15, 2008

1400 North Koreans receive EU Citizenship

More than 1,400 North Koreans became citizens of European Union member states, in the period from 2002 to 2006.

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, says most of them are assumed to be former North Korean refugees.

Germany was the most accommodating host country, with over 500 North Koreans becoming citizens during that period. Next followed France and Spain.

[Source: Arirang News]

Defectors send messages into North Korea

On a drizzly December morning, Lee Min Bok kneels on the cold ground near the North Korean border and consults his laptop. He's scanning satellite weather photos to pick just the right spot for his launch. Satisfied, he and a helper load 20 large helium tanks into a van and head west.

Lee, 52, and his partner, Kim Sung Soo, say little. Less than a mile from the border, they back the van into a cemetery. One by one, they fill plastic balloons with helium, creating 36-foot-tall cylinders that snap in the wind and tug hard on the ropes. Lee, founder of the North Korean Christian Defectors Association, attaches a plastic satchel packed with thousands of vinyl fliers to the balloon. He sets the timer, and waits for the right gust of wind.

To reach the isolated society of North Korea devoid of outside newspapers, radio and television, Lee uses a simple yet elegant method to elude North Korean intelligence watchdogs: He sends millions of leaflets northward by way of helium balloons. He prefers to see himself as a North Korean David, slinging leaflets at a mighty, but vulnerable, Goliath.

In this high-tech age, the balloons have struck a nerve with Pyongyang and placed Lee, other defectors and civic groups center-stage in the Korean Peninsula's political standoff.

Analysts say the leaflets are written in simple language by former North Koreans who intimately know the North's culture. "Dear North Koreans," one begins, taking aim at Kim. "So he's a General who eats rice gruel together with the people? But how could he get love handles and a double chin if he eats rice gruel? People are starving to death, but why does the country spend so much for Kim's [extravagances]?"

[Los Angeles Times]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Endgame for Bush and North Korea?

The effort to persuade North Korea to roll back its nuclear program was, until recently, one of the modest successes for the Bush administration's foreign policy. The man leading the effort, chief US negotiator Christopher Hill, is a hugely respected diplomat, well-versed in the intricacies of the subject.

For an administration criticized for its unilateralism, this was very much a multilateral effort, the framework for the discussions being the six-party talks.Indeed the Bush administration has significantly shifted both the tone and the substance of its policy towards North Korea. Highly symbolic was the president's decision in October to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The Bush administration's effort to reach out to Pyongyang was seen as a betrayal of fundamental principle by some conservative hardliners, not least the former UN ambassador John Bolton. They believed that the administration had gone soft.

Now US President-elect Barack Obama can add this dossier too to his ever-increasing in-tray.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fallout from Pentagon's gaffe spreads

As the latest round of six-party talks on North Korea ended without any discernable progress, growing controversy over a United States defense report "mistakenly" listing the Hermit Kingdom as one of Asia's five nuclear powers has experts from the region fretting that the error was a Freudian slip.

Adding fuel to the fire is US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' remark in the January/February 2009 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that "North Korea has built several nuclear bombs".

Many analysts in Tokyo balk at the notion of the US formally admitting that the North is a nuclear power. This is a reality which would lead to future six-party talks being reclassified as "disarmament" negotiations, a significant strengthening of the North's hand and a deepening of security fears for the North's regional rivals.

The Pentagon last week issued a 56-page report and it was the sentence, "The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Russia," that has so delighted North Korea. Pyongyang unilaterally declared itself a de facto nuclear power in February 2005, but despite a test in October 2006 the US has never officially said it is a nuclear power.

[Excerpt of an article by Kosuke Takahashi, Asia Times]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Any accord on North Korean nuclear program will elude Bush

The Bush administration signaled Thursday that it may not be able to reach an agreement with North Korea on its nuclear program before President Bush leaves office next month but said it will continue to try.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the North Koreans had refused to sign an agreement on how to verify their nuclear activities. Asked if the negotiations were over for the Bush administration, McCormack said, "No, no. In terms of further action in the six-party mechanism, we will see what the North Koreans' response is going to be."

He added, "There will continue to be work, there will continue to be action in terms of consultation, and certainly we, as well as others, the Chinese I would expect, would urge North Korea to accept the common understanding of the other five [countries] to move this process forward." [The “other five” countries being the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea.]


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Remembering North Koreans on the 60th Anniversary of Human Rights Day

December 10 was the 60th anniversary of the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly.

All possible human rights efforts in the international community must be sustained through not only the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly but also multilateral cooperation channels, and the roles of numerous non-government organizations working on the ground must be further recognized and supported.

In this respect, we welcome the adoption of a new (November 21) North Korea human rights resolution at the UN General Assembly. We think it particularly significant that South Korea participated as a joint sponsor alongside European countries. We should pay attention to humanitarian activities for North Koreans and the courageous acts of organizations offering assistance to North Korean defectors.

It is hoped that the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will serve to meditate on the true meaning of human rights: "Recognizing the dignity and equal and unalienable rights of all human families is the basis of world liberty, justice and peace."

[Excerpt of Chosun Ilbo column contributed by French Ambassador to Korea, Philippe Thiebaud]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Google, YouTube to Promote Human Rights in North Korea

Radio Free Asia reported on Tuesday that internet company Google and online video site YouTube promised to cooperate in promoting the human rights of North Koreans and democratization of the nation via internet broadcasting.

According to the RFA, the two companies discussed measures to distribute documents and videos containing human rights' issues in undemocratic countries including North Korea, Burma and Cuba at the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit held by the U.S. State Department in New York last week.

Officials from some 17 NGOs from 15 countries, including Crossing Border, a relief organization for North Korean defectors, attended. An official at the U.S. State Department reportedly said, "It is important to use the Internet to promote North Korea's human rights."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

U.S. human rights activist calls for end of North Korean gulag

American human rights investigator David Hawk, a former executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., said Sunday in Tokyo there should be a plan for dismantling North Korea's notorious political prison camps, not just the country's nuclear facilities.

The estimates are as many as 300,000 political prisoners held in labor camps in remote regions of North Korea, with many subjected to torture and summary execution. Several former prisoners spoke at the meeting of conditions in the North Korean gulag.

On how to dismantle the prison camps, Hawk cited how Human Rights First, a prominent U.S. human rights group, came up with a blueprint for closing down the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hawk suggested that a similar blueprint could be developed in consultation with former North Korean political prisoners.

[The Japan Times]

Monday, December 08, 2008

Joy of text tops the lessons in life for teen North Korean defectors

Is learning to use mobile phones, credit cards and surf the net easier than slipping past border guards and going into hiding before fleeing to a safe haven?

North Korean teenager Han Jee-hee left behind family, friends and a broken education system where schools have a curriculum steeped in extolling communist ideology. The 19-year-old, who fled first to China before reaching South Korea, is among more than 200 North Koreans studying at the Hangyoreh Junior and Senior High School, set up to prepare the young defectors for the huge changes they face living in a capitalist state.

The students, wearing the school's blue blazers, have missed an average of nearly four years of school during their escape from the North. After reaching China, they typically went into hiding and then made their way to a third country from where they sought passage to South Korea. Almost all have emotional scars from their harrowing escapes.

Besides academic courses, the students learn how to surf the internet as well as how to use basic tools of the modern world such as credit cards. Civic groups, many of them Christian-based, have also tried to help by setting up private schools for defectors.

[The Scotsman]

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Human rights only a secondary concern in North Korean talks

As six-nation nuclear negotiations resume, let us reflect on an independent report underlining the fact that the discussion of human rights is largely an "issue of secondary concern."

So stated an independent report released last September which urged the United Nations and international nuclear negotiators to more strongly confront what was described as North Korea's dismal treatment of its citizens. The report, commissioned by the former leaders of the Czech Republic and Norway and a Nobel peace laureate, said the world has shied away from criticizing the North's human rights because of fear of its nuclear weapons.

"The international community has far too long neglected the human rights situation in North Korea because of the nuclear threat," former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Czech President Vaclav Havel and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel said in the report.

The report also urged the world to insist on "immediate, safe and unhindered access to all of North Korea for purposes of ensuring food distribution to the most vulnerable groups of the population."

Harsh criticism of the North's human rights by U.S. lawmakers has often stood in stark contrast with the careful language favored by U.S. diplomats working to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Although U.S. President George W. Bush once lumped North Korea into an "axis of evil," he and other top officials in recent years have worked to temper language the North finds insulting and that it previously used as a pretext for delaying nuclear negotiations.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

No easy way out of North Korea

You look at the photo on the cover of Mike Kim’s extraordinary book “Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country” and have to confront an uneasy question: How did we as humans become so savage that we have let this kind of vicious inhumanity persist?

The most disturbing sections deal with sex trafficking. China’s one-child policy and preference for sons, means there aren’t enough women for its men, making North Korean women vulnerable to traffickers. More than 75 percent of the North Korean women crossing the border into China are subject to trafficking and rape.

Kim was a fledgling financial whiz kid in Chicago before he made a trip to China that changed his life. So moved was he by the stories he heard in China about North Korean refugees in hiding he quit his job and moved to California where he spent a year training to be a missionary specializing in humanitarian aid.

Within just a couple of years he had set up Crossing Borders Ministries, an NGO that provides food, medicine and shelter for North Korean refugees.

Kim is a truly incredible man. His account of shepherding four North Korean teenagers into the British Consulate-General in Shanghai is gripping stuff - a matter of life or death for the refugees - and his equally remarkable overland trip through Laos and Thailand would make for a sensational movie.

[JoongAng Daily]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why the Leaflets to North Korea Must Continue

Excerpt of a column contributed by Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation of the U.S.

There has been much controversy about the recent pronouncements against activist groups launching balloons that carry leaflets over to North Korea. There has been a steady stream of angry declarations and threats from North Korea, starting with a threat to shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, cut off all ties with South Korea, and turn South Korea into debris.

These declarations are just more evidence of how critically important these messages from the free world are in reaching out to the North Korean people, [especially because] due to a lack of electricity there are whole sections of North Korea that can only be reached with these messages.

With the election of President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea finally has a leader who cares about the suffering North Korean people. It is long overdue for someone in a position of authority in South Korea to act in the best interest of the North Korean people for a change, rather than the best interest of Kim Jong-il.

There is nothing more powerful than North Koreans living in freedom reaching out with the truth to their brothers and sisters living in enslavement. Other NGOs are sending in pamphlets with messages of hope to their loved ones, specifically those abducted to North Korea, while Christian NGOs are sending in messages of love and forgiveness about Jesus Christ and a loving God, while pointing out that Kim Jong-il is no god.

Why has North Korea reacted so vehemently to these launches? Because Kim Jong-il ironically seems to understand something that we in the free world are sadly forgetting: that the truth shall set you free.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

North Korean Army attempts to gather propaganda leaflets

North Korea has mobilized its military in a campaign to sweep up propaganda leaflets dropped by South Korean activists in large quantities in South Hwanghae Province, Radio Free Asia quoted North Korean sources in China as saying.

North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered residents not to pick up leaflets themselves but report them to state security offices first.

Harsh punishment has reportedly been given to North Koreans who have either kept or read them. It claimed one farmer was interrogated by a state security office and sent to a camp for eight years of labor and indoctrination for having told his neighbors that he had read a leaflet.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Unknown son emerges as contender to take over from Kim Jong-il

"Until now the in-fighting appeared to have been between two factions representing Kim's two sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, but there are now of another son coming forward," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Waseda University and an expert on North Korean affairs.

"The reports say he is in his 30s and has not been mentioned previously as he has an important role within the military," he said.

The third son, Kim Jong Chol, 28, is believed to have his father's blessing to succeed him, although North Korea's unofficial spokesman in Japan denies that a power struggle is going on and that when the time comes, the most appropriate person for the position will be chosen.

Other key players include Chang Song Taek, a high-ranking party official.

According to Professor Shigemura's sources inside the reclusive country, Kim's health continues to deteriorate and he has only months to live. That has triggered a power struggle that has embroiled the Workers' Party, the military and his powerful family.

[The Telegraph]

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