North Korea’s International University

A trail of thirtyish couples with coffees in hand floated on the streets this morning, like wood planks and barrels from a wreck at sea. Gradually their density increased as I approached a hulking shape looming through the fog, which turned out to be an elementary school releasing parents with free coffees as they returned to their now-childless homes.

It’s back-to-school season in America.

North and South Korea both operate on different school calendars; for them, the school year begins in spring. When I taught English in South Korea, the school year ended in December and started again in early March. North Korean schools start about a month later at the beginning of April.

The difference is probably hard to imagine for most Americans; it conflicts with our whole concept of summer as a time of vacation, of idleness and play, of long days to fill with things other than school.

But for all the difference, going back to school is pretty much the same in spirit everywhere. Kids still have that anxious, excited energy to them and haven’t yet rediscovered the boredom of regular school days. And parents still want to take photos with their darlings before leaving them.

Parents take photos with their children on the first day of school at Pyongyang Middle School No. 1 on April 2, 2012. (Photo credit AP Photo / Jon Chol Jin). 

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On My Way to See You

There is a new show on Korea’s Channel A called “On My Way to See You”. The show invites female North Korean refugees to talk about the experiences they had as teenagers and young adults in the North. Some of the ladies were performers at North Korea’s national performing arts group in Pyongyang, while others had less privileged lives and witnessed their family members’ deaths to diseases that modern technology could have easily prevent. Kim Jieun, from Youngwon, Pyeongannamdo, had a particularly heartbreaking story about her grandmother.

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In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

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In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

(ATTN: UPDATES with PM’s comments on military pact with Japan at last 5 paras)
SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s prime minister said Thursday it is too early to judge whether North Korea will move toward reform and openness, despite Pyongyang’s recent embrace of American cultural icons.

North Korea’s state media showed Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh taking the stage during a concert for new leader Kim Jong-un earlier this month, a rare move by the isolated nation that has tried to keep a tight lid on American culture.

Performers danced while clips of Disney movies such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White” and “Dumbo” played on a paneled backdrop for the show in Pyongyang.

Kim has also made a spate of inspection tours that are closely related to his people’s livelihoods in recent months, including an amusement park, a zoo and shops.

Yoo Ki-june, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, said Kim’s moves could be a message to the United States and China that he is interested in embracing reform and openness.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the North’s new leader has displayed moves unseen in the North in the past.

“Still, it’s too early to judge whether there will be a substantial change and whether (North Korea) will move toward reform and openness,” Kim said in a parliamentary session.

Kim said South Korea is making efforts to ensure the North abandons its nuclear weapons program and moves toward reform and openness. Kim also said China and the international community could play a role in nudging North Korea toward such openness.

Last year, Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader, toured major economic facilities in China, triggering speculation that the senior Kim was interested in following in Chinese footsteps.

China has been trying to coax its impoverished ally to embrace reforms similar to those that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing become the world’s second-largest economy.

North Korea ruled out any policy changes following the December death of long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

Separately, Prime Minister Kim also said that a controversial military pact with Japan should not be repealed despite public criticism for cooperating with the former colonial ruler.

The South Korean Cabinet approved the pact behind closed doors, drawing public anger and harsh bipartisan opposition from the National Assembly. The resistance eventually forced the government to delay the signing of the deal with Tokyo at the last minute.

“If we inform people of the precise content of the military pact, they will think it is helpful and necessary for the national interest,” Kim said, while saying “No” to a demand by an opposition lawmaker that the government scrap the accord.

Earlier Kim and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan offered an apology for not informing the National Assembly of the agreement, but the main opposition Democratic United Party called for the dismissal of the prime minister over the government’s mishandling of the agreement.

“I’m not clinging to my post but I think it’s not appropriate for a prime minister or foreign minister to step down at this moment,” Prime Minister Kim said.

Original Article

In the News – North Korea: A Westerner’s Look in Forbidden Pyongyang

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In the News – North Korea: A Westerner’s Look in Forbidden Pyongyang


A member of Greek Reporter.com shows us what very few Westerners have the opportunity to see in their lifetime. After spending a full month in the Asian country where visitors are very rarely allowed, we have decided to share what we experienced.

North Korea is a country where appearances can be deceiving; where contradictory forces are always clashing with each other. It is a rather ‘tough’ country with its secrets kept away safe – although no one really knows what these secrets are.

Before arriving in the country, I had already read books about North Korea and spent many hours on YouTube watching the forbidden videos shot by those few who had already been there. It all looked kind of scary! I was expecting to visit a country, where the people would  act like robots; where children would never play but rather cite from their leaders’ work and march to the beat of revolutionary songs. When I came to North Korea I did come across a paranoid and simultaneously claustrophobic system, but the robots were nowhere to be found.

Even if the capital city is used as a key part of the official propaganda of the state, I should admit that it is a very beautiful place. It’s a city where architecture serves politics in the most absolute way. Huge but strictly defined squares, cubic buildings, massive structures, where individualism disappears before collectivism – as this is comprehended by the ruling class.

Can individualism really grow in such an environment? I would say that even the weirdest regimes in the world cannot halt the social dynamics shaping the tolerance and the intolerance of people. These dynamics must never be underestimated because they form the grey zones absorbing tensions and allowing regimes to survive.

Walking around Pyongyang, you will not see westernized stores. No cafés, no bars… The division of labor is strict and the citizens are responsible for particular duties and jobs. You will see people cleaning the public areas with reverence, watering the trees on the pavements, pulling the grass from the flowerbeds on the streets. Among those people someone will be supervising, while at the same time someone else will supervise the supervisor. The secret is not to know who is being supervised by whom.

Following the same logic, the rules concerning the traffic of the few vehicles and many bicycles are always changing. One day you are allowed to cross the road, and the next you’ll be forced to get off your bike and go back by the wild whistling of the traffic policeman. The secret here is that you will never know what exactly you are allowed to do or not, so that fear can have a stronger grip on you…
This is like Orwell’s 1984 has been alarmingly brought to life (for those who have read it, you know exactly what I mean). Yet, since life is not a book, there are some grey zones in Pyongyang too.

Moving to Pyongyang’s west bank and the image is changing. Sunday afternoon and long queues are formed outside the public pubs where beer and cigars are sold. Full of men and women, these pubs are a meeting point to discuss and chat through a glass of Taedong beer. For the ones not favoring beer, tea and sorbets await them and their families outside the North Korean cafés made of cement. Nearby, women are drying their hair in the ancient hairdryers of a public hairdresser. Some children with plastic skaters are running up and down the park, while teenagers play basketball in the many small courts.

However, what North Koreans really like doing on Sundays is boat riding. Children with their parents, teenagers and couples are all waiting in line to take one of the rusted boats and enjoy a romantic or peaceful ride down the river. Young women all dressed up and holding umbrellas against the sun are sitting next to men wearing khaki uniforms and patiently rowing to impress their sweethearts. All across the bank elderly people are playing cards, eating and looking around them. If the above sounds too good to be true, I can assure you this is the honest truth. Well, it is surely one of the many truths dwelling in this country.

Because next to the pretty ladies with their umbrellas and the fat babies nabbing on their sorbets, you can also see dozens of poorly nourished laborers working non-stop to build, mend and clean the huge, empty buildings downtown. Close enough you can see the charcoal blackened faces of little children, the dilapidated window shields from the apartments of the people, the containers of water, which is steadily becoming harder to access, and the broken tiles of the pavements… If you take a closer look you may even see and the not so beautiful women, whose darkened, coarse skin and their premature wrinkles tell a different story…

In the end, everyone can choose the truth that suits them!

Original Article 

Interview with Andy (March 20th, 2012) on his August 2011 visit (10 days long)

On a sunny afternoon, I sat down with Andy. I met Andy during my visit to London over spring break, when I was visiting my sister who works for a consulting company. Andy recently graduated from Oxford University, where he studied Politics, and he recently started working with my sister at a consulting firm based in London. When I first met him Andy struck me as a well-travelled person; the type of guy who would mention a new place he visited every time you strike up a conversation with him. But one of the most interesting places that he had been to recently included Pyongyang. For 10 days last summer (August 2011), Andy travelled to North Korea with a group of other tourists. I had actually never met anyone who had been to North Korea for pure tourism purposes. I was curious to hear about his perspective on the country, and also his experiences during the trip.   Continue reading

Visiting North Korea during the Era of Kim Jong Un

In recent news, North Korea has prepared to launch a satellite into space. However, this move has been met with much antagonism by the United States because it seems to defy the motions of the United Nations should the satellite be a move to test missile technology that would one day send threats of nuclear warfare. The BBC’s broadcaster, Damian Grammaticas, who is based in Beijing, China, gained permission to enter North Korea at the time of this controversy, symbolic of the transparency with which the North Korean authorities intended to launch the satellite. In his BBC article, Grammaticas relates that the North Korean authorities wanted to launch the satellite in commemoration of the hundredth birthday of Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Throughout his article, “Exploring North Korea’s Contradictions,” Grammaticas describes his impressions of the North Korean landscape. Visiting the countryside outside of Pyongyang, Grammaticas emphasizes the emptiness of the roads and the bleakness of the empty shop windows as he exits the city. Of the city itself, Grammaticas relays, “Being here, in the world’s last Stalinist state, feels like being transported back in time. North Korea often looks like a place marooned, a survivor from an age when Soviet republics, with their strongmen rulers, were common.” He then continues the article with a explanation of the preparation Pyongyang’s people made for the celebrations that would enliven the next few days – city repairs were made, flowers were assembled, roadsides were cleaned, images of Kim Il Sung were hung throughout the city, plans for the launch of the satellite were being settled. Continue reading

In the News – Kim Jong Un Bashes ‘Pathetic’ North Korea Fun Park

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In the News – Kim Jong Un Bashes ‘Pathetic’ North Korea Fun Park

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un publicly rebuked officials for the “pathetic” management of an amusement park in Pyongyang in an effort to bolster his image five months after taking power in the totalitarian state.

Kim toured the Mangyongdae Funfair in the capital and pointed out a broken pavement and chipped paint on rides while plucking weeds, the official Korean Central New Agency said yesterday. Improving the facility should be “an opportunity to remove outdated ideological views from officials’ heads and end their old work-style,” KCNA quoted him as saying.

Kim, believed to be under 30, became head of the country after his father Kim Jong Il died in December, inheriting an economy isolated through global sanctions and wracked by malnutrition. His condemnation of the conditions at the amusement park may be the latest effort to shore up his power base by reinforcing an image as an engaged leader, said analysts including Park Young Ho.

“This is Kim’s blatant effort to appeal to the public as a young leader thoroughly engaged in improving the people’s economic lives,” said Park, of the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “The strong words he uses to censure the officials show just how desperately he’s trying to gather public support.” Continue reading

In the News – ‘North Korea may have aborted launch’

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In the News – ‘North Korea may have aborted launch’

By Kim Young-jin

North Korea may have intentionally crashed its long-range Unha-3 rocket last month due to problems in staging, a U.S. missile expert said Monday.

David Wright, a senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, put forward the possibility among a range of scenarios in an analysis of the failed April 13 launch that sent regional tensions soaring.

The rocket failed shortly after liftoff, dealing an embarrassing blow to the fledgling regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command said the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 kilometers west of Seoul, some 300 kilometers from the launch site. Local reports estimated the splashdown occurred closer to 400 kilometers from the site.

“North Korea reportedly announced prior to the launch that the rocket was equipped with a flight termination system that would allow operators to shut down the engines manually if the ground station detected a problem,” Wright wrote on 38 North, a website focused on North Korean affairs.

“It is possible that if, as some sources have suggested, the first stage burned to completion but there was a problem with staging, that the North may have aborted the flight at that point.

“For example, if the launcher was seen to be deviating from the intended trajectory, it is possible that it was destroyed intentionally.”

The move earned the North a U.N. Security Council statement that expanded sanctions on the cash-strapped country. Tensions remain high as Pyongyang has reportedly made some preparations to carry out a third nuclear test.

The expert said that based on open source information it remains impossible to determine the exact cause of the failure and that more data on possible irregularities in the flight path and operation of the engines would shed light on whether the flight was aborted.

If splashdown occurred at 300 kilometers, analysts say the failure likely occurred during the operation of the first stage, before staging took place.

The expert said a splashdown at 400 kilometers would raise another possibility.

“That would suggest that the first stage worked essentially as intended, but that ignition and separation of the second stage did not occur properly so that it fell with the first stage into the sea at this location,” he said, adding portions of the rocket could also have landed at both places.

The North insists the launch was meant to put a satellite into orbit for science. But it was widely condemned as a ballistic missile test amid concerns that Pyongyang is working to build long-range missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

 

Original article can be found here.

North Korea’s Embarrassing Rocket Launch

If you’ve kept up with the news at all, you may know about North Korea’s recent failed rocket launch. I know it’s been in the news quite a lot but I thought I’d provide a simplified version of what happened.

This past March, North Korea and the United States entered negotiations once again. The United States offered to provide 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance if North Korea would “freeze its nuclear and missile tests, along with uranium enrichment programs, and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.” This was big step both for North Korea and the U.S. because it meant that the North would possibly be giving up its biggest weapon and it also meant that the United States would be sending food aid to the impoverished country for the first time since 2009. It was also the first time North Korea and the U.S. had official talks since Kim Jong Un came to power. Thus, these negotiations had a lot of meaning because it would have determined DPRK’s future relationship with the United States. Continue reading

In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

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In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

North Korea detains university students over a failed rocket launch.

North Korean students work on their computers at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, April 11, 2012.

Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.

North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a “provocative” move.

New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.

Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.

“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Continue reading

In the News – Survivor of N. Korean prison camp appeals for action on those left behind

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In the News – Survivor of N. Korean prison camp appeals for action on those left behind

PARIS, May 1 (Yonhap) — A North Korean defector who is the only known person to have escaped from a notorious political prison camp in the North has appealed for global action to prevent the ongoing tragedy of political prisoners in the isolated nation.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean concentration camp and escaped to freedom in 2005, gave a personal account of life there, saying inmates were subjected to torture, hard labor and arbitrary execution.

“Even now, it is not too late. We should prevent a massacre (in the North Korean prison camps),” the 31-year-old Shin told the audience at a lecture in Paris, warning that Holocaust-style slaughter could occur there any time if the outside world continues to turn a deaf ear to the testimony of defectors. Continue reading

In the News – Satellite photos show intense activity at N. Korea nuclear site

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In the News – Satellite photos show intense activity at N. Korea nuclear site

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Satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear test site shows “lots of activity” in preparation for another underground bomb test, analysts who have studied the aerial surveillance of the prohibited weapons site said Friday.

The 38 North website of the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies posted three satellite photos showing the progression of work at the blast site over the last seven weeks.

“We can tell there has been a lot of activity at the site. You can see vehicles moving around, objects being moved around. They’ve been digging a lot of dirt out of the tunnel,” said Joel Wit, a visiting scholar at the institute and editor of the website on North Korea. “But, at end of day, you can’t really tell whether it’s ready or not.”

Diplomatic and intelligence sources have been warning for weeks that a nuclear test — in defiance of international warnings to Pyongyang — appeared to be imminent. Continue reading

In the News – Defectors send anti-regime leaflets to N. Korea

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In the News – Defectors send anti-regime leaflets to N. Korea

PAJU, South Korea, April 28 (Yonhap) — About 40 North Korean defectors launched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the communist state Saturday, as the communist country stepped up its saber-rattling against the South.

The activists from the Fighters for Free North Korea group sent 10 large balloons carrying 200,000 leaflets from Imjingak pavilion in the northern border city of Paju about 50 kilometers northwest of Seoul.

Activists in the South have frequently sent propaganda leaflets across the border, condemning the autocratic North Korean regime and calling for an uprising against the leadership. The isolationist country is currently ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung.

Pyongyang has frequently threatened retaliation for the South’s anti-regime propaganda activities including the launching of leaflets, although no real actions have been taken place so far.

Recently, the North threatened military retaliation against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and those that have insulted the integrity of the communist regime.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Analysts Say North Korea Faked New Missiles

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In the News – Analysts Say North Korea Faked New Missiles
Rockets are carried by military vehicles during a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.

Two German analysts say ballistic missiles unveiled in a North Korean military parade earlier this month were clumsy fakes.

In a paper titled, “A Dog And Pony Show,” Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Germany’s Schmucker Technologie wrote that the six intercontinental ballistic missiles carried on mobile launchers in the April 15 parade were all bad mock-ups.

The paper said the missiles appeared to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together.  In addition, undulating casings on the missiles suggested the metal is too thin to withstand flight.  The two analysts said each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make, and they did not even fit the launchers that carried them.

Schiller and Schmucker said there is still no evidence that North Korea actually has a functional ICBM.

The large military parade, including nearly 900 pieces of military equipment, took place on April 15 to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – More N.Korean Workers to Earn Valuta for Kim Jong-un

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In the News – More N.Korean Workers to Earn Valuta for Kim Jong-un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently issued an order to send as many workers as possible abroad to earn hard currency, never mind the risk of defections, according to a South Korean government source.

This is a relatively unconventional position given that the North Korean regime has tried to limit the number of workers abroad to prevent “contamination” by foreign influences.

The source said North Korea has dispatched over 30,000 workers to some 40 countries around the world and plans to send out another 10,000 this year. “The reason is that sanctions by the international community have dried up North Korea’s sources of cash,” the source added. Continue reading

In the News – China Warns N.Korea Off Nuclear Test

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In the News – China Warns N.Korea Off Nuclear Test

A high-ranking official in China’s Foreign Ministry has issued a rare public warning to North Korea against another nuclear test, saying it would violate China’s national interest. The comments were made by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai to reporters at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

“I am opposed to any act that damages peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, since such acts can damage the national security and interests of not only other countries but China’s as well,” Cui said. “No side should commit acts that raise tensions.”

This is the first time for China to comment publicly on the North’s nuclear development since the possibility of Pyongyang conducting a third nuclear test was raised.

But Cui resisted U.S. demands that China step up pressure on North Korea. “Maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is the joint responsibility of all of the concerned countries, not just China alone,” he said.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy U.S. Military in ‘Single Blow’

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In the News – N.Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy U.S. Military in ‘Single Blow’

North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks.

◆ N.Korea’s Provocations

North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong-ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark the North Korean army’s 80th anniversary. His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.

Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South. Continue reading

In the News – North Korea Parade From Space

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In the News – North Korea Parade From Space 

In North Korea, the choreography can be part of the geography.

The country is famous for organizing crowds of thousands of people using colored cards to spell out political slogans and images in stadiums or large squares, and the gathering last week to celebrate the 100th birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung was no different.

This time, however, the spelled out message in a central square in the capital of Pyongyang was big enough to be visible from space.

An April 15 image of a celebration taken by a satellite and distributed by DigitalGlobe shows people in red and gold clothing gathered in Kim Il Sung Square and spelling out the word “glory” in Korean.

The parade culminated with the unveiling of a new missile, although analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean rockets say they were fakes.

This April 15, 2012, satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows a parade held to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birthday Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe)

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – North Korea’s Missiles Displayed At Parade Are Fake, Say Analysts

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In the News – North Korea’s Missiles Displayed At Parade Are Fake, Say Analysts

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

TOKYO — Analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean missiles showcased recently at a lavish military parade say they were fakes, and not very convincing ones, casting further doubt on the country’s claims of military prowess.

Since its recent rocket launch failure, Pyongyang’s top military leaders have made several boastful statements about its weapons capabilities. On Wednesday, Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho claimed his country is capable of defeating the United States “at a single blow.” And on Monday, North Korea promised “special actions” that would reduce Seoul’s government to ashes within minutes.

But the weapons displayed April 15 appear to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. Undulating casings on the missiles suggest the metal is too thin to withstand flight. Each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make. They don’t even fit the launchers they were carried on.

“There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups,” Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany’s Schmucker Technologie, wrote in a paper posted recently on the website Armscontrolwonk.com that listed those discrepancies. “It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work.” Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea’s Neighbors Oppose New Nuclear Test

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In the News – N. Korea’s Neighbors Oppose New Nuclear Test

South Korea and China are warning North Korea of consequences if it goes ahead with a third nuclear test.

There is increasing speculation North Korea will attempt to conduct another nuclear test, perhaps within the next one or two weeks.

South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-je warns any such action will violate international sanctions and further isolate the impoverished country.

Cho says, as far as the South Korean government knows, there are no signs North Korea is about to conduct such a test. Continue reading