Friday, December 31, 2010

Inside the heart of a North Korean defector

Despite the increase in the number of North Korean defectors in South Korea, there are few films or television programs that show what their lives are like once they arrive. 

So when “The Journals of Musan” - which tells the story of a North Korean defector’s escape and resettlement in South Korea - was screened at film festivals earlier this year, it drew attention. The film focuses on how defectors deal with living in a capitalist society and their struggle to fit in.

The film, which is film director’s, Park Jung-bumm, first full-length feature has been making the rounds on the festival circuit and has already won several awards.

The film is based on Park’s year-long relationship with a close friend named Jeon Seung-chul. Jang defected from the North with his mother and older brother but died from stomach cancer in 2008 at age of 30, just six years after his escape.

In meeting people from the North, Park said he began to see how their lives had changed as a result of their escape. “They come here to be happy but when they arrive they become the poorest people in the society. I wanted to shed light on their lives, which are almost like those of orphans.”

All of the stories in the film are based on Park’s experiences with the defectors he’s met, including one who betrays another for money and another who confesses to having killed a friend out of extreme hunger.

[JoongAng Ilbo]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gifts for North Korea's Kim Jong-Un derailed

A train packed with birthday gifts for North Korea's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un derailed this month in a possible act of sabotage, reports a Seoul-based radio station.

Open Radio for North Korea, a non-profit station which often cites sources in the reclusive, impoverished North, said the train laden with gifts including televisions and watches came off the rails on December 11 near North Korea's border with China near the city of Sinuiju.

"The tracks and rail beds are so old it is possible there was decay in the wood or nails that secured the tracks could have been dislodged but the extent of damage to the tracks and the timing of the incident points to a chance that someone intentionally damaged the tracks," the source said. "It's highly likely that it was someone who is opposed to succession to Kim Jong-un."


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Former Korean orphan sends food and help to North Korean orphans

A photo of a 12-year-old North Korean boy on Sam Han's laptop computer pulls the dying man a half-century back in time, across continents to where he once wandered in search of his parents. Separated from his family during the Korean War, Han was sheltered by strangers until an unlikely meeting set him on a journey to the United States. He was adopted by a Minnesota professor and became a successful business executive.

Now Han wants to give other overseas orphans a shot at making a life for themselves, but his time is running out. In 2002, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just a few years to live. The soft-spoken man with twinkling eyes sleeps little: He works most days to ship soy flour and rice meal packages to North Korean orphanages and help build a school for orphans in Tanzania. 

Han lost his parents and sister during a chaotic exodus of his village in December 1950, when North Korean troops had reached the bridge over the Han River. Then 6, Han wandered door-to-door in a poor village, begging for food.

Run out of Han's bedroom, the Han-Schneider International Children's Foundation is a small network of volunteers who send meals to two state-run North Korean orphanages and help support orphanages in Cambodia and Tanzania. Han is lobbying for a bill to encourage the federal government to let Americans adopt North Korean orphans. Opponents say the proposal could prevent families from reuniting and prompt trafficking of North Korean children.

"I think God allowed me to survive to do my mission," Han said. "That is why I am still living, and every day what I am doing is the greatest medicine."

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

South Korean activists rally against North Korea

Dozens of South Korean activists are rallying against North Korea, burning a flag and photos of the North's leaders to protest a deadly artillery attack.

The protesters gathered Tuesday in central Seoul carried placards calling last month's shelling of a front-line South Korean island "brutal acts."

The activists burned a large photo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un and chanted slogans like "Dismantle North Korea's nuclear program!" 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The effectiveness of America’s freelance diplomats

Bill Richardson, sometimes called America's ambassador to rogue states, went to Pyongyang at the invitation of Kim Kye-gwan, the country's chief nuclear negotiator. The trip, according to the US state department, was a "private visit" and the governor did not carry any official messages from Washington. 

During the drama, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama's special North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth were nowhere to be seen. Also invisible was Washington's Ambassador to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens. In short, America's diplomats melted into the background as a "freelancer" took center stage.

Mr Richardson's visit genuinely seems to be the result of Pyongyang's initiative. "When they call me they always want to send a message of some kind," the New Mexico governor said recently. 
Mr Richardson seems particularly effective when it comes to getting things done in North Korea. In 1994 and again in 1996 he secured the release of US hostages in North Korea. 

Similarly, Jimmy Carter secured the release of US national Aijalon Gomes from Pyongyang this August 

Last year, former US President Bill Clinton, as a private citizen, brought back two television journalists from North Korea after the state department worked out the terms of their release.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Framework for new negotiations with North Korea

Fresh off his trip as a private citizen to North Korea, Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the trip to the isolated country a success.

"The South Koreans exercised their self defense and the North Koreans demonstrated that maybe they're ready for serious negotiations," Richardson said.

The North agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea. The fuel rods would be enough to make about six to eight nuclear weapons.

The North also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission among the United States, North Korea and South Korea as well as a separate hotline for the Koreas' militaries.

"This is a start of a new chapter," Richardson said. "I think there's a new opportunity for all countries, the six-party countries, to come together, and make potential negotiations."

But Richardson said North Korea needs to improve its behavior. "That has to be established first. But they made a move in that direction. … Right now what needs to happen is North Korea needs to abide by the 2005 declaration that says they are going to denuclearize, get rid of their nuclear weapons. That needs to be a framework for new negotiations."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reason for optimism on the Korean peninsula

North Korea did not retaliate as threatened after a South Korean military exercise that it had warned could lead to war.

At the same time, the North agreed to allow U.N. monitors access to its uranium-enrichment facility and take other steps that could defuse tension if implemented, including considering the formation of a military commission made up of representatives from the North, the South and the United States.

Those steps generated at least the possibility of rare optimism on the Korean peninsula, which has been gripped by anxiety since March.

The latest developments came amid a visit to North Korea by Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and current governor of New Mexico.

"Maybe we had a little impact with them," he said Monday of the North Korean leaders.

"I think they deserve credit for holding back," he said. "I think North Korea may be sending a signal that they're ready to re-engage after having behaved very negatively."

South Korea Prepares for Live Fire Artillery Exercises Near North Korea Border

South Korea is due to begin an artillery exercise on the border island Yeonpyeong that North Korean guns attacked last month.

North Korea has warned there could be "catastrophic" effects if the South Korean military goes ahead with its plans in the disputed area.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Defector balloons into North Korea denouncing attack on Yeonpyeong

A group of North Korean defectors flew propaganda leaflets toward the North on Saturday denouncing the communist state’s attack on Yeonpyeong island last month, as tensions spiked over a planned South Korean live-fire drill.

Several activists from North Korean defectors’ organizations, including the Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea, sent 10 balloons from Yeonpyeong that carried about 200,000 leaflets critical of the North Korean attack and its regime. The balloons also contained 500 CDs that hold the footage of the shelling and, in a bid to encourage North Korean citizens to pick them up, 1,000 $1 bills.

North Korea finds such propaganda fliers highly provocative and has repeatedly condemned the South Korean government for failing to prohibit such activities.

“While the (South Korean) people’s anxiety had yet to subside after the Cheonan incident, North Korea indiscriminately bombarded South Korean territory again,” Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector and head of Fighters for Free North Korea, said, referring to the March sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. “We flew the leaflets in order to tell the North Korean people of this provocative behavior.”

The leaflets carry such messages as “Let’s bring down the third-generation hereditary succession” or “Rise up, North Korean compatriots,” Park said.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Most serious crisis on the Korean peninsula since 1953

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson provided North Korea with a series of proposals Saturday in what he described as a "good meeting" with the country's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan. 

Richardson told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the situation "by all accounts right now is the most serious crisis on the Korean peninsula since the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean war."

Prior to this, Russia summoned the South Korean and US envoys over the live-fire drill planned by Seoul amid mounting tensions with North Korea. As a member-state of the six-party negotiations on the Korean peninsula crisis, Russia hosted the North Korean foreign minister last week in a bid to help find a way out of the escalating dispute.

South Korea announced that scheduled military drills likely would not be held this weekend due to an adverse weather forecast. The drills will be held only if the weather improves in the areas surrounding Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The North Korean military threatened on Friday to strike back if South Korea goes ahead with its drill.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bill Richardson to North Korea to relieve tensions

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he hopes to "to bring down the temperature in the Korean peninsula" during his trip to North Korea. Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador, is in North Korea on a four-day visit with officials during a tense time in the region.

Richardson, who spoke to CNN Thursday at a layover in Beijing as he waited to fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, said he hopes he can help the situation even if it is just "a little bit."

Richardson said he will try to get "North Koreans to curtail their aggressive behavior, to see if there is some basis for negotiations, to get them to stop the uranium enrichment."

Richardson, who has hosted a North Korean delegation in New Mexico in the past, said he hopes his past relationships will help. The governor said he was invited to the nation by North Korea's senior nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan and the meeting comes at a very pivotal time.

Tensions are "the highest I've ever seen. I've been involved with North Korea for the last 10 to 15 years," Richardson said. "I can't remember when the tension were as high as it is now. And you worry about some kind of action hastening a potential war. And we have to avoid that at all costs." 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Man Who Manages Kim Jong-il's Slush Funds

Jon Il-chun, the head of a special department in North Korea's Workers Party, manages Kim Jong-il's slush fund.

The 69-year-old Jon went to high school with Kim (68) and was appointed head of the department, known as Room 39, early this year. It manages 17 overseas branch offices and around 100 trading companies and even owns a gold mine and a bank. The US$200-300 million those companies make each year is supposedly funneled into Kim's secret bank accounts around the world.

Room 39 is targeted each time the U.S. and other foreign governments apply financial sanctions against North Korea. Kim replaced its head early this year because the former director, Kim Tong-un, was put on an EU list of sanctioned individuals late last year, making it impossible for him to manage the leader's secret overseas bank accounts.

Due to the importance of the department and the clandestine nature of its business, the director of Room 39 rarely appears in public, but he sometimes accompanies Kim Jong-il on guidance tours when they involve organizations linked to Kim's slush funds, an intelligence official said.

In a TV clip on Sunday, Jon is seen with Kim on an tour to Hyangmanlu, a popular restaurant, and Sonhung food manufacturing plant. A North Korean defector who used to live in Pyongyang, said the restaurant was built in the 1990s by a wealthy ethnic Korean from Japan.

Chosun Ilbo

Sunday, December 12, 2010

WikiLeaks: Eric Clapton asked to perform in North Korea

North Korea asked America to arrange an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang, saying that it could help to persuade Kim Jong-il to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

A confidential cable dated 22 May 2007 from the US ambassador in Seoul to Washington reveals North Korean officials "suggested" to the Americans that because Kim Jong-il's second son, Kim Jong-chol, was "a great fan" of the British guitarist, a "performance could be an opportunity to build goodwill". The report adds that "arranging an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang… could be useful, given Kim Jong-il's second son's devotion to the rock legend".

The request was portrayed by North Korea as a way to "promote understanding" between the communist nation and the west. Music has been used to advance the cause of diplomacy towards North Korea in the past, just as US orchestral visits to the Soviet Union were deployed in the 1950s during the cold war.

News of the Clapton request is revealed in a confidential cable detailing a briefing between the US ambassador in Seoul and a leading human rights worker in the region.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

U.S. steps up pressure on China to act on North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan at the State Department, where the trio pledged support for South Korea in the latest escalation of its long-running conflict with North Korea, and urged China to take on a larger role in constraining Pyongyang.

Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, is leading a delegation to Asia next week amid increased tensions on the Korean peninsula following North Korean shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island last month, as well as the March sinking of a South Korean warship and recent revelations that it is is enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. His visit will follow a trip to South Korea by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to show support for the South Korean military.

"The tensions that we see and the dangers that we see come from the fact that (there) does not seem to be effective restraints on North Korea ... in theses provocations," Steinberg said in his speech. "We need to make clear the dangers (that) come from this provocative behavior. And rather than stepping back and tolerating it, we need to make clear that there are consequences for it. … We need a clear indication from North Korea that it understands that this pattern of provoking -- and then hoping that people will reward it to stop the provocations -- is not one that we are going to sanction."

Steinberg's remarks reflect what U.S. officials call a growing frustration at Beijing's reluctance to exert its influence on North Korea and urge Pyongyang to cease its aggressive behavior.

President Barack Obama called Chinese President Hu Jintao and told him that North Korea needs to "halt its provocative behavior," according to the White House.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

North Korean Heir pledges economic recovery within 3 years

North Korea’s heir apparent Kim Jong Un has pledged economic recovery for his poverty-stricken country within three years, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun said Monday. 

“I will enable the people to eat rice and beef soup within three years,” he was quoted as saying, reiterating a goal of his late grandfather and the North’s founder Kim Il Sung. 

Citing Chinese sources familiar with the North’s situation, the newspaper said Kim Jong Un told a conference in Pyongyang early last month, “We’ll have to revive our economy to the level of the 1960s and 70s within three years, and attain a living standard at which people can eat rice and beef soup, live in tile-roofed houses, and wear silk clothing.” 

Since his selection as successor in September, Kim Jong Un has repeatedly commented on the North Korean economy, saying, “In the past, it was okay if we had no food as long as we had bullets, but today, we need food even if we don’t have bullets.” 

 [Dong-a Ilbo]

Monday, December 06, 2010

Cold War atmosphere re: North Korea

Almost two weeks have passed since North Korea (DPRK) and South Korea (ROK) exchanged fire. Now the US is trying to exert more pressure on China to "rein in" the DPRK. It is even accusing China of "enabling" the DPRK to start a uranium-enrichment program and launch attacks on the ROK. 

Top diplomats from the ROK and Japan are headed for Washington for trilateral talks on Monday, meaning that the three countries are laying aside the possibility of Six-Party Talks and trying to solve the problem through a new approach. Developments have put China in an awkward position as the host country of the Six-Party Talks. 

According to an opinion poll, about 70 percent of the people in the ROK now support a tough policy toward the DPRK, and some political figures who earlier favored the "sunshine policy" have changed their stance. 

With both sides sticking to their tough policies, the danger of confrontation has increased greatly. In the past, the DPRK threatened to launch a "total war", "nuclear war" or "set Seoul on fire" to vent its anger at the way it had been treated by the ROK, the US and Japan.

It's true, neither side wants a war, but with little buffer space for leaders of the DPRK and the ROK, the danger of a military conflict is increasing. 

[China Daily]

Saturday, December 04, 2010

U.S. - S. Korea plans for Korean Reunification

While tensions on the Korean peninsula simmer, American and South Korean officials have already discussed plans to unite the two Koreas when North Korea ultimately collapses.

WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables reveal they’ve also considered inducing China to go along with reunification, with the South Korean ambassador telling the State Department in February 2010 that economic incentives would “help salve” China should a united Korea end up in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

WikiLeaks hits North Korean Chinese relations

China's top foreign policy official arrived in North Korea to defuse concerns after WikiLeaks disclosed reports that Beijing was ready to support Korean unification.

Dai Bingguo, the state counselor for foreign affairs, was despatched to Pyongyang to press its leadership to enter regional talks.

Japanese reports said Mr Dai would offer reassurances over reported comments by more junior Chinese officials that Beijing would not stand in the way of reunification. A cable from Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, reported that South Korea had been told China foresaw the collapse of the North in "two to three years" after the death of Kim Jong-il.

The cables also reported that he did not dare tell the North Korean leader that China was growing frustrated with its neighbor.

While Beijing has not commented on the leaks Mr Dai was expected to tell Pyongyang the reported remarks did not represent the thinking of the senior Chinese leadership.

Cables released by WikiLeaks also revealed that in January of this year, then Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Yu Myung-hwan said high-ranking North Korean diplomats defected to South Korea, but refused to disclose the exact number.

[The Daily Telegraph]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

South Korean public anger over handling of North Korean artillery attack

North Korea accused South Korea of using civilians as human shields around military bases on an island that the North hit with an artillery attack this past week. The accusation is an apparent effort to quell South Korean outrage over the barrage, which killed two civilian construction workers. 

The KCNA report said South Korea should be held responsible for the civilian deaths because it had used civilians as human shields around its artillery batteries. The South “is now working hard to dramatize the ‘civilian casualties’ as part of its propaganda campaign”, the report said.

South Korean public anger has also lashed out at President Lee Myung-bak for what many here see as the military’s failure to make more than a token response to Tuesday’s attack. There were at least two protests in Seoul that criticized both North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for the attack and President Lee for his weak response.

While South Koreans seemed to respond to past provocations with an air of resignation, this time there have been loud calls here for stronger military retaliation or a permanent end to all aid to the North. Much of that aid was cut off following the sinking of the Cheonan, but last month North Korea asked the South for food and other assistance following deadly floods.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mass exodus of North Korean workers from eastern Russia back to NK

A mass exodus of North Korean workers from the Far East of Russia is under way, according to reports coming out of the region. As the two Koreas edged towards the brink of war this week, it appears that the workers in Russia have been called back to aid potential military operations. It is not known how many of the workers in other Russian towns have been called back to their homeland this week, or whether the exodus is permanent or temporary.

Russia's migration service said that there were over 20,000 North Koreans in Russia at the beginning of 2010, of which the vast majority worked in construction. The workers are usually chaperoned by agents from Kim Jong-il's security services and have little contact with the world around them. 

Defectors have suggested that the laborers work 13-hour days and that most of their pay is sent back to the government in Pyongyang. Hundreds of workers have fled the harsh conditions and live in hiding in Russia, constantly in fear of being deported back to North Korea.

"North Korea's government sends thousands of its citizens to Russia to earn money, most of which is funneled through government accounts," says Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist who discovered secret North Korean logging camps in the northern Siberian taiga. "Workers are often sent to remote locations for years at a time to work long hours and get as little as three days off per year." Now it appears that some kind of centralized order has been given for the workers to return home. 

The Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok is thousands of miles and seven time zones from Moscow, but only around 100 miles from the country's heavily controlled border with North Korea.

[The Independent]

Friday, November 26, 2010

North Koreans praising its leaders after North-South skirmish

Engulfed in a victorious mood, North Korea is praising Kim Jong-il and heir apparent Kim Jong-un, reports in and out of the country said Friday, adding weight to views linking the communist state’s recent attack against South Korea with its succession plans.

Although the two Koreas have exchanged fire near their maritime border from time to time, it is rare for Pyongyang to directly threaten the lives of civilians, leading to speculation that the attack was designed to consolidate loyalty among its people toward the incoming leader Kim Jong-un.

The skirmish took place only months after the reclusive state unveiled to the world its plans to transfer power from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son Jong-un, believed to be still in his 20s. North Korea has been praising its leader and heir apparent for “successfully defeating South Korea’s provocation,” Daily NK reported, quoting a source in Pyongyang. 

The totalitarian regime was also reported to say “there will be nothing but victory” for the North with the youthful and strong heir apparent leading them. Japan’s Kyodo News also reported a mood of victory in Pyongyang, quoting a North Korean who said its military had “strongly countered” the provocation by Seoul for the safety of its people.

Such a mood raises concerns of further military provocations by North Korea.

[Korean Herald

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What does North Korea really want? Diplomatic recognition by the U.S.

China's leverage over its next door neighbor North Korea may be somewhat over-rated.

"China does have more influence than other players but we have to remember China does not have absolute influence," said Wenran Jiang, political science professor at University of Alberta.

"What North Korea really wanted for years is diplomatic recognition of North Korea by the U.S.," said Jiang. "They are frustrated because they feel they have done the six-party talks, they have launched missiles, have done nuclear weapons tests, they have made all kinds of threats but they still don't get the U.S. to move towards normalization." 

China has the power to cut off North Korea's most important link with the outside world by stopping their shipments of food, fuel and weapons, but has indicated no intention to do so.Analysts say, despite the apparent ineffectiveness of the six-party talks, Beijing still stands a chance of bringing Pyongyang back to the fold through diplomacy.

"It's important for us to remember that during the six-party talks these conflicts were less likely to happen, while without such mechanism we see bloodshed." Jiang said.

Observers say it all comes down to building trust -- a difficult task -- and here China can play a unique role as a rising global power and a potential peace-maker.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

S. Korea says it test-fired before North Korea firing

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned North Korea's artillery attack, calling it "one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War."

The skirmish began when North Korea warned the South to halt military drills near their sea border, according to South Korean officials. When Seoul refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters — but away from the North Korean shore — the North retaliated by shelling the small island of Yeonpyeong, which houses South Korean military installations and a small civilian population. Seoul responded by unleashing its own barrage from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and scrambling fighter jets.

Two South Korean marines were killed in the shelling that also injured 15 troops and three civilians. Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties.

The clash "brings us one step closer to the brink of war," said Peter Beck, a research fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, "because I don't think the North would seek war by intention, but war by accident, something spiraling out of control has always been my fear."

South Korea holds military exercises like Tuesday's off the west coast about every three months, and they typically provoke an angry response from North Korea, but Tuesday's confrontation was far from typical.

President Lee Myung-bak ordered his military Tuesday to strike North Korea's missile base around its coastline artillery positions if it shows signs of additional provocation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

World condemnation of North Korean artillery attack on the South

North Korea fired about 100 rounds of artillery at Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea authorities said. The attack killed two marines and wounded 15 soldiers and civilians, and also set houses and forests on fire on the island.

South Korea's military responded with more than 80 rounds of artillery and deployed fighter jets to counter the fire. Firing between the two sides lasted for about an hour in the Yellow Sea, a longstanding flash point between the two Koreas.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak ordered his military to punish North Korea "through action," not just words. "The provocation this time can be regarded as an invasion of South Korean territory," Lee said during a visit to the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in central Seoul. "In particular, indiscriminate attacks on civilians are a grave matter."

Nations reacted swiftly Tuesday in condemning the North Korean artillery attack.  The United States also offered quick comment, with the White House saying it "strongly condemns" the "belligerent action" by North Korea.

Russia's Interfax news agency said Russia condemned North Korea's artillery shelling, pointing out that "those who initiated the attack on a South Korean island in the northern part of the inter-Korean maritime border line assumed enormous responsibility."

North Korea reveals nuclear plant and US says it's not concerned

US nuclear envoy Stephen Bosworth sought during his visit to Seoul to convince leaders that the US would act firmly to try to bring North Korea to terms.

The revelation of the project at the Yongbyon complex, revealed by US nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker after a visit there, means that North Korea is nearing the stage at which it can produce enriched uranium for either electrical energy or warheads. 

North Koreans told Mr. Hecker and Charles "Jack" Pritchard, a former US nuclear envoy who also visited the facility, that it was the lightwater kind, solely to produce energy, but analysts doubt that claim in view of North Korea's record of producing materiel for nuclear warheads with plutonium at their core at the same complex. 

North Korea's evident success so far in the uranium project means that it will soon have a second reactor that's capable of making warheads quite rapidly once North Korean scientists and engineers have perfected the technology. They're believed to be using components acquired from outside the country despite UN sanctions imposed after the North's second underground nuclear test in May 2009. 

The nuclear expert from Stanford who toured North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility with US nuclear physicist Siegfried Heckerv has described his shock at seeing the facility.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A new foundation to support North Korean defectors

With 300 North Korean refugees, lawmakers and other distinguished guests present, the South Korean Ministry of Unification launched an official support foundation for North Korean refugees in Yeouido, Seoul.

“Preparing for unification is a national task that we are all facing,” said Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik in a congratulatory speech. “The launch of the support foundation today is a very important turning point in our support policy for North Korean refugees.”

The foundation - which doesn’t yet have an English name but translates from the Korean as "North Korean Refugee Support Foundation" was started by the Ministry of Unification in order to better accommodate the needs of North Korean refugees after the number of those who had fled to South Korea reached more than 20,000 for the first time earlier this month. 

North Korean refugees who arrive in South Korea will receive support finding jobs and adjusting to a whole different form of society.

Kim Il-joo, chairman of the foundation, told the JoongAng Ilbo that the group would make efforts to research the current status of refugees living in the South to help adjust to their new surroundings, which has been a key problem for the South Korean government over the years.

The foundation is comprised of 57 workers with a budget of 24.8 billion won ($22 million) for next year. The foundation will start operations in January.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Special US envoy Stephen Bosworth visiting South Korea

The Obama administration's special envoy on North Korea plans to visit South Korea, Japan and China, officials said Sunday.

Stephen Bosworth's trip comes as new satellite images show construction under way at North Korea's main atomic complex. That, combined with reports from two American experts who recently travelled to the Yongbyon complex, appear to show that Pyongyang is making good on its pledge to build a nuclear power reactor.

Bosworth is to arrive in Seoul on Sunday for a two-day trip aimed at discussing the North's nuclear weapons program. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that Bosworth will then travel on to Tokyo and Beijing before flying back to Washington later this week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

North Korea rejects UN resolution on human rights

North Korea has denounced a UN committee's resolution expressing serious concern about what it called Pyongyang's widespread and grave violations of virtually all human rights. North Korea's Foreign Ministry says the resolution is part of a political plot by hostile forces to bring down North Korea.

The comment was carried Saturday by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.

The reaction came after the General Assembly's human rights committee voted 103-18 with 60 abstentions on Thursday to strongly urge North Korea to immediately end "the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights."

Friday, November 19, 2010

More North Korean defectors despite the risk

“I risked everything to come here”. So says Park Cheol-hwan, a North Korean defector now living in the South Korean capital. After crossing the border into China, as most defectors do, he spent nearly a year working in atrocious conditions to pay off his debt to the snakehead who got him there, living under the constant threat of arrest.

The risks of defection are enormous. Family members left behind in North Korea face brutal recrimination, while defectors face repatriation by China.

All the same, the number of North Koreans ready to take the risks is rising fast. It took over half a century for the total of successful defectors to the South to reach 10,000. But in just the past three years, a further 10,000 have followed.

In Seoul the manager of one support group says that part of the reason for the increased numbers is the surprisingly easy access that North Koreans have to South Korean films and television programs. In recent years, illegally copied DVDs from China have flooded the country, enabling citizens of the world’s most repressive state to see how sumptuously their southern cousins live.

Because family members left behind are persecuted, whole-family defections are also becoming more common. Two-fifths of new arrivals come with at least one other member of the family, while relatives back in North Korea nervously wait for their chance to follow. More than two-thirds of defectors are women, who also happen to make up the major part of the North’s black economy, on which much of the population depends.

The Economist

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kim Jong-un following in his family footsteps pushing ‘military-first’

North Korea’ s Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il, is making unofficial rounds to munitions factories in the communist state, encouraging the modernization of technology in the manufacture of weapons and following his father’s footsteps in songun, or “military-first,” politics, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Wednesday.

Kim Jong-un wants all factories to implement computer numerical control (CNC), which enables the automation of machines with computer-assisted technology. South Korean government officials have said that the technical term is being used in connection with Kim Jong-un because the technology is new in North Korea - suggesting the rise of a young new leader intent on modernizing military production.

According to a source, Kim Jong-un is visiting production lines in North Hamgyong and Jagang, and munitions factories were the first to receive orders to implement CNC to “set an example” for the entire country. The new technology is utilized to develop more weapons.

 [JoongAng Ilbo]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

North Korean heir Kim Jong-un and his father purging the party?

North Korean has been investigating senior officials for corruption since early November in what appears to be a purge led by Kim Jong-il's heir Jong-un, a defector organization said Tuesday.

A Unification Ministry official speculated, "Like his father, Kim Jong-un will probably try to consolidate his hold on power through bloody purges in his early days in office."

Quoting an internal North Korean source, the Workers Party inspected Musan-gun and caught more than 15 senior party and security officials who had turned a blind eye to defections and/or took bribes. Many of the arrested officials were apparently in charge of supervising border garrisons and security agencies.

Kim Jong-il faced critical moments, he has often tightened his grip with purges. 
In October 1992, the year after he became supreme commander of the Army, he purged about 20 military officers who had studied in the Soviet Union for criticizing the regime. In April 1995, the year after regime founder Kim Il-sung's death, he detected suspicious movements in Sixth Army Corps in North Hamgyong Province and executed hundreds of soldiers there. In 1997, Kim had So Kwan-hi, then party secretary in charge of agricultural affairs, publicly executed in Pyongyang during the famine that killed millions, branding him a "spy of the U.S. imperialists." In the same context, the Kim dynasty had Pak Nam-gi, the then director of the party Planning and Finance Department, shot in March, calling him to account for the botched currency reform.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slim chances of real change in North Korea

In recent days, the North has been flooding the state media airwaves with video clips and reports lionizing Kim Jong Un, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party.

For South Korea, the best-case scenario would be a transition to enlightened leadership that would re-engage in talks for denuclearization and improving human rights, experts say. Kim Tae Young, South Korea's defense minister, says a "group leadership" could emerge composed of senior military leaders and Kim Jong Il's family members who will groom the younger Kim and serve as his regents.

Andrei Lankov, a Korea expert at Kookmin University, Seoul, says a succession to the son will change little. "Kim Jong Un will have no choice but to be a rubber-stamping dictator," Lankov says. "He will approve papers drafted by the same people who draft papers for his father right now."

Victor Cha, professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also isn't optimistic about North Korea 's stepping away from its roguish stance under a new regime.

It "is not a system that produces good leaders," Cha says. "There are lots of vested interest among the ruling elite and anyone trying to change that would be in big trouble."

[USA Today]

Monday, November 15, 2010

Over 20,000 North Korean defectors have now entered South Korea

South Korea says 20,050.North Koreans have now defected to the South, with more than 10,000 defections over the past three years.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said Monday that about as many North Koreans have defected to the South since 2007 as over the entire previous period since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Will North Korea’s Kim Jong Un be a 'great king'?

In its Oct. 4 edition, the Workers' Party of Korea's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, described the people of North Korea as "the descendants of Comrade Kim Il Sung." Now, following Kim Jong Il, the present leader's youngest son, Kim Jong Un has been anointed as heir apparent.

The Kingdom of Great Joseon, which was founded in the late 14th century and lasted for more than five centuries, was ruled by 27 kings. Only a very few of them were honored with the appellation "the Great." All of these respected kings made serious efforts to improve the well-being of the people, including Sejong the Great (1397-1450), the fourth king of the dynasty, who created Hangul, the Korean alphabet. They were also called "saint kings," because of their sagacity and great virtue.

As of last spring, the North Korean regime began mounting a vigorous propaganda campaign to introduce Kim Jong Un to the people. He was cast as a hero who is superbly qualified to be the next leader. He has been presented as a computer expert and a top-notch gunman.

Kim Jong Un’s promotions have cemented his status as "the legitimate heir to the throne." Kim Jong Un now has some trusted lieutenants. The Workers' Party, which has many cells, each of which are composed of three to four members, in local communities to ensure that everybody serves Kim Jong Un as his subjects irrespective of his leadership experience or personal qualities.

But there is no doubt that the challenges awaiting the young man are even more formidable than those confronting his father. Asahi Shimbun relates a story of when Kim Jong Un accompanied his father to local communities, it was noted by a local resident that Kim Jong Un stopped a female assistant as she tried to put a coat over his shoulders, while saying, "You don't have to do so such a thing."

This story, if true, may tell something about his personality.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

North Korean Kim Jong-un to be hung in public

North Korean households are currently required to hang portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il in their homes. Now, portraits of Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, are being being handed out to ingrain his visage into the minds of North Koreans.

U.S.-based Radio Free Asia reported yesterday that regional government and security officials had received portraits of Kim Jong-un, citing several sources in North Korea. The portraits are to be distributed to all North Korean citizens by the end of the year.

Said a source in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province: “The portrait distribution is being rushed because they are in a hurry to underpin the succession.” Anonymous sources also said that Kim Jong-il’s health was also in question - another reason for the rush to hand out portraits. 

According to sources, there are variations of Kim Jong-un’s portrait that are being handed out: a portrait of the son in a military suit is to be given to those in the military, while there are versions with Kim standing in an suit and another featuring the young successor examining documents. 

A source in Ryanggang Province said teams of regional officials had been formed to inspect the status of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il portraits in North Korean homes ahead of Kim Jong-un’s portrait distribution.


Friday, November 12, 2010

North Korea intent on disrupting G20 summit?

South Korean security forces are on high alert for any attempt by North Korea to wreck the G20 summit of world leaders. They fear that their neighbor could try to invade some of their territory, test nuclear weapons or attack a South Korean ship. There were even unsubstantiated reports that the repressive regime was considering biochemical attack against the South by sending deadly materials attached to balloons and parachutes across the border.

Although the North has a track-record of bellicose pronouncements, the British delegation at the summit in Seoul - just 50 miles from the border with North Korea - is taking the threat seriously. British officials believe the country's leadership will want to make a dramatic show of power to demonstrate it is "business as usual" for the regime.

However a UK embassy source in Seoul said the presence of China - regarded as sympathetic to the regime - would deter the North from taking action.

Improving relations on the Korean peninsula and reining in the nuclear ambitions of the North are being discussed by world leaders at the G20 summit. Arriving for the meeting, President Obama condemned North Korea for pursing a "path of confrontation and provocation" that, he said, included its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The Independent

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Medvedev: North Korea's nuclear ambitions greater threat than Iran

A UN report, which alleges that North Korea may have supplied nuclear technology to Syria, Iran and Myanmar, may be submitted before the Security Council after being blocked by China for the past six months. China has lifted its hold on the report two days ahead of President Barack Obama's meeting with China's President Hu Jintao at the G20 meeting in Seoul.

The 75-page report, “reinforces US claims that North Korea has emerged as a key supplier of banned weapons materials to Washington's greatest rivals,” The Washington Post reported.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, also in Seoul, classified North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a greater threat than that of Iran, which has been of late the main focus of the West. Responding to a question about the North Korean nuclear issue, he said Moscow is concerned at the military and political tension that Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions are causing so close to Russia's eastern borders.

“Iran has been the main focus of attention, but I want to point out that Teheran, unlike Pyongyang, has not proclaimed itself a nuclear state, and has not tested nuclear weapons, and all the more so has not threatened to use them,” he said.

[Press Trust of India]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Katy Oh on Korean Reunification

Our generation may well see a time when the Korean peninsula will have a single government.

Katy Oh, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, spent a year in Germany studying the process and issues of that nation's reunification 20 years ago.  She says South Koreans should learn from that example, as well as the dramatic change in South Africa a few years later.

"In South Korea, many people think 'Oh, North Koreans came from a very strange and bizarre state and society and we do not really trust them.'  I think this kind of thing can be done through more education and some kind of government active role to perpetuate some of the ideas that embracement is better than neglecting them,”  she said.

Opinion surveys show that South Koreans fear their country of 46 million citizens would be overrun by 23 million North Koreans scrambling for food and shelter should the North Korean regime collapse. 
Katy Oh says fear should make preparation in the South that much more urgent. Oh says Korean unification is perhaps the greatest national task for South Korea.  North and South Korean cultures have been diverging for over half a century.  She believes it likely will take much time for them to blend back together.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The passion, advocacy, and commitment of Korean American missionary Robert Park

Robert Park is a man on a mission. He says he's called to continue to "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Nearly a year has passed since the Korean American missionary crossed the frozen Tumen River and walked from China into North Korea. Many of Park's friends are North Korean defectors--they told him how Christians and others are sent to concentration camps, tortured and left to die. Park knew what he was up against before crossing the border, yet he was willing to pay the price.

Whether or not you agree with his conduct, one cannot help but admire his passion, advocacy, and commitment. Tired of Christians "talking the talk" but not "walking the walk," Park decided to do something to draw attention to the plight of Christians in North Korea. As a result, he suffered excruciating pain and suffering at the hands of the brutal totalitarian regime.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Kim Jong-un consolidates position upon death of North Korean Politburo member

Jo Myong-rok, a member of the Politburo of the Workers Party and a powerful aide to Kim Jong-Il, ranking fourth in the party hierarchy, died of a heart attack on Saturday at age 82.

The day after, North Korean media listed heir apparent Kim Jong-un second to his father among members of the funeral committee, suggesting that Kim junior has consolidated his position in the party hierarchy.

A South Korean security official speculated Kim Jong-un "seems to have risen to second place some 40 days since he was rated sixth". 

A North Korean source suggest Kim Jong-un has probably already been promoted to the posts left vacant by Jo Myong-rok or will assume them as soon as the mourning period ends.

Chosun Ilbo

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Kang Cheol-hwan preparation for Korean reunification

After leaving North Korea, Kang Cheol-hwan became the founding director of the North Korea Strategy Center, a nonprofit organization in Seoul, preparing North Korean defectors for leadership roles after reunification.

Kang Cheol-hwan is also the author of a book entitled The Aquariums of Pyongyang about his experiences in North Korea. "Earthquakes in China and tsunami in the Philippines, these are disasters that are visible and people help these visible disasters.  But in North Korea, there are invisible homicides and harassments.  … I wanted to tell the story through the book and tell it to the world and how the harassment and human rights abuse is being conducted in North Korea," he said.

Kang says it is important to educate and prepare South Koreans and even Korean Americans for the inevitability of a unified Korea.

Katy Oh, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, agrees. "All human beings are the same.  They all pursue the same important traits in life, such as freedom and happiness and pleasure and good health.  And so if this universal rule is applying to every human being, I say you can learn the lessons from any divided country with a bloody past," she said.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Persecution will not destroy North Korean believers

If history is any indicator, persecution will not destroy North Korean believers.

When "Mary" and her family originally escaped from North Korea into China, relatives introduced them to church and her father came to faith in Christ. But the Chinese government discovered this and repatriated her father back to North Korea. North Korean authorities sent her father to prison.

Mary represents thousands of suffering believers. Her stories brought many to tears at Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization held last month in South Africa. These personal accounts opened the eyes of conference delegates from the developed world, most of whom were unfamiliar with the plight of most of the world's Christians.

Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican bishop of Jos, Nigeria, shared with the Lausanne conference that he is targeted for murder and his family has been attacked. Following the second attempt on his life in 18 months, Kwashi said that such incidents are nothing new.

"The gospel is worth living for; it is also worth dying for," he said. "Persecution has never, and will never, kill the church. Conditions may be difficult or dangerous for a time, but the seed is in the ground and at the right time it will burst out."

Open Doors USA

Friday, November 05, 2010

World Food Program executive director on North Korea

The executive director of World Food Program,  Josette Sheeran says her recent visit to North Korea was different from the usual state-sponsored tours that foreigners are typically taken on when they visit Pyongyang.

"I saw many children that are already losing the battle against malnutrition, and their bodies and minds are stunted," she said.

Sheeran returned to China Thursday after spending three days in Pyongyang. She told reporters she met with senior North Korean officials and visited an orphanage, a factory and a hospital where children were being treated for malnutrition.

"We really feel the need there for the special fortified food for the children is very strong, and that we want to make sure we're reaching the most vulnerable children," she said.

The country struggles with chronic food shortages, but severe flooding in the north this summer has aggravated the problem. A famine in the 1990s is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans.

A recent UN report warns North Korea is heading for a new food crisis.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chinese continue to crack down on North Korean refugees

China has long feared a flood of refugees from poverty-stricken North Korea should the current regime collapse. With regime change, tensions are again high on the border.
Estimates vary widely, but it’s believed between 100,000-400,000 North Korea refugees live in China. Though thousands of North Koreans live under the radar in China, and move through its underground network to safer destinations, massive crackdowns have reduced their numbers dramatically in recent years.

In the Yanbian region, villagers recounted how police go door-to-door periodically to check for North Koreans, particularly checking the ethnically Korean locals to make sure they’re not harboring North Korean relatives. About 40 percent of this area’s 2 million residents are Korean — mostly second or third generation immigrants from North Korea. Many still have large families on the other side of the border, and increasingly fear for their health and safety as communications have tapered off.

In one small village within sight of the border, a couple recalled how they used to be able to help friends and family in North Korea by sending food and other gifts — once even sending back a black-and-white television. That’s impossible now, as even the local Christian church is no longer allowed to assist refugees who make it across to China.

“The church is much poorer than before, without much support,” said Wen. “If refugees did manage to come across now, they would have to get help from their relatives because the church can no longer help them.”

This is a common story in the North Korean border region, with South Korean ministers and church networks under tighter pressure. By controlling their ability to offer aid and refuge, the Chinese government limited options available to North Korean refugees, hence limiting their numbers.

Global Post