Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Four North Koreans turned over to South Korean officials

Four North Koreans who sought asylum in South Korea after entering the Danish Embassy in Vietnam earlier this month have been handed over to South Korean officials in a third country, a U.S. government-funded radio station reported Tuesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The defectors, a family of two adults and as many children, had initially requested help from the South Korean Embassy, which was allegedly rejected. After their entry into the embassy compound, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and Danish Embassy consulted on how the case would be treated.

The Danish Embassy handed over one male and three female North Korean defectors to the South Korean authorities, which went very smoothly, Thomas Moller, an official of Denmark's Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia (RFA). RFA reported that the handover was made in a third country.

[The Korea Herald]

Monday, July 30, 2007

How North Koreans are received in the South

Anthropologist Gene-woong explains, "Korea has been a discriminatory culture dating back hundreds of years to the late Lee Dynasty. Your place in this society is determined by money, status and appearance.''

In the early years, North Korean defectors [arriving in Seoul] were celebrated as heroes; now they're sometimes looked down upon as well-subsidized freeloaders. Despite all the talk of brotherhood and eventual reunification, the North Korean refugees often feel isolated, even years after living here.

Humanitarian and church organizations maintain that depression, alcoholism, unemployment and suicide run higher among these refugees and that this hopelessness is passed to the children as well.

Some defectors say that they struggle against a certain South Korean animosity and snobbishness, which, interpreted correctly or not, can be summed up as follows: kiss my ring; now collect my garbage.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

Sunday, July 29, 2007

North Korean total-control zone

According to a report released in June by the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul: "Prisoners sent to a total-control zone [in North Korea] can never come out. They are put to work in mines or logging camps until they die. Thus the authorities don't even bother to give them ideological education. They only teach them skills necessary for mining and farming."

Shin was born and raised in a North Korean gulag. His life changed in 1996, when his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. Guards interrogated him in an underground torture cell about a suspected family plot to flee the camp. They stripped and hung him by his arms and legs from the ceiling, and held him over hot charcoal.

During the interrogations he learned for the first time that his father's family belonged to a "hostile class" - a category that entailed punishment over three generations - because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.

On Jan. 2, 2005, when Shin and his co-worker were collecting firewood near the camp's electrified fence and could not see any guards, they ran.

In July 2005, Shin reached China. In February 2006, a South Korean helped him seek asylum at the South Korean Consulate in Shanghai. He arrived in Seoul last August.

Today, Shin bears burn scars from the torture and the electrified fence, and walks with a slight limp. He says he has recurring nightmares about being back in Camp No. 14.

Telltale signs [of a North Korean political prisoner]: the avoidance of eye contact and arms warped by heavy labor from childhood.

"An instruction drilled into every guard's head is: Don't treat them like humans."

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

North Korea defectors' capitalist dreams wilt in South

Most North Korean defectors have been bystanders to the South's economic boom, overwhelmed by their new environment, facing employers who see them as under qualified for a cutthroat labor market and criminals who target them as easy prey.

The first of the more than 10,000 North Koreans who defected to the South came in a trickle, often members of the hermit-state's elite with the skills to find jobs in a land that celebrated their arrival.

Nowadays, they are more likely to be women laborers and farmers from North Hamkyong province, a rocky land bordering China known for its prison camps and as an economic backwater in an already impoverished country.

They started arriving en masse in the mid to late 1990s, fleeing a famine that experts say may have killed about 10 percent of the 22 million population.

With few skills and speaking Korean with an unmistakable accent, they rarely fit in.

Even though South Korea trains defectors to adjust to their new lives, more than half wind up unemployed and those who do find work often earn only a pittance, according to a survey from Seoul National University.

About one in four defectors has fallen victim to crime in the South, most often defrauded of their welfare stipends by earlier defectors, a government study earlier this year said.

Defectors say they often feel like second-class citizens in a country where many see them as a burden on the welfare system.

Yet, despite the prejudice, a few defectors say they have found a receptive audience by selling the idea of a shared Korean identity which transcends their heavily armed border.

Defector Lim Yoo-kyung, 20, jumped on that bandwagon with her accordion. Lim is a member of the Tallae Music Band, a group of young female defectors who play traditional Korean tunes virtually unknown to young South Koreans who are fed a diet of hip hop.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Hunger deaths rise in North Korea

An increasing number of North Koreans are dying from starvation or hunger-related diseases in recent months as food shortages have further worsened.

Famine-driven deaths began to occur across North Korea since late June and the deaths are on the rise this month, a Seoul-based civic group said.

"In the North's east port city of Hamhung alone, some 300 people died from hunger and famine-driven malnutrition in the past month," the agency said in a statement.

About 10 people on average have died every day in every city and town in the North's mountainous northeast provinces of North and South Hamkyong, it said.

The group also said prices of rice and other grains have jumped in the North's markets due to acute shortages.

The aid agency, which has campaigned for poverty reduction in the North, is believed to have a wide range of sources in the communist country.

The report comes as many relief agencies are warning that the North could face its worst food shortages since the mass famines of the mid-1990s that killed approximately 2 million people.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

430 North Koreans Die of Hunger in Past Month

About 430 North Koreans have died of hunger in a northern region of the impoverished communist country in the past month because of chronic food shortages, a South Korean aid group said Wednesday.

The number of people who starved to death is also on the rise in other northern regions, with an average of four people dying per day in hospitals in each county and city in that area, the Good Friends aid agency said in a newsletter.

North Korean authorities have said illnesses were to blame for the deaths but they were caused by long-term malnutrition, the aid agency said, citing an unidentified doctor in the North.

Despite the food shortages, the North doled out food rations to people in the capital, Pyongyang, the agency said, in an apparent move to draw loyalty from the country's top elite. The North also supplied food to the military, easing its complaints and enabling the military to regain stability, said the aid agency.

The North's leader Kim Jong Il has placed top priority on the military, channeling the country's scarce resources to the military under his "songun," or military-first policy.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Success story of North Korea defector in the South

Kim, who runs a restaurant in the Seoul suburbs specializing in North Korean cuisine, is one of a handful of defectors making a living in the capitalist South selling goods linked to the communist country of his birth.

"Many North Koreans come here to escape starvation. They do not bring skills or money with them," said Kim, adding few had the business acumen or capital to crack into the market. So many defectors try to open their own business, but they disappear within a year. They don't realize how competitive capitalism is in the South."

Kim, who fled to the South about 16 years ago and soon became a TV personality, now runs a restaurant called Morangak, in the Seoul suburb of Ilsan, with branches across the country. Its best-selling dish is Pyongyang cold noodles at 6,000 won ($6.54), served in a clear, vinegar broth garnished with slices of beef. Kim has also pitched his instant noodles on TV home shopping channels.

Kim weathered a year where he did "little more than chase flies" because his North Korean cuisine was not to the taste of customers in the South. He learned to include more meat, make portions generous and change a way of cooking from the North based on stretching sparse ingredients to that of the South where food is abundant.

His restaurant now serves about 1,000 people a day on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends.


Success story of North Korea defector in the South

Kim, who runs a restaurant in the Seoul suburbs specializing in North Korean cuisine, is one of a handful of defectors making a living in the capitalist South selling goods linked to the communist country of his birth.

"Many North Koreans come here to escape starvation. They do not bring skills or money with them," said Kim, adding few had the business acumen or capital to crack into the market. So many defectors try to open their own business, but they disappear within a year. They don't realize how competitive capitalism is in the South."

Kim, who fled to the South about 16 years ago and soon became a TV personality, now runs a restaurant called Morangak, in the Seoul suburb of Ilsan, with branches across the country. Its best-selling dish is Pyongyang cold noodles at 6,000 won ($6.54), served in a clear, vinegar broth garnished with slices of beef. Kim has also pitched his instant noodles on TV home shopping channels.

Kim weathered a year where he did "little more than chase flies" because his North Korean cuisine was not to the taste of customers in the South. He learned to include more meat, make portions generous and change a way of cooking from the North based on stretching sparse ingredients to that of the South where food is abundant.

His restaurant now serves about 1,000 people a day on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fight to Save North Korean Christian Not Over

Two more letters have been delivered, one by hand, to two Korean leaders in hopes of saving the life of a Christian being held for execution.

Congressman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., hand delivered a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at a mutual meeting asking him to intercede on Son's behalf.

Lantos, who is a holocaust survivor, is the founding co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. "My experience as a survivor of the Holocaust reinforces my own commitment to working to ensure that no individual faces the threat of death on the basis of his or her religion," Lantos wrote in the letter to Ban.

Lantos also sent another letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il asking for a stay of execution for Son. "Chairman Kim, in recent weeks you have shown important leadership in working with the international community on the issue of North Korea's nuclear program. Now it is time to underscore your leadership and show mercy toward Son Jong Nam. Doing so will be a tremendous credit to your countrymen in the eyes of the world," he pointed out.

Lantos took action after Son Jong Nam's situation was highlighted by Voice of the Martyrs and Senator Brownback, the Kansas Republican.

[Excerpt of article by Donna Russell, CBNnews]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Life in a North Korean Political Prison

According to Shin [an escaped North Korean prisoner] the prison authorities matched his father, Shin Kyong Sup, with his mother, Chang Hye Kyong, and made them spend five days together before separating them. This sort of arrangement was known as "award marriage," a privilege given only to outstanding inmates. An exemplary worker might be allowed to visit the woman chosen as his wife a few times a year.

Shin's brother was born in 1974 and Shin in 1982. Young children lived with their mothers, who worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. Once they turned 11, children were moved to communal barracks but were allowed to visit their mothers if they excelled at their work.

"I got to visit my mother only once or twice a year," Shin said. "I never saw my whole family together. I don't think I saw my brother more than a few times."

There were up to 1,000 children but no textbooks in the school at Valley No. 2, the part of the camp where Shin lived. Pupils were taught to read and write, and to add and subtract, but little more. After school, children worked in the fields or mines.

Inmates were fed the same meal three times a day: a bowl of steamed corn and a salty vegetable broth. They scavenged whatever else they could find: cucumbers and potatoes from the fields, frogs, mice, dragonflies and locusts. Shin said he once ate corn kernels he found in cow droppings.

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Boycott China Olympics Over North Korea Refugee Repatriation

US human rights activists urged people not to travel to Beijing to see the 2008 Olympics unless China grants the UN refugee agency access to North Koreans hiding in its territory.

The religious and civic activists also said international media outlets should limit coverage to sporting events as part of the effort to deny China publicity.

They demanded the United States keep the issue of human rights in North Korea high on the agenda in six-party talks to end the communist North’s nuclear weapons programme.

"The message is very simple: China, if you want to host the 2008 Olympic Games, stop the persecution of the North Korean refugees," Sam Kim, executive director of the Korean Church Coalition, said at a news conference.

The coalition, which will unveil similar drives in Japan and South Korea next month to publicise the plight of North Korean refugees, proposes that athletes compete in the Beijing Olympics, but that spectators shun the games.

The activists said they want to force Beijing to live up to its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

More female North Koreans flee their country than male

Some observers believe that the reason there are more female North Koreans willing to flee their country is the relatively less severe punishment that women expect to receive if caught and repatriated than men. Also considered is the fact that women find it easier to get jobs in China than men, who are more likely to be under suspicion from the Chinese authorities.

Ben Sanders of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants confirmed in a recent interview with Radio Free Asia that some local governments in China allow female North Korean refugees who are married to Chinese men to obtain an ID. He believes that China must have given some thought on how such a practice can be introduced within its own legal framework. "It's hard to say whether such a practice is completely legitimate or illegitimate. It's in between."

Last year, China sent about 1,800 refuges back to North Korea, which was a sharp reduction from about 5,000 it had repatriated in 2005.

There is no authoritative estimation about how many North Korean refugees are in China, given the caution and the secret manner in which they behave there. Sanders believes there were about 30,000 North Korean refugees in China last year. However, some non-governmental organizations estimate the number could go as high as 300,000.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, Asia Times]

Friday, July 20, 2007

China more tolerant of North Koreans?

There are some signs that China is easing up on its policy on North Korean refugees who have escaped from the starving Stalinist country. China reportedly issues temporary-resident permits to some North Korean refugees.

The beneficiaries of the temporary IDs are female North Korean refugees who are married to Chinese men, who have children with those men, and who have lived in China for a prolonged period without causing any problem drawing the authorities' attention.

The South Korean official said some villages in China have set up rules stipulating the criteria for issuing such identification cards, adding: "Given the Chinese political structure, without the implicit nod or direction from Beijing, this rule wouldn't have been in place."

China has apparently been carrying out such measures since as early as 2004 in a very low-key manner. It has been less forthcoming in accommodating the demands from the international community for better humanitarian treatment of North Korean refugees for fear that doing so might anger its often irascible neighbor, with which it has a repatriation treaty.

The identification cards issued to North Korean refugees are temporary residential permits or cards that show they are Chinese citizens, said a South Korean expert on North Korean human-rights conditions. He said they are issued only in certain villages and under a limited scope. Most are reportedly in China's inner and western regionsrather than the northeast near the North Korean border where the Korean refugee population is concentrated.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, Asia Times]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Int'l Red Cross to continue North Korea aid

The international Red Cross will continue to help North Korea in treating measles-related illnesses, including medicine aid, the organization said Wednesday in its program update, Yonhan News Agency reported.

In the first phase of a joint immunization plan, the International Federation of Red Cross and North Korea campaigned to vaccinate 6 million children between 6 months and 15 years old.

"The DPRK Red Cross and the federation are contributing 10.2 million doses of vitamin A. The federation is also contributing 262,000 doses of ampicillin to health facilities in four provinces for the treatment of measels-related complications," the update said.

[ The Korea Herald]

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Seoul Train Wins at Human Rights Film Festival in Washington

The first Shenzhou International Film Festival took place in Washington D. C. on Sunday, July 15, with several of the filmmakers in attendance. Instead of the typical hierarchy of prizes, just two awards were given: One for Courage, and the other for Justice.

Film Festival Organizer Jingwei Wang explained that the festival has three main themes: exposing the crimes of the Chinese Communist Party, examining human rights issues, and helping to stop the persecution of innocent people.

In the Courage category, the winning film was Seoul Train. With its riveting footage of a secretive "underground railroad", it is a gripping documentary exposé into the life and death of North Koreans as they try to escape their homeland and China, where if caught, will be forcefully deported back to North Korea to dire consequences. Adrian Hong of Liberty in North Korea (LINK), whose full-time job is relocating North Korean refugees in China to a safe, third country, accepted the award on behalf of Jim Butterworth, Lisa Sleeth, and Aaron Lubarsky, the film directors.

[Excerpt of an article by Lidia Louk, Epoch Times]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

North Korea’s brutal form of human rights abuse

On Nov. 29, 1996, a 14-year-old North Korean, Shin Dong Hyok, and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions. Shin assumed they were among those to be put to death. Instead, the guards brought out his mother and his 22-year-old brother. The mother was hanged, the brother was shot by a firing squad. Read more


Monday, July 16, 2007

More on Christian condemned to death in North Korea

A campaign to save Son Jong-nam was launched by Voice of the Martyrs – a group which aids persecuted Christians worldwide – by the condemned man’s younger brother, who has traveled to Washington to ask for their help.

Senators explain to the UN and US government “Future engagement with North Korea will be more challenging if its leaders continue to persecute people for their religion. The United States has made political and religious freedom important elements in its diplomatic relations and we are gravely concerned about abuses of such rights in North Korea”.

Son first defected to China in 1998 and became a Christian after meeting a South Korean missionary. He was arrested in 2001 and sent back to the North. He was imprisoned for three years but released on parole in 2004.

The execution, confirmed by the authorities in the North, will take place in public: this form is often used by the Stalinist regime lead by Kim Jong-il, in attempts to “persuade” the population from “breaking the law”.

[Pakistan Christian Post]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

North Korea nuclear reactor shut down?

North Korea told the United States it shut down its nuclear reactor, the State Department said Saturday, hours after a ship cruised into port loaded with oil promised in return for the country's pledge to disarm.

If confirmed by a U.N. inspection team headed to the Yongbyon reactor, the shutdown would be the North's first step in nearly five years toward de-nuclearization.

An initial shipment of oil aid arrived hours earlier Saturday, in return for Pyongyang's pledge to close down its main nuclear reactor.

Chief U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said he expected the North to submit a list of its nuclear facilities within months, as was agreed to in February's round of talks. After the IAEA team installs monitoring equipment, personnel will remain at Yongbyon to ensure the reactor remains shut down, said a diplomat familiar with North Korea's file at the IAEA.

The agreement eased a standoff that began in October 2002, when the U.S. said North Korean officials had admitted during meetings in Pyongyang to having a secret uranium enrichment program.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Born and raised in a North Korean gulag

Shin, now 24, was a political prisoner by birth. From the day he was born in 1982 in Camp No. 14 in Kaechon until he escaped in 2005, Shin had known no other life. Guards beat children, tortured grandparents and, in cases like Shin's, executed family members. But Shin said it did not occur to him to hate the authorities. He assumed everyone lived this way.

He had never heard of Pyongyang, the capital city 90 kilometers, or 55 miles, to the south, or even of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader.

"I didn't know about America, or China or the fact that the Korean Peninsula was divided and there was a place called South Korea," he said. "I thought it was natural that I was in the camp because of my ancestors' crime, though I never even wondered what that crime was. I never thought it was unfair."

[Excerpt of an article by Choe Sang-Hun, The International Herald Tribune]

Friday, July 13, 2007

Race To Save a North Korean Evangelist

Efforts to save the life of Son Jong Nam, a North Korean evangelist who faces a death sentence from the communist regime for practicing Christianity, will reach the State Department today, when Mr. Son's younger brother is scheduled to meet with administration officials and plead for their intervention.

Son Jong Nam fled North Korea for China with his wife, daughter, and nephew in 1998 after his pregnant wife was severely beaten by North Korean government interrogators, resulting in a miscarriage. She would later die from her injuries.

Mr. Son was converted to Christianity by Chinese missionaries and returned to North Korea to evangelize — a criminal act under the regime of Kim Jong-il. In 2001, Mr. Son was arrested by Communist Chinese authorities and extradited to North Korea. He was released in 2004, but then arrested again in 2006 and sentenced to public execution by the Kim regime.

Although the charges against Mr. Son — illegal border crossing, meeting with enemies of the state, and disseminating anti-state literature — are vague, advocates for him said he is essentially being executed because he is a Christian.

[The New York Sun]

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On North Korea, Hippocrates Not Hypocrisy

In 2002, President George W. Bush marked Kim Jong Il's regime as evil, the Congress passed the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, and the State Department's first special envoy on this matter, Jay Lefkowitz, was appointed in 2005. But the circle of awareness and debate has remained limited, with political and religious conservatives yelling the loudest about how the U.S. should counter the abuses in North Korea.

U.S. approaches have been ineffective because goals other than improving North Korean lives have been promoted. The 2004 Act, its more hostile predecessor, the North Korea Freedom Act of 2003, and the Bush administration's hawkish stance toward Pyongyang generated the view that human rights was just a foil for regime change. Some members of Congress also used the North Korean human rights issue not as an end in itself, but as a way to attack China on human rights.

It adds to cynicism that North Korea is really a means to get at China and sends conflicting messages to Beijing, whose help is needed on Pyongyang's nuclear and human rights problems. Given the political parameters of the six-party talks, progress on human rights is not possible: China and Russia face their own problems on human rights and have no interest in pursuing a human rights agenda with the United States or North Korea; South Korea has gone out of its way to keep the human rights issue off the inter-Korean radar as part of its engagement strategy. That leaves Japan as the only country willing to back the U.S., but Japan is badly positioned to have credibility or clout on the issue of human rights in Asia, given its inability to face up to its wartime violations. And its human rights agenda regarding North Korea is too narrow to be compatible with that of the United States.

Those of us who genuinely care about North Korean human rights need to put North Korean lives first.

[Excerpt of an article by Katharine H.S. Moon, an associate fellow at the Asia Society and professor in political science at Wellesley College]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

S. Korean group donates medicines to North Korea

A South Korean pharmaceutical association said Wednesday it had provided North Korea with drugs worth about 3 billion won (US$3.25 million) in May in response to a request from the impoverished country.

In February, the North Korean Red Cross Society sent a letter requesting antibiotics, tuberculosis medicine, pneumonia medications, and other basic drugs, the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (KPMA) said.

[Yonhap News]

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Emotional and Physical anguish of North Korean Refugees

“For North Korean defectors, living in South Korea is emotionally and physically demanding,” Professor Choi Myung-Ae of Seoul National University’s College of Nursing told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

More than 80 percent of respondents said they had contracted at least one disease after leaving North Korea, with an average of two to three different diseases affecting each participant. Vitamin deficiency and muscular-skeletal disease from malnutrition were frequently reported, while gastritis, arthritis, and depression were also common.

“The health status of defectors who left their families in the North is five times worse than that of defectors who escaped North Korea with relatives or friends,” said Park Jeong Ran, an expert on defectors at the Institute for Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

“The research indicates that 20 percent of the ailments affecting North Korean defectors are mental in nature,” she said.

Medical staff at the Hanawon reception center for defectors have indicated that around 70 percent of North Koreans in their care exhibited symptoms of depression or other stress-related syndromes.

[Radio Free Asia]

Monday, July 09, 2007

North Korean refugees a Korean matter

A complaint among some South Koreans today is that their government does more for the North Korean refugees than for many of its own citizens.

One high-ranking official in the Ministry of Unification told me, with typical South Korean optimism, ''These refugees [that we receive from North Korea] serve as a litmus test for how the reunification of the two Koreas is going to work one day. We view their situation not just as a humanitarian matter but as a Korean matter.''

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

North Korean on the South: "Everything’s about money"

Many North Koreans say that they are treated like second-class citizens in the South.

“Everything’s about money here,” he said. “You go to work in the morning — you can’t even take phone calls on your cell at work — then you go home and go to sleep. In North Korea, there is a fence around people to control them. But it’s very collective, so people help one another out. In that system, people do find ways to have meaningful relations with one another.”

As with many North Koreans, Mr. Lee’s nostalgia about the North increased in direct proportion with his sense of alienation in the South.

It was getting late, and maybe because he had to wake up early for work in the morning, Mr. Lee’s mood darkened. He had already worked three jobs in as many months, including aboard a small sun-baked fishing boat. He lingered outside a butcher’s shop near his apartment, delaying, it seemed, his return to an empty apartment.

After they left Hanawon, he and his girlfriend spent nine days together, then split up. They had shared their journey to South Korea. But, once here, they saw that the reality of their relationship, as with many things, was different from their expectations.

And there was also South Korea, the country he had longed to reach. Differences stemming from half a century of a divided peninsula, his telltale accent from the North, a word misused, all these things betrayed him as an outsider. He had found, like the 10,000 North Koreans now living in the South and holding South Korean citizenship, that he was not in from the cold, not yet.

“It was so hard to get here,” he said. “Before, I thought that once I got to South Korea, everything would be all right. But now I know that I’ve just opened the front gate and come in. The journey’s just begun.”

[The New York Times]

Saturday, July 07, 2007

North Korean defects ― three times

Cigarettes, a used bicycle and cash. Those were some of the things a North Korean defector used to bribe border guards as he went back and forth three times between his homeland and South Korea, the National Intelligence Service said yesterday.

The last time, the man brought North Korean neighbors with him. They couldn’t keep their story straight, and that led to him getting caught, the agency said. The 30-year-old North Korean defector, who was not identified, was arrested yesterday on charges of having the secret visits, which violated the National Security Law. The arrest carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

The man escaped North Korea in September 2003 by crossing into China through the Tumen River. He met with his mother and an older sister, who had earlier defected to China, and the three all came to South Korea via Mongolia.

The South Korean government gave the man an apartment and 30 million won ($33,000) to assist his settlement after he finished the government’s training program in February 2004.

[Excerpt of an article by Ser Myo-ja, JoongAng Daily]


More on 3-time North Korean defector

[After defecting from North Korea, and arriving in the South via China and Mongolia] he worked at motels in Seoul but was disappointed with his life, the intelligence agency said. The man also missed his wife, whom he left in the North, the agency said. In October 2004, the man visited China with a tourist visa and smuggled himself back to the North by crossing the Tumen River again.

To re-enter, the man bribed North Korean security officials with money, cigarettes and a used bicycle, the intelligence service said. For eight months, the man lived with his wife, again working as a trader. He worried, however, about his mother and sister in the South.

Bribing the North Korean border guards again, he escaped to China in June 2005 and then returned to the South. While he was in the South, his wife gave birth to a daughter. In December 2005, the man went to the North again through China via the same route and met his newborn, the intelligence service said.

In September 2006, he went back to the South. This time, he guided his neighbors. The secret visits were uncovered, however, during questioning at the National Intelligence Service because the neighbors didn’t coordinate their story.

[Excerpt of an article by Ser Myo-ja, JoongAng Daily]

Friday, July 06, 2007

The mystery that surrounds Kim Jong Il

For all the attention he gets, North Korea's Kim Jong Il is one of the most mysterious leaders in the world.

The reclusive communist leader has been portrayed variously as an unstable nuclear-armed madman and a cognac-swilling playboy serviced by a team of women known as the "Joy Brigade."

It is unclear where or when he was born, how many times he has been married or even exactly how many children he has. Kim is thought to have been married three times -- although it's not clear if all were official -- and he is known to have three sons and at least one daughter.

Kim is believed to have been born in the far eastern region of the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942. But his birthplace is often listed instead as sacred Mount Paektu, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula. According to legend, the peak on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria is the site where the Korean nation came into existence 5,000 years ago. "At the time of his birth there were flashes of lightning and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up," according to the official line.

Kim's younger brother drowned as a child and his mother died when he was 7 years old.

But despite the hardships suffered by most Koreans, Kim was presumably surrounded by luxury and privilege throughout most of his childhood.

Kim had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy as a young man -- and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies. "He recruited attractive young girls of junior high school age to take part in 'Joy Brigades,' whose function was to help in relaxation to his senior officials," said Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler.

His taste for the high life extends to a fondness for fast cars and fine dining. One 2003 account by Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who accompanied Kim on a train journey across Russia, described how live lobsters and roasted donkey -- reportedly the North Korean leader's favorite food -- were flown out to supply the train each day.

Kim is also a huge film buff boasting a collection of as many as 20,000 films.

While Kim tends to stay behind the scenes, when he does go live on television, it is carefully choreographed official visits to prestigious public works projects or large scale ceremonies, accompanied by an entourage of approving advisors.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Footage of North Korea's leader indicate signs of possible illness

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in video shown this week looked thinner and appeared to have less hair than in April, raising speculation about his health.

The reclusive leader made a rare public appearance on Tuesday when he granted a surprise meeting to China's foreign minister in Pyongyang. Chinese television footage showed Kim shaking hands with the guest and brandishing a big smile.

On Thursday, however, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper compared the latest Kim footage with that shown in April [and speculated that] such symptoms are common in a patient who has undergone heart surgery, citing an unidentified doctor at Seoul's respected Severance Hospital. Previous news reports have said that he had heart surgery in May and could not walk more than 30 meters (yards).

South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said last month that Kim has long had heart disease and diabetes. Kim's health has been a focus of international attention because his fate is believed to be tied to that of the isolated, nuclear-armed nation he leads.

[International Herald Tribune]

Monday, July 02, 2007

S. Korea pledges $20 million to UN for North Korea’s food

South Korea, which last week resumed bilateral food aid to North Korea, said on Monday it would provide $20 million to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to help it feed people in the impoverished country. No timeframe for the donation was given in a statement from South Korea’s unification ministry.

South Korea had suspended its regular food aid to North Korea in July 2006 in response to Pyongyang, defying international warnings and test-firing a barrage of ballistic missiles.

Seoul said last week it would resume its food handouts to the country, which battles chronic shortages, citing North Korean progress in implementing a six-way nuclear disarmament deal reached in February. South Korea said the pledge to the WFP is separate from its bilateral aid.

The WFP aims to assist 1.9 million hit by food shortages among the North’s 22.5 million population but is facing a funding shortfall, the WFP said on its Web site.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Agonizing Trip to South Korea

It had taken Lee Chan, now 39, almost half of his life to make it to South Korea from the North.

His journey began when he was in the military at age 20 and became entangled in a dispute with a superior. According to his account, he tried to leave the North but was caught and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After his release, he held a series of jobs ranging from maintaining telephone lines to working in a fertilizer factory. His father, he said, died in the great famine of the late 1990s.

Then in late 2005, Mr. Lee made it to China and joined his mother, who had already been living there for a couple of years. After working seven months and earning enough to pay part of the fees to the smugglers, Mr. Lee made it to Bangkok and, following six months in the detention center there, arrived in South Korea, at long last.

Like all North Korean refugees, Mr. Lee was then detained for about a month by the National Intelligence Service. He was interrogated for several days before being put into solitary confinement, he said. He felt intolerably lonely, so he began keeping a diary for the first time in his life.

He wrote in a clear handwriting of his “suffocating” loneliness in solitary. With a broken television set in his cell, he wrote, “how am I going to get through the night?”

He wanted larger portions of food, but could not bear the humiliation of asking the guards, he wrote, adding that he could see “contempt” in their eyes. He longed for his girlfriend, though he could not hide his misgivings. “She lacks perseverance and temperance, just like me,” he wrote. “She cries a lot. She has the most beautiful eyes when she cries. I read in a book somewhere that if you are too emotional, you’ll have a lesser chance of succeeding in life.”

Mr. Lee then stayed for a couple of months at Hanawon, an institution that offers North Koreans a crash course on living in the capitalist South. History was retaught, including that it was the North, not the South, that started the Korean War. Mr. Lee said that he had already gleaned the truth from South Korean films and television programs increasingly smuggled in from China. Hanawon also offered computer classes.

[The New York Times]