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 – Lee criticizes pro-N. Korea groups in S. Korea

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In the News – Lee criticizes pro-N. Korea groups in S. Korea

SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak on Monday urged “pro-North Korea” groups in South Korea to wake up to reality and stop blindly accepting nonsense assertions Pyongyang makes, calling their unconditional following of the communist regime “problematic.”

It was the first time Lee, who has tried to avoid ideological remarks, has openly criticized those sympathetic to North Korea by using the word, “jongbuk,” which means “blindly following the North.” Pro-Pyongyang followers are criticized as jongbuk forces in South Korea.

Lee made the criticism in his biweekly radio address, saying North Korea has made “wild assertions” denying its involvement in attacks on South Korea, including a 1983 terrorist bombing targeted at the then South Korean president in Myanmar and the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship.

“The North has repeatedly made such wild assertions, but what is more problematic are some pro-North Korea groups within our society,” Lee said. “Just as the international community is demanding the North change, those people who unconditionally support North Korea must change; they are, after all, living in the Republic of Korea that has joined the ranks of advanced countries.”

Criticism of pro-North Korean groups has risen sharply in South Korea in recent months after some lawmakers-elect of the leftist opposition Unified Progressive Party displayed strong leanings to the communist nation and reluctance to criticize the regime.

Earlier this month, Lee visited Myanmar as the first South Korean president to visit the country in 29 years since the North’s 1983 terrorist bombing ripped through a Yangon mausoleum. The attack killed 17 South Koreans, including some Cabinet ministers.

Lee visited the mausoleum during this month’s trip.

“What wrong did they do and to whom? They were the victims of the division of the country and a ruthless terrorist attack. I could not hold back my anger thinking about who took their lives. I felt all choked up,” he said in the radio address.

Lee praised Myanmar for opening up to the outside world with sweeping democratic reforms, saying he hopes the North will follow in Myanmar’s footsteps, “change its thinking, make new friends and open a new age.”

South Korea and Myanmar can become good business partners, Lee said.

“It is significant for Korea to have another big market the size of Vietnam in the region,” he said. “Our country can be assured of the abundant resources of Myanmar and actually invest in it. If our two nations consult and make thorough preparations this year, Korean businesses can make inroads in earnest, beginning next year.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Rising Instability Fuels North Korean Rhetoric

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In the News – Rising Instability Fuels North Korean Rhetoric

SEOUL—North Korea’s increasingly inflammatory criticism against South Korea is a sign of instability in its authoritarian regime and doesn’t appear likely to end soon, the South’s top official in charge of dealing with the North said.

Since the death of Kim Jong Il in December, the North’s government has been trying to build support for his son Kim Jong Eun and resorted to greater extremes of rhetoric in the process, Yu Woo-ik, South Korea’s Minister of Unification, said in a recent interview.

“The reason why North Koreans criticize South Korea ever more strongly, we believe, is an expression of anxiety,” Mr. Yu said.

He noted that the younger Mr. Kim has begun reshaping the North’s government and, in an environment where jobs are on the line, people and organizations are jockeying for power by showing loyalty to him—and one way to do that is to criticize the South.

The period has also opened an opportunity for China, North Korea’s political ally and economic benefactor, to wield more influence on the regime, said Mr. Yu, who was South Korea’s ambassador to China until taking his current post last September.

0524yuwooik

Reuters

“If China thinks more progressively, it will be more effective in bringing change to North Korea,” he said. “We believe this is the right time to go in that direction.” Continue reading

In the News – Experts forecast imminenet provocations by Kim Jong-un

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In the News – Experts forecast imminenet provocations by Kim Jong-un

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is likely to keep tensions with South Korea high and continue provocations against the South to help consolidate his power, experts in Seoul forecast Thursday.

Kim would also be very reluctant to pursue reform or open his isolated country out of fear such steps could lead to the collapse of his regime, Koo Bon-hak, a professor of Hallym University Graduate School of International Studies, said at a Seoul forum.

Kim has made frequent inspection trips to military units in an apparent attempt to bolster his support from the military since he took over the country following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

“Instead of relying on the United States, South Korea should try to secure independent deterrence against North Korea” to cope with the North’s provocations, Koo said at the forum on the North Korean situation, organized by the private Sejong Institute think tank.

The U.S. keeps about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help deter North Korea’s possible aggression. South Korea has strengthened its defense posture following the North’s two deadly attacks on the South in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.

Koo also said South Korea should strengthen ties with China, North Korea’s key ally and economic benefactor, to help Beijing nudge the North to pursue reform and openness.

China has repeatedly tried to coax its impoverished neighbor to follow in its footsteps in embracing reform similar to that which lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing’s rise to become the world’s second-largest economy. Continue reading