In the News – North Korea Hunger Worsens Despite Talks Of Economic Reform

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In the News – North Korea Hunger Worsens Despite Talks Of Economic Reform

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL, July 27 (Reuters) – Talk that North Korea’s young leader plans to reform the broken economy is already having an impact. It’s helping send rice prices even further out of the reach of most families in one of the world’s most under-fed societies.

Seo Jae-pyoung, a defector who now lives in South Korea, spoke this week to a friend in the secretive North who had furtively called him by mobile phone from a mountain-side to plead for cash to be smuggled across to help.

“He couldn’t cope with the high prices, saying rice prices had shot up … and he is running out of money,” Seo told Reuters.

“It shows that the economic situation is seriously worsening…I feel that…(it) has already reached the critical point and (leader Kim Jong-un) may know that without reform or openness, the regime is not going to last long.”

One of the reasons he and others gave for the price increase was rice hoarding by middlemen hoping that talk of reform would materialise into a chance to turn a profit.

A source with ties to North Korea and its chief backer, China, told Reuters last week that the North is gearing up to experiment with economic reforms.

Evidence is hard to come by in the almost hermetically sealed and suspicious state, where casual contact with outsiders can mean imprisonment. And because it usually takes defectors many months to make their way out of the North to a country where they can speak openly, information can be out of date.

But some of the defectors Reuters spoke to in Seoul said they were in clandestine contact with people inside the North. Reuters also spoke to foreigners who had gone to North Korea in recent months under government-sponsored visits.

The overall impression was that in the about seven months Kim Jong-un has been in office, there have been few tangible changes inside a country which is now, since Myanmar’s decision to open up, Asia’s last pariah state.

“I’ve not heard anything to suggest any improvement for the rank and file there. And in some sectors, things continue to slide,” said one Christian activist with Helping Hands Korea, which works with refugees fleeing the North.

Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, is the third generation of a family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding. He took over when his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

With international sanctions over weapons programmes, and the insistence of the Kims on food and resources going to the military first, the general population has been on the edge of starvation for decades.

STARTLING

The effects of such prolonged meagre diets is one of the startling images of North Korea, making the chubby leader Kim stand out even more against his subjects.

“What’s strikingly obvious is peoples’ stunted growth, they’re all very short for their age,” said one humanitarian worker who visited the North earlier this year.

“There’s always going to be a food shortage, The problem is, what they can produce, the best always goes to the best (top of society).” That elite refers especially to the military, estimated at 1.2 million out of a population of 25 million.

According to North Korean defectors who still keep in touch with family and friends and Daily NK, which monitors conditions in the reclusive state, the price of 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of rice in the market was estimated to be at least one month’s salary.

But that, said one defector, is meaningless because the cash-starved state, the main employer, rarely pays salaries.

“Even if you are employed by the state, you do business in the market. If you are an office worker, you do business in the market in the afternoon … There’s no way other than this to make it there,” said the woman, in her 30s, who asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals against family members still in the North. She fled the North late last year.

“Basically, many people are doing restaurant business or selling things on credit and pay off credits later. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Pyongyang has enough supplies but other areas fall short. So it is completely up to an individual’s effort. If you try hard to make money, you can survive. But if you don’t, you struggle,” she said.

She and other defectors said the authorities had been tightening their watch on the border with China, about the only route for escape. The dangers of crossing the border are compounded by the very high risk of being sent back to the North by Chinese authorities to face imprisonment or even execution.

FEAR OF REFORM

North Korea has dabbled with reforms over the years but never stuck to them, forced to rely increasingly on China to prop up a rusting industry and broken infrastructure.

Most recently, in 2009, it orchestrated the re-denomination of the currency, a move deemed so catastrophic that the official who initiated it was reportedly executed.

None of the defectors Reuters spoke to believed the leadership would dare allow reforms that damage its grip. Some thought the Pyongyang elite had been scared by the disastrous 2009 experiment.

Analysts say this fear of reform explains why the Kim dynasty has stuck so rigidly with a system that ensured the country was excluded from any benefit of being at the centre of the world’s most rapidly growing region — China, Japan and South Korea.

While their economies have surged, North Korea’s has shrunk. Once wealthier than the South, its economy is now less than three percent of South Korea’s. Its population is half the size.

“I think even if it loosens up, it would only be partial. If it fully opens, the regime will collapse. People began to not trust the regime after the currency reform in 2009,” said the woman defector who said she fled because she could no longer tolerate the constraints on her life.

Kim Yong-hwa, a defector who heads the NK Refugees Human Rights Association on Korea, was equally dismissive.

“Is North Korea is planning to reform and open up? I think the foreign press is over-reacting. The only thing Kim Jong-il left to Kim Jong-un is debt. He has no funds to run the regime.” (Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Choonsik Yoo in Seoul, and reporters in Beijing, Bangkok and Singapore, writing by Jonathan Thatcher; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Original Article 

In the News – Rights activist says North involved in his detention in China

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In the News – Rights activist says North involved in his detention in China

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist said Wednesday North Korea was certainly involved in his four-month detention in China, indicating close cooperation between the two allies in their efforts to root out defector assistance and human rights activities in China.

About one week after he was deported from China following a 114-day detention on charges of endangering China’s national security, the 49-year-old activist Kim Young-hwan recounted in a press conference how he was unexpectedly arrested by a Chinese intelligence unit and detained under brutal treatment, as well as how the North was involved in his ordeal.

The North Korea-sympathizer-turned-human rights activist said the taxi he was riding in Dalian, a Chinese city near North Korea, was stopped by Chinese intelligence agents. He was taken by them right away on March 29, one week after he went to China to discuss cooperation on North human rights improvement and assistance for North Korean defectors with other activists there.

Without telling him why he was arrested, Kim was brought to the intelligence agency’s detention facility in Dandong and spent one month there under brutal conditions, including sleep deprivation, before being moved to another prison.

“They did not tell me what charges I was under, but ordered me to confess all I know (about human rights activities in China),” Kim told the press conference.

Having done nothing against China nor tried to dig out information about the country, “I could not understand why they were so brutal to me,” said the activist who led local efforts to assist North Koreans defecting to the South as well as shore up human rights protection in the reclusive communist country.

He said he is “certain” that the North’s spy unit, State Security Department, played a major role in the detention of him and several other fellow South Korean and Chinese activists who were taken by the Chinese intelligence unit along with him.

“The motive of this incident seems to be very much related with the State Security Department, I think,” Kim said.

“For the first three or four days following the arrest, they did not know who I was,” he said, adding that they later seemed to get the idea from information provided by the North’s intelligence agency. “I think they were in cooperation.”

The crackdown attempt by China, the first of its kind in trying to charge a foreigner with endangering the country’s national security, appears to be part of the country’s efforts to set off alarm bells for those working in China to help North Korean defectors or improve human rights there, activities irritating to the North as well as its closest ally China.

“This was thought to be the case, given that the Chinese government requested Seoul help stop North Korean defector assistance activities (by activists in China),” said Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung who attended the conference following his efforts to free the detained activist.

“China may have thought we posed high potential risks because we had done underground activities for a long time without being caught,” Kim said, referring to his past experience as a pro-North activist while in college.

The three other activists, caught together with Kim, spent more than a decade collecting information on the status of North Korean human rights and helping North Koreans defect safely to the South, without being detected, Kim also noted.

However, he refused to specifically elaborate on how brutally Chinese intelligence agents treated him and what activities he was leading in China, citing sensitivities involved.

“I was very resentful at first and eager to expose the dismal human rights conditions in China,” he said, referring to 13 hours of forced labor he had to shoulder during the early stage of his imprisonment, low-quality food, the short time allowed for meals as well as the small prison space.

“Talking about the specific experience may shift the attention away from North Korean human rights conditions from those in China, which are fundamentally in a different (better) stage from the North and improving,” Kim said.

And exposing our specific activities there may negatively impact those being led by other activists and organizations, he said.

“I give my thanks to the government, citizens and those who helped me out (of the detention) and vow to dedicate myself more to North Korea human rights and democratization there.”

Kim Young-hwan, now a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, was a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance, but later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the North’s dismal human rights record.

In the News – Activist ‘Tried to Organize High-Level Defection from N.Korea’

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In the News – Activist ‘Tried to Organize High-Level Defection from N.Korea’

A South Korean activist who returned home on Friday after 114 days in Chinese detention apparently attempted to set up the defection of a senior North Korean official. Kim Young-hwan will hold a press conference on Tuesday to reveal the circumstances surrounding his arrest in China.

A diplomatic source in Seoul on Sunday said that he was told that Kim tried to get a key North Korean official to defect but failed. This official is “someone who starkly represents the reality of human rights abuses of North Korean refuges, and his presence is a thorny issue in China,” the source added.

A senior South Korean official said, “China demanded that Seoul prevent South Korean activist groups from setting up organized escapes from North Korea in return for releasing Kim.”

But the South Korean government reportedly said it cannot intervene in every single activity of non-governmental organizations.

China also suspects that South Korean intelligence agents were involved with Kim’s activities. This may be the reason why China accused Kim of “endangering national security,” a term China often uses in espionage cases.

Some in the government believe that Kim attempted to unite scattered cells of resistance across North Korea.

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In the News – Freed activist renews efforts to help N.K. human rights

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In the News – Freed activist renews efforts to help N.K. human rights

Kim Young-hwan, the prominent anti-North Korea activist freed Friday from detention in China, pledged to continue his fight for democracy and human rights in the communist country.

Kim, 49, and his three colleagues arrived in Seoul on the same day China expelled them after 114 days of detention. They were arrested on March 29 in the northeastern border city of Dalian apparently for helping North Korean refugees. They were charged with “endangering national security.”

“The reality in North Korea is that it is suffering from a brutal dictatorship and horrendous human rights situation,” Kim told reporters upon arrival at Incheon International Airport.

“At a time when far-away countries strive for North Korean human rights and democratization, as a fellow Korean it is my right and duty to do so.”

Kim Young-hwan gestures on his arrival at Incheon Interna­tional Airport on Friday. (Yonhap News)

Kim’s detention attracted heavy public and media interest for his dramatic life. In the 1980s, he was a pro-North Korea movement leader playing a key role in disseminating Pyongyang’s philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance.

He turned to activism against the coercive regime’s human rights abuses in the 1990s and is currently a senior researcher for the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

The other crusaders are Yoo Jae-gil, 43, Kang Shin-sam, 41, and Lee Sang-yong, 31.

His release may place North Korea under greater pressure over human rights issues amid growing international criticism over its harsh punishment of repatriated defectors and political prisoners, observers say.

China, the North’s lone major ally, has also been blamed for deporting North Korean asylum seekers despite the torture, labor camps or public executions they face back home, calling them “illegal economic migrants.”

With Pyongyang’s tighter border control and China’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, however, concerns have arisen that North Korean defectors hiding there could become more exposed to abuses.

Open Radio for North Korea reported early this year that about 20,000 additional North Korean soldiers have been mobilized to border regions, warning severe penalties for those who get caught fleeing.

In March, Beijing launched a nationwide crackdown on foreigners who illegally crossed borders, gained jobs and overstayed their visas.

More than 23,500 North Koreans have sought asylum in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the Unification Ministry. The figure steadily rose each year from 1,383 in 2005 to 2,927 in 2009, although it slid to 2,376 in 2010 due to strengthened border security.

In the State Department’s report on human rights in 199 countries released late last month, North Korea was rated as “extremely poor” and remained at the bottom of the agency’s list along with China, Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belarus.

The North has rebuffed accusations of its rights abuses, which it bills as an attempt to oust its government.

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In the News – N.Korea Accuses South of Plot to Blow Up Statues

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In the News – N.Korea Accuses South of Plot to Blow Up Statues

/Yonhap/Yonhap

North Korea on Thursday accused South Korea of inciting a defector to damage statues and memorials there. At a press conference broadcast on state TV, a man identified as Jon Yong-chol “confessed” to plotting to damage statues at the orders of the National Intelligence Service and a group of North Korean defectors in the South.

Jon said he received liquid explosives from NIS agents and was taught how to use a remote control to blow up the statues. The attack was planned for either Feb. 16, Kim Jong-il’s birthday, or Apr. 15, Kim Il-sung’s birthday, but since the explosives were not ready it had to be postponed until July 27, North Korea’s Victory Day in the Korean War.

Jon claimed he was arrested while crossing the border on the night of June 18 to inspect the site. “The NIS bastards said the plan had to be approved by the U.S. and only then could payment be made,” he said. “Although I was exposed and arrested, the U.S. and the NIS in the puppet regime” — shorthand for the South Korean government — “will continue to produce more and more people like me.”

Jon reportedly escaped North Korea in April 2010 and has lived in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province since March last year following resettlement training at the Hanawon center.

A government official said, “That North Korea is setting up a person in this kind of improbable plot suggests the domestic situation there is extremely unstable.”

Original Article

Escape Art and Propaganda: Part III

Before I search for other traces of art in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I aim to publicize a few more interesting works of pop art (and propaganda) created by the escape artist Song Byeok. The two pieces “Fall into My Arms” (above) and “Take Off Your Clothes” (below) both feature the late Kim Jong Il in unconventional forms.

“Fall into My Arms” features Kim Jong Il as the female partner of a dancing couple. He smiles as he quite literally falls into the arms of his male companion as if he were truly tripping over his own feet and pouring his full weight onto the sensuous male supporting him on the dance floor. As he dances, Kim Jong Il maintains his notorious grin and his iconic sunglasses. Song’s painting makes the former leader of the North Korean regime appear like one of the celebrities chosen to compete in the popular television series, Dancing with the Stars. And Kim Jong Il is certainly a star in the eyes of the people of North Korea since, as Song states in his interview with Ferguson, “They believe they are so much better off than the rest of the world because of their two leaders, who are like two suns.” Kim Jong Il is a star that shines brighter than the millions of stars that form our galaxy – he is as radiant as the sun. Continue reading

In the News – MoU Claims Park Return Coerced

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In the News – MoU Claims Park Return Coerced

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification claims to have uncovered evidence supporting the idea that North Korean officials threatened Park In Sook, the woman who “re-defected” to North Korea on May 25th after living in South Korea for six years.

A ministry official suggested yesterday that Park’s return was due to external pressure, saying, “An investigation conducted by a related organization found the North somehow threatened Park about the safety of her family members in the North.”

Another defector living in Seoul reportedly provided further evidence supporting the story, allegedly testifying that Park had “been agonizing” over threatening calls she received from the country beginning in April.

According to Park’s statement after returning to Pyongyang, she was lured into defection in 2006 with the promise that she would be reunited wither father, but she later regretted coming to the South, saying, “I am an ingrate who had betrayed my motherland to seek a better life while others devoted themselves to building a thriving nation, tightening their belts.”

Despite her apparent conviction, speculation at the time suggested that her statement might have been coerced, and that the North Korean government was using her to discourage other citizens from attempting to defect.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the government plans measures to protect vulnerable North Korean defectors residing in the South from similar events, although it has not said how this would be achieved.

 

Original Article

Some Reflections on the Internship on the first Anniversary of its Commencement

The author and fellow participants on the 2011 March for Peace and Unification. Photo credit Park Chan-yong.

When I was first to meet the MOU overseas correspondents, I stood outside the Central Government Complex building in the growing darkness. The back gates have two guards posted on them, South Korean policemen quite a few years younger than I am, and they were very sorrowful when they told me I could not go in without an ID badge. They struggled to find the words in English. These three aspects of the guards—their youth, and sorrow, and struggle—made me sympathetic enough that I waited outside instead of bluffing my way in.

The other members of our group arrived gradually; they drifted up the street and attached to our group, like plastic bottles to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We talked and swirled intermittently as we waited, explaining and re-explaining schools and majors and life situations. I have had similar meetings many times before and since, but this was remarkable for its cocktail-party-on-a-sidewalk-outside-a-government-building feeling, an unusual locale, though we eventually moved to a proper restaurant once all our group members arrived. But even from the very first meeting, it was clear we were about to have an unusually unforgettable summer. Continue reading

In the News – Young general comes out as mother’s boy

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In the News – Young general comes out as mother’s boy

By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO – In a risky gamble, Pyongyang is resting its hopes for the survival of the Kim regime on one woman – a dead one at that. Struggling to cement his dynastic credentials, young North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun has launched a mass deification campaign for his mother and the first lady of late leader Kim Jong-il, Ko Young-hee, who is believed to have died in 2004.

Since May, Young-hee has been praised as the “Respected Mother”, the “Great Mother” and “The Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, as can been seen in a film and photographs obtained by Asia Times Online this month from Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens’ group supporting ordinary North Koreans.

The idolization of Young-hee connects a missing link in the blood-heir’s succession over three generations from the country’s founding father Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and to Kim Jong-eun.


Ko Young-hee poses with her husband for a propaganda shot

Experts say the deification campaign is part of accelerated North Korean efforts to mythologize and legitimize its revolutionary tradition. Pyongyang’s official accounts claim this originated in the sacred Mt Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula and the birthplace, in propaganda accounts, of Kim Jong-il. (Soviet records show that he was actually born in a village in Russia’s Far East.)

The video of Ko does not mention an inconvenient truth – Young-hee was born in Japan – the brutal colonial ruler of Korea from 1910-1945. She was born in the famous Koreatown, Tsuruhashi, in Osaka, in 1952. Her father, Ko Kyung-taek, made Imperial Japanese Army soldiers’ uniforms in a sewing factory during World War II.

“North Korea needs to cover up the fact that Ko Young-hee was born and raised in Osaka,” said RENK spokesman Lee Young-hwa, adding that her family moved to North Korea only in the early 1960s as part of a repatriation program.


The video and photographs stress that Ko Young-hee had a strong relationship with the military.

Sound and vision
The rare 85 minutes of video footage and 93 photographs of Ko Young-hee for the first time reveal her vivid appearance and voice. In the video and photos, she accompanies Kim Jong-il to military camps, factories and farms. She is seen riding a white horse, following her husband on another white horse.

She inspects a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades with Kim Jong-il, with both wearing the same vintage Courreges sunglasses that became trademark apparel for her husband. They murmured words into each other’s ears and smiled. The video shows a very happily married couple.


This image of Ko Young-hee was likely inspired by the Korean song General on a Galloping White Horse.

In one scene, she visits a barrack and expresses concern about soldiers’ daily lives. She tastes a soldier’s home-made donut, then teaches them how to cook a potato-based donut. In the following days, she sends them sugar and cooking oils.

The movie aims to conjure an image of the “Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, which is the video’s title. The movie uses emotional female narration and a rousing musical score in the classic North Korean style of propaganda.

She is also seen holding a gun, suggesting a strong wife who always protects her husband. This was echoed scenes of Kim Jong-suk, or Kim Il-sung’s first wife and Kim Jong-il’s mother, who was a guerilla and communist politician. The images also showed Ko met many dignitaries abroad, stressing her precious role as the first lady.


Ko Young-hee pictured with an unknown foreigner.

The attempts to establish Ko’s authority also stress the Kim dynasty’s heroic family lineage, which stretches back to Jong-eun’s grandfather’s partisan guerilla activities against Japan in the 1930s.

After Ko’s family moving back to North Korea in the early 1960s, she worked as a dancer for the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang, where she met Kim Jong-il. She is believed to have died in Paris due to breast cancer in 2004, which the video also does not mention.


Ko Young-hee pictured with a young Kim Jong-eun.

By sanctifying the late Ko, Kim Jong-eun is trying to underscore his authority as the North’s new leader. The efforts also come as the “young general” has been repeatedly seen with a woman who is believed to Hyon Song-wol, a former singer in a popular group called Bochonbo Electronic Music Band.

However, making it tricky for propagandists there are no photos or scenes of Jong-eun with his parents. RENK’s Lee points out that this was because Kim Jong-eun was studying in Switzerland from 1996 to 2002 when the video was made. In contrast, North Korea has shown many photos of Kim Jong-il with his parents, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk.

An ugly truth
It is widely known among Japanese experts on North Korea that Ko Young-hee’s father moved from Cheju Island to Japan in 1929. He worked for Hirota Hokojo, a needlework factory under the control of the Imperial Army of Japan. This means Jong-eun’s grandfather was a collaborator with the Japanese imperialists. This can never be revealed by Pyongyang as it might shock the population.

In addition, Young-hee’s younger sister, Ko Young-suk, and her family defected to the United Sates in 1998 in the middle of the nation’s “great famine”, in which millions of people died of starvation. This makes Kim Jong-eun’s aunt a national traitor. According to the South Korean media, Kim Jong-eun himself has given orders to execute any defectors by a firing squad and their families expelled to internal exile.

Sanctifying Young-hee may provide indirect support for her son, but it is a risky ploy. Information on her birth and family may trickle out to the isolationist country, damaging his legitimacy as national leader. Ko Young-hee’s background continues to be one of Kim Jong-eun’s – as well as North Korea’s – dangerously weak spots.

Original Article

In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

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In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.

Kim Kyeong-il, using cellphone, is president of a support group for North Korean-born students at Yonsei University in Seoul.

But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.

“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.

Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.

The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.

“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.” Continue reading

In the News – Insight: A secret plea for money from a mountain in North Korea

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In the News – Insight: A secret plea for money from a mountain in North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – In May this year, a North Korean defector in her 40s took a call from an unknown number at her office in the South Korean capital Seoul.

It was from her brother, who she had not seen for more than a decade, calling illegally from North Korea after tracking her down.

He was speaking from a remote mountainside near the border with China, and was in dire need of money to help treat another sister’s late stage cancer, she said.

Accompanied by a Chinese broker, the brother had spent five hours climbing up the mountain, avoiding North Korean security and desperately searching for a signal on a Chinese mobile telephone. Contact with anyone in the South is punishable by death in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated states.

The broker was part of a growing group of people, mostly Chinese of Korean descent, who use ties on both sides of the border to funnel money to the North, an illegal and highly dangerous operation.

At first, the defector in the South suspected a trick and demanded the caller answer a question that only her brother could know the answer to.

“I asked him to tell me the name of the train station where we were separated. I am now 40 and we were separated when I was 26,” she said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals against her family. “Then he said he needed money.”

Next morning, she wired 15,000 yuan ($2,400) to the broker’s account at a bank in China, near the border. His wife confirmed receipt of the funds, informed her husband, and the defector’s brother got money in North Korea, a state where the average income is estimated at just $1,200 a year.

Brokers typically charge up to 30 percent fees for such transactions, but by and large, they work well.

“I heard it only took 15 minutes for my brother to get the money (after funds were wired),” said the defector, who is officially listed as dead in North Korea. “Two days later, my brother called me back saying ‘Thank you. We will spend your money wisely’.”

The woman is one of the 23,000 defectors living in South Korea, with which the North remains technically at war after an armistice ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. Continue reading

In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

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In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist held in China for allegedly helping North Korean defectors there is likely to be released soon following months of pressure from Seoul and civic groups, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.

The release of Kim Young-hwan, a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, is likely to come before or after the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu to Seoul later this week, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Kim, 49, was one of four South Korean activists arrested in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on March 29. The group is accused of endangering China’s national security, a serious charge that carries heavy punishment, but no further details have been made available, according to officials in Seoul.

It is believed the detentions are related to the activists’ efforts to help North Korea defectors hiding in China and improve the North’s human rights conditions and other activities Pyongyang considers an affront to its totalitarian regime.

“It is common sense to expect (China) to resolve the case of Kim Young-hwan before Minister Meng’s visit to Seoul,” the source said. “If Kim is indicted and his activities become known, this could create a stir, so China is likely to release him first and then deport him.”

Meng is scheduled to arrive in Seoul Thursday for a three-day visit, during which he will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan among other officials, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

China is a key ally of North Korea and typically repatriates North Korean defectors caught within its borders. Activists and lawmakers in South Korea and other countries have recently stepped up pressure on Beijing to stop the forced repatriation, and release the South Korean detainees.

A senior ministry official said the government has not been informed of an exact timing for their release, although it continues to be in talks with Beijing.

“There are often ‘gifts’ during a high-level visit from China, and I understand that the recent atmosphere in China (regarding the issue) isn’t bad,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kim, the activist, is a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance. He met with the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung in 1991 after sneaking into the North via a North Korean submersible.

However, he later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the dismal human rights record in North Korea.

Original Article

Escape Art and Propaganda: Part I

In all of the novels that I have read about dystopias, art and literature always suffer a blow in some way. So, having grown up in a post-Cold War society that has taught me to associate its remnants with the dystopias of the literature required for a trimester of high school English, I wondered in what ways art and literature may be restrained in North Korea. Looking for signs of self-expression, I came across the artist Song Byeok, a former propaganda artist who defected from North Korea and continues to produce art in South Korea. In Paul Ferguson’s CNN article on the success of Song’s exhibition this past winter, I learned that, despite being a full member of the communist party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Song Byeok also suffered from the food shortages and famines of the late twentieth century, which forced him to cross the Tumen River in search of food in China. In need of food, he and his father attempted to cross the river together. Unfortunately, his father drowned in the act. Though a devoted party member who openly praised the North Korean people and culture as superior, Song still faced confinement in a North Korean detention center after authorities caught him searching the river for his father’s body. Not receiving understanding from those who had captured him after the death of his father, Song decided to defect. Continue reading

In the News – S.Korean Activist Arrested in Vietnam for Helping N.Korean Refugees

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In the News – S.Korean Activist Arrested in Vietnam for Helping N.Korean Refugees

Vietnamese police have arrested a South Korean activist for helping North Korean refugees enter the South via the Southeast Asian nation.

The South Korean Consulate in Ho Chi Minh city said the 51-year-old man, identified only by his family name Yu, was detained last week along with a group of refugees from the North at a hotel in the southern city.

Yu was expelled from the country eight years ago for attempting to help about 400 North Korean refugees reach the South. The activist had reportedly also helped defectors pass through other countries, including Laos.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

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In the News – Activist-turned-lawmaker under fire for allegedly calling N.K. defectors ‘traitors’

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) — A ruling party lawmaker demanded Monday that one of South Korea’s best-known former pro-unification activists and now an opposition lawmaker offer a sincere apology again for insulting him and North Korean defectors as “traitors.”

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party hurled the insult and other abusive remarks during an impromptu meeting with a defector-turned-college student at a bar on Friday, according to a Facebook posting by the student, Baek Yo-sep.

Lim, a former pro-North Korea student activist, became widely known after making an unauthorized trip to the communist nation in 1989 and meeting with then leader Kim Il-sung, the North’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang called her the “flower of unification” at the time.

She entered parliament as a proportional candidate of the DUP in April’s general elections.

Rep. Lim Su-kyung of the main opposition Democratic United Party. (Yonhap)

Baek quoted Lim as denouncing North Korean defectors as traitors and having “no roots.” She also vilified Rep. Ha Tae-kyung of the ruling Saenuri Party, who had once worked with Lim in the 1980s, as a traitor for his conversion to an anti-Pyongyang activist, Baek said.

Lim was also quoted as saying she will “kill the traitor (Ha) with my hands.”

Baek said Lim became abruptly upset following a joke he cracked to her after some Lim aides had Baek’s photos taken with Lim deleted from his phone. After Lim denied she ordered the deletion, Baek said he joked that in North Korea, doing something at will without instruction from the supreme leader carries a “death by shooting” punishment.

Baek said Lim denounced him for working with Ha to improve the North’s human rights situation.

As the traitor remarks drew strong criticism, Lim offered an apology Sunday, claiming in a statement that she was referring to only Ha as a traitor for joining the conservative ruling party, and that she never meant to describe defectors as such.

On Monday, Ha accused Lim of lying and demanded she sincerely apologize again.

“Rep. Lim holds hostility toward North Korean defectors and thinks of defectors as traitors,” Ha said. “But she said in the statement that she never called North Korean defectors traitors, but she said I am a traitor just because I joined the Saenuri Party, not because I engaged in a human rights movement helping defectors.”

But the acting chief of Lim’s party said he trusts the sincerity of her statement of apology.

“As we trust Rep. Lim’s heartfelt apology, repentance and clarification, there is no measure the party plans to take,” said Rep. Park Jie-won, the interim head of the DUP. “Rep. Lim holds respect for North Korean defectors and has an attitude of working for them.”

Park said, however, the party will instruct lawmakers to be more careful about what they say.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

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In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

For North Korean refugees, the journey to freedom can be physically grueling. Many swim across a river into China and then travel undercover, avoiding authorities before they reach Southeast Asia and head to South Korea.  Imagine making the trip with only one foot and one hand.

Every week, Ji Seong-ho holds a silent demonstration against North Korea. He is one of the 23,000 defectors in South Korea who have fled the repressive Pyongyang government.

Ji’s journey south was more challenging than most. During the famine of the mid-1990s, when Ji was 14, he suffered a terrible accident.

“I was helping my parents make a living by stealing coal off trains and selling it in the market. I got dizzy once and I ended up falling off a moving train. It ran me over,” Ji explains.

He lost his left hand and foot.

Eventually, Ji crossed into China to find food. But on the way back, he was caught by North Korean guards.

“The police severely beat me for a week, maybe more than other escapees. They told me that because I am disabled I brought shame to North Korea and that someone with only one leg should stay home,” Ji recalls. “That is when I lost my trust in the North Korean government.”

In 2006, Ji escaped again and made it to South Korea, where he was given a prosthetic foot and hand.

Many refugees arrive with traumatic injuries that leave them emotionally impaired. Kion Won-hyoung is a psychologist at a government resettlement facility for defectors.

“Because of their experience, many refugees are afraid of even the security guards at the facility,” explains Kion. “They have nightmares about being tortured in North Korea, or being chased by animals.”

Ji Seong-ho is now a law student. He says he had never imagined how much easier life is for the disabled in South Korea.

“I don’t feel any discrimination toward disabled people in South Korea,” Ji says.”I think that’s because of its democracy and good education. I really feel it’s like heaven here.”

Ji says he is waiting for the Koreas to be unified. He says that’s when he will finally be able to step back onto his homeland.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China allows N. Koreans to leave for Seoul: reports

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In the News – China allows N. Koreans to leave for Seoul: reports

Seoul, May 18, 2012 (AFP) – China has allowed six North Korean refugees to leave for South Korea after they spent months holed up in Seoul’s consular offices in China, news reports said Friday.

Following their departure last week there are no more North Koreans left at South Korean diplomatic missions in China, the Korea JoongAng Daily and the Seoul Shinmun Daily said.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to comment.

Beijing allowed the six defectors, who had been holed up at the South Korean missions in Shenyang and Shanghai for many months, to travel to the South through a third country, the dailies said, quoting sources.

China’s decision to let the defectors leave was apparently made as a goodwill gesture before a meeting between South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and Chinese President Hu Jintao, the Korea JoongAng Daily said.

Lee met Hu on Monday in Beijing following an annual trilateral summit with China and Japan.

The six included two relatives of a South Korean prisoner of war, captured by the North during the 1950-53 Korean War. Of the remaining four, two were identified as men and two as women, the reports said.

China last month reportedly allowed another five North Korean defectors to leave for South Korea after they were confined to Seoul’s Beijing embassy to avoid arrest. Some spent months there but others spent years.

China arrests and repatriates fugitives from North Korea, considering them to be economic migrants rather than potential refugees.

South Korea and international rights groups have urged it to change the policy, saying returnees can face harsh punishment.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty or repression in their homeland, almost all of them across the border to China.

Some hide out among — or marry into — the ethnic Korean community in China’s northeast. Others try to travel on to Southeast Asian nations before flying to Seoul.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N. Korean defectors fall prey to financial pyramid scams

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In the News – N. Korean defectors fall prey to financial pyramid scams

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) — The National Police Agency (NPA) on Friday alerted North Korean defectors to the dangers of financial pyramid scams touting investment in Chinese real estate.

The alert was issued after several tens of defectors from the North fell for the fraud after being lured to invest large sums of money in China’s property development projects for huge, quick profits, the NPA said.

In a typical case, the defectors were told to invest 30 million won (US$25,570) in Chinese real estate and receive 3 million won in dividends after a month. They were also asked to recruit new investors for additional allowance payments, said the NPA.

The agency noted that the defectors failing to attract at least 10 new investors were forced to forfeit their initial investments.

The South Korean government provides each defector with a subsidy of 6 million won in cash in an effort to help them better assimilate, while they can also receive up to 13 million won to finance their housing.

The scammers mobilized various methods to deceive the defector investors, including on-the-spot tours and the introduction of fake success stories, and refused to draw up contract papers, citing China’s domestic laws regulating foreign property investments.

The NPA said it has sent warning text messages to North Korean defectors here and will continue to educate them about various financial scams.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China Starts 5-Month Crackdown on N.Korean Defectors

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In the News – China Starts 5-Month Crackdown on N.Korean Defectors 

Chinese security forces launched a massive crackdown on North Korean defectors in Jilin Province’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on May 15.

Chinese officials say the crackdown is part of a nationwide bust of illegal aliens, but there are suspicions that the drive specifically targets North Korean defectors hiding out in northeastern China as well as South Korean activists and religious organizations who are helping them.

Beijing in March arrested South Korean activist Kim Young-hwan (49) on the vague charge of threatening national security.

Security forces in Yanbian told reporters the crackdown will continue until October and aims to wipe out all the places where North Korans hide, Chinese media reported on Thursday. “Due to its proximity to the border [with North Korea], Yanbian has been the scene of illegal border crossings and other crimes,” said Yanbian immigration chief Li Yong-xue. “If we find illegal immigrants or foreigners without proper documentation, we will investigate immediately.”

He also pledged to “root out activities by foreign NGOs or religious activists that violate laws or have a negative impact on national security and social stability.”

North Korean defectors caught in Yanbian or neighboring areas are expected to be arrested and sent back to the North, while South Koreans who help them worry about criminal investigation and deportation.

Around 10,000-15,000 defectors and other illegal migrants from the North are believed to be living in Yanbian. Some 10,000 South Koreans live there as well. “State security agents already informed Korean residents groups there that they will boost screening of immigration and residency requirements,” said one South Korean businessman in Yanbian. “North Korean defectors here are going into hiding.”

 

Original article can be found here.

Intimacy in North Korea

Last summer I spent two weeks as an English language partner to North Korean defector middle and high school students in a small town on the outskirts of Seoul. After four years, I found myself once again immersed in the complex jungle of teenage angst, hormones, and emotions. Well, I know from my university experience that those unpredictable attitudes and moods don’t necessarily go away when you get older and that everyone manages to overcome his inner-teenager individually. But, I remember that while we did our best to think about what kind of activities would be both fun and advantageous to our seventeen through twenty-year-old students, at least one person would say something along the lines of our need to understand that these students weren’t just defectors preparing for new lives in South Korea; they were also hormonally driven teenagers on the brink of young love, experiencing their first infatuations, and learning the art of flirtation. I did not notice too many hormonal imbalances erupting before my eyes, but what about attraction and relationships in North Korea? To go even further, what about sex in North Korea?

“A North Korean couple has a picnic along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

Notorious for a reputation of severe control and discipline, to what extent does the North Korean regime play a role in sexual intimacy? According to Radio Free Asia, the simple answer is that “when it comes to the privacy of the bedroom, even the all-powerful North Korean Workers’ Party is largely hands-off” (Love and Sex in North Korea). Continue reading