250,000 US casualties from American invasion of North Korea?

Today North Korea can’t seriously threaten North America with missile strikes, but it probably will by 2019. Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear and conventionally-armed missiles (and this could include poison gas and biological warheads) today threaten the 80,000+ US military personnel based in Japan, South Korea and Guam. They would be immediate targets should the US and South Korea attack the north.

Add tens of millions of South Korean and Japanese civilians who are at risk of North Korean retaliation. It would take only three nuclear weapons to shatter Japan and just two to cripple South Korea, not to mention polluting the globe with radioactive dust and contaminating North Asia’s water sources. Nuclear explosions would spread radioactive contamination over northern China and Pacific Russia.

Almost equally important, North Korea boasts one of the word’s biggest armies – 1,020,000 men, 88,000 crack special forces, and an trained militia of over 5 million. The North’s weapons are obsolescent; its small air forces and navy will be vaporized by US power but its troops are deeply dug into the mountainous terrain and would be fighting from prepared positions. War against North Korea would be a slow and bloody slog.

The Pentagon is not eager to tangle with the tough North Koreans. Estimates of the cost of a US invasion of North Korea have run as high as 250,000 US casualties and tens of billions of dollars.

[Excerpts of article by Eric S. Margolis, internationally syndicated columnist.]

North Koreans in Russia and other countries earning cash for regime

Human rights groups say North Korea workers in Russia are little more than slaves, subjected to everything from cruel and violent acts to ruthless exploitation at the hands of corrupt officials, while being forced to turn over large chunks of their pay to the North Korean government.

One Russian boss was quoted as saying, “They don’t take holidays. They eat, work and sleep and nothing else. And they don’t sleep much. They are basically in the situation of slaves.”

A report issued earlier this year by the Seoul-based Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimates that about 50,000 North Korean laborers are working low-paying jobs in Russia. They send at least $120 million every year to the regime in Pyongyang.

“The North Korean government maintains strict controls over their workers’ profits, in some cases probably taking 90 percent of their wages,” Scott Synder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Fox News.

Even so many North Korean laborers are willing to pay bribes to be sent to Russia given the dire economic and political situation at home.

The U.S. State Department issued a report on human trafficking last month that concluded that North Korean workers in Russia had been subjected to “exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.”

Such North Korean laborers work in other countries besides Russia. China uses large numbers of them, and Qatar has North Korean laborers helping build its World Cup stadium.

[Fox News]

North Korean men in Russia virtual slaves to Pyongyang

Some NGO workers helping trafficking victims said they estimated that 100,000 North Korean workers are in one region of Russia alone, working in gulag-like camps with salaries paid directly to the North Korean government.

“As in virtually every North Korean labor contract in foreign countries, employees’ wage payments are made to a DPRK government overseer or agent who skims off the lion’s share for dispatch to the Kim regime in Pyongyang, leaving a pittance for the individual DPRK laborers,” Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea said.

The Global Slavery Index – an annual study of worldwide slavery conditions by country – estimates US$2.3 billion is generated per year for the North Korean government while civil society groups say North Korean workers earn only between US$120 and US$150 per month and “may be forced to work up to 20 hours per day with limited rest days”.

Steven Kim, founder of US-based 318 Partners, a non-profit organization that helps North Korean refugees, said he had met many North Korean men who were in forced labor in restaurants, on farms or factories and were exploited by Chinese business owners who threatened them with deportation. A few of these North Koreans reacted violently when they were not paid and subsequently were sent to prison.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korean defectors point out locations of mass graves using Google Earth

Commercial satellite imagery and Google Earth mapping software are helping a human-rights organization take inventory of the worst offenses of the North Korean regime and identify sites for future investigation of crimes against humanity.

A new report from the South Korea-based Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)—a non-governmental organization that tracks human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the world’s most oppressive regimes—details how the organization’s researchers used Google Earth in interviews with defectors from North Korea to identify sites associated with mass killings by the North Korean regime. Google Earth imagery was used to help witnesses to killings and mass burials precisely point out the locations of those events.

“Although it is beyond our current capabilities to investigate and analyze the sites due to lack of access,” the researchers noted, “this research is a crucial first step in the pursuit of accountability for human rights crimes. It is also designed to serve first responders [NGO workers, forensic scientists, journalists, and others] who may enter North Korea in the future.”

Efforts to bring charges against North Korea’s regime in the International Criminal Court have been held up by resistance in the United Nations from China and Russia. However, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (UN COI) continues to bring attention to abuses by the North Korean regime, and it has called for measures to be taken to end human rights abuses and hold those responsible for the abuse accountable. And the UN COI continues to gather evidence in a repository for use in a future process.

While the Mapping Project is still in its early stages, TJWG released the report to “attract wider participation from both informants and technical practitioners with expertise and knowledge that will advance the project,” the researchers said.

[Ars Technica]

North Korea drought: “Worst crisis since 2001”

North Korea is facing severe food shortages after being hit by its worst drought since 2001, a report from the United Nations says. Crop production in the country has been hampered by a prolonged dry period and food imports are now urgently required to fill the gap, the UN has warned.

The most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, will be worst hit.

In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died during a widespread famine.

The latest drought is serious, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday, because bilateral food aid to the country has dramatically fallen in recent years. A persistent lack of rainfall in North Korea in recent months has decimated staple crops such as rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, which many of the country’s citizens depend on during the lean season that stretches from May to September.

The key regions affected include the major cereal-producing provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for about two-thirds of overall cereal production, the FAO said. Inefficient food production means that large parts of the North Korean population face malnutrition or death.

[BBC]

Homosexuality virtually unheard-of in North Korea

When North Korean defector Jang Yeong-jin arrived in South Korea in 1997, officials debriefed him for five months but still hesitated to release him. They had one crucial question unanswered: Why did Mr. Jang decide to risk crossing the heavily armed DMZ border between the two Koreas?

“I couldn’t explain what it was that bothered me so much, made my life so miserable in North Korea, because I didn’t know until after I arrived here that I was a gay, or even what homosexuality was.” Mr. Jang said. His struggle continued even in the capitalist South, where he said he felt like a “double alien”: a North Korean refugee who was also gay.

Mr. Jang, 55, is the only known openly gay defector from North Korea living in the South. In  an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor,” he described his experiences as a gay man growing up in the totalitarian North, where the government maintains that homosexuality does not exist because people there live with a “sound mentality and good morals.”

Mr. Jang said he never heard of homosexuality while growing up in Chongjin on the eastern coast of North Korea, even when he developed a crush on another boy. “When the subway was crowded, I sat on his lap, and he would hug me from behind,” Mr. Jang said. “People didn’t care, thinking we were childhood friends.”

“In North Korea, no ordinary people conceptually understand what homosexuality is,” said Joo Sung-ha, who attended the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the 1990s and now works as a reporter for the mass-circulation South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo. “In my university, only half the students may have heard of the word. Even then, it was always treated as some strange, vague mental illness afflicting subhumans, only found in the depraved West.”

[New York Times]

Defector appears in North Korean propaganda video

South Korean intelligence officials are investigating whether a prominent defector from the North has been kidnapped back to Pyongyang. In 2014, the woman, known as Lim Ji-hyun, fled to South Korea in 2014, where she became a popular TV personality.

In the North Korean video, she says she was lured away and forced to slander the North, and has voluntarily returned across the border.

The propaganda video was released on Youtube by the North Korean Uriminzokkiri website on Sunday. In the video, the woman introduces herself by another name, Jeon Hye-Sung. She is shown in conversation with an interviewer and Kim Man-bok, another former defector who also returned to the North.

She says she was lured to the South by the “fantasy” that she could “eat well and make lots of money” and claims that she was forced into slandering her own country. She describes how in the South everything was judged by money, how she was struggling to make ends meet and was asked to discredit the North on several TV shows. She said she was now living back with her parents again after returning to the North last month.

JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reports that the defector had thanked her fans as recently as April for a birthday party, calling it “possibly the happiest birthday of my life”.

Intelligence officials are investigating how Ms Lim might have re-entered North Korea. Some North Korean defectors have speculated that she may have been abducted on the China-North Korean border while attempting to smuggle out family members, the Korea Times reports.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of North Koreans have defected from the authoritarian state into South Korea. The unification ministry in Seoul told the BBC that since 2012 only 25 have returned.

[BBC]

Where North Korea’s elite get banned luxury goods

In much of the countryside, humanitarian groups say North Koreans live in grinding poverty. But in the capital, there is clearly money to spend.

You can buy anything your heart desires in one North Korean department store: premium blended whisky, jewelry and perfume. Or you can pick up a brand new drum set or a saxophone that’s carefully displayed in a glass case.

But there’s a catch. The department store is cash only.

New images released as part of a yearlong investigation by NK Pro, an independent North Korea monitoring group, shows just what money can buy in two luxury Pyongyang department stores.

If Western sanctions are meant to punish the ruling elite, it doesn’t appear to be working. Several items for sale in the NK Pro photos appear to be banned.

But why does the regime go to all the trouble of getting luxury goods to Pyongyang?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likes to keep the ruling elite loyal with sweeteners says Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korea defector who helped finance illicit imports into North Korea. But he adds there is another reason.

“They earn a lot of dollars and cash from these luxurious department stores by selling all these goods and they re-allocate these dollars into their priorities like the nuclear and missile program,” he said. “Luxury goods sales help them build more missile and nuclear material.”

Kim Kwang Jin says the luxury stores are part of the secretive Office 39 — a group the US government describes as a slush fund for the regime.

[CNN]

North Korean insider on why sanctions fail to work

American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong Ho says.

He should know. For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance.

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it. “North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after they’re sanctioned,” he said. “That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.”

Ri’s Chinese counterparts weren’t bothered, either, he said. “My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions,” he said. “When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.”

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border. In first the nine months of 2014 alone, Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

For more than two decades, the United States has been trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, alternating between inducements and punishments. In both cases, American policy has relied on China, North Korea’s erstwhile patron, using its economic power over its cash-strapped neighbor. But Beijing’s implementation of sanctions, even those it backed through the United Nations, has been patchy at best. China’s overwhelming priority is ensuring stability in North Korea.

China’s interest in North Korea is well known, but Russia’s role in supporting the former Soviet client state is often overlooked. Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent–some reports suggest exports have quadrupled–to North Korea this year.

“Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them,” Ri said.             Continue reading

 

North Korean insider now living in Virginia suggests top-level talks

In 2014, Ri Jong Ho grew increasingly disillusioned after Kim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a “traitor for all ages” and had him executed at the end of 2013.

For three decades, Ri worked in Office 39, the Workers’ Party operation responsible for raising money for the Kim family. The office has long been associated with both legal trade and illicit activity, including counterfeiting dollars and drug smuggling. The 59-year-old and his family now live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014, and moved to the United States last year.

Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea.

The former money man advocates an approach that combines Trump’s “maximum pressure” with another idea that the president has at least flirted with: talks.

“I think there should be top-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, so that they can both work together to solve the problem,” Ri said.

While there is a great deal of skepticism in Washington about negotiations, that shouldn’t stop the current administration from trying, Ri said: “Like they say in politics, yesterday’s enemy can be today’s friend.”

[Washington Post]