Category Archive: Defection

Jun 29

North Korea–a (brief) month in review. Regular updates to resume!

How quickly times gets away from you.. the labourious process of buying, packing up and getting ready to move into a new house has consumed much of my free time that might otherwise be spent maintaining this website. But I digress… here’s a small selection of what’s been going on over the past few weeks.

Pyongyang undergoing massive renovations in time for 2012, university students put to work until April 2012

2012 is an important year for North Korea for many reasons. Mainly, it is to celebrate the 100th birthday of the DPRK’s perpetual despot Kim Il-Sung, which could very well be the biggest birthday bash the Great Leader has ever had thrown on his behalf. There is also a great burden on grandson Kim Jong-Un, who is allegedly involved in many of the preparations and tasked to help forge the "strong and prosperous nation" by 2012. One massive undertaking is the renovation of the famous Mansudae area of Pyongyang, home to the giant bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung and numerous landmarks. Huffington Post has a summary:

"The central part of Pyongyang will be refurbished according to the requirements of this new century and the demand of modern times by 2012," Yun Sok Chon, head of the Institute of Pyongyang City Design, told APTN.

The building project in Pyongyang’s Mansudae area will include a new theater, apartment blocks, restaurants, shops and a 10-hectare (25-acre) park area, the Korean Central News Agency reported earlier this month. KCNA said the project "will change the appearance of the capital city beyond recognition."

In the past two years, three other high-profile apartment projects have been completed in Pyongyang.

Authorities have not made public the cost of the Mansudae project, exact statistics of its scale or the resources involved. But it is part of the biggest construction work in Pyongyang since the development of a new town area called Tongil Street in the 1990s.

Ambitious project. Given a constant shortfall of construction supplies, at least they seemed to have solved a labour shortage. UK news outlet The Telegraph reports that students are being conscripted to work construction sites in major cities and deal with agricultural problems as well:

Pyongyang has told the North Korean people that the nation will have achieved its aim of becoming "a great, prosperous and powerful nation" in 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of the founder of the reclusive state, Kim Il-sung.
In addition, Kim Jong-il will turn 70 in February and the "Dear Leader" hopes to be able to transfer his power and an economically stronger nation to his son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong-Un.
Reports in South Korea indicated that the government in Pyongyang on Monday ordered all universities to cancel classes until April of next year. The only exemptions are for students who will be graduating in the next few months and foreign students.
The reports suggested that the students will be put to work on construction projects in major cities while there are also indications that repair work may be needed in agricultural regions that were affected by a major typhoon recently.
Analysts in Japan claim there may be other reasons behind the decision to disperse the students across the country.
"One reason is that there is a possibility of demonstrations at university campuses," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and author of a number of books on the North Korean leadership.
"The leadership has seen the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Africa and it is very frightened that the same thing could happen in North Korea," he said. "They fear it could start in the universities."
Professor Shigemura also said that North Korea has purchased anti-riot equipment from China in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent months.

China has since denied supplying North Korea with riot gear to deal with potential domestic protests, a la the revolutions in the Middle East. It’s not uncommon for the DPRK to draft its students into labour when times are tough. However, the DailyNK and other North Korean observers believe the project is doomed to failure, and all except for Kim Jong-Un will be punished as a result.

Source: DailyNK / The Huffington Post / The Telegraph c/o @freenorthkorea

Groundbreaking ceremonies and construction of Special Economic Zones between North Korea and China

This project has been mentioned a few times, the most recent being unexplained delays in the groundbreaking ceremonies for new Special Economic Zones designed to encourage trade between North Korea and China and possible economic reforms for the hermit kingdom. From Yonhap:

North Korea and China on Wednesday broke ground on a border island to develop it into an economic zone, spurring speculation that Pyongyang may embrace Chinese-style economic development to try to revive its faltering economy.
The groundbreaking ceremony came on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s weeklong trip to China in May to study the neighboring country’s spectacular economic development, his third trip to China in just over a year.
Beijing has been trying to lure its impoverished ally to embrace the reform that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing’s rise to becoming the world’s second-largest economy.
On Wednesday, some 1,000 people from North Korea and China, including Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, and Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, attended the ceremony on Hwanggumphyong Island in the Yalu River that separates the two countries.
Several dozen giant advertising balloons were floating in the air as a military brass band played festive songs, and hundreds of doves were released at the ceremony.
The messages on the balloons read "North Korea-China friendship and joint development" in a symbolic gesture for their commitment to the project.
The two sides also reportedly signed a deal on the joint development project, including lease terms on Hwanggumphyong. No details were immediately available.
The massive ceremony came two days after Pyongyang said it will turn the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands into the economic zone to boost friendly ties with China and expand and develop external economic relations.
The North’s parliament said Monday that the development of the zone will start from the Hwanggumphyong district.

Check the Korea Herald link below for more technical detail on the projects. Hopefully these economic zones don’t have the same underwhelming results as similar SEZ projects in the past.

Source: Yonhap / Korea Herald

Speculation, then cancellation, of a Kim Jong-Il summit with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev

Speculation was rampant throughout the month of June that Kim Jong-Il would again be leaving North Korea via his private train to meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The meeting was rumoured to occur on either June 30th or July 1st in the Russian city of Vladivostok, just 130km from the North Korean border. From Reuters:

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – Russian authorities are preparing for a possible visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a local official in Russia’s Far East said on condition of anonymity on Monday.

"We are making preparations," said the local official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

The official declined to give any details about the trip other than that Kim was expected to travel to Russia’s Far East, which borders North Korea, in an armored train.

When asked if Kim was due to visit, the governor of Russia’s Far Eastern region of Primorye, Sergei Darkin, told reporters in Moscow: "I cannot comment on what presidents of other countries plan to do. You will soon find out."

A couple of days later, according to Japanese news outlet Kyodo

North Korea has called off a plan for its leader Kim Jong Il to hold a summit with Russian Dmitry Medvedev in this Russian Far East city on Thursday, multiple Russian government officials told Kyodo News on Wednesday.

Among the reasons given by the North Korean side for canceling the trip, in which he was expected to cross the border by rail Thursday and arrive in Vladivostok within the day, was that Kim’s health was not in the best condition to travel, they said.

But according to the officials, the cancellation came after the two sides failed to narrow differences over the summit agenda.

Kim was looking better than he has in years during his China visit (see video at the bottom of this article), but perhaps he’s taken a turn for the worse? Perhaps this will get rescheduled soon.

Source: Kyodo News / Reuters

A new resettlement facility for North Korean defectors in South Korea, the third of its kind

In November last year, South Korea announced it had taken in its 20,000th defector from North Korea. This number has been steadily increasing since, now up to 21,700 in total, and putting pressure on the educational facilities that aim to integrate North Koreans into the unfamiliar capitalist way of life. Yonhap says:

The move is the latest reminder that the flow of North Korean defectors isn’t letting up despite Pyongyang’s harsh crackdown on escapees. Seoul is now home to more than 21,700 North Koreans.
South Korea has already been running two other resettlement centers, known as Hanawon near Seoul to help the defectors better adjust to life in the capitalist South.
Still, the government will break ground for another resettlement center in Hwacheon on July 7 as the two current facilities are running at full capacity, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters.
The area is about 118 kilometers northeast of Seoul.
She also said the government is planning to offer re-education for former North Korean teachers, doctors and other experts in the new resettlement center to be built by the end of 2012.
The announcement comes amid the latest dispute between the two Koreas over nine North Koreans who defected to the South earlier this month.
Seoul has indicated it will not return the North Korean defectors despite the North’s request for repatriation. The North usually claims South Korea kidnaps its citizens, charges that Seoul denies.

A temporary solution to hopefully a temporary problem… 21,700 down, 23,978,300 to go!

Source: Yonhap

“Secret” meetings between South and North Korea for a proposed summit revealed

This is already old news, but reveals the tumultuousness and communication breakdowns that occur regularly in inter-Korean politics. On June 1st, North Korea’s state run media outlet KCNA loudly announced that South Korea was secretly attempting to bribe North Korea to a summit meeting in April:

It is a sheer lie that at the Beijing secret contact the south side briefed the DPRK side on the "real intention" reflected in the "Berlin proposal" made by traitor Lee.
Now that the Lee group let the spokesman for Chongwadae open to public the above-mentioned secret contact first on the basis of fabrications and is busy floating nonsensical stories, the DPRK side has no option but to clarify it as it happened.
Finding it hard to evade the responsibility for having driven the inter-Korean relations to catastrophe, the Lee group was aware that the crisis in the closing period of its rule might further deepen due to the situation. Hence, entering April the group made repeated requests to "hold a secret contact for the ‘summit talks,’ saying it would no more talk about ‘Cheonan’ warship sinking case and Yonphyong Island shelling case."
And it made poor excuses that what matters is that Lee’s "policy towards the north" is "misunderstood" by the north and the south, in fact, stands for the improvement of the north-south relations.
Kim Chon Sik, chief of the policy room of the puppet ministry of unification, Hong Chang Hwa, director of the intelligence service, and Kim Thae Hyo, senior presidential secretary for foreign strategy of secretariat of Chongwadae, and others came out to the venue of the secret contact that started on May 9. They, however, began playing jugglery to wrest apology from the DPRK side, asserting that the above-said cases were "mountains to be crossed with wisdom" for the improvement of the south-north relations. This was a breach of the promise made to the DPRK side earlier.
When it declared that it was preposterous to say the word "apology" over the cases with which it had nothing to do and just measures for self-defence, they asked it to put forth "a compromise proposal" to be declared before the world, the proposal which cannot be interpreted as apology, when viewed by the north side but as apology when viewed by the south side. They implored the north to "make a little concession".
When the DPRK side told them to go back to Seoul at once, saying it is not necessary to discuss the issue of the summit talks in which unreasonable "apology" raised as a pre-condition, they tried hard to keep the contact going on at any cost, saying that it would not be long before Lee Myung Bak’s tenure of office would end, the present authorities are hard pressed for time and it is more favorable to push forward the inter-Korean relations by joining hands with the conservative forces, in stead of doing so with the progressive forces.
Noting that a program for all events for the opening of the "summit talks" has already been worked out, they said that depending on the settlement of the issues of the two cases, they expected to open ministerial talks for the "summit talks" late in May to announce agreed points, hold the first round of the "summit talks” in Panmunjom late in June, the second one in Pyongyang two months later and the third round of the "summit talks" during the summit for nuclear security slated to take place in March next year. They earnestly begged the DPRK side to take this embarrassing situation into consideration.

On June 9th, KCNA had more to say regarding alleged bribes to encourage North Korea to the summit:

When the contact was on the verge of a rupture, Hong Chang Hwa took out enveloped money from a suitcase at the order of Kim Thae Hyo, who was going to give it to us. We rejected it at once, and Kim blushed and got irritated. Hong hurriedly put the money into the suitcase in an awkward movement and left without exchanging proper parting words with our delegates.

At first the group of traitors asserted that there was no case of enveloped money. But now it distorts the fact by claiming that the money was for expenses to be paid traditionally by the sponsor of contact rather than "reward" for leading the contact to "summit talks".

If it is usage for a party sponsoring any talks to pay necessary expenses as asserted by the south side, why didn’t the south side present the enveloped money at the time of the two preceding rounds of contact?

The south side was well aware that the DPRK embassy provided lodging and boarding and vehicles. Then, was it going to pay the embassy the said enveloped money for living expenses during its stay? Its far-fetched assertion has gone far.

Of course, South Korea has an opposing view of how these discussions went down. From Yonhap:

South Korea’s point man on North Korea said Wednesday that Pyongyang first proposed a secret meeting that has become the latest hurdle in inter-Korean relations.

The two Koreas have accused each other of distorting the facts of their secret meeting in Beijing in May after Pyongyang revealed details of the meeting earlier this month.

The North claimed Seoul negotiators had "begged" for three inter-Korean summits and offered an envelope of cash as an inducement, allegations dismissed by Seoul.

South Korea said the meeting was designed to get North Korea to apologize for its two deadly attacks on the South last year, as part of Seoul’s efforts to break the current impasse and put inter-Korean ties back on track.

"It was North Korea that made the offer for the unannounced contact," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in a parliamentary session.

He said the North’s disclosure of the meeting was aimed at getting Seoul into trouble and splitting public opinion in the South.

Many Pyongyang observers point out that the North has possibly decided to simply wait out Lee Myung-bak’s term in office, as his term is nearing an end and a shift in North Korean policy may be imminent with a new government.

Source: KCNA (1) / Yonhap

A nice write-up from Martyn Williams about North Korea’s IP addresses

The amazing (and pleasantly niche) blog North Korea Tech has an interesting piece detailing North Korea’s IP address blocks managed in Thailand and China. A good place to start if you suspect the North Koreans of invading your PC!

Source: North Korea Tech

And we’ll finish up for now with KCNA video of KJI’s May trip to China. He’s certainly using his left arm a lot more these days.

Source: stimmekorea’s YouTube

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May 19

North Korean defectors win settlement from South over leaked identities that compromised family safety.

From the AP:

A South Korean court on Thursday boosted the amount the government must pay a group of North Korean defectors who say a leak of their identities led to retaliation against their families in the North.

Five North Koreans who arrived in South Korea in 2006 said 22 family members left behind in the North were probably sent to political prisons after Seoul leaked their defections to the media. The defectors had sought $1 million in compensation from the South Korean government.

In October, a Seoul district court ordered a combined compensation of $50,620, citing the leak of personal information. But it ruled there wasn’t enough evidence of the alleged punishment of family members. The defectors appealed.

The Seoul High Court ruled Thursday that the government must pay $110,500, citing the North Koreans’ distress about the possibility of reprisals, even though there wasn’t confirmation that their family members were punished.

"There is not enough evidence that they were all executed or detained in political prisons," presiding Judge Roh Tae-ak said in the verdict. "But there is believed to be a considerable probability that serious harm may have happened to some of their family members."

The judge said the government must use the case to improve protection of defectors.

Lee Gwang-su, the defector who spearheaded the legal action, said he wasn’t satisfied with the compensation but hadn’t decided whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Lee, a 42-year-old former city official in the eastern North Korean coastal town of Wonsan, said he fled North Korea by boat in March 2006 with his wife, two sons and a friend looking for political freedom. His group initially attempted to go to Japan with the goal of eventually moving to the United States, but a violent storm and high waves pushed the boat to South Korean shores.

Lee, who now lives in California, said he believes his family members have been detained in political prison camps in the North.

"There is no other place where they can be sent. The fact that their family members defected to an enemy state makes them a subject that must be gotten rid of," he said after the verdict. "People who live in North Korea know that."

I don’t know what to say about this. On the one hand, the identity leak could very well have implicated the families in the North and doomed them to a life sentence in prison labour camps. On the other hand, the South is correct in that there is no evidence other than anecdotal that this might have occurred. $110k split 5 ways isn’t a whole heck of a lot of money in the end. But don’t all defectors know that they’re risking their family security when they choose to defect?

Source: Associated Press

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May 10

Number of DPRK defectors to Thailand increases dramatically; USA releases data on its own NK refugees.

Some compelling stats on the increasing number of North Koreans defecting in Thailand courtesy of the Bangkok Post:

Thai authorities have rejected South Korea’s proposal to build a coordination centre to deal with North Koreans illegally entering the country over concerns that it might encourage more inflows of migrants from the communist nation.

South Korea reportedly asked the government early this year to build the centre in Chiang Rai province, a popular entry point for illegal North Korean immigrants into Thailand.

Most of the immigrants have escaped economic hardship in North Korea and travelled to Thailand for temporary refuge in the hope of being able to resettle in third countries, usually South Korea, a source at the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) said.

From October last year until April this year, 899 North Koreans were arrested for illegal entry, said Isoc spokesman Maj Gen Dithaporn Sasamit. The source said South Korea had offered to pay to take care of the illegal migrants. However, the government had turned down the proposal because it had no policy to open a new refugee centre.

The South Korean government has played an important role in helping North Koreans by allowing them to resettle in its country.

Pol Maj Gen Phansak Kasemasanta, deputy chief of the Immigration Bureau, said that North Koreans illegally entering Thailand would be arrested.

After being tried in court, the immigrants would be detained at the Immigration Bureau while awaiting deportation.

The immigrants normally protest at being sent back to North Korea, allowing South Korean officials to step in and help, Pol Maj Gen Phansak said.

He added that instead of building a new centre for the North Korean migrants, South Korea could help improve the present detention centre at the Immigration Bureau.

North Koreans could stay there along with other illegal immigrants from other nations, he said.

According to the Isoc and the Immigration Bureau, North Koreans are normally helped by human trafficking gangs to travel to China.

They are then put on board Chinese cargo boats to Laos before boarding smaller boats or travelling on foot to Chiang Rai’s Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong districts.

"The trips are arranged by gangs made up of North Korean, Chinese and Thai nationals," said Maj Gen Thawip Bunma, a senior Isoc official.

The Isoc and the Immigration Bureau have been tracking down people involved in the human trafficking gangs.

However, Pol Maj Gen Phansak said police still have no evidence to confirm that Thais were involved.North Korean migrants who have been arrested have told officials that they had to pay at least 100,000 baht to the gangs to help arrange their trips to Thailand.

Most of the migrants were willing to turn themselves in to Thai authorities, seeing it as the first step for them to travel on to the third countries they ultimately wish to settle in.

Here’s the table demonstrating the increasing numbers over the past few years. Are the number of defections increasing, or is Thailand cracking down more? Maybe both.

Year # of arrested NK defectors
2004 46
2005 115
2006 752
2007 1785
2008 1724
2009 1848
2010 2482
2011 (til April) 870

2010s total is 54 times the 2004 total! What a difference 6 years can make.

In a somewhat related story, the USA’s Office of Immigration Statistics released the number of North Koreans living in the States:

The United States has received 101 North Korean refugees in the past few years under legislation to help improve human rights conditions in the reclusive state, statistics showed Saturday.

The total breaks down to nine for 2006, 22 for 2007, 37 for 2008, 25 for 2009 and eight for 2010, according to figures released Saturday by the Office of Immigration Statistics at the Department of Homeland Security.

The North Korean refugees were admitted into the U.S. under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which calls for the provision of financial aid to help improve North Korea’s human rights and accept North Korean defectors into the U.S.

In 2008, Congress approved the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act for another four years, calling for “activities to support human rights and democracy and freedom of information in North Korea,” as well as “assistance to North Koreans who are outside North Korea,” and 12-hour daily broadcasting to North Korea.

The 201[sic] Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report also showed that 73,293 people were admitted to the U.S. as refugees in 2010.

The leading countries of nationality were Iraq (18,016), Burma (16,693) and Bhutan (12,363).

Would be very interesting to here some of their stories of the circumstances that brought them to US soil.

Source: Korea JoongAng Daily / Bangkok Post (via North Korean Economy Watch [2])

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Mar 30

News in Brief – last week of March round-up

SK military plan for removing monuments to Kim dynasty

In 2008, the South Korean military drafted a plan for dealing with the thousands of monuments and idols to Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in the event of a regime collapse.  I relish the day I can watch the giant statue of Kim Il-Sung get toppled to the ground on TV, but can’t help but cringe at the amount of mountain explosions that will be involved in removing the thousands of slogans engraved into North Korea’s mountainsides.

Source: Chosun Ilbo


Kim Jong-Il admits to nightmares where citizens stone him

Chung Mong-joon, former (and future?) SK presidential candidate and billionaire controlling stakeholder of Hyundai Group, detailed an anecdote of a meeting between his father and Kim Jong-Il:

"My father met Kim Jong-il many times and had lengthy conversations with him over meals… Many people come to greet me wherever I go, but I know that they don’t like me. I have dreams of being stoned, and the first stones are thrown by Americans, followed by South Koreans, and the third by North Koreans.”

Interesting rare bit of insight from the despotic Dear Leader. Personally, I think the North Koreans should get first toss.

Source: Chosun Ilbo


27 astray North Koreans finally sent home

North Koreans board a South Korean naval vessel ...

South Korea finally repatriated 27 of the 31 North Koreans who accidentally drifted to the South’s Yeonpyeong Island. Numerous delays were introduced first by a belligerent North Korea demanding all 31 be returned (4 requested asylum in the South) via Panmunjom border village. Later it was decided that the exchange would happen at sea, but weather and the seaworthiness of the North Korean vessel being returned caused further delays.

The exchange happened at the Northern Limit Line and was rather uneventful, however some observers are noting that North Korea’s behaviour during the exchange indicate the first instance since the Korean War that the DPRK has recognized the NLL.

Source: Reuters / Korea JoongAng Daily


Nine defectors aided by South Korean pastor over a 2 year period

Recently the South Korean Coast Guard picked up 9 North Korean defectors at sea, and we hadn’t gotten much detail until recently. Kim Sung-Eun, a Christian pastor in the South to a parish of mostly NK defectors came forward to state that he helped the defectors come to South Korea via China, and that the process took over 2 years to complete. Some of the defectors had family in the South who had previously defected, and a few waited in China for as long as 4 years before they could be reunited. On Monday, the defectors departed from China on a fishing boat, and transferred to a South Korean fishing vessel in international waters.

Source: AFP

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Mar 24

Nine NK refugees arrive in South Korea; Jimmy Carter returning to Pyongyang

Two unrelated stories, but light enough on details to keep to one post.

Jimmy Carter returning to Pyongyang for talks with other former world leaders

A delegation formed by “The Elders”, a group of former world leaders whose mission statement is to promote peace and address human suffering will apparently be visiting Pyongyang next month. Details are sparse and are only sourced to “diplomatic sources in Seoul”. The delegation is alleged to consist of (nabbed from Wikipedia):

Quite a team! No word on their exact objectives or itinerary. More details will follow as they become available. Jimmy Carter, of course, is known for his diplomatic efforts diffusing the North Korean nuclear crisis in the early 90s. More recently, he travelled to Pyongyang to secure the release of Aijalon Gomes, and expected to meet Kim Jong-Il who instead took an impromptu trip to China (possibly to secure Chinese backing of DPRK leadership succession to his son, announced a few weeks later).

Source: Yonhap News


Nine North Korean refugees arrive by boat in South Korea

This is a developing story with very few details. May be several days before we hear anything new about these would-be defectors. An unnamed official is quoted as saying the following:

"The Coast Guard is investigating nine North Koreans who claimed to be refugees. They arrived late Thursday at the port of Gunsan after crossing the Yellow Sea (from China)"

All North Korean defectors are interrogated and investigated when entering South Korea. This serves as a wise precaution, as the strategy of deploying North Korean spies in the South by having them pretend to be defectors has occurred in the past. Given the heroic entry from China’s Yellow Sea, hopefully they are Koreans fleeing a bad situation for a better life in the South.

Source: Yonhap News

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Mar 16

The past week in review

Work had me travelling this past week and I’ve been unable to pull myself away for updates. Here’s a synopsis of what’s been going on on the peninsula:

North demands all 31 of the North Koreans that drifted accidentally into the South be repatriated; South maintains 4 wish to stay

As discussed previously, North Korea demanded all 31 citizens to be repatriated. The North then demanded that the 4 who wish to defect meet their families at the Panmunjom border. When that didn’t happen, the North finally conceded that the 27 be returned by sea. Bad weather will likely prevent this from happening today, but may be rescheduled for tomorrow.

Below: Video of a North Korean wife and daughter denouncing the South for “coercing” their husband/father to defect.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo / Open Radio for North Korea


Associated Press CEO makes visit to Pyongyang

Thomas Curley, the CEO of Associated Press, one of  the largest news agencies in the US, made a personal trip to North Korea to petition for a bureau to be opened in Pyongyang. Seems unlikely, but who knows?

Source: Yonhap via North Korean Economy Watch


North threatens “sea of fire” in Seoul if joint SK-US military exercises proceed, jams GPS signals

Last week, North Korea strongly protested South Korea – US military exercises and once again threatened all out war should the provocations continue. DPRK has taken the opportunity to once again demonstrate it’s ability to jam GPS signals; intermittent GPS failures occurred several times in northwestern South Korea military bases. The South issues a formal protest requesting the North stop the jamming in the form of a letter, however the North declined to accept the letter. No reasons were cited.

Source: Chosun Ilbo / AFP / GPS Daily


Kim Jong-Un gets invitation to visit China in July

‘Nuff said, see link below for more words with the same amount of detail.

Source: Mainichi Daily News

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Mar 03

27 of 31 stranded North Koreans to return home from South


You might recall in early February the story of 31 North Koreans that accidentally drifted on their boat into South Korea (at contested border island Yeonpyeong), recently shelled by North Korea), at what was then presumed to be a defection attempt. The group was adamant that defection was not their intention, and that they had washed up by mistake. Now apparently, 4 of the group do wish to defect to South Korea, and their wishes are being honoured. South Korea will repatriate only 27 of the North Koreans, despite demands from the North that all 31 be delivered back immediately. 

The four defectors consist of two men, and two women. The remaining 9 men and 18 women will be returned to the DPRK by way of the Panmunjom DMZ border village. The wooden boat they arrived in, which departed from the North Korean port city of Nampo, will also be returned to North Korea. The transaction is supposed to occur this Friday.

Speculation is abound (when isn’t it?) that the North will react harshly to only some of the stranded North Koreans being returned. This comes during a time of escalated tensions, as the North threatens “all out war” in retaliation for annual war games and simulations run by the South Korean and American militaries. As of November 2010, 20,000 defectors reside in South Korea, most going through China to get there.

Source: Yonhap News / Korea JoongAng Daily

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Feb 25

Why North Korea isn’t going to overthrow its dictatorship anytime soon


I’m going to share a somewhat longwinded rant that I posted on the news aggregation website Reddit. A number of popular posts were excitedly discussing the possibility of revolution in North Korea, while basing most of their claims on wild speculation and sometimes outright false information.

One of the top stories in /r/WorldNews, with over 1500 comments is the hype surrounding a certain article that citizens in North Korea are staging unprecedented public protests against the Kim Jong-Il regime. The original article is here:

The Asia Times article cites most of its information from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper. I can’t find the article they speak of, but there’s plenty of alternative stories on the English Chosun site. This SK professor makes some good points:

  • Discontent: It’s been a harsh winter, and North Koreans are once again very hungry. Rations aren’t being distributed properly, because the international food aid on which the country has been dependent for decades is all sparse. What does come through is coming from China, and is primarily reserved for the military and the elite.
  • Easier access to information: Word is getting out about just how deplorable the North Korean situation really is to its citizens. Cellphones are becoming more widespread, though strictly compartmentalized with no outside access. People close to the SK or Chinese borders are sometimes able to get a signal from those countries and communicate with the outside world. South Korean television shows and anti-regime propaganda videos are finding their way into peoples hands.
  • Chinese influence: Information is exchanged during trading sessions. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this information spreading quickly or very far.

First let me get into a little bit about how North Korean society is structured. Pyongyang, the capital, is where most of the elite and those most loyal to the party can live. It is considered a great reward to be moved from one of the provinces into the capital. They get first dibs on pretty much everything. A far cry from the luxuries we take for granted, but idyllic in the eyes of most North Koreans.

Flattery will get you everywhere in the DPRK. Young people aspire to serve in the military, for a 10 year period, just for the shot at getting a good job and becoming a party member. Anything you say against the regime will very likely put you into a labour camp. Once you’ve served time in the labour camp, you’ll either die or get shipped to one of the crummier provinces, never to rise in rank again. It really doesn’t take much for this to happen. Almost all military defectors in South Korea have done so because they realized their "careers" were in ruins for good. The Kim Jong-Il regime, like his father’s (Kim Il-Sung) before him, doesn’t take any shit.

I’m sure every Redditor has read George Orwell’s 1984. Kids ratting out their parents. Neighbours throwing neighbours under the bus for an offhand comment, or something trivial such as not dusting the portraits of the Great and Dear leaders in their households. Spies are literally everywhere in North Korea, and for the most part, people are absolutely terrified to speak out. So they put on a smile and continue worshipping the Kim personality cult. When you get in trouble, typically your entire family goes with you, effectively "purging the bad blood". Many North Koreans fear more for their families lives than their own, so behave accordingly. It is truly a dictatorship based on fear.

Still there is a fierce nationalism in the country. From birth, North Koreans are taught to hate the USA and Japan. To a lesser degree, South Koreans, but in that case mostly just the "puppet" capitalist government that they teach is the cause of the North’s repression. The North is a mountainous region with many natural resources, but difficulty growing their own crops. The South is plentiful in farmland and food, but imports most of their natural resources. Korean reunification has been the ultimate goal since the end of World War II, or so either side would have their citizens believe. They would be a powerhouse if they could reunite, and the American military is blamed for keeping them divided. China props up the DPRK because they too are resentful of the strategic military positions the Americans have on the Korea peninsula. This was Kim Il-Sung’s goal, and all of the shortfalls in North Korean history are said to be an ongoing battle in a long running revolution for Korean supremacy.

Here’s another article about one of the protests in Sinuju, a border town near China. The protests were sparked by police cracking down on markets, which are typically ignored but technically illegal in the country. Many count on these markets to survive, as they are not receiving food from the state as they’re supposed to. When the police crack down on these markets, and there are no alternatives to food, people get understandably angry. But the protests were quelled pretty quickly. People were probably killed and injured. Many others and their families probably trucked off to labour camps never to be heard from again.

That being said, sometimes protests are allowed to happen. DPRK attempted a grand currency reform in late 2009 which screwed a great deal of the population out of any money they had in their savings accounts. Since Kim Jong-Il’s songun or military first politics are centered around strengthening their forces, the people can be convinced that the poor economic decision was the result of poor high level decision making outside of Kim’s scope. Demonstrations were held, citizens were not punished. The regime said "yes, this was a mistake, and now were are executing the people responsible", and that’s what happened.

When Kim Il-Sung had tapped his son to be successor, party members loyalties were put to the test. Many adored Kim Sr. but questioned the leadership capabilities of his reckless son. Thus, a lot of purging occurred where dissenting party members were executed or demoted, and key supporters were put in the vacant positions. Much of the leadership of North Korea are directly related to the Kim family, or to the original families that fought alongside Kim Il-Sung’s guerilla struggles against Japan (which he is largely lauded for achieving Korean independance, though history indicates his true impact was minimal). Kim Jong-Il is getting old and his health is questionable, and so in turn he is propping up his son, Kim Jong-Un for succession. This means a whole new round of purges, a tighter crackdown on defectors and malcontents, and more credit to Kim Jong-Un for anything nice that happens in North Korea. Jong-Un is allegedly to continue his father’s military-first policy, but is also being heralded as brining about the dawn of "CNC" or Computer Numerical Control– basically the automation of manufcaturing the improve the quality of lives of North Koreans. Part of this is the distribution of cellphones, computers and digital technology, though obviously cut off from the rest of the world.

South Korea’s just as in the dark about North Korea as the rest of the world. Yes, the SK government marked Kim Jong-Il’s birthday on the 14th by launching propaganda balloons filled with anti-regime pamphlets, shortwave radios, DVDs, etc. This is nothing new and will not bring about a revolution. South Korea has been launching these balloon propaganda campaigns for decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Koreans, seeing these balloons heading for their town don’t go into their houses and shut the doors. If you find a balloon, you must turn it over to the authourities. If you read the contents you will be punished. If you keep what’s in it, you’ll be punished. If you see someone else reading the material and don’t report them, you will be punished.

Here’s another article from the Korea Times about how Seoul has stated that there are no signs that the North Koreans are staging widescale protests. The protests are small, and localized, and have no chance of growing beyond that. People are not allowed to travel between provinces at will, and there are military checkpoints all over the country.

Sorry for this long-winded rant. In a nutshell, North Koreans can’t revolt because they lack the ability to organize. There are no mass communication tools available to them. There is a great fear of repression from the authourities. The only real opportunity for change in North Korea will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, and this must happen sooner rather than later, or Kim Jong-Un’s grip will become as strong as his father’s. The coup would happen at a high military level, and as I mentioned before, many of these people are family to the Kim dynasty. I’m going to stop now, I could probably go on for hours.


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Feb 16

Kim Jong-Il’s 69th birthday bash

February 16th marks Kim Jong-Il’s 69th birthday, a national holiday for North Korea. Lavish events are planned and underway for the entire week, including synchronized swimming performances, film airings, lantern hangings and parades. Traditionally on the birthdays of the Dear Leader and his father Kim Il-Sung, gift bags are given out to citizens that often comprise of candies, trinkets and foodstuffs. However, reports indicate that some provinces did not receive gifts this year, likely due to food and money shortages and a particularly harsh winter. North Koreans not receiving gifts are therefore often indifferent towards the holiday.

In South Korea, activists had a present for Kim Jong-Il too: 100,000 anti-regime leaflets launched from balloons that will float into the North and spread information criticizing the North Korean regime and the 3rd generation succession process. Citizens are generally not allowed to read the pamphlets attached to these balloons, and are required by law to turn them over to authorities as well as report anyone else who finds or reads one.

One North Korean citizen made the extremely daring move to defect to South Korea on the same date. The man avoided guards and walked across the heavily defended demilitarized zone, walking 4 kilometres across a minefield. He was seized by South Korean border guards and interrogated; I’ll post more about this if more details are provided in the future. Most regard walking through the DMZ to be a death sentence, with millions of mines deployed all over. The traditional defection route is to cross the much less guarded Chinese border to the north, and get to South Korea through alternative means.

Here’s a video of the synchronized swimming for KJI’s birthday bash from North Korea’s official Youtube page. The song is “Footsteps”, an anthem idolizing future leader Kim Jong-Un.

Source: DailyNK / Guardian

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Jan 24

Public executions in North over South Korean leaflets

Leaflet dropping via balloons released from South Korea to float into residential areas of the North have been commonplace for years in North Korea. The leaflets are often released by human rights groups from Seoul and contain details of the more comfortable lifestyle of South Koreans, truths about North Korea’s leadership, and sometimes money and shortwave radios. North Korean authorities dispatch teams to collect and destroy many of these leaflets, and encourage people who have found them to turn them in without reading them, and report anyone who is seen reading them. Often the punishment for being caught will be time spent in a “re-education” camp, or a lighter sentence may be imposed if bribes are accepted.

In a clear example to North Koreans that reading these leaflets or pocketing their contents is unacceptable, officials in Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province gathered 500 people to witness the execution of a 45 year old woman accused of reading the pamphlets and a high ranking soldier for pocketing money from a balloon. The families of both executions were then sent to labour camps.

Recently, North Korean soldiers killed 5 and wounded 2 defectors, chasing them right across the Chinese border and shooting them on Chinese soil. The increased punishment for dissidence may be seen as a warning to those opposing the 3rd generation succession process, as son Kim Jong-Un slowly gets his feet wet under father Kim Jong-Il’s tutelage in Pyongyang.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo (2)

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