Friday, October 31, 2008

So what is happening with Kim Jong-il?

North Korea's elite turned out for the funeral of Pak Song-chol, 95, the last of what the state considers its great, original communist revolutionaries.

Telling it seems is the fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il failed to attend the funeral, of one of the most senior members of the communist state, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said.

Kim has attended funerals for lower ranking members of the communist state before and his absence from this week's funeral of an old-guard cadre who served with his father raises questions if he is fit enough to appear in public.

Pak Song-chol had been awarded the title of Hero of the Republic and Kim Il Sung Order, the highest order of the DPRK, and the Order of the National Flag First Class, the Order of Freedom and Independence First Class and many other orders and medals for the distinguished feats performed by him for the Party and the revolution, the country and its people.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Defectors gather to tell of North Korea abuses

The condemned inmate, his body torn apart by guard dogs, slumped unconscious as the three executioners fired. The bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners forced to watch.

His offense — trying to escape from the remote prison camp in North Korea.

“People were seized with fear, but no one could say anything,” former prisoner Jung Gyoung-il said, recalling the 2001 execution. “That’s worse than the way animals are slaughtered.”

For a decade, North Korea has denied such accounts from defectors and South Korea has shied away from them to maintain good relations with its wartime rival. But now, under new President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea is investigating alleged abuses, including the prison camp system.

South Korea’s state-run human rights watchdog is interviewing defectors and is hosting a two-day international forum on the issue this week.

[Taipei Times]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

South Korean spy: Kim Jong Il still running North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appears to have recovered enough from a stroke to run the country without difficulty, South Korea's spy chief told lawmakers Tuesday.

Kim is "not physically perfect" but has no trouble carrying out his duties, South Korea's spy chief, Kim Sung-ho, told legislators, according to opposition lawmaker Park Young-sun of the Democratic Party.

The National Intelligence Service chief also said the agency believes Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, recently traveled to France. Japan's Fuji Television reported Monday that the son met last week in Paris with a neurosurgeon who later left for North Korea. The account could not be verified.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More North Korean Whining

Last week, North Korea threatened to cut all ties with South Korea, saying the new conservative government is a U.S. toady engaged in reckless confrontation with its neighbor.

The North's warning, issued in a commentary carried in the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, said if the South "keeps to the road of reckless confrontation with the (North), defaming its dignity despite its repeated warnings, this will compel it to make a crucial decision including the total freeze of the North-South relations."

South Korea has played down the threat. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said, "There is no change in the government's intention to improve South-North relations through dialogue."

Basically, North Korea has been unhappy with South Korea's new President Lee Myung-bak, who took office in February with a pledge to get tough on the rival state. By contrast, Lee's two liberal predecessors had aggressively sought reconciliation by providing massive aid to the impoverished nation.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Koreas hold talks, while more anti-North leaflets planned

Military officers from the divided Koreas held talks on Monday aimed at easing tension, while South Korean activists are meanwhile planning to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the North despite heated protests from the communist state.

North Korea asked for the meeting last week, saying it wanted to discuss military hotlines, but officials in the South expect the North to use the forum to complain about the leaflets. (The two sides have set up hotlines in order to prevent hostilities along one of the world's most militarized borders from escalating into fighting.)

The North's official cabinet newspaper said last week the leaflets were "getting on the nerves of the army and people of the DPRK (North Korea)," and could lead to fighting.

South Korean groups have been sending the leaflets, which travel by balloon into the North, for years. Analysts said the recent wave appears to have touched a nerve because they mention a taboo subject in the North -- the health of leader Kim Jong-il.

The 100,000 leaflets to be released, printed on plastic sheets and in water-proof ink, will carry the names of South Korean civilians and prisoners of war believed to be held in the North, and a family tree that supposedly maps Kim's relationships with the several women who bore his children.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

North Korea in effect recognized as a nuclear power

U.S. nuclear negotiations with North Korea, led by chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill, returned to their point of departure after several years and many detours.

The general assessment of the Washington-Pyongyang negotiations is that North Korea was in effect recognized as a nuclear power when the U.S. removed it from the list of states sponsoring terrorism with that status.

Launched vigorously by the Bush administration branding North Korea part of an “axis of evil," it ends not with a bang but a whimper. The biggest cause, according to the American media, was to save at least something after the administration took such heavy blows in Iraq and Afghanistan and a full hit in the financial crisis at the end of its term.

[Excerpt of an article by Kim Dae-joong, Chosun Ilbo]

Japan being squeezed out of leverage at North Korea talks

The five countries participating with North Korea in the six-party talks over its nuclear arms development agreed in February 2007 to provide energy assistance equal to 1 million tons of heavy oil. Japan had been asked to shoulder a share of about 200,000 tons.

The United States is now discussing the option of asking several countries, including Australia, to provide energy assistance to North Korea equivalent to the level of aid Japan has postponed, citing the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents not being resolved.

If Japan's share of the energy aid is provided by other countries, Japan will lose one of its important tools for pushing North Korea to resolve the abduction issue.

[Yomiuri Shimbun]

Saturday, October 25, 2008

North Korean defectors live secretively under Japan's watch

Almost daily, a batch of bento boxed meals is quietly carried past the Chinese sentry at the gates of the Japanese Consulate-General in Shenyang, China, for “guests” in a drab two-story building located deep within the compound.
The guests are defectors from North Korea who have sought refuge inside the compound.

The Japanese Embassy in Beijing and the consulate-general in Shenyang have been forced to take in dozens of defectors who have barged through gates and scaled walls seeking refuge.

According to a government source, defections have risen since the late 1990s, soon after famine gripped North Korea. Japan has taken in more than 160 defectors, many of whom are Japanese or ethnic Koreans who emigrated to North Korea from Japanese soil. Beijing officially insists that no refugee situation exists between China and North Korea.

The situation forces the Japanese diplomatic corps to act with secrecy and, as a result, the government has yet to seriously debate how to deal with the problem.

Both Tokyo and Beijing have bitter memories of an ill-fated attempt by five North Korean defectors to seek refuge at the Shenyang Consulate-General in 2002, an incident which drew an international outcry. Japanese officials watched impotently as Chinese security officials hauled the defectors from the gates of the compound and took them into custody.

[Asahi Shimbun]

Friday, October 24, 2008

North Korea's human rights and food crisis

North Korea is using public executions to intimidate its citizens and has imposed restrictions on long distance calls to block the spread of news about rising food shortages, the U.N. investigator on human rights in the reclusive nation said.

Vitit Muntarbhorn told the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee that North Korea has also imposed more severe sanctions on people seeking to leave the country and those forcibly returned, and still detains "very large numbers" of people in camps.

"Particularly disconcerting is the use of public executions to intimidate the public," he said. "This is despite various law reforms in 2004 and 2005, which claim to have improved the criminal law framework and related sanctions."

He cited the "great disparity" in the access to food by the country's elite and the rest of the population, nonexistent political participation, rigid control over the media and those professing religious beliefs, and the persecution of dissidents.
Muntarbhorn also said there is a "very, very serious problem this year with food."

His remarks coincided with a warning from the head of the U.N. food agency in North Korea that millions face a food crisis. Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the World Food Program's country director, said some areas in the northeast are facing "a humanitarian emergency" and about 2.7 million people on the west coast will also run out of food in October.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

North Korean defectors vow more propaganda leaflets

South Korean activists, led by Choi Sung Young, say they plan to float about 100,000 leaflets into communist North Korea next week, despite threats from Pyongyang that to do so threatens a military confrontation.

The leaflets contain messages criticizing North leader Kim Jong Il, describing him as a murderous dictator and calling for an end to his rule.

Mr Choi said his group and its partner organization of former North Korean defectors, the Fighters for Free North Korea (FFNK), had another 200,000 leaflets ready to fly northward at a later date.

The FFNK released 10 large balloons loaded with 100,000 leaflets from a fishing boat near the border in the Yellow Sea on October 10.


What else is in the North Korean defectors’ leaflets

After releasing a balloon from a small fishing boat off Korea's west coast, North Korean defector Park Sang-hak says, "I am trying to tell the truth to North Koreans who do not even know they are living under dictatorship."

The black-and-white leaflets urge North Koreans to rise up against Kim Jong Il. Also featured on the leaflet: a diagram of Kim's alleged romantic relationships, including his wife and eight other women and their children - a tactic designed to encourage traditional North Koreans to question their leader's morals.

Some leaflets contain $1 bills or 10-yuan notes from China (worth $1.50) - an amount believed to surpass the average monthly wage in North Korea.

Suzanne Scholte, chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition in the U.S., says to prevent people from reading the leaflets, Pyongyang warns its citizens: “If you pick up this pamphlet, it will burn your hands,” citing accounts from North Koreans who defected to the South.

One defector, writer Kang Chol-hwan, said the leaflets serve as a wake-up call to North Koreans who are brainwashed to believe they live in a paradise. “South Korea's leaflets show North Koreans that they can live well in the South,” Kang said.

Many were taught at school that Kang and another man pictured on the leaflets were executed after being caught trying to flee the North. But the photo on that leaflet showed that Kang, who later wrote a best-selling memoir, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” about his childhood in a North Korean prison camp, was alive and well in South Korea.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

North Korean official daily accuses S. Korea groups of distributing anti-DPRK leaflets

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s official Minju Joson daily on Tuesday accused South Korean organizations of distributing anti-DPRK leaflets in some areas of the country.

The newspaper accused the organizations of dropping anti-DPRK leaflets in Kaesong Industrial Zone, the Mt. Kumgang resort, vast areas of South and North Hwanghae provinces and Kangwon Province along the (MDL).

It warned that this "psychological warfare" may trigger off military conflicts between the two sides along the Military Demarcation Line.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kim Jong Il’s promoted view of life

Lest we forget, quoting KCNA, the North Korean Central news agency, Kim Jong Il’s promoted view of life:

“The Korean people live and strive in a revolutionary manner: ‘Let us live not for today but for tomorrow!’ “General Secretary Kim Jong Il implanted this revolutionary view of life in the hearts of the Korean people during the ‘Arduous March.’ The aphorism means that a man should live with a determination to dedicate his all to the future of the motherland and the happiness of the posterity though he does not enjoy the pleasure in his generation.

“Laudable successes give the Korean people confidence and optimism that the long arduous march will certainly entail prosperity and happiness and arouse them more powerfully to the cause of building a great, prosperous and powerful nation. The lofty outlook on life is well illustrated by the fact that the whole country is replete with the habit of optimistic and emotional life.

“Under the slogan ‘Push ahead through the thorny path in high spirits’, [North Koreans] lead a confidence-and-optimism-filled life while conducting mass cultural work and mass physical culture and sports activities. The revolutionary view of life is an ideological and spiritual source that makes it possible to bring the construction of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist country to victory.”


Monday, October 20, 2008

North Korea buys weapons not food

North Korea has bought weapons worth $65 million over the past five years despite severe food shortages, says a South Korean lawmaker. Kwon Young-Se said North Korea had previously spent about $13 million a year.

Mr Kwon, of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party, said his information came from intelligence sources, although this was not confirmed.

North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world, and about a quarter of its national income is believed to be spent on the military.

About 1.7 million people make up the armed forces in a country with a population of 23 million.

Correspondents say the North has not asked for food aid from Seoul this year, and has been bitterly critical of the conservative government which came to power in South Korea in February.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

South Korea intelligence says no unusual signs in North Korea

South Korea's government and private analysts questioned media reports that North Korea was poised to make an important announcement possibly concerning the health of its leader, Kim Jong Il, or a power shift in the communist nation.

Kim has been the focus of intense speculation since he disappeared from public view in mid August. U.S. and South Korean officials suspect he suffered a stroke and had brain surgery. North Korea has flatly denied there is anything wrong with its 66-year-old leader.

On Sunday, Japan's Sankei newspaper reported that the Japanese government had information North Korea would issue an "important announcement" on Monday and that it could be about Kim's death or a government change induced by a coup. North Korea will also ban foreigners from entering the country starting Monday, the Sankei said.

The report came a day after Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, said North Korea had ordered its diplomats abroad to be on standby for an important announcement.

South Korean Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said it has not detected any unusual signs across the heavily fortified border with North Korea such as a strengthened security posture or an increase in telephone calls. The National Intelligence Service — South Korea's main spy agency — also said it could not confirm the Japanese reports.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Food is the real crisis in North Korea

Apart from the focus on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, another crisis is unfolding in Asia's secretive Stalinist state: a worsening food shortage that appears to be the worst food crisis since the 1990s.

Erica Kang, director of Seoul-based human rights group Good Friends, says that a "few hundred thousand people are in danger or at risk of famine" in North Korea. Marcus Noland, an expert on the North Korean economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, believes that "hunger deaths are almost surely returning."

Anecdotal reports leaking out of the country suggest life for some North Koreans is returning to the dark days of the 1990s famines. Families have been scavenging for wild roots and plants to supplement meager diets. Many children have stopped attending school because of hunger, while their parents are choosing to spend their days searching for food rather than show up for work.

The World Food Program has stepped up its relief effort in recent months. The agency plans to provide food in coming weeks for more than six million North Koreans — about a quarter of the population. In certain parts of the country, particularly the northeast, the situation is "reaching a level of humanitarian emergency," says Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP's country director for North Korea in Pyongyang.


Friday, October 17, 2008

North Korean defectors struggle to build a new life in South Korea

Building a new life in South Korea has become harder for North Korean refugees since the government cut cash grants paid to help the settlement process from 28 million won ($24,000) to 10 million won in 2004. They were cut again to 6 million won last year.

Reverend Kim Sung Won, who runs the Great Vision School for North Koreans outside Seoul, said one student left for the U.K. last year, explaining he wanted to live in a place where he wouldn't be discriminated against.

"I thought all I had to do was bring them to South Korea and things would all be okay," said Kim, who helped more than 400 North Koreans escape to the south before he opened the school with seven teenagers in 2004. Kim may be forced to close the school because of dwindling public and private financial support.

The young North Koreans in the south "are the future of a unified Korea, who will help bridge the gap between the two countries," Kim said. "People's brutal treatment of these youngsters just goes to show how South Korea is so not ready for unification."


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Accompany North Korea refugees escaping to China, Laos and Thailand

A video posted on YouTube documents a family of North Korean refugees escaping to China, and then traveling to Laos and Thailand, in search of freedom.

A 23-minute, true-life defector documentary peppered with camera phone footage.

Watch Video of North Korean family escaping

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

North Korean female spy sentenced to 5 years

North Korean woman spy, Won Jeong Hwa, who came to South Korea claiming to be a defector and allegedly used sex to secure military secrets was jailed for five years on Wednesday.

'Taking all the evidence into account, the accused is guilty on all charges,' Judge Shin Yong-Seok said.

The court in Suweon city, just south of Seoul, found Won had collected information on key military installations and passed it on to North Korean agents in China.

She was also found guilty of involvement in the kidnapping of a South Korean businessman from China to her hardline communist homeland in 1999, and of trying to trace the whereabouts of a top defector living in the South, Hwang Jang Yop.

North Korea has denied she was its agent, calling her 'human scum' and describing the trial as a 'threadbare charade' orchestrated to heighten tensions.

Her stepfather Kim, 63, went on trial on October 1 and will next appear on October 22.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

North Korean defectors drop leaflets

The North Korean trembled when he spotted the leaflet that had fluttered down from a balloon. He snatched it, stuffed it into his pocket and ran to the bathroom to read it.

Park Sang-hak says he read that slip of vinyl - which bragged about the good life North Korean defectors were enjoying in South Korea - more than 15 times in disbelief. Fifteen years later, Park is now on the other side of the border. He defected to South Korea in 1999 and now helps launch propaganda balloons filled with leaflets denouncing the Stalinist regime.

The 40-foot balloons - fueled by hydrogen and shaped like missiles - are the most direct way to reach people living in one of the world's most isolated nations. Few North Koreans have access to cell phones or the Internet, and millions have no way of getting in contact with relatives living in South Korea.

Activists and defectors in South Korea continue to send balloons filled with leaflets across the border, despite pleas from Seoul to stop at a time when inter-Korean relations are at their lowest point in years. The activists hope to spark a rebellion to overthrow Kim Jong Il

Park, 40, says he's an ardent advocate of the propaganda campaigns. “I am trying to tell the truth to North Koreans who do not even know they are living under dictatorship.”


Monday, October 13, 2008

Reaction from China and Japan: North Korea off Terror List

The China Daily cites Chinese experts stating that removing North Korea from its terror list reflects the Bush administration's strong wish to seek a final settlement of the issue before President Bush steps down.

"The US administration has been working on this issue for years and doesn't want to see it remain unresolved when Bush leaves office early next year," Fan Jishe, a senior researcher on US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said. Given these circumstances, removing Pyongyang from the terror blacklist was Washington's only choice, he said.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japanese officials were caught off guard by the timing of the U.S. decision on Saturday to remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

It also dealt a blow to Prime Minister Taro Aso, who was informed of the matter by Washington just 30 minutes before the announcement.

It predicts that the U.S. action will likely complicate efforts to achieve progress on the thorny issue of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang and even shake Tokyo's trust in Washington, its key ally.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eight North Koreans detained for illegal entry

Thai immigration police have detained eight North Koreans -- one man and seven women -- after they crossed the Mekong River by boat from Laos. The would-be transmit party have been charged them of entering Thailand illegally.

More than 1,500 North Koreans were arrested for illegal entry to Thailand in 2007, and police also apprehended three guides and seized three Laotian speed boats used in transporting the Koreans.

[Bangkok Post]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It’s official – U.S. takes North Korea off terror list

The United States on Saturday removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack said the United States and North Korea had reached agreement "on an number of important verification measures" of North Korea's nuclear program. These include participation by all members of the Six Party Talks, the role of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, access to all of North Korea's nuclear facilities and what procedures would be used in the verification process.

The official said verification of North Korea's statements about its nuclear program will start right away, and the North Koreans will immediately reverse actions they have taken in recent weeks to restart their reactor and reprocessing facilities that produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

The question of removing North Korea from the terror list had been under intense deliberations in the Bush administration over the past several days, since the U.S. point man in the negotiations, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, had returned from talks in North Korea.

South Korea’s collective shrug on North Korea

At a coffee bar in downtown Seoul, Kim Seong-hun, 28, said he was too busy with his 12-hour-a-day job as an official at the national police agency to bother about [news from North Korea.] "We're living a stressed, pressured life in Seoul and there are lots of more fun things we want to talk about," he said over a cup of iced coffee. "It just doesn't have anything to do with our real lives."

After decades of separation from their brethren in the north, South Koreans have become blase, often even indifferent, about developments there. A recent poll showed that just 3 per cent named North Korea as their main concern.

North Korea fatigue is especially acute among the young, who barely seem to think about the repressive regime that lies just an hour's drive north of the teeming South Korean capital.

"To them, it is almost another planet," said Tim Peters, an American who heads Helping Hands Korea, a charity that works for North Korean refugees.

He said that southerners are so cut off from the North that they are often "dumbfounded" when he tells them about North Korean human-rights abuses from torture to prison-camp abuses. "I marvel at the depth of their ignorance."

As South Koreans have become more urbanized, globalized and wealthy, northerners seem more and more like distant country cousins, out of sight and out of mind. The per capita gross domestic product in the North is estimated at $1,900; in the South it is more than 10 times that.


Friday, October 10, 2008

North Korea harvest could be 30% below average

Early estimates predict this year's harvest will be as much as 30% below average, due to a lack of fertilizers, which means the food shortage in 2009 could well be worse.

There are no signs that Kim Jong Il's regime is making any efforts to resolve North Korea's food problem at home. In fact, government policy has been responsible for the crisis.

Part of the way North Koreans coped with the crippling famine in the 1990s was that food distribution, usually dominated by the state, became somewhat privatized. The regime allowed farmers' markets to pop up around the country, and their emergence gave people an alternative source of food.

But in 2005, the government tried to reassert its control, broke up the markets and confiscated grain from the farmers, which led to a fall in output. Then in 2007, severe flooding delivered another blow to the agriculture sector; by this year, the country's shortfall of grain was the worst since 2001.

The regime's leadership "would rather have a proportion of their population starve to death" than pursue reform, says Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Pyongyang believes market reform "would risk ideological and cultural infiltration, which is how they see the Soviet system going down."


Thursday, October 09, 2008

S. Korea May Punish North Korean Refugees Who Seek Asylum Abroad

Refugees who risked their lives fleeing repression, famine and the threat of torture in North Korea may now be pursued by authorities from another country: South Korea.

Authorities in Seoul have warned they may punish North Korean refugees who pocketed money meant to help them settle in the south and then sought asylum overseas.

The issue of whether to punish North Korean refugees who turn their backs on South Korea highlights the various difficulties refugees face when they try to build new lives in the south. One of the biggest problems is finding jobs, and it could worsen as economic growth slows.

Says Lee In Hee, a spokeswoman at online recruiting site Career. "It's very difficult for companies to hire defectors when they obviously lag behind South Koreans in their ability."


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

North Korea spy awaits sentencing on Oct 15th

Won Jeong-hwa, the 34-year-old North Korean native, was arrested during the summer along with her 63-year-old stepfather and accused of engaging in espionage and deceit for seven years after defecting to South Korea. Under questioning, she detailed for investigators a double life working for one of the world's most repressive regimes.

The case of Won, only the second North Korean spy to face trial here in the last decade, has riveted the South Korean public and embarrassed the nation's vaunted intelligence network.

After arriving in 2001 at Seoul's Incheon airport, Won was touted by South Korean authorities as a model defector and assigned to tour military bases to lecture troops on the evils of the Stalinist state. All the while, prosecutors said, she pursued her real agenda: collecting photos of military installations and weapons systems and keeping lists of North Korean defectors and personal data about Southern military officers.

[Some say] Won seriously damaged the cause of the 15,000 legitimate North Korean defectors now living in the South.

"There's already a deeply embedded reluctance by South Korean society to accept these people. Now there's an excuse for people to give in to their worst instincts," said Tim Peters, a Christian activist and founder of Helping Hands Korea, a defector support group.

"People may use this spy case in an amplified and exaggerated way to say: 'This is what we were afraid of. Let's put on the brakes and protect our economy rather than help those poor North Korean relatives sitting on our doorstep.' "

[L.A. Times]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

State Dept. piano recital by North Korean defector

As another “upgrade” of the mental image of a “North Korean defector”, today a North Korean defector gave a piano recital at the State Department, telling assembled diplomats and officials that the ability to freely listen to music from other countries can influence repressed North Koreans' view of the world.

Kim Cheol-Woong, a pseudonym used to protect family members still in North Korea, received standing ovations as he played Frederic Chopin's "Nocturne," the Korean folk song "Arirang" and "Amazing Grace" in the ornate Benjamin Franklin Room, high atop the State Department.

Kim, the son of a prominent North Korean and former first pianist of the State Symphony Orchestra, said the North severely restricts the music people can study, listen to and play. He said he fled his homeland, working in a Chinese timber mill before arriving in South Korea in 2003, so that he could freely express himself.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Prejudice and Racism of North Koreans in South Korea

Choi Kwang Hyock, once a North Korean soldier, said he escaped while on patrol one night 13 years ago by bolting across the heavily fortified border, dodging bullets, landmines and barbed wire to reach freedom in the south. That was the easy part.

Once in South Korea, Choi said he faced such deep discrimination from his newly-adopted countrymen that he eventually fled in search of better opportunities overseas.

"The hardest thing to endure is racism," said Choi, 38, who went to Brazil in 2003, followed by Argentina and Australia, after a college degree earned at Hanyang University in Seoul couldn't land him a job.

Choi said he was rejected by some 500 South Korean companies, mostly during interviews, when managers found out he was born in Pyongyang. His South Korean classmates secured jobs at blue-chip companies.

"South Koreans just see us as people who live on their taxes," said Choi, who left his parents and six siblings behind when he escaped. "The five decades of separation is not something to be resolved overnight."

Choi eventually returned, taking a job in 2006 at the Association of North Korean Defectors in Seoul, where he continues to see refugees struggling to overcome prejudice. "The question is, are South Koreans willing to change their attitude toward us?"


Sunday, October 05, 2008

South Korean television reaching into North Korea

Park Sang Hak fled North Korea and now is president of the Seoul advocacy group, NK Gulag. He estimates that one out of every 100 North Koreans has seen South Korean television. He was among them.

He recalls watching a South Korean drama that was about the fight against the former military dictatorship in Seoul. He was shocked to see that people could openly criticize the government. He thought that if North Koreans did that, they would be killed.

But Park says even watching those television shows could get a person branded as an enemy of the state.

He says the National Security Agency is on the look out for people watching or listening to South Korean media. If they are caught, they will be labeled a political dissident and sent to a prison camp.

[Excerpt of an article by Jason Strother,Voice of America]

Saturday, October 04, 2008

U.S. considering delisting North Korea

The United States would provisionally remove North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations under a proposal that emerged during talks between the countries in Pyongyang over the secretive state's nuclear program declarations, U.S. government sources said.

The proposal envisions a two-step verification package that differentiates between nuclear-related activities and facilities declared by North Korea in June and those yet undeclared, the sources said.

In June, Pyongyang declared, among other things, its core Yongbyon nuclear reactor--of which the main cooling tower was demolished the same month. But it has yet to report on matters such as the status of its uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons programs, and nuclear proliferation activities.

Under the proposal being discussed, North Korea would submit a verification plan to China--host of the six-way talks between Japan, China, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States. The plan would be limited to North Korean nuclear activities and facilities, such as Yongbyon, already reported to Beijing in June. In turn, the United States would provisionally remove North Korea from its blacklist.

Following that, Pyongyang would state its intention to cooperate with the comprehensive verification of its nuclear weapons programs and other undeclared atomic facilities and programs by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, in line with U.S. demands, according to the sources.

[The Yomiuri Shimbun]

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thailand says no plan to recognize North Koreans as refugees

Thailand has no plans to treat North Koreans fleeing their country as political refugees, the Thai Foreign Ministry said, rejecting an idea reportedly suggested by South Korea's president.

Thailand currently keeps fleeing North Koreans in police detention facilities along with other illegal immigrants from all countries.

Thai foreign ministry spokesman Voradet Viravakin said in a statement that all North Koreans entering the country illegally will continue to be treated according to Thai law governing illegal immigrants.

Under international treaties, illegal immigrants are allowed to be sent back to their own countries, but people with a legitimate fear of being persecuted in their homelands are not supposed to be repatriated. Thailand does not publicize the ultimate destination of the refugees who arrive here, but none are known to have been sent back to North Korea.

Some 100 North Korean refugees currently are waiting in a Bangkok detention center for the chance to fly to Seoul or the United States.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

North Korean spy looks at five years

Prosecutors yesterday sought a five-year prison sentence for the 34-year-old confessed North Korean female spy Won Jeong-hwa, who posed as a defector to obtain military secrets from South Korean military personnel. (Won confessed when she appeared for her initial hearing in the same court on September 10.)

Won slept with several South Korean military officers in order to get information related to weapons systems and troop movements. She also made frequent visits to China to receive instructions from her North Korean superiors.

Won also allegedly tried to kidnap a military officer, discover the location of North Korean defectors in the South, including former high-ranking North Korean official Hwang Jang-yop, and kill South Korean intelligence agents.

Sentencing in her case is scheduled for October 15.

[JoongAng Daily]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

S. Korea to set up refugee camps for North Koreans

South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak has instructed officials to look into setting up regional refugee camps for the growing number of North Koreans fleeing the Stalinist nation, a ruling party lawmaker said Tuesday. Lee ordered his government to quickly review ideas for setting up refugee camps — at least in Thailand. Lee also instructed officials to consult with Mongolia and Russia on creating refugee zones there.

His orders mark a departure from South Korea's previous two presidents, both liberals, who abstained from publicly raising the issue of North Korean defectors for fear of angering their northern communist neighbor as Seoul sought reconciliation with Pyongyang.

President Lee Myung-bak also recently asked his Chinese counterpart to cooperate on ensuring that defectors aren't forced to return to the impoverished nation.

South Korean activist, the Rev. Chun Ki-won, praised Lee's initiative but was skeptical that the countries would agree to the proposal. South Korean activists pushed to set up a refugee camp in Mongolia in 2004 but the project collapsed at last stage due to differences with Mongolia.

[International Herald Tribune]