Category Archive: UN

Jul 15

France opening a “Cooperation Bureau” (not an embassy) in Pyongyang.

France, the only nation in the European Union to have no diplomatic relationship with the DPRK, has announced that it will be opening a “cultural cooperation” office in Pyongyang. From the AFP:

France will open a cooperation bureau in North Korea, Le Monde newspaper said Tuesday, but underscored that Paris was not launching diplomatic relations with the reclusive Stalinist state.

A senior French diplomat is currently in Pyongyang where he "will present to the North Koreans" the future French representative, the daily said, identifying him as Olivier Vaysset, a diplomat who has worked in Singapore.

"The opening of this office does not signify that France is opening as such diplomatic relations with this totalitarian country," it said but added that it could serve as a "diplomatic intermediary."

The proposed office will handle cultural cooperation, it said.

The French embassy in Seoul declined comment on the report, saying any comment would have to come from Paris.

The then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in March last year his country would not establish diplomatic relations with the North but would open an office to support non-governmental groups.

"We are not going to open an embassy, certainly not," Kouchner told a news conference in Tokyo. "Open an office, yes, in order to help the NGOs there."

France is the only major European Union member that does not have diplomatic ties with the communist state.

Paris has argued that the human rights situation must improve and has cited concerns over nuclear proliferation.

French special envoy to Pyongyang, Jack Lang, visited the North in November 2009. He said afterwards that France had offered to forge permanent cultural links with North Korea but not full diplomatic ties.

It’s been an especially belligerent last couple of years for North Korea. Tensions on the peninsula caused delays for establishing the cultural office, but the project seems to be back on the table.

Source: AFP / The Chosun Ilbo

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Jul 04

The current food situation in North Korea–and why no one knows much about it.

Last week, a collection of smuggled clips of daily life in North Korea was released by Australian media outlet ABC. The footage was only available for 24 hours, but other mirrors exist such as the one embedded below.

From ABC:

Shot over several months by an undercover North Korean journalist, the harrowing footage shows images of filthy, homeless and orphaned children begging for food and soldiers demanding bribes.
The footage also shows North Koreans labouring on a private railway track for the dictator’s son and heir near the capital Pyongyang.
Strolling up to the site supervisor, the man with the hidden camera asks what is going on.
"This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-il to comrade Kim Jong-un," he is told.
The well-fed Kim Jong-un could soon be ruling over a nation of starving, impoverished serfs.
The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give.
"I am eight," says one boy. "My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors."

In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army.
"My business is not good," complains the stallholder.
"Shut up," replies the official. "Don’t offer excuses."
It is clear that the all-powerful army – once quarantined from food shortages and famine – is starting to go hungry.
"Everybody is weak," says one young North Korean soldier. "Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished," he said.

The source of these images is AsiaPress’ Rimjin-gang magazine. The project employs citizens journalists in North Korea who receive hardware like cellphones or digital cameras and training on how to use them, and smuggle the images captured back across the border.

The situation is perpetually bleak, but an international debate over how to, or even whether to, support North Korea with humanitarian food aid rages on.

The first place to look for humanitarian aid should be the United Nations’ World Food Program. Joshua Stanton on his blog One Free Korea hosts an interview with Marcus Pryor, the spokesman for WFP Asia. It’s hard to disagree with Stanton and his suspicion of WFP’s monitoring rigour. For more perspective from a World Food Program monitor in the late 90s towards the end of the ‘Arduous March’, read Erich Weingarten’s story of his first aid monitoring trip in North Korea on 38 North. It’s well worth the read on exposing the dilemma facing inspectors who are unable to interact with anyone or anything the government doesn’t present them with.

The Christian Science Monitor echoes the sentiment from the US and South Korean leadership, which both agree that North Korea cannot adequately guarantee that food is going to the right places, and therefore should not receive said food aid. The South Korean government has also maintained its stance that it will not be providing its rival brother with aid.

China has been importing grain in greatly increased numbers in the past year, not as aid, but presumably at a greatly discounted rate. Chinese-DPRK relations are at a high right now, following a highly publicized meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the establishment of many new economic ventures between the neighbour countries.

The European Union has announced a 10 million Euro ($14.5 million USD) aid package as well. From the Associated Press:

"The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food," Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

EU experts on a recent mission to the country determined that state-distributed rations, which provide food to two-thirds of North Koreans, have been cut by more than 60 percent, to about 400 calories, the EU said.

Even severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries are not getting any treatment and many citizens have grown so desperate that they are eating grass, the EU added.

A nice gesture, but the intention is for the aid to be “strictly monitored” by the existing unreliable methods employed by the WFP.

Can there ne any reasonable way to monitor the distribution of aid in North Korea? This is likely impossible with the current, long-standing regime, where anywhere and everywhere can be made to be off limits to foreign eyes. A destabilized North Korea is probably the first step required to see that the people most in need receive vital nutrition.

Source: ABC / One Free Korea / World Food Program /Yonhap (1) (2) / Associated Press / Christian Science Monitor

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Jun 29

DPRK becomes president of UN Conference on Disarmament by alphabetical coincidence.

image

The United Nations Conference on Disarmament, a forum of 65 member countries dedicated to negotiations of disarmament (North Korea’s strong suit) just got a new president—due to an antiquated rule stating that presidency is rotated among all member states alphabetically. So Se Pyong, pictured centered above, is the North Korean ambassador heading the conference. From Canada.com:

Nuclear-armed North Korea has assumed the presidency of a key United Nations disarmament body — despite facing UN Security Council sanctions over its weapons programs.

The development comes in the same week the UN defended its decision to support Iran’s holding of an international "anti-terrorism" conference — which saw participants declaring that Western powers were the international terrorists.

UN officials point out that North Korean ambassador So Se Pyong takes on the presidency of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament under rules that say the chair will rotate among all 65 member states in alphabetical order.

But critics said Wednesday the rules should be changed when they allow the body — whose mandate is in part to push for world nuclear disarmament — to be led by a country that the West considers to be an international nuclear renegade.

So Se Pyong said during an address Tuesday he was "very engaged in moving the conference forward," and would use his four working-weeks of presidency to seek "constructive proposals" that would strengthen the "work and the credibility" of the conference.

Makes for a great sensationalist piece, but the duration of presidency is only four weeks and given the efficacies of bureaucratic process and international bickering, that doesn’t seem like much time to do a lot of damage. But what do I know.

Source: Canada.com

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May 17

UN report on illegal weapons trade between Iran and North Korea blocked by China.

Are the Chinese protecting North Korea? Or is this a calculated move to avoid backlash for allowing illegal shipments through their country? AP reports:

China blocked the release Friday of a report by U.N. experts accusing North Korea of violating U.N. sanctions that ban the export and import of ballistic missile and nuclear-related items as well as conventional arms and luxury goods.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the Security Council to discuss implementation of two rounds of sanctions against the North that Beijing is "still studying that report."

The report by the seven independent experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to monitor implementation of sanctions was sent to the 15 Security Council members for their approval by Tuesday morning. Diplomats said China was the only country that objected to its immediate release.

Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Philip Parham said there was "pretty broad support" for the report in the council but China had problems with it.

The panel’s first report, in May 2010, was also held up by China, which has close ties to North Korea. It was finally released in November after Beijing dropped its objections.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a faxed statement that "China is earnest and responsible in implementing Security Council resolutions." She said the panel’s report "does not represent the Security Council’s position" nor the position of the council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea.

The report, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, said North Korea remains "actively engaged" in exporting ballistic missiles, components and technology to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia in violation of U.N. sanctions.

The panel said prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between North Korea and Iran on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air, with trans-shipment through a third country that diplomats identified as China.

It also said North Korea has completed — or is about to complete — construction of a second launch site for long-range rockets on its west coast close to Tongchangdong which could be used for ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. sanctions. It said the installations appear "bigger and more sophisticated" than the original site on the east coast used for the 1998, 2006 and 2009 Taepodong missile launches.

The Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second test in 2009 to try to derail the country’s rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The second round strengthened an arms embargo, authorized ship searches on the high seas for suspected banned items, and ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the country’s nuclear and weapons programs.

While U.N. sanctions haven’t stopped the North’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs or its arms trading, the panel said, "they have made it more difficult and expensive for the country to pursue these."

But North Korea has exploited loopholes and other vulnerabilities in shipping and transportation practices and has become increasingly sophisticated in establishing shell and front companies and offshore financial agents, and in using multiple affiliates and aliases to mask individuals and companies subject to sanctions, it said.

As an example, the panel said information has recently come to light that Union Top Management, the shell company registered in Hong Kong that chartered an aircraft impounded in Bangkok last December with 35 tons of arms, planned five different fights. The Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane flying from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, with the arms was the first flight, it said.

Portugal’s U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea, told reporters he believes the allegations in the report "are indeed serious."

He said he expects the committee to informally discuss the panel’s findings and recommendations.

According to the panel, North Korea announced several major escalations in its nuclear program during the past year: the weaponization of separated plutonium, revelation of a uranium enrichment program, construction of a light water reactor, and announcement of a program to develop nuclear fusion technology to obtain "safe and environment-friendly new energy."

The panel made 24 recommendations on improving monitoring of sanctions and oversight of their implementation and strengthening measures to prevent the export and import of banned items including enhanced cargo inspections and customs vigilance.

The panel said North Korea should be "compelled" to abandon its uranium enrichment program, saying it believes the government’s aim in starting it was primarily for military purposes. North Korea should also abandon construction of a new light water reactor, which it is using as justification for the uranium enrichment program, it said.

Nothing really new here, aside from the allegations that China has turned a blind eye to the weapon sales between Iran and the DPRK. North Korea has been frequently suspected of, and I would imagine guilty of, selling weapons to Iran, Libya, and Burma. Could an increased round of sanctions from the UN really help in any meaningful way?

Source: Associated Press

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