Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anti-Government Graffiti in North Korean capital

Anti-Kim Jong Il graffiti was found on the wall of a college in Pyongyang. And then the government locked down the entire capital to hunt for the culprit.

The graffiti, found June 24th on a wall at Pyongyang Railroad College reportedly called Kim Jong Il "a dictator who starved people to death." Not exactly Banksy, but it gets the point across.

NK Daily talked to a Chinese trader about the investigation: According to the trader, the authorities launched the search for the person responsible via a joint investigation team including the National Security Agency and People's Safety Ministry, specifically targeting students and people from other provinces. They established road blocks on the roads linking Pyongyang Station and West Pyongyang Station, Pyongyang-Pyongsung, Pyongyang-Wonsan and Pyongyang-Kanri, then began questioning all passers' by.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

North Korean defectors offered internships in Seoul

Dozens of North Korean defectors will be offered internships at several major companies in an effort to help them find jobs and adapt to life in the South, the Unification Ministry said yesterday.   

Under the program, about 20 North Korean college students and graduates living in the South will work as interns at banks, including HSBC and SC First Bank, and several big European firms. 

A further 20 North Koreans will work at South Korean small and medium-sized companies, it said, adding the interns could receive $740 or more every month. 

In May, the British embassy in Seoul launched a program to provide English-language skills and work experience to North Korean defectors.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

South Korea building new refugee center for North Koreans

South Korea is building a new facility to house North Korean defectors arriving in the country.

Most defectors - who include economic migrants and political refugees - spend their first three months in a government center known as Hanawon. They are taught the skills they need in a capitalist country - such as how to work cash machines, or get a job.

The government has already extended the time that new arrivals must spend in the facility from two months to three. The current facility has already been expanded, and now holds 1,000 people. The new centre will have room for 500 more.

Seoul says almost 3,000 North Koreans arrive each year and the current center is danger of becoming overcrowded.

According to the Unification Ministry, it will offer retraining programs for new arrivals, to help North Koreans compete for jobs. Fewer than half of all North Koreans find work in the South - and many who do end up in menial low-paid jobs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Defectors highlight abuses in North Korean prisons

A group of 14 North Korean defectors filed a petition with South Korea’s human rights watchdog over abuses they allegedly suffered in two North Korean prisons, a spokesman said.
The petition comes as Seoul’s National Human Rights Commission collects cases of human rights violations in the communist state as part of a campaign to improve rights conditions in the North. 

Of the group, eight claimed they had suffered severe abuses at the Jongori prison in the northeastern city of Hoeryong and six others said they were mistreated at a prison in the southwestern county of Jungsan. 

One case involved a woman, who fled to China to escape hunger only to be captured, repatriated and imprisoned at the Jongori prison. She was pregnant when she was jailed. “She was forcibly injected for abortion but the baby came out alive. Then prison guards killed the baby,” Secretary General Kim Hee-Tae of the Meeting of Promotion for North Korea Human Rights said.  

In another case, a defector alleged he had seen around 800 dead bodies during an 18-month jail term in the Jungsan County prison between 2000 and 2001. Deaths were caused by malnutrition, disease and mistreatment at the prison, he said, where up to 4,000 prisoners were held, four times its capacity. 

South Korea’s conservative government has abandoned the previous liberal administration’s strategy of quiet diplomacy and decided to turn up the heat on North Korea over its human rights situation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

North Korean prostitution feeds families

It has been a growing phenomenon that young women in North Korea have become involved in prostitution to survive.

They do whatever it takes to feed their family, from toiling in a patch of field, to trading, or to becoming a maid. However, there are still days that pass without food. If a woman in such a situation winds up “selling her flower,” a euphemism for selling sex, no one can blame the woman for her immorality.

A woman’s body often becomes a means of survival. The poorer the society, the more unequal is the status of women, and women’s body easily ends up falling into an instrument to provide sex in return for payment. North Korea is no exception.

Pyongyang has become home to restaurants that serve food normally during the day and change to houses of prostitution at night. Officially, the restaurants belong to government establishments, but the real owners of these restaurants are commonly powerful party cadres or wealthy foreign trade officials. 

These establishments are generally frequented by wealthy or powerful men, but judiciary officials are by far the most numerous. Illegal activity would not be possible if not for these officials, and women are instructed to serve them almost on a daily basis. According to one manager of a restaurant in Pyongyang’s Daedong River District, “Most of the young women working at our restaurant are poor and they all want relationships with those who come by the most frequently, the party cadres, businessmen or wealthy men. They all prefer men who they can carry out a long-term stable relationship with, not the men who are just looking for a one-night stand.’

A Pyongyang City Party official interviewed does not pay much attention to government crackdowns. “Once or twice each year, the government conducts crackdowns on prostitution saying it will punish the capitalist elements agitating and polluting society. However, just surviving these crackdowns is all you need to do to walk away scot-free.” 

Monday, June 20, 2011

US assessment team concludes North Korea is not suffering from food crisis

The Dong-a Ilbo reports that the U.S. has tentatively concluded that North Korea is not suffering from a food crisis though certain areas in the Stalinist country do have food shortages. 
This conclusion is based on the visit by a U.S. team for food assistance to the North led by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, said a South Korea diplomatic source Sunday. 

“Though the U.S. has yet to release an official report on the visit, it made a preliminary judgment based on the results of the assessment team’s trip that the North has no comprehensive food crisis,” the source said. 

Based on the judgment, Washington is known to believe that food assistance is necessary for certain regions in the North where food is in short supply. 

The U.S. will make a final decision on sending food assistance to the North by putting together the results of the U.S. visit and those of European Union officials to the Stalinist country between June 6 and 17. 

Dong-a Ilbo

Friday, June 17, 2011

North Korea demands the return of latest defectors

North Korea has demanded the return of nine of its citizens who defected by boat and warned that cross-border relations would suffer otherwise, Seoul officials said.

The North's Red Cross sent a message to its South Korean counterpart to demand the return of the nine immediately. Failure to do so could further damage relations, the message added.

The latest incident comes at a time of high cross-border tensions, after the North announced it was breaking all contacts with the South's government. However, one analyst said he did not believe the latest defection would seriously aggravate the situation.

"The North cannot help but demand their return, as usual, but it will have to swallow (the situation) as the nine came to the South of their free will," said Kim Yong-Hyun, of Seoul's Dongguk University.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nine North Korean Defectors Brave Sea Passage to Seoul

Nine North Koreans defected to South Korea on Saturday by crossing the disputed maritime border.

A government source said a 50-year-old man, his 42-year-old brother and their family members boarded an engineless boat and crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, at around 6 a.m. on Saturday. The group, which consisted of three men, two women and for children, waved to onlookers and expressed their desire to defect when they drifted into the waters off the west coast and were spotted by the South Korean military. "All of them have expressed their intention to defect to the South," the source added.

The group left Haeju, Hwanghae Province on Friday night after having planned their escape for some time and preparing a boat for their escape, the source said. The fact that the defectors were all part of a large family enabled them to maintain the level of secrecy needed for such an operation.

The source added that the group sought out chances to escape as they fished off the coast of Haeju on Wednesday of last week. They decided to defect in order to escape the harsh economic conditions in the North.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

North Korean defectors decry 2000 North-South agreement

JoongAng Ilbo reports twenty North Korean defectors will gather today at the Korea Press Center building in Seoul to denounce the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration signed by former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. 
Seven of the defectors carry doctorate degrees and 10 more are on track to earn a doctorate. They will hold an academic symposium to concentrate on the agreement and how to democratize North Korea.

“The summit meeting between North and South Korea in June 2000 and the joint agreement brought great joy,” the group said in a press release. “But Kim Jong-il threw away his promise of visiting Seoul, which was atop the list for the agreement to be upheld. There are still those in the South who carry on as if the agreement is a bible for reunification.”

More than 600 North Korean defectors will sign a petition supporting the North Korean Human Rights Act, which has been pending in the National Assembly, and ask for improved human rights in North Korea.

Monday, June 13, 2011

North Korea successfully test fires Short-Range Missile

North Korea's test launch of a KN-06 surface-to-air missile into the West Sea early this month appears to have been successful, Chosun Ilbo quotes South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin as saying.

The KN-06 is a surface-to-air missile that shoots down enemy fighters. Unlike previous North Korean missiles, such as the KN-02 inter-continental ballistic missile that follows an arch-like trajectory, the KN-06 is stored in a launching tube and fired vertically toward a flying target. The KN-06 is apparently capable of hitting targets up to 150 km away. Each launcher truck can hold two to three missiles.

Kim also confirmed a report by AP last month claiming that North Korea was nearing the completion of a second long-range missile base in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

North Korean defectors suggest 30,000 NK electronic warfare specialists

The Korea Herald reports the North Korean military has 30,000 electronic warfare specialists with capabilities rivaling those of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, citing defectors and other sources.

The U.S. broadcaster’s report titled “North Korea’s cyber army gets increasingly sophisticated,” came after a series of cyber attacks on key government and corporate websites in South Korea, which Seoul officials believe were masterminded by the communist state.

“Defectors say that the regime now culls the brightest students from the nation’s universities and funnels them into special secret schools that concentrate on hacking and developing cyber warfare programs targeted at South Korea,”
the report said.

Pointing out that among the most frequent visitors to U.S. military web sites are computers traced to North Korea, it said the North could pose a serious threat to U.S. military networks.

“In fact, South Korea’s intelligence agencies now believe that North Korea has the capability to paralyze the U.S. Pacific Command and cause extensive damage to defense networks inside the United States,” the report said.

Citing one defector, who was an officer in the North Korean electronic warfare command, the report said, “The heart of the effort is centered at Automation University, where 100 to 110 hackers a year are trained in advanced electronic espionage every year.”

Kim Heung-kwang, who defected to the South in 2004 after working as a professor at a computer technology university in the North for 20 years, said that the North was focusing on cyber and electronic warfare capabilities as it can cause massive damage to its enemy at low cost. “Cyber warfare capabilities are asymmetrical ones that can shake up the centerpiece of the South Korean society. The cost of establishing and running cyber warfare facilities is very low while its impact is great,” he told The Korea Herald.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chinese companies posed to jump-start North Korean economy?

In the aftermath of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's visit last month, Chinese companies in recent days have held a series of low-key groundbreaking ceremonies across the border for projects designed to jump-start the moribund North Korean economy.

The North Korean regime, largely out of desperation, has leased parcels of its territory to the Chinese. This includes ports at the northern tip of the country that will give China access to the Sea of Japan through North Korea for the first time in 150 years.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Jang Song Taek, Kim's brother-in-law, attended a groundbreaking ceremony for an industrial park on Hwanggumpyong, an island on the Yalu River, that is supposed to take advantage of Chinese capital and cheap North Korean labor.

Businesspeople working in North Korea say a similar ceremony was held Thursday at Rajin, the seaport where Chinese companies are building another industrial zone, as well as a new road that leads to the port.

A lack of publicity in China about all this may reflect Beijing's ambivalence about doing business with an unreliable neighbor and a desire to avoid international criticism for propping up a nuclear-armed country with an abysmal human rights record.

For the North Korean regime, the deals with China look like an easy fix for its tangle of diplomatic and economic woes. Kim Jong Il has set 2012, the centennial of the birth of his father, Kim Il Sung, as a deadline for North Korea to become a "strong and prosperous nation," the government's latest propaganda slogan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

EU team visits North Korea to assess food aid needs

VoA reports a team of European officials is traveling in North Korea to assess the need for food aid. The five-member team flew to North Korea from Beijing on Monday and is expected to remain until June 17, visiting both the countryside and the capital, Pyongyang.

The five are members of the European Union's humanitarian aid agency. The head of the team, Marco Capurro, told Japan's Kyodo news agency the group expects to discuss its findings with international agencies and with members of a U.S. team that just completed a similar mission.

The head of the U.S. team, human rights envoy Robert King, said his group still has not decided whether food aid is warranted. He said that even if there is a need, North Korea must find a way to assure donors that it will go to those most in need.

United Nations food agency teams recently reported that more than one quarter of North Korea's population is in urgent need of food aid.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

North Korean defector appointed to high-level S.Korean post

South Korea says it has decided to appoint a North Korean defector as head of a government research institute. It would be the highest South Korean government job that a North Korean refugee has ever taken.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul said in a statement Tuesday that economist Cho Myung-chul will be formally appointed as chief of the ministry-affiliated Education Center for Unification later this week.

Media reports say Cho taught at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University and defected in 1994. Cho currently works at Seoul-based Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

Monday, June 06, 2011

North Korea turning the tables

It did seem like a fun idea at the time. Why not hoist huge photos of Kim Jong-il and son and heir Kim Jong-eun and have young South Korean army soldiers fire away at them for target practice? … It just didn't strike the North Koreans as funny. No sooner did they get word about it than they were off on a rhetorical bender, promising the same "retaliatory military strikes" that they have said they will deploy against those so bold as to launch the dreaded balloons.

The North Korean language in the case of the use of images of the Dear Leader and son was particularly harsh. The Korean People's Army and the Worker Peasant Red Guards "will launch practical and overall retaliatory military actions to wipe out the group of traitors at a stroke," said a military spokesman. On top of that, the spokesman called on "South Korean puppet authorities" to apologize "for the hideous provocation" and to "guarantee" it would never happen again.

The bottom line is the North now has another avenue that it's pursuing in search of aid and empathy. This one, it seems, is far more promising for Pyongyang and infuriating to Seoul than the revelation that Lee would like to follow the footsteps to Pyongyang of the two previous presidents whose soft-line "Sunshine" policy he has gone to great lengths to reverse.

North Korea's ace is the relationship that its skilled negotiators appear to have struck up with the US envoy on human rights to North Korea, Robert King. His quick trip there, on a "fact-finding" mission about the North's need for food and other forms of aid, was only the beginning. A North Korean official, King said, specifically invited him back to talk about "human rights," and he's "looking forward to the opportunity". In other words, while spurning President Lee's hesitant overtures in no uncertain terms, North Korea is happy to chat it up with a representative of the regime that's seen as pulling the strings on the South Korean marionette. 

--Donald Kirk writing in Asia Times

How do the North Koreans manage to con the Americans so easily?

The question South Koreans are asking, as they've asked regularly over the years, is how do North Korean negotiators manage to con their American interlocutors so easily. Here's a regime that has time and again rejected, deflected and derided any attempt at confirming the most egregious violations of human rights, and US Envoy Robert King apparently thinks he's going to get somewhere by accepting another invitation to Pyongyang.

King's got South Korean officials extremely nervous, if not infuriated, by giving the impression that he really thinks he's going to get anywhere in talks with the North Koreans. The whole goal of the North Korean game, they believe, is to dig a ditch between North Korea and the US - and relegate the South to the role of the "puppet" to whom there's no point in talking about much of anything.

King himself finally acknowledged what had been clear for some time, that South Korea really opposes US moves to resume providing food and fertilizer to North Korea. The US cut off aid in tandem with the South in the early months of Lee's administration, but pressure is mounting fast for a shift in US policy.

If North Korea can get King to come back on the pretense of talking about "human rights", it's a safe bet the North Koreans will come up with a scheme for addressing what King has called "our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food program".

Among these issues is what the North Koreans did with 20,000 tons of food that the few Americans who were there never got to monitor as promised. They were ordered out of the country more than two years ago before that food was ever distributed. Another issue is the North Koreans don't want any Korean speakers on the American team - no need to have these interlopers snooping around chatting casually with someone with an inkling of what's going on.

--Donald Kirk  writing in Asia Times

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Time for Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

Excerpts of a testimony by Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues: 

My position exists because North Korea remains one of the worst human rights violators in the world. State security forces reportedly commit severe human rights abuses and subject political prisoners to brutality and torture. Elections are not free or fair; the judiciary is not independent; and citizens are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition, the DPRK imposes severe restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Finally, we hear continuing and widespread reports of severe punishment of repatriated asylum seekers and of trafficking of women and girls across the border into China.

In my recent trip to Pyongyang, I engaged directly on human rights issues with Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other high-level officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was the first time the United States’ Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues was granted entry to the DPRK and the first time we were able to engage in a direct dialogue about ways in which North Korea can improve its human rights record. This is a significant first step.

We have made no decision on whether we will provide food aid to North Korea. … The DPRK must first address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food aid program, which North Korea abruptly suspended in March 2009 and our humanitarian personnel were ordered to leave the country and forced to leave behind approximately 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items.

In visits to North Korean resettlement and assistance centers in the ROK, including Hanawon, I have seen the extent to which the ROK has invested in providing opportunities to the 21,000 North Koreans they have resettled. I have learned from North Korean refugees themselves, about the grim conditions inside the DPRK and their often perilous journey in seeking a better life in the ROK.

Editor's Note: In more than 6 years since the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, the United States has resettled only 120 North Korean refugees and their families.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

North Korean defectors to visit US

Yonhap - A group of five North Korean defectors currently enrolled in South Korean colleges will visit the United States on a U.S. government-sponsored program. The five North Koreans will likely head for the United States next month, according to the official from Seoul's Unification Ministry.

"The U.S. Embassy in South Korea and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology selected the five students in April for the West program," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the student exchange program, South Korean students can visit the United States for up to 18 months -- five months of mandatory language programs plus internships up to one year long at U.S. companies, followed by one month reserved for travel. Thousands of students have visited or are visiting the United States under the program since its launch in early 2009, but no one originating from North Korea had been offered the chance until now.

"The ministry will consider extending the program to more North Korean defectors," a ministry official said, adding there are currently about 850 college students here who defected from North Korea.

Friday, June 03, 2011

South Korea acknowledges secret talks with North Korea

South Korea's government on Thursday admitted it held secret discussions with North Korea last month. And South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is facing criticism across the domestic political spectrum for the talks, which were revealed by Pyongyang.

On Wednesday, North Korea claimed three South Korean officials "begged" for a summit between leaders of the two countries and offered bribes at secret meetings in Beijing last month. 

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Thursday confirmed to lawmakers the clandestine encounter did occur. Hyun says there was no attempt by South Korea to arrange a leaders’ summit. Rather the secret talks were intended to press North Korea to apologize for last year's military provocations, which Seoul insists is a prelude to improving the chilly relationship.

Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the East West Center in the United States, says, "Really the story is not that the South Koreans were talking to the North Koreas - just like the Chinese and Americans are - but rather that the North Koreans chose to publically embarrass him just like they had done to a previous delegation of international statesmen that tried to reach out and open up some doors."

Some western intelligence analysts say this signals a new, dangerous phase in inter-Korean relations. The analysts say the recent statements from the North could mean it is willing to take some sort of military action in response to any perceived provocations by the South. Noland, an economist who closely follows North Korea, agrees with that scenario.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

North Korean defector claims North grooming hackers

JoongAng Ilbo reports North Korea is bulking up the ranks of its cyberwarriors, and is even sending them overseas to study the dark art of Internet hacking, according to a representative from a group of North Korean defectors.

Kim Heung-kwang of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group known for reliable information, said yesterday that North Korea has increased its number of cyber terrorists to 3,000, up from around 500 in the past.

Kim said those who show talent in computer skills are detected at a young age and sent to a special middle school in Pyongyang to be groomed in the art of cyber attacks.

“These young, gifted students are placed in the best environment possible and once they graduate from school with the highest scores, their families are brought to Pyongyang to live with them,” Kim said.

The students are then sent to Kim Il Sung University or the Kim Chaek University of Technology to further their computer studies. Once in that training, the future hackers are sent to study abroad, Kim said, and by the time they return, the hackers are in their 20s.

Kim said North Korea realized that building the ranks of cyber warriors “costs less money than to train Army or Air Force soldiers.”

North Korea has been blamed for several recent South Korean cyber security breaches, including the hacking Nonghyup Bank servers.  The South Korean military believes that North Korea was behind spam e-mails sent to high-ranking South Korean military officials that unleashed a virus into the recipient’s computer and extracted personal data and information.