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 – NK human rights advocacy ‘turns corner’: activist

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In the News – NK human rights advocacy ‘turns corner’: activist

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, June 1 (Yonhap) — The international community needs to maintain momentum in its efforts to address North Korea’s human rights violations, a U.S.-based activist said Friday.

“We have turned a corner in North Korea human rights advocacy,” Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said in an emailed letter. “We are no longer debating its importance as we have for so many years. It is on the agenda now.”

She was describing the results of the annual North Korea Freedom Week event in Seoul to raise public awareness on the urgency of tackling human rights abuses in the communist country.

Scholte is known for more than a decade of work to publicize North Korean human rights issues.

She won the Seoul Peace Prize in 2008.

“We have seen governments finally making human rights as equal a concern as the security issues,” she said.

South Korea’s conservative government of Lee Myung-bak has openly voiced concerns about the matter, even the fate of North Korean defectors in China, bearing the brunt of subtle diplomatic tension with a key trade partner.

The Barack Obama administration has also constantly talked about its interest in the well-being of North Koreans.

Scholte noted a growing number of North Korean people are fleeing their homeland in pursuit of freedom, not just to escape hunger.

She attributed the trend to access to foreign news and culture through DVDs, mobile phones and other technology.

Citing testimony from North Korean defectors, she said USB flash drives(thumb-size data storage devices) are perhaps the best tool since they are easier to hide and carry.

“The dramatic changes inside North Korea occurring over the past decade, especially the information explosion that has hit there and the market explosion with people no longer dependent on the regime to survive, makes North Korea vastly different today than the last transition in 1994 when Kim Jong-il assumed power,” she said.

Kim’s son, Jong-un, became North Korea’s new leader after his death in December.

There are no specific signs yet of social or political upheaval stemming from the recent leadership change.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – West Sea Becomes New Arena for Big-Power Rivalry

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In the News – West Sea Becomes New Arena for Big-Power Rivalry

The West Sea is turning into a new arena of competition between the U.S., China and Japan. China plans to launch its first aircraft carrier in August, while Japan is mulling the deployment of Aegis destroyers near the West Sea. The U.S. is willing to dispatch its own aircraft carriers to the West Sea at any time if necessary.

The West Sea drew international attention following the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010. Eight months later North Korea shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in the same waters. China fiercely protested when the U.S. dispatched the aircraft carrier George Washington to the West Sea to discourage further provocations from North Korea.

Japan’s Defense Ministry is mulling the deployment of Aegis destroyers to waters near the West Sea under the pretext of detecting North Korean missile launches. Experts suspect this is really a creeping expansion of the Japanese military’s range. “This appears to be a highly political move aimed at keeping China in check,” said a high-ranking government official here. The West Sea is a sort of gateway to China, so any moves to dispatch warships to waters nearby draw strong protests from Beijing.

◆ Extension of Naval Disputes

The U.S., China and Japan are vying for control of the East China and South China seas, and the West Sea looks increasingly like an extension of this power struggle. China is pursuing a policy of naval superiority powered by its newfound economic might.

Beijing plans to broaden its area of naval operations to Guam, Indonesia and Saipan by 2020 forming what it calls an “island chain,” while flying its red flag on the seven seas by 2050.

Under this broad strategy, China took a hard line in a dispute with Japan in September of 2010 over the Diaoyu Islands, which the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands. China has also clashed diplomatically with ASEAN as well as the U.S. over the South China Sea. It has bolstered its arms spending by more than 10 percent every year and pursues an “anti-access” policy to waters near China.

In contrast, the U.S. views the West Sea as an area of joint operations with South Korea. In this situation, Tokyo’s moves to deploy Aegis destroyers to waters near the West Sea could heighten the possibility of disputes in the region, experts say.

◆ S.Korean Naval Base

While the U.S., China and Japan are engaged in a power struggle in the West Sea, the South Korean government is clashing with civic groups over plans to build a naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju as a forward base for operations. The government has pursued the base since the Roh Moo-hyun administration to protect southern ocean trade routes and respond more effectively with maritime disputes with China and Japan. But fierce opposition from a handful of civic groups caused a 13-month delay in construction.

Only 15 percent of construction has been completed so far. The Navy plans to complete the base by December 2015 and station troops currently based in Busan and Jinhae there for deployment on naval missions in case of a clash between China and Japan. Around 20 naval vessels are scheduled to be stationed at the base, but the project still faces many obstacles.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

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In the News – Controversy Follows Comments on Military Operations in N.Korea

Earlier this week, a U.S. Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley stirred controversy this week with comments about American and South Korean military operations in North Korea. On Wednesday, General Tolley said he had been unclear in his comments about possible U.S. operations, and said that “at no time have we sent special operations forces into North Korea.”

There are concerns about the ramifications of what the leader of the U.S. special operations command in South Korea said at a panel discussion in Tampa, Florida, on May 22.

Brigadier General Neil Tolley, to an audience of hundreds of people at the Special Operations Forces Industry conference, discussed the challenges the United States faces determining what is inside North Korea’s many secret tunnels.

Freelance combat reporter and technology writer David Axe was among those listening to the general.

“He was describing the utility of human intelligence on the ground in North Korea. He was describing it as though it were actually happening right now,” said Axe. “He since has walked that back to say that he was speaking hypothetically, although he didn’t say at the time he was speaking hypothetically.” Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea condemns U.S. human rights report

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In the News – N. Korea condemns U.S. human rights report

SEOUL, May 30 (Yonhap) — North Korea has lashed out at the United States for its recent annual report critical of Pyongyang’s dismal human rights conditions, calling the move a “product of the U.S. hostile policy” toward the North.

“We bitterly condemn the despicable human rights report worked out by the U.S.,” the foreign ministry said in an English-language statement carried late Tuesday by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The ministry claimed that the U.S. report is based on rumors concocted by a handful of traitors and criminals who left their homeland, referring to North Korean defectors in the South.

South Korea is home to more than 23,500 North Korean defectors. Many of them have testified about a wide range of human rights abuses in the communist country, including torture, public executions and political prison camps.

The North’s angry reaction came days after the U.S. State Department said in an annual report that the North’s human rights conditions remain “extremely poor.”

The report said that North Korea subjected its 24 million people to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives and that there continued to be reports of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening.

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights advocacy group, also estimated in its separate annual report last week that up to 200,000 prisoners were held in horrific conditions in six sprawling political prison camps.

The North has flatly denied accusations of its alleged rights abuses, describing them as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime.

“The U.S. unchanged human rights racket against the (North) is, in essence, a product of the U.S. hostile policy toward the (North) to isolate and stifle at any cost its socialist system,” the foreign ministry statement said.

It also accused the U.S of being the “world’s worst human rights abuser,” claiming the U.S. has massacred hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in different parts of the world through aggression and interference.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.S. Denies Sending Commandos to Spy in N.Korea

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In the News – U.S. Denies Sending Commandos to Spy in N.Korea

U.S. military officials are rejecting a report that U.S. military commandos have been parachuting into North Korea to gather intelligence on Pyongyang’s underground military installations.

The Tokyo-based political journal The Diplomat carried a report on Monday alleging that a senior U.S. special operations commander revealed the purported commando program at a conference in Florida last week.

U.S. Defense Department press secretary George Little told reporters Tuesday that the report misquoted Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley.

“My understanding is that the general’s comments were contorted, distorted, misreported, and that, you know, there is in no way any substance to the assertion. Again, that was misreported that there are U.S. boots on the ground in North Korea. That is simply incorrect.”

Little said the United States works closely and on a daily basis with its allies in the region to develop information on North Korean intentions and capabilities.

Colonel Jonathan Withington, a spokesperson for the United States Forces Korea, said Tuesday that “great liberal license” was made with Tolley’s comments, and that some of the quotes were “made up and attributed to him.”

The Diplomat quoted Tolley as saying that U.S. and South Korean commandos were taking part in the reconnaissance mission, which it said is aimed at uncovering information on “thousands of tunnels” built by Pyongyang since the Korean War.

Withington said it is well-known that North Korea uses tunnels to hide its sensitive military operations. But he said “at no time” have U.S. or South Korean forces parachuted into North Korea to conduct special reconnaissance.

The author of the report in The Diplomat, David Axe, rejected suggestions that he fabricated the quotes attributed to the general. He said that if the general was speaking hypothetically, “he did not say so” and that “he spoke in the present tense” and “at length.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – King to visit Brussels for discussions on NK human rights

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In the News – King to visit Brussels for discussions on NK human rights

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 25 (Yonhap) — A U.S. envoy will travel to Brussels next week to discuss North Korean human rights with the European Union, the State Department announced Friday.

Amb. Robert King, the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will participate in the European Parliament subcommittee on the human rights situation in North Korea on Tuesday, the department said in a press release.

King also plans to meet with officials from the European Parliament, the European External Action Service, nongovernmental organizations and countries that share their deep concerns about the human rights situation in the communist nation, it added.

King is scheduled to return to Washington on Thursday after the three-day trip.

Earlier this week, the department issued a far-reaching report on the human rights record in 199 nations, including North Korea, which it graded as “extremely poor.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

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In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

In its annual study, Amnesty International claimed that in addition to the 30 who died in purges last year, a further 200 were rounded up in January this year by the State Security Agency as Pyongyang carried out the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il, who died of an apparent heart attack in December, and his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-un.

Of those 200, Amnesty said, some were apparently executed and the remainder were sent to political prison camps. The gulag system presently contains an estimated 200,000 people in “horrific conditions,” the group said.

North Korea has a habit of executing bureaucrats who are perceived to have failed the regime, even though they are often merely carrying out the orders of higher-ranking officials or members of the ruling family.

In 2010, Pak Nam-gi, the former head of the finance department of the Workers’ Party, was reportedly executed by firing squad for the catastrophic attempt to reform the impoverished nation’s currency. The result was rampant inflation and food shortages became even more acute.

The 30 men executed for failing to improve Pyongyang’s ties with Seoul are considered scapegoats for the new low point in inter-Korean ties.

Their task would have been made immeasurably more difficult given North Korea’s insistence with pushing ahead with its development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In spite of universal condemnation of its failed attempt to launch what Pyongyang claimed was a rocket to put a satellite into orbit in April, North Korea appears to be putting the finishing touches to a test detonation of a nuclear device.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence, said on Thursday that intelligence reports indicate the North has completed its technical preparations to carry out the long-awaited test and that it could go ahead at any time.

Satellite images of the Punggye-ri site and other data show that the tunnel that had been excavated for the test has been refilled, indicating that the nuclear device has been put in place.

There is speculation that the test may be timed to coincide with the Memorial Day national holiday in the United States, which falls in Monday.

“The North Korean regime is hell-bent on being a belligerent actor,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, during a visit to Seoul with a congressional delegation. “And I think that on holidays or sad commemorations like Memorial Day weekend is when the leadership tries to provoke the democratic allies into action.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Remains of S. Korean soldiers killed in N. Korea return home for 1st time

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In the News – Remains of S. Korean soldiers killed in N. Korea return home for 1st time

SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) — The remains of South Korean soldiers killed in North Korea during the Korean War returned home on Friday via the U.S., marking the first such repatriation of South Korean war dead since the 1953 armistice.

Twelve sets of remains, two of which have been positively identified, were among 226 sets recovered in the northern part of North Korea by a U.S. excavation team between 2000 and 2004, before Washington halted the joint recovery mission with Pyongyang due to concerns over the safety and security of its workers.

After conducting DNA tests, the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii confirmed last August that some of the remains were those of Asian soldiers.

Since then, Seoul and Washington have conducted joint analyses to identify the remains and 12 sets were confirmed to be from South Korean soldiers, officials at Seoul’s defense ministry said.

The 12 sets of remains were flown Friday to a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul, where they were met with an honor guard ceremony attended by President Lee Myung-bak, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Army Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea. Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea’s human rights condition ‘extremely poor,’ U.S. gov’t

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In the News – N. Korea’s human rights condition ‘extremely poor,’ U.S. gov’t

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 24 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s human rights conditions remain “extremely poor,” the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

In an annual report on political freedom and civil liberties in 199 nations, the department again grouped North Korea with Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Belarus and China.

“Overall human rights conditions remained extremely poor in many of the countries that we spotlighted in our 2010 country reports,” said Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

The report said North Korea is an “authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years,” referring to a recent leadership change in the communist nation to Kim Jong-un, the third son of late leader Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, the late founding leader Kim Il-sung, was granted the posthumous title of “eternal president.”
“The most recent national elections, held in March 2009, were neither free nor fair,” read the 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

“Citizens did not have the right to change their government. The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement and worker rights,” it added. “There continued to be reports of a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening.”

In the previous report, the department described the North’s human rights record “deplorable” and “grim.”

Responding to Yonhap News Agency’s inquiry over if the change of wording has implications, Posner quipped, “I may be running out of words.”

He emphasized that Washington is “deeply concerned that the situation remains poor” and without progress.

He cited a separate report by a U.S. nongovernmental group last month that as many as 200,000 people are held in the secretive nation’s political prison camps, where human rights abuses are prevalent.

He said the U.S. will continue to raise the issue and hopes that the burgeoning transition of Myanmar, or Burma, to democracy may “inspire” North Korea and other closed societies, including Iran, Uzbekistan, Eritrea or Sudan.

On South Korea, meanwhile, the department’s report again took issue with controversies over the National Security Act, which critics view as aimed at cracking down on dissidents and those who support North Korea, along with other laws designed to keep public order.

“The primary human rights problems reported were the government’s interpretation of national security and other laws to limit freedom of expression and restrict access to the Internet as well as incidents of hazing in the military,” the report said.

It added other human rights problems included some official corruption; sexual and domestic violence; children engaged in prostitution; human trafficking; societal discrimination against foreigners, North Korean defectors, persons with HIV/AIDS; and limitations on workers’ rights.

 

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 – U.S. Officials in Secret Visit to N.Korea Before Rocket Launch

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In the News – U.S. Officials in Secret Visit to N.Korea Before Rocket Launch

Two senior U.S. figures apparently flew to Pyongyang aboard a U.S. Air Force plane in a secret mission six days before North Korea’s failed rocket launch on April 13.

“At around 7:40 a.m. on April 7, a U.S. Air Force Boeing 737 entered North Korea,” a diplomatic source in Seoul said. “The aircraft flew from Guam and into North Korea along the same route on the West Sea used by former President Kim Dae-jung during his visit to the North back in 2000.”

Experts speculate that the plane carried Joseph Di Trani, a nuclear negotiator in the George W. Bush administration, and Sydney Seiler, a National Security Council advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The secret visit appears to have been a last-ditch effort by Washington to stop North Korea from pressing ahead with the rocket launch.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.S. to mull food aid for N. Korea if it changes direction: White House

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In the News – U.S. to mull food aid for N. Korea if it changes direction: White House

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 23 (Yonhap) — A White House official said Wednesday that the U.S. will again consider food aid for North Korea if it stays away from provocations and averts a confrontational course.

“I think the precondition is that North Koreans have to demonstrate that they are going to refrain from those types of provocative actions and they are serious about moving in a different direction,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said at a press conference for foreign reporters.

He pointed out that Washington has lost trust in the communist regime as it reneged on a bilateral deal by launching a long-range rocket in April.

The two sides reached an agreement on Feb. 29, nicknamed the “Leap Day Deal,” after high-level talks. It called for the North to suspend some of its nuclear activity and put a moratorium on missile launches.

In exchange, the U.S. promised to deliver 240,000 tons of food. Washington halted a related process after the North’s rocket launch.

Rhodes said the U.S. is not convinced that food, if shipped, will reach ordinary people in need such as mothers, children and pregnant women.

He stressed that the U.S. remains open to bilateral and multilateral talks with the North.

But he expressed skepticism that Pyongyang will change its mode.

“We haven’t seen that indication yet,” he said. “Right now we not optimistic that there will be any imminent breakthrough that could lead to the provision of additional assistance.”

On a trip to Northeast Asia, meanwhile, Washington’s point man on Pyongyang also said food assistance is still a viable option depending on the North’s attitude.

“I think as you all know the United States has been historically very generous when it comes to the provision of nutritional assistance,” Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy, told reporters after meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing.

The U.S. has provided more than 2.2 million metric tons of food, valued at over $850 million, to North Korea since the mid-1990s, he noted.

“And should the opportunity present itself, if we can reach a stage where we can once again have faith in the North Koreans’ ability to abide by its undertakings and its promises, we would like very much to get back to the provision of nutritional assistance,” he said.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea Denies Imminent Nuclear Test

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In the News – N.Korea Denies Imminent Nuclear Test

North Korea on Tuesday claimed it never planned to conduct a nuclear test and its missile tests were purely for scientific research. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the regime “from the beginning” never envisaged “such a military measure as a nuclear test,” and the aim of a failed rocket launch last month was to put a satellite into orbit for peaceful purposes.

The North was responding to a statement on Saturday from the G8 nations condemning the April 13 rocket launch and pledging tougher UN sanctions against the Stalinist country in response to any further provocations or a nuclear test.

North Korea then accused the U.S. of condemning it without good reason by taking issue with the peaceful satellite launch and of ratcheting up tensions by spreading what it called “rumors” of an impending nuclear test.

But an intelligence official here insisted the North has nearly finished preparations for a third nuclear test at a facility in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province and that the only thing left is for Pyongyang to officially announce the move. “We have learned from U.S. and South Korean intelligence data that a few more specialized vehicles entered the shaft at the Punggye-ri site, proving that the North is preparing for a nuclear test as we speak,” a South Korean military source said.

Citing military think tank IHS Jane’s Defense and Security Intelligence and Analysis, CNN reported Tuesday that afresh activity has been detected at Punggye-ri related to an impending nuclear test. IHS Jane’s analyzed recent photos taken by private satellite operators Digital Globe and GeoEye showing mining cars and other digging equipment near the shaft, and soil and rocks being moved out.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that the regime has no choice but to bolster its nuclear arsenal while the U.S. keeps up “hostile” acts. “If the US persists in its moves to ratchet up sanctions and pressure on us despite our peace-loving efforts, we will be left with no option but to take counter-measures for self-defense,” the spokesman said.

But the denial itself was unusual. Experts speculate the statement was an excuse for the delay of the nuclear test, which was believed to be imminent. “This is related to speculation that North Korea postponed the nuclear test due to pressure from China,” said Yoo Ho-yeol at Korea University. “North Korea is trying to save face by pretending it has not caved into pressure from China but never planned a nuclear test in the first place.”

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Lee calls for greater attention to N. Korea’s human rights record

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In the News – Lee calls for greater attention to N. Korea’s human rights record

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Wednesday North Korea’s human rights record is an issue as important as its nuclear or missile programs, and should be dealt with more urgently than other matters.

Lee made the remark during a meeting with a group of U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, presidential spokeswoman Lee Mi-yon said.

“The issue of North Korea’s nuclear test or a missile launch is of the same weight of significance as the issue of North Korea’s human rights,” Lee was quoted as saying. “The issue of human rights for the North Korean people should rather be dealt with more urgently.”

The lawmakers promised to pay more attention to the human rights issue, the spokeswoman said.

Ros-Lehtinen and five other Congressmen arrived in Seoul Tuesday for a four-day visit that includes talks with Lee, meetings with the unification minister handling relations with Pyongyang and the first vice foreign minister, as well as a visit to the border with the North. Continue reading

In the News – U.S. House passes bill recommending tactical nukes in S. Korea

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In the News – U.S. House passes bill recommending tactical nukes in S. Korea

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Yonhap) — The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed the 2013 national defense authorization bill that recommends the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

The non-binding amendment approved by the House reflects the Republican Party’s push to get the incumbent Obama administration to take a firmer stance against North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat.

The Republicans who control the House have also hinted that the redeployment of short-range, low yield nukes in South Korea and other parts of Northeast Asia could help nudge China into pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. Conservative lawmakers in Washington have been frustrated by China’s reluctance to push North Korea on the nuclear issue.

Despite the passage of the amendment, both the U.S. State and Defense departments said Washington is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The White House also said it could veto the bill, while Seoul officially said any deployment of nuclear weapons would run counter to the 1992 inter-Korean declaration on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s military added that such a move would work against ongoing efforts to get North Korea to give up its own nuclear weapons program.

Before the early 1990s, the U.S. stockpiled tactical nukes, such as the very short range Honest John surface-to-surface missile, nuclear artillery rounds, and bombs that could be dropped from attack aircraft, in the South to deter North Korean aggression.

The passage of the bill in the House follows the motion being approved by the House Armed Services Committee on May 9.

Congressional sources said another amendment that opposed recommending the redeployment of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula forwarded by a Democratic lawmaker was rejected.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – U.S. House passes bill on N. Korean human rights

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In the News – U.S. House passes bill on N. Korean human rights

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, May 15 (Yonhap) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday calling for bipartisan efforts to address North Korea’s human rights violations, according to a congressional source.

Members of the House approved by voice vote the legislation on extending until 2017 the authority of the North Korean Human Rights Act, added the source.

The act provides the legal ground for the U.S. government’s financial support for radio stations broadcasting to North Korea and the appointment of a special envoy on the North’s human rights issues.

The reauthorization bill notes that, “Although the transition to the leadership of Kim Jong-un after the death of Kim Jong-il has introduced new uncertainties and possibilities, the fundamental human rights and humanitarian conditions inside North Korea remains deplorable and North Korean refugees remain acutely vulnerable.”

It also urges China to immediately halt its forcible repatriation of North Koreans.

The Senate is also expected to approve the bill without a major dispute, the source said.

 

Original article can be found here.

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

In the News – Clinton says U.S. willing to work with North Korea if it reforms

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In the News – Clinton says U.S. willing to work with North Korea if it reforms

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) gestures as she speaks next to China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan at the joint statement reading for the closing of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing May 4, 2012. Clinton told Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday that relations between their two countries were the strongest they had ever been, even as the two countries are engaged in a spat over China's treatment of a blind dissident. REUTERS-Jason Lee

By Andrew Quinn

BEIJING | Fri May 4, 2012 9:01am EDT

(Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that the United States was willing to work withNorth Korea if it changed its ways, and also said more pressure should be brought to bear on Sudan and Syria.

Speaking in Beijing at the end of two-days of high-level meetings overshadowed by a crisis over a Chinese dissident who had sought refuge at the U.S. embassy, Clinton sought to underscore that Washington and Beijing could still work together on key international issues.

“We see two nations that are now thoroughly and inescapably interdependent,” Clinton said in prepared remarks in the closed door meeting.

On North Korea, where the United States wants China to put more pressure on the isolated nation’s leadership to reign in its nuclear ambitions, Clinton said Washington was still willing to work with Pyongyang if it changes its ways.

“The new leadership in Pyongyang still has the opportunity to change course and put their people first. If they focus on honoring their commitments and rejoining the international community, and on feeding and educating their citizens, the United States will welcome them and work with them,” she said. Continue reading

In the News – U.N. committee sanctions three North Korea companies

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In the News – U.N. committee sanctions three North Korea companies

Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaks to the media at UN headquarters in New York, May 2, 2012.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS | Wed May 2, 2012 4:41pm EDT

(Reuters) – A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Wednesday added three North Korean state companies to a U.N. blacklist of firms banned from international trade in response to Pyongyang’s rocket launch last month.

The decision by the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee came after China consented to sanctions on the trio of companies. It falls far short of the roughly 40 firms the United States, European Union, South Korea and Japan had wanted to blacklist after Pyongyang’s launch.

The newly blacklisted firms are “very significant North Korean entities” involved in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said. Continue reading