Saturday, May 31, 2008

North Korean "Crossing" film painful to watch

The man whose personal tragedy formed the basis of much of a wrenching film about the human rights abuses in North Korea remains so traumatised that he refuses to watch it.

Cha In-pyo, one of Asia's top actors, stars as a North Korean miner Yoo Sang-jun whose undernourished, pregnant wife contracts tuberculosis. With no medicine available in the impoverished nation, Cha's character leaves his wife and 11-year-old son to travel to China to earn money for medicine. While he is away his wife dies. His starving son attempts to escape to China but is captured and placed in a re-education camp, where the most harrowing scenes of the film take place.

“I don't want to think about my past,” Yoo Sang-jun told The Times. “I hope the film can help the world know about North Korea.”

Mr Yoo's wife and a son died in the North Korean famine of the late 1990s. In 1998 he escaped to China with his surviving son, Chul-min. In 2002 Chul-min set off from China for Mongolia to be reunited with his father. In the barren frontier between the countries, lost, weak and exhausted, he died from exposure. Chul-min is buried under a wooden cross in the Mongolian desert. He was 10.

Kim Tae-kyun, the director of the film, said that he felt a “deep sense of shame” as he researched the film, said that half of its proceeds would go to help fugitives from the North and urged South Koreans to take greater interest in the ongoing tragedy.

“It would be pertinent if China's leadership watched this film,” Tim Peters, an American activist and friend of Mr Yoo, said. “With the stroke of a pen, they could stop thousands of tragedies.”

[Excerpt of an article by

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"On The Border" documentary on North Korean refugees

U.S. State Department officials on Monday watched a segment of "On The Border", a documentary on North Korean refugees produced by the Chosun Ilbo as part of its global cross-media program. The segment they watched contained scenes of a North Korean woman sold to China across the Tumen River for [$47], a North Korean drug dealer crossing the river naked, and the suffering of North Korean women suffering hardships after being sold to Chinese men.

A U.S. diplomat said the scenes were “shocking” and asked how the crew managed to shoot the footage in the dangerous Chinese-North Korean border area. U.S. diplomats were reportedly curious to discover how China and North Korea treat the North Korean refugees who've crossed the border, and especially what happened to the North Koreans who appeared in the film.

The film, parts of which have been shown all over the world, appears to have helped raise awareness of the plight of North Korean refugees.

"On The Border", will run on the BBC. Both BBC World, the international cable news channel, and domestic channels BBC2 and BBC News24 will air five to six parts of "Korea: out of the North", the corporation’s version of the Chosun Ilbo documentary, starting May 30.

BBC World will air the first 50-minute part as part of its "Our World" program and will broadcast the documentary a total of six times for three days. In Korea, it can be watched on cable and BBC World (channel 528) on Sky TV.

In the U.K., BBC2's "Newsnight" will feature a 15-minute segment, while news channel BBC News24 will broadcast 30-minute parts of the documentary.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movie "Crossing" about North Korean human rights

Coming soon, the movie "Crossing" -- North Koreans' daily life, poverty and starvation, concentration camps there and the dangerous escape through China, including storming western embassies in Beijing.

Based on the true story of a 10-year-old boy who died in the Mongolian desert on his way to freedom.

Foreign journalists' preview, with English subtitles, scheduled for Friday, May 30, 2 pm, Megabox, Coex, Seoul.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Christopher Hill Credited With U.S. Shift on North Korea

Although only a mid-level foreign service official, chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill "has become the public face of an extraordinary 180-degree policy shift on North Korea," the Washington Post reported on Monday. “The nuclear agreement that Hill has tirelessly pursued over the past three years has emerged as Bush's best hope for a lasting foreign policy success."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last year hailed him as a "diplomat par excellence".

"One of the biggest guessing games in diplomatic circles today is how long Hill can keep up his balancing act of pleasing his bosses, negotiating with North Korea and fending off conservatives eager to see him fail," the Post wrote.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Aid groups say North Korea is heading for major famine

North Korea’s food crisis is more severe than previously estimated due to last year’s poor harvest, Good Friends, a human rights group focused on North Korea, said yesterday.

The group said the current situation is a prelude to a recurrence of the massive famine of the 1990s. During the infamous food crisis of the 1990s, the North’s population fell by between 2.5 million and 3 million, a rare North Korean government survey showed.

“If this situation continues, we will starve to death in June,” a North Korean official was quoted as saying in the activist group’s report. “We don’t have a single grain of rice, and that is our reality,” said another.

The group said the food crisis is particularly severe for factory workers and other professionals outside Pyongyang, while government officials, soldiers and residents of the capital city are given priority rations.

Meanwhile, United Press International reported yesterday that North Korea and China have boosted border patrols to stop North Koreans trying to escape poverty and hunger. U.S. aid group Helping Hands Korea also said it has received reports of “°shoot-on-sight” orders given to North Korean border guards who encounter people trying to cross the border illegally.

[JoongAng Daily]

Monday, May 26, 2008

North Koreans Flee Amid Food Shortage

North Korea and China have boosted border patrols to stop North Koreans trying to escape poverty and hunger in their homeland, a U.S. aid group said.

Helping Hands Korea said border patrols on both sides of the Tumen and Yalu Rivers are being increased to stop illegal border crossers, The Korea Times reported.

For their part, Chinese police are making more house-to-house checks along border areas to crack down on refugees hiding out in ethnic Korean households living in China, the group said.

Helping Hands Korea also claimed it has received reports of "shoot-on-sight'' orders given to North Korean border guards who encounter people trying to cross the border illegally. Additionally, snipers have been posted at border stations along the Tumen River.

North Koreans have increasingly sought to escape amid poverty and worsening food shortages, the Times said. Upcoming international aid and the U.S. promise of 500,000 tons of provisions could fill much of the gap, the agency said.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Washington approves aid package for North Korea

[As predicted] The U.S. Senate has earmarked $15 million in economic aid for North Korea for fiscal 2008 and approved an additional $53 million to provide 1 million tons of fuel in exchange for progress in North Korea’s denuclearization efforts.

The latest moves came after North Korea broke a months-long deadlock in its three-step denuclearization process, brightening prospects for the next round of six-party talks. Seoul officials said the next round could be held in Beijing in early June.

North Korea turned over 18,000 pages of Yongbyon nuclear records dating back to 1992 to Washington earlier this month and is poised to submit a full nuclear inventory and list of programs to China, host of the six-party talks.

Once North Korea sends that information, Washington will respond by taking the country off the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Kim Sook said.

[JoongAng Ilbo]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Movie coming based on "The Aquariums of Pyongyang"

A defector's book about his decade-long ordeal in a North Korean prison camp is to be made into a film. A South Korean film maker said it would co-produce "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" with its US partner.

"Shooting is expected to begin in October this year with preparations for casting underway," Bae Jin-Su, a Cinema and I executive, told AFP. "We aim to put it on the screen in July next year."

Kang Chol-Hwan told Daily NK, an Internet newspaper run by defectors, that the movie would be "a significant opportunity to unveil the true nature" of North Korean prison camps.

Kang and his family were sent to a camp for political prisoners at Yodok in South Hamkyung province in 1977. He and other defectors have testified that beatings, forced labor, torture and other gross human rights abuses were rampant in the camps.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

North Korea to destroy nuke facilities as symbolic gesture

North Korea is expected to destroy part of its nuclear installations as a symbolic gesture around the time it submits a declaration on its nuclear programs, Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday, quoting a South Korean envoy in Washington.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

North Korean papers in exchange for food?

Despite the volume of papers given to Sung Kim, a US State Department expert on Korea, analysts doubt if the documents address vital US questions. Still, analysts say, the hand-over marks a concrete step forward that could open the way to further progress, driven in part by North Korea's desperation over looming threats of famine and disease.

Analysts say the country's economic problems and food shortage are approaching the widespread famine and suffering of the 1990s. The US is reportedly prepared to send North Korea 500,000 tons of foodstuffs as US technicians monitor disablement of the Yongbyon complex amid reports that the North may blow up the reactor's cooling tower as symbolic evidence that it's making good on its promise to give up the entire program.

Kim Tae Woo suggest "the situation may push the US to move forward" on getting the congressional approval needed to remove North Korea from the list of nations sponsoring terrorism and to lift economic sanctions.

Those steps are crucial as North Korea faces renewed threats of famine and disease. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency, reminding readers of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il's call for an "agricultural revolution," has editorialized that the need "to drastically increase grain production" and "resolve the problem of eating" is the country's "most pressing and important issue."

Conversations with North Koreans crossing the Tumen River border into China bear out the urgency of the food problem. "The situation is extremely dire," says Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, which aids North Korean refugees. "The poor harvest and poor weather are the worst in 13 to 14 years."

Mr. Peters, reached by phone as he met North Koreans on the Chinese side of the Tumen River, gets the impression that persecution may have eased as the crisis deepens. "People are more vocal about their feelings," he says. "They seem less fearful about talking."

An influx of aid from the US and South Korea, on top of aid the North receives from China, "could be a big help," he adds, "but my question is, how far will it filter down to the little people?"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Famine Looms in North Korea as Grain Prices Soar 250%

A growing number of critics say that skyrocketing grain prices in North Korean markets are a prelude to another potential mass starvation.

North Koreans heavily depend on grain consumption as a source of nutrition, a family of four needing at least 60 kilograms a month, or 720 kilograms a year. If the cost of fuel, side dishes, and other necessities are calculated, a family of four will need at least 400 to 500 dollars a year.

It is difficult to estimate North Korea’s national per capita income, but it is believed between 368 and 389 dollars for a family of four.

Other experts on North Korean affairs, such as Seo Jae-jin, a chief researcher at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, and Dong Yong-seung, head of the Economic Security Team at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said that the possibility of mass starvation in the North is slim as the North now has markets, which are run under the principle of supply and demand.

“Mass starvation occurred in mid-1990s because the markets did not have the strength to stand on their own because the government’s ability to meet the demand was paralyzed. However, the situation is different now,” said Dong.

In a press conference held in Washington, Ven. Beopryun, head of Good Friends, an aid organization for North Korean refugees, argued that the international community should immediately send food aid to the Stalinist regime as some 200,000 to 300,000 North Koreans might die of starvation in May and June.

[Excerpt from Dong-A Ilbo]

Monday, May 12, 2008

Emergency food aid for North Korea

The head of the US State Department's Korea desk and four other US officials recently crossed the line from North to South Korea at the truce village of Panmunjom at the weekend lugging 18,000 documents the North Koreans gave them on their nuclear program.

Daily logs may provide clues on how much plutonium North Korean technicians have managed to reprocess at the nuclear complex at Yongbyon or nuclear warheads. Despite the volume of papers handed over to the Americans, however, no way do analysts believe North Korea is about to give up its deepest nuclear secrets.

North Korea needs to appear cooperative while writhing in mounting economic problems that approach the years of suffering during the late 1990s. It is not clear if the US team in Pyongyang came to terms on a deal for emergency food aid, but North Koreans crossing the Tumen River border into China testify to the urgency of the food crisis.

"The situation is extremely dire right now," said Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, providing sustenance for North Korean refugees. "People are comparing it to 1994 and 1995. The poor harvest and poor weather are the worst in 13 to 14 years." An influx of aid from the US and South Korea, on top of aid the North receives from China, "could be a big help", Peters said, "but my question is, how far will it filter down to the little people?"

[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, Asia Times]

Saturday, May 03, 2008

North Koreans attempting to get asylum in foreign embassies

Conditions indicate this will be another very lean year for the poor innocents of North Korea.

View a montage of news footage of North Koreans attempting to get asylum in foreign embassies in China, as well as footage from inside North Korea.