Sunday, August 31, 2008

North Korea Spy Probe leads to 50 Possible Suspects

The arrest of a North Korean spy posing as a defector has created a huge ripple effects, as military sources said 50 North Korean spies have infiltrated the South Korean military.

The Defense Security Service said it is investigating some 100 spy cases involving leaks of classified military information for the North Korean government.

The suspects are known to have entered South Korea disguised as defectors. Military authorities say certain personnel such as commissioned or non-commissioned officers have been implicated in espionage.

[Dong-a Ilbo]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lots of adaptation needed for young North Koreans in the South

North Korean refugees [now living in South Korea] are baffled by street protests such as the rallies against US beef imports and against President Lee Myung-Bak earlier this summer.

“I was shocked to hear them use invectives about the president,” said one interviewee. “In the North, that lands you straight in jail.”

Street demonstrations are part of a major culture shock for young North Korean refugees struggling to adapt to a new life in South Korea, a recent survey shows.
Speeding traffic and skyscrapers are also alien to young people arriving in the democratic capitalist South from their impoverished hardline communist state, according to the findings published by Yonhap news agency.

Young refugees often feel like second-class citizens because they are unfamiliar with South Korean customs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spy arrest worries genuine North Korean refugees

The arrest of a North Korean woman who posed as a defector to the South in order to spy for Pyongyang has made defectors and officials with North Korean refugee organizations uneasy.

Many North Korean refugees are concerned. South Korean distrust of North Korean refugees living here is likely to grow. Currently, some 14,000 refugees live in the South.

Lee Hae-Young, secretary general of the Association of the North Korean Defectors, said, "The most difficult problem facing North Korean refugees in South Korea is how to find jobs. In the wake of the spy case, we're worried that South Koreans will lose all trust in the refugees.” He added most refugees are “victims of the Kim Jong-il regime's tyranny. It's wrong to blame the entire community of North Korean refugees just because of some North Korean agents.”

Cha Sung-joo, secretary general of the Committee for Democratization of North Korea, said, "North Korea's Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department control North Korean society by instigating a sense of fear. It turns one of every three North Korean residents into a spy and makes people afraid to speak even with their friends.”

[Chosun Ilbo]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

North Korean "defector" turns out to be a spy

Chosun Ilbo reports that a North Korean woman is being held for posing as a defector to the South in order to spy for Pyongyang, the first such case on record.

The Times writes that she arrived as a refugee, and for seven years, toured South Korean military bases to lecture on the evils of the homeland that she had escaped.

Authorities say the woman traded sexual favors for military secrets from South Korean officers and passed the information to the North. Investigators say she was also instructed by North Korea to assassinate South Korean intelligence agents and to discover the whereabouts of high-profile defectors including Hwang Jang-yup, a former secretary of the North Korean Worker's Party who fled to the South in 1997.

Won Jeong-hwa (34) was arrested, as was an Army captain identified as Hwang (27) who allegedly passed sensitive information including a list of North Korean defectors to her, as well as a senior North Korean identified as Kim (63) who gave instructions to Won and passed the stolen information to the North. Dong-a Ilbo identifies Hwang, as her boyfriend, a South Korean Army captain, was also indicted for failing to report her despite knowing she was working for the North.

Won allegedly attempted to discover the whereabouts of the high profile figures by making contacts with military officers or senior members of North Korean defectors' associations.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

North Korean refugees could be punished

The South Korean government said on Tuesday it would punish North Korean refugees living in South Korea if they lie to secure residence in the West.

Some 14,180 North Koreans have escaped their hardline communist state and resettled in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 war. Seoul has a constitutional obligation to accept them.

Of these, some 2,700 are believed to have left for other countries, Chun Ki-Won, a Christian pastor, has said.

South Korean spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun said some North Korean refugees who resettled in South Korea had been trying to seek asylum in 'a European state' by concealing the fact that they have settled [in South Korea]. Fradulent asylum-seekers would get their state subsidies cut or receive criminal punishment, the unification ministry warned.

Seoul's foreign ministry last month said it was helping authorities in London identify more than 400 people who were seeking asylum in Britain by claiming to be 'genuine' North Korean defectors. London was sending their fingerprints and asking Seoul to check whether any of them had already been granted permission to live in South Korea. [AFP]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Angry North Korea threatens nuclear U-turn

North Korea said Tuesday it has stopped disabling its nuclear plants and will consider restoring them, because the United States has not removed it from a list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said that the United States was in "outright violation" of the agreement.

The communist nation said it halted the dismantling of the plutonium-producing plants on August 14, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. The North "will consider soon a step to restore the nuclear facilities in (Yongbyon) to their original state," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that KCNA carried.


Monday, August 25, 2008

With endorsements like this, who needs bad press

From OneFreeKorea:

The Chosun Sinbo, the mouthpiece of North Korea’s Japanese front organization Chongryon, and often for the North Korean regime itself, has announced its preference for Obama over McCain, whom it calls “a variant of Bush” and “nothing better than a scarecrow of neoconservatives.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

North Korea, home to at least 15 slave labor camps

“According to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, there exists a vast network of structured institutions for punishment in North Korea, including forced-labor colonies ... along the North Korea-China border. Read more

Friday, August 22, 2008

UN asks Seoul to send Food Aid to North Korea

The World Food Program has formally asked the South Korean government for US$60 million to procure grain and daily necessities for North Koreans hit by a severe food shortage, the Unification Ministry said Thursday.

Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said "The government will decide whether to accept the appeal or not based on public opinion.” Kim added, “If necessary, we can conduct an opinion poll."

The government has been saying it would deliver humanitarian aid to the North without strings attached and consider direct aid if there is a request from Pyongyang, or even without if there is a very serious food problem or a disaster occurs.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

North Korean starvation a death toll more than Pol Pot's Cambodia

The famine in the mid-1990s in North Korea may have killed as many as 3 million people.

Jasper Becker writes in his book Rouge Regime, "a death toll of 3 million would mean more victims than in Pol Pot's Cambodia.

"If 15 percent of [North Korea's] population died, then the death toll in proportion to the country, surpasses any comparable disaster in the 20th Century."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

S. Koreans continue aid to North Korea

South Korean private groups have stepped up aid to impoverished North Korea this year despite frosty ties between the two governments.

'Purely civilian aid to North Korea has been on a steady increase irrespective of current inter-Korean relations', said Mr Kim Ho Nyoun, spokesman for the unification ministry, which handles cross-border ties.

The aid from local non-governmental groups included 4,000 tonnes of grain for the communist North, which is again facing acute food shortages.

The Seoul government's customary food aid to the North has been suspended amid a breakdown in relations since conservative president Lee Myung Bak took office in late February and promised a firmer line with Pyongyang.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Hell on Earth: Welcome to North Korea

"One day, I discovered three kernels of corn in a small pile of cow dung, picked them up and cleaned them with my sleeve before eating," says Shin In-kun. "As miserable as it may seem, that was my lucky day."

Shin was born in 1982 in a North Korean prison camp. Growing up in this misery, he knew almost nothing of the outside world. He barely met his father and his brother. Though he lived with his mother for 12 years in the camp, she was worked from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day, so Shin hardly had any significant relationship with her.

At the age of 12, Shin was separated from his mother and put to work in the concentration camp. This was not your typical summer job at the local shopping mall. It was the type of work where it wasn't uncommon for Shin to see four to five children killed in a day.

Shin later discovered during a torture session to which he was subjected that the reason he and his family were in the concentration camp was that some of his ancestors had helped the South Korean government in the Korean War. It didn't matter that the war occurred decades before Shin was even born. He had to be punished for the sins of his family.

Shin was tied up and chained to the ceiling with a flame lit beneath him. In other words, he was being roasted alive. Later, after Shin slowly recovered, he was taken to watch his brother and mother be publicly executed.

After learning about the outside world from a new inmate to the camp, Shin, while sent to collect fire wood on a mountain, escaped. Ultimately, he made it to South Korea by way of China.

Full article

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Intelligence spin by US sparked North Korean crisis

In circumstances echoing the Iraq war controversy, hardliners in United States President George W Bush’s administration spun intelligence that triggered a nuclear crisis with North Korea and led to Pyongyang testing a bomb, says a new book titled ‘Meltdown: The inside story of the North Korean nuclear crisis’. Written by former senior CNN journalist Mike Chinoy, it says intelligence on a North Korean effort to acquire components for uranium enrichment was politicized to depict the hardline communist state running a full-fledged production facility capable of developing a nuclear bomb.

The book says conservative hardliners bent on ending an ‘agreed framework’ nuclear deal with North Korea forged under President Bill Clinton’s administration seized on the issue to force a confrontation. Then US assistant secretary of state, James Kelly, had been given instructions not to negotiate on his October 2002 trip to Pyongyang, but simply tell the North Koreans that they had to abandon their uranium program before any progress was possible. It was widely reported then that the North Koreans admitted to Kelly they had an uranium program and this led the United States to take a series of retaliatory steps that led to a downward spiral in ties and Pyongyang restarting its nuclear program and testing the bomb in 2006.

But Chinoy, who interviewed most members of Kelly’s delegation, said he could not find any evidence that the North Koreans explicitly admitted having such a programme. “It’s interesting that the transcript remains classified. It appears that a North Korean official … also tabled an offer to negotiate - which Kelly rejected,” he told reporters.


Friday, August 15, 2008

North Koreans in Czech Transit

Five North Koreans now sheltering in the Czech Republic are expected to learn in the coming days whether they will be allowed to immigrate as refugees to the United States, according to a senior Czech official.

The three North Korean men and two women arrived in Prague July 27. This is the first time the Czech Republic has granted temporary residence to North Koreans from China as they transit to third countries.

The Prague Daily Monitor quoted Interior Ministry spokeswoman Jana Malikova as saying that the North Koreans’ need for temporary asylum was grave.

"These people could not be granted any form of international protection. On the contrary, they were threatened with immediate expulsion to North Korea that is infamous for the totalitarian regime,” Malikova said.

[Radio Free Asia]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fresh probe into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea

The Japan Times reports that Japanese experts welcomed Wednesday's developments between Japan and North Korea in Shenyang, China, as critically important, but also warned that Japan should not be in a rush to lift sanctions.

"North Korea pledged to deliver results in its reinvestigation of its abduction of Japanese nationals by this fall, which is a very short time span. This reflects their strong determination to make progress on the issue," said Masao Okonogi, professor at Keio University and an expert on North and South Korean politics.

Meanwhile the Daily Yomiuri reports that this latest accord between Japan and North Korea regarding a planned fresh probe into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea has given Tokyo cause for modest hope that the dispute could take a new turn for the better.

It should be noted, however, that the reclusive state has repeatedly been dishonest in responding to proposals and demands from Japan concerning how to resolve abduction-related issues, including the fate of those kidnapped by North Korean agents. If the situation unfolds in a manner unfavorable to Japan, observers said, the government could draw fire for its latest decision to end some sanctions imposed on North Korea if and when that country launches a fresh investigation into the fate of the abductees.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Protest by South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun

Highlights of an interview with South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun

Aren’t the negotiations among North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, the so-called six-party talks, going to help the situation?
The six-party talks are only focused on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, and the mass media shows little, if any, interest in [the issue of hunger].

I decided to fast for the following reasons. First, while fasting, I am willing to feel the same pain as North Koreans suffer. Secondly, by fasting, I will not forget about their suffering and will keep seeking ways to help them out. Lastly, I have to pour all of my energy and heart to impress heaven so that under these adverse circumstances a miracle can happen to stop their starvation.

What is the current state of North Koreans’ famine?
Ten million people -- that amounts to the half of North Korea’s population -- suffer from food shortages, and among those 10 million, about 3 million people are in danger of starvation. …Without any urgent measures, it is estimated that 500,000 to 600,000 people will starve to death by September.

What would you tell those who do not want to help North Korea because it develops nuclear weapons programs and launches missiles?
It is North Korean leaders that have developed nuclear weapons programs and missiles. But it is innocent North Korean residents who suffer from starvation.

[National Catholic Reporter]

Monday, August 11, 2008

North Korea Triple Whammy Food, Energy and Climate Crises

In the 1990s, North Korea was the world's canary. The famine that killed as much as 10% of the North Korean population in those years was, it turns out, a harbinger of the crisis that now grips the globe -- though few saw it that way at the time.

In the 1990s North Korea still boasted one of the most mechanized agricultures in Asia. When the Soviets and Chinese stopped subsidizing energy imports in the late 1980s, the North Koreans had a rude awakening.

Like the globe as a whole, North Korea does not have a great deal of arable land -- it can grow food on only about 14% of its territory. By the 1980s, the soil was exhausted, and agricultural production was declining. So spiking energy prices hit an economy already in crisis.

Desperate to grow more food, the North Korean government instructed farmers to cut down trees, stripping hillsides to bring more land into cultivation. Big mistake. When heavy rains hit in 1995, this dragooning of marginal lands into agricultural production only amplified the national disaster. The resulting flooding damaged more than 40% of the country's rice paddy fields.

The rigid economic structures in North Korea were unable to cope with the triple assault of bad weather, soaring energy, and declining food production. Nor did dictator Kim Jong Il's political decisions make things any better.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

A blunt Bush changes North Korean tune

[Prior to rebuking China for its dismal human rights record], President George W Bush resurrected the issue of North Korea's record on human rights at a time when he had appeared to have completely reversed the hard line of his first term toward Pyongyang.

When Bush stopped off in Seoul en route to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, he unexpectedly introduced the human rights factor into the equation of bargaining with North Korea after years of avoidance of the issue in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

And in July, with uncharacteristic bluntness, Christopher Hill [labeled] North Korea's human rights record as "abysmal", and the daily suffering of the North Korean people was "an unacceptable continuation of oppression". It was against this background that Bush, after meeting South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak, observed that "human rights abuses inside the country still exist and persist".

While in Beijing, Bush is likely to press for China's cooperation in demanding full verification of whatever North Korea says it is doing to comply with agreements reached in six-party talks on its nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, in North Korea , hunger is worsening. It would doubtless be too optimistic to say that North Korea is so deeply in need of relief for its starving people as to want to give in to demands for verification as a guarantee of removal from the US list of terrorist nations and lifting of US trade sanctions.

However, the allusion to the North's human rights record reinforces what appears to have been a conscious US decision to raise the stakes in the great bargaining game over North Korea.

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

Saturday, August 09, 2008

North Korean refugee stages lone China protest in Washington DC

A North Korean defector recently admitted to the United States has been staging a hunger strike in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, in protest of China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Cho Jin-hae’s sit-in of the past few days comes as U.S. President George W. Bush attends the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing.

“I personally talked to President Bush on the North Korean defectors issue, but I thought the president, who is attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics, will be able to better remember and focus on the North Korean defectors issue if I stage a hunger strike,” Cho, a 21-year-old woman, said.

Cho, who was admitted to the United States along with her mother and sister in March at the end of a saga in which she was repatriated to the North three times, urged Olympics host nation China to become a country of gold medals in human rights.

Cho said Chinese authorities are holding hundreds of North Korean defectors at a detention center in Domun, a city along the border with North Korea, in a crackdown because of the Olympics. “Some are fasting and others have committed suicide,” she said, noting she recently received a phone call from a North Korean defector in China.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Chinese spokesman: It's "well known" that "Chinese enjoy freedom!”

As a response to President Bush’s criticisms of its human rights’ record, China said it is committed to its citizens' "basic rights and freedoms" and criticized Bush for meddling in what Beijing says are its internal affairs.

"We firmly oppose any statements or deeds which use human rights, religion and other issues to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, responding to Bush, who cited "deep concerns" with China's record on human rights.

Qin Gang said China embraces the concept of putting people's interests first and is devoted to "maintaining and promoting basic rights and freedom of its citizens."

"Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religion in accordance with the law. These facts are well known. Regarding the Sino-U.S. differences on issues including human rights and religion, we have always insisted on dialogue and communication based on mutual equality and mutual respect, in order to enhance understanding, reduce differences and to expand consensus," he said.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bush chides China on human rights

President Bush, in a speech scheduled on the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, firmly upbraided the Chinese government for its human rights policies and urge its people to embrace "openness."

"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush says.

"We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights, not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential."

"I have spoken clearly, candidly and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights," he says. "And I have met repeatedly with Chinese dissidents and religious believers. The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings."

The remarks were delivered in the Thai capital, Bangkok, a day before the Games' opening. After delivering the speech, Bush will travel to China for the opening ceremony on Friday.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Human Rights Body Urges Protection of North Koreans in China

The National Human Rights Commission has advised the South Korean government to make greater diplomatic efforts to protect the human rights of North Korean refugees in China.

It was the first time the commission has given advice to a specific government agency to improve North Korean refugees' human rights conditions.

"Many agencies at home and abroad, including the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, have reported that hundreds or thousands of North Korean refugees are being forced to return to the North every year,” the NHRC said.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Survey of North Korea Confirms Deepening Hunger For Millions

Millions of people in DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) are experiencing hunger not seen in almost a decade, according to findings of a new UN assessment.

"Millions of vulnerable North Koreans are at risk of slipping towards precarious hunger levels," said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, United Nations World Food Programme Country Director for DPRK.

Experts visited hundreds of households, child institutions and hospitals across the country and key findings indicate:

-- Food availability, accessibility and utilization have deteriorated sharply since 2007.
-- Close to three quarters of the households have reduced their food intake.
-- More malnourished and ill children are being admitted to hospitals and institutions.
-- Diarrhea caused by increased consumption of wild foods was one of the leading causes of malnutrition amongst children under five.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

More North Korean Refugees Seek Asylum in U.S.

North Korean refugees are seeking asylum in the U.S. through more diverse routes, including Southeast Asia, Russia and even Eastern Europe.

Radio Free Asia reported that five North Korean refugees who came to the Czech Republic recently are expected to arrive in the U.S. as early as this week. The five, including a married couple, are currently being screened at the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

They had been under protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing until last week. After the Czech government granted them temporary stay in Czech Republic, they arrived in Prague last Sunday.

RFA said that it was the first time for the Czech government to grant North Korean refugees in China temporary stay before they seek asylum in a third country. The station predicted that more North Korean refugees will likely seek asylum in the U.S. through such a route.

On July 22, the U.S. allowed Han Dong-man, a former North Korean logger in Siberia, to enter the country. He had been protected by UNHCR in Moscow since October last year, and was finally granted asylum by the U.S. after diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.

[The Chosun Ilbo]

Saturday, August 02, 2008

North Korea facing the spectre of famine

North Korea is heading towards its worst food crisis since the 1990s because of flooding, successive crop failures and worldwide inflation for staples such as rice and corn, the UN World Food Program warns.

The agency shied away from predicting another famine like the one that killed up to 2 million people in the 1990s, but said its field staff were observing some of the same warning signs.

People are again foraging for wild plants, grass and seaweed to supplement meagre diets. Hospitals are reporting an increase in chronic diarrhoea and illness often linked to malnutrition.

"We did go into the kitchens of some of these families and believe, me, there was nothing," said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program's director for North Korea, who supervised a study of 250 households.

Under North Korea's communist system, people in the cities rely on a public distribution system for their staples, but rations have been cut to one-third of their original levels. At the same time, their purchasing power has been eroded by inflation.

"We've noticed that market prices for staple foods in Pyongyang — rice, maize, potatoes, eggs — were all going through the roof, sometimes quadrupling what they were before," said Mr de Margerie.

The agency is now bringing food in for an estimated 1.2 million North Koreans and hopes to reach up to 6 million, roughly a quarter of the estimated population.

[The Age]