Thursday, March 31, 2011

China boosts border security over fears of North Korean famine

China is reinforcing fences and has stepped up patrols along its border with North Korea as fears mount of a catastrophic famine in the secretive state.

Fences more than 13ft high, topped with barbed wire, are now being erected along an eight-mile stretch of the Yalu river around the Chinese city of Dandong. This is a popular entry point for North Korea refugees seeking food or better lives.

Previously the border was only marked by a 10ft fence which "anybody could cross if they really wanted", a resident added.

Fears for the stability of North Korea have increased in recent weeks with reports of a growing food crisis following the severest winter in 60 years and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that has affected the oxen that are still used to plough fields.

Foreign aid agencies based in Pyongyang issued a joint statement warning that six million North Koreans need urgent food aid because crops of potatoes, wheat and barley have all failed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

International aid agencies appeal for food donations for North Korea

Aid agencies working in North Korea have issued a rare joint appeal for increased food donations, warning that millions of vulnerable citizens are living on a knife edge, according to The Guardian..

The groups, which include Save the Children and the Swiss government's relief agency, say bad weather and livestock disease have hampered domestic production, while high global food and fuel prices are making it harder to import supplies. They fear that unless aid is increased now, it will be too late to support people who are already chronically malnourished through the lean season that begins in May.

Their warning comes days after a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) assessment found the country was "highly vulnerable to a food crisis", with more than 6 million people in urgent need of international food aid. Today's joint statement highlighted the needs of children and mothers, the elderly, disabled and sick and pointed to a need for healthcare, water and sanitation as well as food.

Andy Featherstone, the region's director of strategy for Save the Children, said: "We would hope [donors] would review decisions they have taken and be more generous in meeting the appeal [following the WFP assessment]."

Ireland's Concern Worldwide, Belgium's Handicap International and France's Triangle Generation Humanitaire also signed the statement.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

North Korea closely monitoring radiation from Japan

A North Korean scholar says Pyongyang is closely monitoring whether radiation from Japan's stricken nuclear plant will reach its territory.

Yoon Yong Geun made the comments Tuesday at the start of talks with South Korean experts about an active volcano touted in the North as leader Kim Jong Il's birthplace.

The talks took place at a South Korean border village. He said the North was "monitoring diligently if radioactive contamination could reach us."

South Korean officials say traces of radioactive material believed to be from the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant have been detected across South Korea but the amounts are far below anything that would cause health problems.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pastor assists nine North Korean refugees to make it to South Korea

A Christian pastor said Friday that two years of planning helped him secure the defection of nine North Koreans to the South in a daring transfer at sea that could further inflame cross-border tensions.

Kim Sung-Eun, who leads a church mostly made up of defectors from the North, said he arranged to bring the defectors to the South for reunions with their relatives who had already entered the country.
The new arrivals left China's northeastern port of Dalian last Monday on a chartered Chinese fishing boat and were bundled on to a South Korean trawler in international waters in the Yellow Sea.

"It took me two years to pull it off as we have to be very careful about security," he told AFP by phone from his church in Cheonan City, 85 kilometres (53 miles) south of the capital Seoul.

The nine refugees comprised six people belonging to two families and three individuals, said Kim, who is married to a North Korean.Some of them had been in China in hiding for up to four years while others came directly from the North via China. South Korean Christian missionaries have come into conflict with Beijing for their attempts to spread Christianity among North Koreans hiding in China who are then helped to defect to the South.

The latest defection comes as Pyongyang remains angered over an incident involving 31 North Koreans whose boat drifted across the disputed Yellow Sea border in thick fog last month, and then four of the group asked to stay in the South.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Korean defectors continue unhampered balloon propaganda

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Thursday that it would not intervene in a plan by North Korean defectors here to fly anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North, a day after the communist state renewed its threat to strike South Korea’s propaganda apparatus.

“We have no plan to call on them to refrain (from sending anti-North propaganda leaflets),” a ministry official told reporters, refusing to be named. “In the past, we had requested that the groups refrain from flying them, in light of the possible impact on inter-Korean ties. However, since March 26 when the Cheonan sank after an attack (by the North), we have not made any special request.”

In an interview with the official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified North Korean commander warned “From a military perspective, psychological warfare is an act of war. If the South does not want to see the repeat of the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, it should stop all psychological warfare activities immediately and behave discreetly.”
Some 20 groups of North Korean defectors plan to send some 200,000 leaflets and memory sticks that contain videos, designed to enlighten North Koreans living in the tightly-controlled society with little access to outside information. The leaflets include messages pinpointing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as the culprit for the sinking that killed 46 sailors; criticizing the lavish lifestyle of his three sons; and comparing Kim with other autocratic rulers such as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Park Sang-hak, chief of the Fighters for Free North Korea, which leads the upcoming leaflet-sending event, said that he and other North Korean defectors would not be intimidated. “We will carry out the plan to send the leaflets as scheduled. The threat from the North is just a bluff and we don’t need to be intimidated by that,” he told reporters.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

South Korea ponders food aid to North Korea

South Korea on Wednesday stated it has no intention of resuming food aid to North Korea, and denied a news report saying that it has decided to follow United States's move to provide assistance to the impoverished nation, reports Yonhap news agency.

"We have to look at the WFP report first. I understand that the U.S. has not made any decision on that either," a South Korean official said on condition of anonymity.

Other sources in the government said Seoul plans to consider the possibility of providing limited humanitarian assistance to the North after taking a look at the upcoming WFP report, though large-scale aid carrying political meaning won't be possible.

Food aid to the North has been a focus after Pyongyang asked Washington to resume assistance earlier this year. Officials from the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization conducted an on-site inspection of the food situation in North Korea earlier this month. The team is expected to release a report on its findings as early as this weekend.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is it right to give North Korea humanitarian aid?

Should countries that abhor North Korea’s system respond to appeals for food aid to keep its people from starving? 

First, donors are denied the ability to make sure the aid gets to needy civilians. Much of it in fact is siphoned off by officials who eat it themselves, supply it to the military or sell it to market traders. Second, the regime has the effrontery to use the aid, judo-style, as a political weapon. It boasts in its internal propaganda that enemy countries give not out of charity but because the brilliant “general,” dictator Kim Jong Il, by turning North Korean into a nuclear armed, ferociously war-ready country, has frightened them into paying tribute.
A reporter who had covered North Korea for years was asked whether foreigners should provide food aid, even though much of it would be diverted. Yes, he said — because every bit of aid increases the country’s overall food supply and tends to bring down the price that civilians must pay in the markets.

A young North Korean woman he had videotaped last year died later in the same year. “Kim filmed that footage in June, 2010. Kim had a chance to visit the same location in November and found out that she died of hunger there.” The woman was a victim of the regime’s North Korea’s disastrous currency redenomination of late 2009 “Business and distribution suddenly stopped. Her parents had to sell their house and the family became homeless. The parents had died of starvation before the daughter.”

The same reporter has recently spoken with an officer in Kim Jong Il’s elite bodyguard service, who said even he and his men were getting only 300 grams of grain each per day, less than half the former rationing standard of 800 grams for uniformed personnel. “It suggests that the government does not have enough foreign currency even to buy enough food for its soldiers,” he said. 

Reporters have said that “even in the capital, Pyongyang, the situation is deteriorating, as shown by worsening electricity shortages. Although food is available at public markets, it’s expensive. Fear is spreading among the people about what will happen come spring, the most difficult time of the year,” when much of the harvest will have been used up.

So there are valid reasons to consider charity.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kim Jong Il's former bodyguard

For 10 years, until 1988, Lee Young-guk was a personal bodyguard for Kim Jong Il, working among the phalanx of trained killers who protect the North Korean dictator.

Lee oversaw the enigmatic strongman's younger years as a leader in training, observing a privileged life played out inside grim fortresses and hideaway villas. Eventually, Lee came to detest what he now sees as a farcical leader who enjoyed unparalleled luxury while his impoverished nation starved.

He watched high-ranking officials hide behind trees rather than face the mercurial "Dear Leader," who was so fearful of duplicity that he constantly switched limousines, so fussy that he demanded his favorite perfume sprayed throughout his villas. Displeasing Kim could mean imprisonment, as it did for the guard sent to a gulag for using one of Kim's favorite ashtrays.

"As time went on, I saw the real evil," said Lee, who defected to South Korea in 2000 and wrote a tell-all book two years later about his experiences. "He's a man who is not qualified to be a world leader."

The former bodyguard senses that the years have only made the ailing 70-year-old leader even more dangerous.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Further promotion coming for Kim Jong Un?

North Korea will convene its parliament early next month in a session closely watched for further signs that leader Kim Jong Il is handing over power to his youngest son to succeed him as leader of the nation of 24 million people.

Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, was unveiled to the public last year when he was made a four-star general and promoted to a key military leadership role in the ruling Workers' Party.

North Korea's parliament typically meets a few times a year to discuss and approve the year's budget. However, sessions also are scrutinized by the outside world for signs of key changes in policy and leadership. The 12th Supreme People's Assembly will meet in Pyongyang on April 7, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday in a brief report monitored in Seoul. 

The next major step in the succession campaign would be a promotion for Kim Jong Un to the powerful National Defense Commission, where Kim Jong Il serves as chairman, analysts said.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Financial plight of North Korean defectors living in the South

Less than half of North Koreans who have defected to South Korea since 2000 are “economically active,” according to research conducted by a support foundation for North Korean defectors based in Seoul. The term “economically active” refers to people who furnish the labor for the production of economic goods and services, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The North Korean Refugees Foundation surveyed 1,200 defectors last year and found that only 42.5 percent of them were economically active after defecting. By comparison, 61.1 percent of South Koreans are active, according to Statistics Korea. Hiring rates were found to be lower for the defectors, at 38.8 percent, compared to 59.1 for South Korean citizens. 

According to the report, 20.4 percent of defectors employed were engaged in simple labor, 19.6 percent in machinery operation or assembly and 18.7 percent in service occupations. Only 4.1 percent are self-employed and 0.9 percent are employers.

Other survey results dealt with the health conditions of the defectors, of which 44.3 percent said that they “did not feel they were healthy.” Nearly a third of the 1,200 were suffering from arthritis, lumbar and joint problems.  

JoongAng Daily

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

North Korea ready to return to six-party talks?

BBC reports North Korea has told Russia's deputy foreign minister Alexei Borodavkin that it is ready to discuss its nuclear enrichment plans at six-party talks.

Separately, a South Korean envoy is on his way to Russia to pursue talks. The new flurry of diplomacy comes just over a month after talks between North and South Korea broke up in acrimony.

North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, reported comments from Pyongyang's foreign ministry after a four-day visit by Mr Borodavkin. "The DPRK (North Korea) is willing to come to the six-party talks unconditionally," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said. 

KCNA quoted a ministry spokesman as saying that the North did "not object to the issue of uranium enrichment program being discussed at the talks".

The six-party disarmament talks - involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, the United States and Russia - have been stalled for two years.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

North Korean defectors taught farming in South Korea

South Korea has begun a class to help North Korean defectors become farmers and find similar jobs in the country's rural areas, Yonhap news agency reported.

The two-day course comes as many North Koreans are still struggling to find decent jobs and adjust to new lives in the capitalist South, though they undergo three months of mandatory resettlement training and receive some financial aid.

This past Tuesday, some 30 defectors attended the class at the Rural Development Administration in Suwon, south of Seoul, to learn about the agricultural industry and basic methods of cultivating crops, said Park Sun-yong of the administration. The two-day course was jointly organized by the Rural Development Administration and the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency.

Instructors take the defectors to nearby farms and an agricultural equipment exhibition to give them opportunities of learning from local farmers, officials noted.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Vast numbers of North Korean orphans

Thousands of North Korean orphans are adrift in South Korea or overseas, separated from their parents during their escape or born to fathers in third countries like China and abandoned there.

Kim Yun-tae of activist group Network for North Korean Democracy, said, "Each organization produces different estimates because it's difficult to conduct an accurate census, but there are thought to be between 10,000 and 35,000 of such children in China and other foreign countries or living in South Korea." 

Those who were separated from their parents during their escape and escaped on their own to South Korea are in a slightly better situation. But "children born in third countries such as China ... can't get any support as defectors in South Korea because they cannot be seen as defectors in a strict sense," a Unification Ministry official said. 

Women account for 70 percent of all defectors, and they often fall prey to human traffickers. Civic groups estimate that up to 10,000 children were born and abandoned in China alone.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

North Korea new tactic of using families to weaken resolve of defectors

Australian news reports a remarkable first for North Korea, the secretive communist state has posted online interviews with the families of four of its citizens who want to defect to the South. The four are part of a large group of North Koreans who accidentally drifted over the Yellow Sea maritime border on a boat last month.

North Korea has hit back, posting interviews with family members where they plead for their loved ones to return, warning that they will face brainwashing if they stay in South Korea.

As one distraught mother spoke to the camera, the teenage girl sat quietly holding her hand, but as soon as her mother finished the girl made an urgent appeal. "Father I miss you. Please come back now," she cried. The girl's father is Hong Yong-hak, a 44-year-old North Korean who is among the would-be defectors.

"They make the ridiculous claim that my daughter's defecting," said another woman, who says she is the mother of 22-year old Pak Myong-ok.

The mother of 21-year-old nurse Bong Un-ha says it is all a conspiracy. "How would Un-ha ever fall to brainwashing by the enemy?" she said.

Of the 31, 27 North Koreans who want to come home were taken to the heavily fortified border by South Korean authorities last week. But officials from the North refused to take them back until the other four were returned as well.

Seoul says the two men and two women have chosen to stay of their own free will, but Pyongyang is not backing down.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

North Korea jamming S. Korea GPS devices

North Korea used jamming equipment to block South Korean military communication devices last week, a report said Sunday, amid high tension over the joint drills between Seoul and Washington.

Yonhap news agency said strong jamming signals sent across the border on Friday had caused minor disruptions to phones and navigational devices using GPS (Global Positioning System) at military units near the capital Seoul.

The signals are believed to have been sent from the North's military facilities in Haeju and Kaesong close to the heavily-fortified border, it said, citing Seoul intelligence and military officials.

South Korea's former defence chief Kim Tae-Young said Pyongyang was thought to have been behind the intermittent failure of GPS receivers on naval and civilian craft along the west coast during the joint military exercise between the South and the US last August.

The North's GPS interrupter is believed to be effective in preventing US and South Korean guided bombs and missiles from hitting their target accurately.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

South Korean government and financial websites under cyber attack

The websites of South Korea's key government agencies and financial institutions came under cyber attack for a second day Saturday, with few leads on who might be behind the attacks.

The sites of the U.S. forces in Korea and the department of unification, which handles relations with North Korea, were among those targeted by the "distributed denial-of-service" (DDoS) attacks.

On Friday sites including the presidential Blue House, the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, the ministries of foreign affairs and defense and the tax office, came under DDos attacks. The Korea and Communications Commission (KCC) said the attacks resumed Saturday morning against 29 websites including those of government agencies and banks.

In 2009, government websites in South Korea and the U.S. were paralyzed by a similar type of attack that South Korean officials blamed on North Korea. But U.S. officials have largely ruled out North Korea as the origin of these attacks, according to cyber security experts.

South Korean police have isolated 30 overseas servers that were ordering more than 34,000 "zombie computers" to carry out DDoS attacks. The servers had been traced to 18 countries and territories around the world, including the United States, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Israel and Hong Kong.

Friday, March 04, 2011

North and South Korea spar over four remaining defectors

South Korea has accused the North of blocking the return of 27 North Koreans who strayed across the border. The North has said Seoul is keeping hostage four North Koreans, from the boatload of 31 which drifted over the sea border in heavy fog on 5 February.

Both North and South have called for talks to ease tensions; the last effort ended without agreement last month.

For its part, North Korea has accused the South of "despicable unethical acts … This cannot be interpreted otherwise than a grave provocation to the DPRK (North Korea)," said a statement attributed to a spokesman for the North's Red Cross.

Of the large-scale military drills being carried out by US and South Korean forces,  the North says they are a rehearsal for invasion to topple its government.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Latest North Korean defectors

Four members of a group of 31 North Koreans who accidentally crossed over into South Korean waters on a fishing boat, have decided to defect to the South, despite Pyongyang's demands that they all be repatriated to the North, the South Korean Red Cross said.

The defection of the four North Koreans could spark tensions on the peninsula, where joint U.S.-South Korea military drills have kicked off this week. North Korea had threatened to engulf Seoul in a "sea of flames," a day before the opening of the exercise.

The South will return the remaining 27 members of the group through Panmunjom, a truce village on the ground border between the two sides, and send the fishing boat back through the waters in the West Sea on Friday, the Red Cross said.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

US considers resuming food aid to North Korea

VoA reports that special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth told the Senate Committee on Foreign relations that North Korea has asked for U.S. food aid and that Washington is considering the request.

The U.S. government suspended food handouts to the impoverished Asian country in 2009, after Pyongyang expelled its aid monitors who were there to make sure the food gets to the children, nursing mothers and the elderly, who most needed it. 

Five non-governmental U.S. charities, that recently visited the reclusive country say that harsh weather and floods in recent months have destroyed much of the crops, including grains and vegetables. They say the families worst hit by the shortages are those that depend on the public food distribution system.

There are concerns that resuming food aid to North Korea could be seen as rewarding its belligerent behavior, including a 2009 nuclear test and last year's attacks on South Korea.

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Kurt Campbell, told lawmakers Tuesday that no decision has been made, but that sending food to starving people is a humanitarian, not a political issue.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Heir apparent Kim Jong-un apparently a father

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s two younger sons ― heir apparent Kim Jong-un and Kim Jong-chul, 29 ― both have children, Japanese TV Asahi has reported.

The news is the latest in the barrage of information or rumors about the third-generation in the isolated regime’s royal family. 

Jong-un’s child was born sometime between fall and winter last year, a TV Asahi report said. Jong-chul’s child was born last August.   

There was no mention of who the mothers were or whether the children were male or female. The speculation was that ailing Kim Jong-il was pushing for his children to create offspring as he looks to secure a power transfer to his heir and youngest son, Jong-un, 28.

Earlier this week, both South Korean and Japanese media released photos of Jong-chul at an Eric Clapton concert on Valentine’s Day. He was accompanied by a young woman who was speculated to be either his wife, or his younger sister, Yo-jong, 24.

Jong-chul, Jong-un and Yo-jong were born to Japanese born-dancer Ko Young-hee, the second wife to the North Korea leader.