Sunday, December 31, 2006

Helping Hands Korea logistical support to North Korean refugees in China

We contracted with one of our long-term, tried and proven Christian partners near the China-North Korean border to provide shelter for a total of 50 North Korean refugees for the three coldest months of the upcoming winter.

Rescue and shelter funds were also provided to another partner, who will guide refugees to the Mongolian border, and also re-supply refugees in mountain shelters.

Another faithful partner was entrusted with funds to put eight children, who are abandoned offspring of trafficked North Korean women refugees (and the Chinese men who purchase them).

When the North Korean women are caught by Chinese police and repatriated to North Korea, often the Chinese partners abandon the children and make no legal claim to them. Therefore, little ad hoc orphanages are springing up in NE China to care for these pitiful victims of a tragedy that is so entirely incomprehensible to them.

---Tim Peters, Helping Hands Korea

[The above is delayed news, necessary for the security of the above movements]

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Food shortage in North Korea could deteriorate into widespread famine

North Korea’s chronic food shortage could deteriorate into widespread famine similar to the mid-1990s when an estimated 1 million North Koreans died from starvation, according to aid agencies.

Aid workers attribute the dire situation to cuts in the North’s government-provided ration, the inability of the urban poor to buy food at market prices, and the international community’s reluctance to give aid.

Tim Peters, founder of aid agency Helping Hands Korea, said that “enlarging pockets of areas” are again experiencing famine, and in the northeastern city of Cheongjin, the food shortage is worse than 10 years ago.

“It’s backpedaling to the situation of the 1990s,” Peters told The Korea Herald.

He said urban areas are the worst-affected. Farmers are able to cultivate a private patch whereas city dwellers cannot. Through a network of North Korean refugees in China, Peters learned that during the planting season in May, city government offices were emptied as workers were mobilized to work on farms.

With the average North Korean wage being 2,500 won a month, most can afford only 3 kilograms a month, putting rice out of reach for most North Koreans.

Peters met a woman last August who had crossed the border to seek medical attention for her daughter’s heart condition. She told him that her husband worked in a factory and earned 1,500 won ($1.20 at that time) a day and their family of four lived mostly of corn meal which cost 200 won per kilogram. As they lived in a semi-rural area, they did not receive any government distribution, but they kept two pigs, chickens and dogs which they would sell so that they could buy more corn. They were able to eat three times a day on a diet of corn meal, kimchi and doenjang (soy bean paste). In their community they were considered well-off.

“Usually I’m optimistic by nature, but the situation is very grim at the moment,” said Peters who has been working with North Korean refugees for 9 years.

His Seoul-based nongovernmental organization currently supports a bakery in China that produces high-nutrition buns which are distributed in North Korea, by North Koreans at the grass-roots level, to schoolchildren and orphans. This is more effective than handing out raw grain as cooking fuel is expensive he said.

“It’s indicative of what little grass-roots organizations and ‘mom-n-pop’ NGOs can do. We can make a difference,” Peters said.

[Excerpt of an article by Jane Cooper, Korea Herald]

Friday, December 29, 2006

North Korean Defector Gets Death Threats

South Korean police are investigating a threatening package sent to former North Korean Workers' Party official Hwang Jang-yup, who defected to the South in 1997.

Freedom North Korea Broadcast, which Hwang chairs, received a 20x40 cm package wrapped in yellow paper. It was addressed to Hwang, and a sender's name and phone number were written on it, but the number did not exist.

"When we opened it, we found Hwang's photo smeared with red paint and a 37 cm long hand ax,” the station's president Kim Sung-min said. An enclosed letter added, “Hwang should shut his dirty mouth” and “Traitors must pay the price.”

Hwang has been subject to such threats several times, usually after he made disparaging remarks about the North. In March 2003, Hwang received a package with a scroll-sized photo of Hwang stabbed through with a 30 cm knife and the written message “I will kill you.” That was right after Hwang visited Japan's parliament to testify about human rights conditions in the North.

"The threats keep coming, but Hwang just seems to accept them and says he could not do anything if he was scared by them,” Kim said.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

North Korean elites now a "skeptical class"

In the past decade many North Korean families have had their state-enforced high ideals shattered, according to refugees and nongovernmental and academic sources working with them. A recent high-level defector from Pyongyang confirms that many elites in the North are now a "skeptical class," according to sources in South Korea's national unification ministry.

North Korea today faces a paradox: While its material standard of living has been improving fro some, moving from awful to less awful - its morale and its collective beliefs continue to fray. The quality of patriotism, military discipline, and ideological purity - elements that have uniquely bound the North - are shaky, say many sources.

Local authority figures of respect have spent a decade foraging for cash and food, like everyone else.

A "feeling of positive emotion" is missing in the North, reports a Seoul-based researcher on the Chinese-North Korean border. "People have stopped seeing each other as people; everything is money.... It used to be that everyone looked up to public officials ... to the Army. Now they are on the take," says a Korean reporter for NKnet, a newsletter in Seoul headed by Han Ki-hong, a leftist who is critical of the North's human rights violations.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

North Korea in decline?

Information leaking out of North Korea suggests both the economy and internal political support for the Kim Jong-il regime are deteriorating. In recent weeks, South Korean media have cited intelligence and other sources claiming the financial restrictions imposed by the U.S. Treasury are having an effect.

For years the State Department and Pentagon tried without success to find ways to pressure North Korea. The Kim dynasty that has ruled the country since World War II emphasizes "juche," or self-reliance, refusing to make concessions to obtain foreign aid, even if it means allowing its people to starve.

But now the Treasury Department has found the North's Achilles heel -- the laundered money and luxury goods the leadership bestows on the military and other members of the elite to keep their support. In addition to blocking North Korean bank accounts, the Treasury convinced financial institutions worldwide, concerned about possible adverse effects on their dollar transactions, to stop doing business with North Korea. The drop in foreign exchange earnings reportedly is said to have forced Mr. Kim to suspend his custom of dispensing money and gifts to his top aides.

[The threat to Kim Jong-il’s] regime caused by unrest resulting from economic difficulties and food shortages. A South Korean aid official told the press the fuel shortage in the North is worse than he has ever seen it, and power outages are more frequent than at any time in the last 10 years.

South Korean intelligence reportedly claims the unrest has spread to the party, government, and military elites who keep Chairman Kim in power. ... Regime change is the only realistic long-term solution.

[Excerpt of commentary by James T. Hackett, The Washington Times]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

US wrecked hopes of North Korean nuke deal

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has accused the United States of wrecking last year's agreement to scrap North Korea's nuclear programmes by simultaneously imposing financial sanctions.

Roh, in strongly-worded comments reported in Friday's media, also suggested the US Treasury and State Departments are split in their approach to the sanctions, which were a key sticking point in this past week's nuclear negotiations.

"If you look at it in a bad light, you may say (the two US departments) were playing a prearranged game," he said, according to an official transcript of his speech delivered Thursday.

Roh noted that the US blacklisting of Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) -- a move which led to the freezing of 24 million dollars in North Korean accounts -- came just a few days before the agreement on September 19, 2005. Six-nation nuclear negotiations which began in 2003 achieved an apparent breakthrough on that date when the North agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear programmes in return for economic and energy aid and security guarantees.

But North Korea boycotted the forum two months later in protest at the curbs on the BDA accounts, which sparked similar action elsewhere in Asia and effectively shut it out of much of the international banking system.

When talks resumed in Beijing this past week the communist state insisted that the issue be resolved before any further negotiations on denuclearisation. The talks ended Friday without apparent agreement and without setting a firm date to meet again.

[The Daily Star]

Monday, December 25, 2006

Korean aid worker Choi Yong-hun released

South Korean aid worker Choi Yong-hun has just been released after serving nearly four years in a Chinese jail for trying to help North Koreans defect.

There were emotional scenes at Seoul airport as Choi was reunited with his wife and two daughters, while Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea looked on.

Choi's family had to wait 90 minutes before he finally came through the Arrivals gate at Seoul Airport because he was immediately detained by the South Korean authorities for questioning.

Tim Peters says: 'When he finally did come out, he was rejoicing in the Lord as he embraced his family and fellow activists. He told of torture at the hands of prison guards and fellow prisoners, mainly due to his Christian faith.'

Choi was arrested in 2003 for his part in the well publicised Yantai boat incident in which a group of 30 North Koreans tried to escape from China to South Korea by sea. One of his four fellow defendants, a North Korean called Park Yong-chol, was repatriated to his homeland after serving two years in a Chinese jail. Park's fate remains unknown.

China insists on dealing harshly with North Korean defectors and those who try to help them, often repatriating refugees to their homeland.

[Release International]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

North Korea may face famine with aid cuts

North Korea may face famine because the international community halted aid to the impoverished communist country following Pyongyang's recent nuclear test, an American relief worker said.

"I think that it's very possible that North Korea will slide back to the famine condition of the 1990s," Tim Peters, a Seoul-based U.S. activist working [with Helping Hands Korea] to help North Korean refugees find asylum, said in a phone interview.

As many as 2 million North Koreans are believed to have died in the 1990s from food shortages caused by government mismanagement and the loss of aid from the Soviet Union after it collapsed.

Peters blamed the looming crisis on North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, whose regime's missile and nuclear tests in recent months have further alienated the North, leading many countries to cut assistance.

South Korea, one of major donors to the North, also halted its regular government humanitarian aid after the North's missile launches in July, and vowed to comply with U.N. sanctions imposed against Pyongyang after its Oct. 9 nuclear test.

The North has already faced food shortages as massive floods in mid-July wiped out crops along with homes and roads. The actual scale of the destruction remains unknown.

[The Associated Press]

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Background of Pastor Phillip Buck

Pastor Buck was born in North Korea in 1941 and fled with his brothers to the South during the Korean War. He emigrated to the U.S. in the '80s, becoming a citizen in 1992. When famine hit North Korea in the late '90s, and millions died, he raised relief funds in Korean churches in the U.S.

"I helped send 150 tons of flour and rice to the North," he says, "and 70 tons of fertilizer . . . This was a time when government rations had stopped and people were living off grass."

But on visits to the North, he soon realized that the government was stealing the food intended for starving citizens. "I changed my mind" about the efficacy of aid, he says, and in 1998 he joined the effort to help people escape. "If you see someone who is drowning in the river, wouldn't you reach out and help that person?" he asks. "That's what was in my heart."

Pastor Buck is nothing if not determined. In 2002, while in a Southeast Asian country with a group of refugees he had guided there, his apartment in Yanji city, in northeast China, was raided. Nineteen refugees were captured and a copy of his passport was confiscated. With his identity now compromised, Mr. Buck returned to the U.S. and underwent legal proceedings to change his name. John Yoon, the name he was born with, was dead; Phillip Buck was born.

The new Pastor Buck returned to China, where, on May 25, 2005, he was arrested and eventually convicted of the crime of helping illegal immigrants. Thanks to the intervention of the U.S. government, he was deported before he could be sentenced.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Footnote fromTim Peters of Helping Hands KoreaIn our continued partnership with Phillip Buck, we were able to provide the funds for three of the North Korean refugees who were caught when Phillip was caught, who all three have now been transferred at last to a safe haven.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pastor Buck Is a Rescuer . . .

This being The Wall Street Journal, we went straight to the bottom line. How much, we asked our visitor at a recent editorial board meeting, does it cost to free one North Korean refugee hiding in China?

The Rev. Phillip Buck pauses a moment before replying, apparently making the yuan-to-dollar conversions on the abacus in his mind. "If I do it myself," he says, "the cost is $800 per person. If I hire a broker to do it, it's $1,500."

Pastor Buck is a rescuer. It's a job title that applies to a courageous few--mostly Americans and South Koreans and predominantly Christians--who operate the underground railroad that ferries North Korean refugees out of China to South Korea, and now, thanks to 2004 legislation, to the U.S.

Mr. Buck, an American from Seattle, says he has rescued more than 100 refugees and helped support another 1,000 who are still on the run. For this "crime"--China's policy is to hunt down and repatriate North Koreans--he spent 15 months in a Chinese prison. He was released in August.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

North Korea may be heading back to famine: aid worker

Reports from fleeing North Koreans of food shortages and the suspension of international aid after the country's nuclear test suggest the communist state may be slipping into famine, an aid worker said.

The comments by head of the charity Helping Hands Korea, Tim Peters, add to another recent report that North Korea could be heading back to the starvation it faced during the 1990s, triggering a mass exodus of refugees. "It's an extreme possibility we may see....(a return) to famine," Peters told reporters. "I hope it won't happen but the world needs to be aware it could take place."

Analysts say North Korea cannot produce enough food for itself even in the best crop years and that much of the food is diverted to the military. Summer storms are thought to have badly damaged crops in key grain areas.

Peters, a Seoul-based Christian pastor whose charity has wide contact with North Korean refugees, said increasingly sophisticated monitoring on the Chinese side of the border suggested Beijing was readying for a large-scale influx of North Koreans. Nearly all those who flee North Korea -- the numbers range from tens to hundreds of thousands -- do so to neighboring China. They either stay or seek refuge elsewhere in Asia.

Peters added there were indications China was slowing down its repatriations of refugees, but said it was unclear whether this was punishment for the nuclear test or a longer-term trend. The ICG report estimated China sends back between 150 and 300 North Koreans a week.

He quoted reports from refugees as saying that even in the capital Pyongyang rations had been reduced to just a third and in the north-east of the country -- near China and where many of the refugees come from -- the level was a third of that. "It seems like everybody is hungry and that includes the border patrol," he said.

[Washington Post, Reuters]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

North Koreans in China seeking asylum

Conditions in North Korea have created a verifiable flood of refugees, who cross by the thousands into China, attempting to escape persecution and near-famine conditions caused by economic mismanagement.

Washington estimates there are between 20,000 and 30,000 North Koreans in China trying to make their way to asylum in a third country, mostly in South Korea. Private aid groups put the estimate much higher, at 100 to 150,000.

Tim Peters, a Christian activist here in Seoul, says the highest estimate may come from Beijing itself. "We have good reason to believe from Chinese government sources that the Chinese themselves put the number at 400,000," he said.

Peters, who heads the North Korean refugee assistance group Helping Hands Korea, has an extensive network of contacts with Christian activists in China and Southeast Asia. The informal network is widely referred to as the "Underground Railroad" - an analogy with activists who helped slaves escape in the 19th century United States.

Peters says the Chinese have taken steps indicating they expect the flow of North Korean refugees to increase. In addition to building barbed wire fences at key border crossing areas, he says China is investing in high-tech surveillance. "Not only cameras, state-of-the-art cameras, but now also motion sensors have been added to the cameras. There seems to be a centralized control for the cameras," he explained.

Under a treaty with Pyongyang, China is obliged to repatriate North Koreans, who often face harsh punishment for leaving without permission. However, Peters says there are signs Beijing may be sending fewer North Koreans home since the recent North Korean nuclear test. "Since the nuclear test there seems to be some indication that the Chinese have slowed down repatriation," noted Peters.

[Voice of America News]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

North Korea and the Berlin Wall

It won't be on the agenda of the six-party talks, which are scheduled to restart this week in Beijing. The plight of the tens of thousands of North Korean refugees in China is a humanitarian crisis that has received scant world attention.

But the experience of Pastor Buck and other rescuers is worth noting as negotiators sit down with Kim Jong Il's emissaries. North Korea won't change, they believe, so long as Kim remains in power. Follow that logic, and regime change is the proper goal.

The refugees, Pastor Buck argues, are the key to regime change in North Korea and, by inference, the key to halting the North's nuclear and missile programs.

Help one man or woman escape, he says, and that person will get word to his family back home about the freedom that awaits them on the outside. Others will follow, and the regime will implode.

This is what happened in 1989, when Hungary refused to turn back East Germans fleeing to the West, thereby hastening the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Monday, December 18, 2006

US Ready to Aid North Korea if it Ends Nuke Program

The United States has indicated it is ready to match good-faith North Korean actions in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending that country's nuclear program.

The New York Times earlier reported that US and North Korean diplomats discussed specifics of a disarmament accord in talks in China.

The newspaper said an agreement would hinge on North Korea agreeing to begin dismantling some equipment it has been using to expand its nuclear arsenal, including a plutonium reprocessing facility refining spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.

North Korean Nuclear Talks Begin

International talks on North Korea's nuclear program convened Monday for the first time in 13 months following a boycott by the communist nation during which it tested an atomic device for the first time.

Head delegates held preliminary meetings in Beijing on Monday morning before Chinese envoy Wu Dawei officially opened the talks at a Chinese state guesthouse, calling on envoys to discuss implementation of a September 2005 statement from the talks and outline initial steps to be taken by the sides.

In that agreement -- the only ever reached at the talks -- the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Park Kyong-ja, 70-year-old North Korean grandmother

Park Kyong-ja [a 70-year-old North Korean grandmother] said many pregnant prisoners lost their babies because guards kicked and beat them around the abdomen.

She gave a precise description of the prison and said she could identify its deputy director, a lieutenant-colonel of police aged about 60, who exercised day-to-day authority. Her explanation was the same as in other such accounts. The regime is obsessed by racial purity, and so it exterminates children feared to be of Chinese blood.

Death comes in many guises for the returnees, as an elegant woman of 50 from Pyongyang, who asked to be named as Kim Hae-soon, explained. She escaped to Seoul in 2003. “My brother led a group of 16 escapers who were caught on the border with Mongolia and sent back in 2004,” she said. “After torture they singled him out as a political offender. The others were sent to camps but he was kept for interrogation.”

The family had influence. Last summer Kim found out that a senior North Korean official they knew was visiting China. She flew to Beijing on her South Korean passport, met the man and handed over $10,000 (£5,050) with a plea for help.

“The only result was that a few weeks later I got a curt message notifying me that my brother died in custody on April 28 this year and warning me not to inquire any further.”

Her sister-in-law and two nieces fled after hearing the news. They have just made it across the Tumen River. Rescuers are now trying to find them somewhere in northeast China.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Saturday, December 16, 2006

70-year-old North Korean grandmother testifies

North Korea has been condemned as one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Yet China denies its obligations under the 1951 refugee convention, calling the fugitives “illegal immigrants”. It refuses to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees any access to these border areas. But it is possible to get at the truth by following the escapers to freedom.

The South Korean airliner could make the journey from Yanji to Seoul in 60 minutes but instead it flies a great loop around North Korean airspace to land after three hours in the air.

No refugee could hope to pass the Soviet-style security checks to get on the flight; on the divided Korean peninsula it seems that history has stood still since the end of the war here in 1953. Even in Seoul, I was to find, the survivors of Kim Jong-il’s utopia cannot escape his clammy grasp.

Take the 70-year-old grandmother who sat opposite me in a cellar cafe near the British embassy. She asked to be called Park Kyong-ja. She had eight children and some of her family were still in North Korea. But she had escaped, twice.

“We were caught the first time and sent back from China,” she said. “I was stripped naked. They made me squat in case I was hiding anything in my body. I was beaten, of course. Then I was kept for a year in a prison in the Naman district of Chongjin city, North Hamgyong province.
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Friday, December 15, 2006

More from 70-year-old North Korean grandmother

“My cellmate was pregnant. I am a simple person but she was an educated lady of 35, on the staff of the United Enterprise Company, from the Songpyong district of Kimchaek city. She had been sent back from China, like me.

“About 3am, she gave birth to a girl. Well, the guard came along and shouted at her that she knew she must kill the baby. He said he’d beat her if she didn’t.

“The baby lay crying. It was still attached to her by the umbilical cord. She tried to will herself to harm it but her hands were shaking so much she could not. The guard came back and screamed at her, ‘Why haven’t you killed it?’

“Well, we sat there for almost three hours like that. Then at six, the guard came back again and told her, look, either you kill the baby or we will, and then we’ll beat you up and you’ll never get out of here.

“So, while I watched, the mother leant down and bit through the umbilical cord. Deliberately, she did not tie the cord connected to the baby. A lot of blood flowed out. The infant died almost immediately.”

There was a silence around the table, where five of us sat. Nobody quite trusted themselves to speak. The grandmother’s homespun features crinkled up.

“What I’ve told you is what I saw with my own eyes,” she said.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Nuclear and Humanitarian Axis of Evil

The world imposed sanctions after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon on October 9. International food supplies to the regime have already been cut back.

In the suffering northern provinces of North Korea, the spectre of famine once again haunts the land. Recent clandestine videos show Kim Jon-il’s firing squads shooting people found guilty of organising escapes.

The Tumen River [dividing China from North Korea] will freeze solid. And then thousands more North Koreans will dare to trudge across in the dark.

North Korea is the world’s only hereditary communist dictatorship It controls food supply to 20m citizens. The hungry flee to China.

Refugees sent back face prison, torture and, in some cases, execution. Forced abortions and racially motivated baby killings in prison are well documented. Political prisoners are kept in gulags. Escapers tell of gas experiments on prisoners and forced labour on nuclear and chemical sites

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

North Korean Defectors looking for work

Even back in North Korea, Hong Tae-myong wanted to be a driver, but simply getting a license after defecting to South Korea wasn't enough to get a job. He also had to lie about where he came from.

"That's how I got a job here so far. I learned this after dozens of rejections in job interviews," the 30-year-old said while filling out his resume at a government-sponsored job fair for defectors.
"When I identified myself as a North Korean defector, they would not hire me," he said.

Hong was among about 500 hopefuls at the fair, part of government efforts aimed at helping defectors overcome the widespread prejudice they face in their new home.

When the two Koreas were locked in intense Cold War rivalry, North Korean defectors received heroes' welcomes in the South and were given houses, jobs and other financial assistance. But with the number of defectors growing rapidly in recent years, the new arrivals are increasingly considered a social problem.

More than 9,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, with about 7,000 of them coming to the South since 2002. The total number of defectors is expected to top the 10,000 mark early next year, according to the Unification Ministry.

Many defectors are believed to be living below the poverty line because they can't get decent jobs due mainly to a lack of education and widespread prejudice among South Koreans, who view those from the socialist system as lazy.

Hong complains that South Koreans look down on North Koreans. "Even if I have the same ability as a South Korean, I'm considered inferior,'' he said.

[Taipei Times]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Phillip Buck, 68-year-old Korean-American pastor

To grasp the courage of those who dare to act [on behalf of North Korean refugees], we went to meet Phillip Buck, a frail Korean-American pastor of 68, who helped to smuggle more than 1,000 people out of China.

His luck ran out on May 6, 2005, when he was caught by six Chinese plainclothes men as he left a rendezvous with clergy from America at a restaurant in Yanji.

“They had three notebooks full of stuff on me, they’d traced all the cellphone numbers, they told me they’d been after me for five years,” he said. “I guess somebody had talked.”

He survived 457 days in a cell with murderers and drug dealers, enduring repeated interrogations until 4am, eating cornmeal and washing in cold water.

Only Buck’s American passport and 13 visits by diplomats from the US consulate in Shenyang saved him.

Eventually the Chinese abandoned a shambolic attempt to prosecute him for “people smuggling” and he was put on a plane to Los Angeles on August 21 this year.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Reference to Pastor Buck in Congressional Testimony

Monday, December 11, 2006

Operative Nam Hong-chul of the North Korean Underground Railroad

He came out of the darkening snow flurries to our rendezvous near a pagoda set in a frozen ornamental pond, a man who was both saviour and fugitive. Nam Hong-chul, as he called himself, had slipped in to the far northeast Chinese city of Yanji to rescue 11 refugees from North Korea.

Now he had to make a plan. Armed with money, documents, warm clothes and maps, he was trying to save others who, like him, had risked everything to escape starvation and violence under the regime of Kim Jong-il.

“Four of them are living with the pigs,” said Nam, as we made our way to a dingy hotel room to talk. “One of them is going insane. And they are not the worst off. There are others surviving in burrows dug in the ground. “They have crawled through the fields, then waded across the river or walked over the ice when it freezes,” Nam added. “They are desperate.”

Nam is a courier on the “underground railroad” that helps a lucky few North Koreans to sanctuary in Thailand or Mongolia, where they can seek asylum in South Korea.

He muffles his face and hides in the back of a car. Every Chinese checkpoint is a challenge. North Korean agents are out to kill him. Chinese-Korean gangsters hate him for rescuing women doomed to sexual slavery.

Nam made his own escape after his wife and younger son perished in a famine in 1998, only to lose his beloved first son, not yet in his teens, who died on the journey.

A simple man, he found that the Christian faith consoled him in his sorrow. It fired him with zeal to help others in memory of his own boy, who tried to reach freedom but never made it. “Helping other people makes it easier to deal with my grief for my son,” he explained. “I try to get the orphans out first. You will understand why.”

His group has established a secret orphanage, where they give food, shelter and a rudimentary education to a group of lost children.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

Friday, December 08, 2006

US to aid North Korea if it ends nuke program?

The United States has indicated it is ready to match good-faith North Korean actions in the six-party negotiations aimed at ending that country's nuclear program.

The New York Times earlier reported that US and North Korean diplomats discussed specifics of a disarmament accord in talks in China last week.

The newspaper said an agreement would hinge on North Korea agreeing to begin dismantling some equipment it has been using to expand its nuclear arsenal, including a plutonium reprocessing facility refining spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Insight into the North Korean Underground Railroad, part 1

Thousands of North Koreans are hiding on farms and in towns all over China’s three Manchurian provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang, which are divided from North Korea by the Tumen and Yalu rivers.

The men labor on the land in exchange for food or a little cash, but risk betrayal. Even taxi drivers have been known to turn in refugees for a £20 bounty.

The danger is multiplied for women, who are routinely kidnapped, raped and sold into sexual slavery, for China’s one-child policy has sown a dire shortage of girls up in these lonely wastes.

“I interview them,” said [North Korean Underground Railroad activist] Nam, “I must decide who will be strong enough mentally and physically to make it. And I also have to pick ones who will be able to adapt to life in South Korea, which isn’t easy.”

They are groomed, coached in rudimentary Chinese, and in some cases given new identities as South Korean “tourists”.

Then Nam must shepherd them, with their new documents and clothes, past policemen at a railway station or bus terminal.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]


Tim Peters and the North Korean Underground Railroad

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]

The hope [of many North Korean refugees in China] is a quiet American missionary called Tim Peters. He is the man who runs what Christians call the “Seoul Train” and it was his emissary I had met in Yanji.

Peters founded Helping Hands Korea, a charity that started out by sending food aid to the north and has graduated to a full-time escape organization. His web of Korean helpers extends across Asia. It is a rare week when one of them is not flying off with bundles of cash and documents.

Peters lobbies diplomats, uses charm and moral pressure on bureaucrats and has testified with fine biblical indignation to the US Congress.

“It’s unconscionable to sit here and do nothing,” he said. “What does the Bible teach us if not that?” Peters, 56, is married to a South Korean and has five children and two grandchildren of his own, a happy life that makes the reports of infanticide all the harder for him to comprehend.

“This is one of the few populations in the world that has been hermetically sealed from the Gospel” is all he can say.

For more on Tim Peters

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Phoenix Weekly on North Korean refugees

The cover story of the current issue of Phoenix Weekly is a feature about North Korean refugees who leave North Korea for China or a third country.

The article highlights the fact that these people are termed "defectors" by South Korea, and "illegal enterers" by China. Three to four hundred thousand North Koreans have entered China illegally since 1983.

The article explains that after leaving North Korea, their goal is to get to Mongolia or South Korea, crossing Chinese territory. If they are found by Chinese police or the North Korean army, they are sent back to North Korea and put into prison. Nonetheless, many of them try to escape again after they are released.

Monday, December 04, 2006

China reaching $1 trillion in global clout

To an increasing degree, bureaucrats in Beijing aren't just guiding their own economy, but the world's as well. In coming days, China's stockpile of foreign currency reserves, the fruits of fast-growing exports, will reach the unprecedented sum of $1 trillion. What's important isn't the level—a nation's foreign reserves are rarely big news—it's what it represents.

China is growing so fast that it could, less than two decades from now, rival the United States as a key driver of the world economy, economists say.

"If our simulations are anywhere close to the mark, the world has a grace period of about five years before it really begins to feel the heat of China's emergence," Stephen Roach, global economist at the investment bank Morgan Stanley in New York, wrote in a report earlier this year. "How the world then copes with China may well be the biggest what-if of all."

Already, China is the focal point in a worldwide debate about the virtues of the headlong pace of globalization. Workers in many nations have lost manufacturing jobs to lower-cost laborers in provinces near Shanghai and Hong Kong.

[Excerpt of an article by Mark Trumbull, The Christian Science Monitor]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Anti-Americanism in South Korea

An excerpt of an article by Cindy Sheehan, peace activist and mother of Casey Sheehan who was KIA in Iraq (Written in Daechuri, near Pyong-taek City, South Korea.)

Miles before our bus reached the village on the evening of November 20th, we were stopped by approximately 200 South Korean riot police, who were decked out in their full riot regalia with bullet-proof shields. We were traveling with Father Moon, an elderly Buddhist priest who has been an advocate for the villagers for a few years now.

Finally, in what the villagers said was an unprecedented move, they allowed us entry into the village (after we passed another heavily guarded checkpoint). Visitors are rarely allowed to go in. Why? Because the village of Daechuri is under siege, and the governments [involved: South Korea and the United States of America] don't want the world to see.

The village of Daechuri has the unmitigated gall to be located next to a US military base, Camp Humphreys, which is slated for an eleven-billion dollar expansion that would include a golf course for the use of soldiers stationed there. The only problem is that the village of Daechuri and their thousands of acres of farmland, mostly rice paddies, are in the way of the juggernaut of US military expansion.

The people of Daechuri have been cut off from their farmlands by razor wire, guard towers, and armed foot patrols.

I took a straw poll of about 400 South Koreans, and 100% of them said that George Bush is far more frightening than Kim Jong-Il.

You can bet your turkey leftovers that North Korea is watching these developments very closely.