Reportedly executed North Korean singer makes surprise TV comeback

A North Korean singer said to be Kim Jong-un’s former girlfriend and reported to have been executed by firing squad last year has appeared on state television. Hyon Song-Wol was shown delivering a speech at a rally of national art workers in the capital Pyongyang on Friday.

The 31-year-old North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and the performer were said to have been teenage lovers but had been forced to break up by Kim Jong-il, Mr Kim’s father and predecessor.

The singer was reported to have been caught up in palace intrigue last summer having incurred the displeasure of Ri Sol-ju, Mr Kim’s wife. (Shown in photo below, sporting a new, shorter haircut.)

Undated photo released by KCNA on May 11, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (front C) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (front L) inspecting an Air Force Combat Flight Contest.

In August, Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper with close links to its country’s intelligence services, reported that Hyon and 11 other well-known performers had been caught making a sex tape and executed.  The reappearance of Hyon came after months of speculation about whether she was alive.

[National Post]

Uncharacteristic apology after building collapse in Pyongyang

In an uncharacteristic step by the North Korean government, officials have made a public apology after a building collapse in Pyongyang reportedly led to the death of hundreds of people.

Officials including the country’s Minister of People’s Security offered “profound consolation and apology” to the family members of those that died in the 24-storey building collapse on Tuesday.

The Minister of People’s Security, Choe Pu-il, said that his poor supervision had led to the “unimaginable accident” and that he had “repented” after the accident. He added that “he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures.”

Reports also say that the leader of the secretive Communist state, Kim Jong-un, had been deeply affected by the accident and that he had “sat up all night, feeling painful” when he had heard about the accident.

North Korean authorities rarely give coverage to incidents that might lead to negative public perceptions, however in this case, not only did KCNA, North Korea’s state news channel, show images of the collapse, they also showed footage of the rescue effort and statements of apology from government officials.

[The Independent]

US Envoy on low prospects of restarting North Korean nuclear talks

Glyn Davies, the Obama administration’s special envoy for North Korea policy, suggested Washington could accept “reversible steps” from North Korea on denuclearization in order to jump-start frozen negotiations, which also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

He emphasized, however, that Pyongyang could only return to the long-paralyzed six-party process if it accepted the “fundamental premise” that the negotiations were focused on the permanent shuttering of its nuclear weapons program.

“Davies’ answer suggests that if the six-party talks were to begin, the first actions the U.S. and its partners would demand would be aimed at limits that curb the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile potential,” said Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association executive director, in an email.

A stillborn U.S-North Korea agreement reached on Leap Day 2012 involved such a promise of a testing moratorium; Pyongyang was seen to quickly break faith with Washington when it weeks later unsuccessfully attempted to send a rocket into space.

The six-party talks format focuses on rewarding North Korea for its phased denuclearization with timed infusions of economic assistance and security agreements; the last round of negotiations took place in late 2008. Since that time, Pyongyang has detonated multiple atomic devices, carried out a number of apparent long-range ballistic missile tests, revealed a uranium enrichment capacity and restarted a mothballed plutonium-production reactor. Most recently, the world has been waiting to see if the North will make good on its repeated threats of conducting a fourth nuclear test.

Davies painted an overall dim picture of the current state of the nuclear impasse with the North: “The fact that they’re not interested in resolving the cases of Americans who have been imprisoned in North Korea tells you something about their current interest in going back to multilateral diplomacy.”

“This new leader has done us a favor, in a back-handed fashion, of making it quite clear that he has no intention of meaningfully denuclearizing, and that presents a problem. But it also is a clarifying moment,” said Davies, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

[National Journal]

North Korea is no joke

In the past weeks, North Korean state media have called the female President of South Korea a “dirty political harlot” and an “old prostitute”; the gay chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea “a disgusting old lecher with 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality”; and, in a loathsome screed, referred to U.S. President Barack Obama as a “monkeyish human monstrosity.”

Still, North Korea’s exceptionally vile words pale in comparison to its criminal actions. … In North Korea, racism isn’t just talk. That U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report summarizes testimony from North Korean refugee women and former border guards who say that the regime forcibly aborts or murders the babies of refugee women sent back to North Korea by China, on the presumption that the babies’ fathers were Chinese, to maintain the myth of state-mandated “racial purity.”

We should stop infantilizing North Korea and dismissing it as ridiculous. The temptation is understandable. The North Korean regime’s very weirdness causes much of the world to dismiss its invective as the rant of a regime that is merely isolated, eccentric, and misunderstood.

But North Korea is not just a bizarre abstraction … it is a murderous regime that is approaching nuclear breakout, and whose human rights violations, according to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, “have no parallel anywhere in the world.” North Korea’s words reflect the character of its political system.

[From CNN Opinion article by Joshua Stanton and Sung-Yoon Lee]

The Corpse Division of North Korea

Jang Jin-sung’s new memoir, Dear Leader, is a remarkable story of struggle and survival, the tale of his desperate flight from North Korea in 2004. Jang Jin-sung, by the way, is a pen name. Given Jang’s unusual position of privilege, the book also presents a rare look inside the lives of the North Korean people and its leaders.

The average North Korean citizen received monthly, pre-measured food rations from the state until 1994, when the collapsed economy left people to fend for themselves. (Those in high levels of government and the military still received rations.)

Death from starvation grew so common that it led to the founding of the ominously but accurately named Corpse Division. Jang first saw them when, in a park, he noticed “a swarm of homeless people who looked to be either dead or dying. There were also men hovering over the bodies like flies, at times poking the inert figures with sticks.”

When he asked who they were, a friend replied, “They’re from the Corpse Division. They get rid of the corpses. All the other provinces [except Pyongyang] dispatch them to the main park near the station. All sorts of people move through the station, so they come here to beg, until they die.”

Jang saw the division in action. “The Corpse Division had a loaded rickshaw, on top of which some empty sacks were laid,” he writes. “Six bare and skeletal feet poked out from beneath these in oddly assorted directions. For the first split second, I did not understand what I was seeing, but as soon as I realized these empty sacks were human bodies, I grew nauseous.”

Water was scarce as well. The lower and middle classes “frequented the boiler rooms at foreign embassies, restaurants, or central state institutions. If you paid a bribe, the staff would allow you to have some of the hot water from the overflow pipe.”

Despite the desperation, woe to the North Korean who stole food. Executions, Jang learned, took place weekly. ….”Soldiers rushed in from all directions to surround the square, herding us into the center with the butts of their rifles,” writes Jang. The prisoner, who had stolen a bag of rice, was brought in wearing everyday clothes, which Jang took as a message to the townspeople that “any of them could be in this position.”

The man, “eyes full of terror” and “blood around his lips,” was brought into the center as “a military officer read out his judgment,” and a judge declared, “Death by firing squad!”

After this less-than-five-minute “trial,” a soldier shoved “a V-shaped spring” into the man’s mouth to “prevent him from speaking intelligibly,” so that he “could not utter rebellious sentiments” just before he was shot dead in front of the day’s shoppers.

[news.com.au]

After fleeing North Korea

The academic work of Professor Clifton Emery, a lecturer at Seoul’s Yonsei University, focuses on the power that social groups and communities wield over the specter of child abuse, and as part of a wider study he is currently interviewing 200 North Korean defectors to examine the risks they face in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder and family violence.

This work has put him in contact with the underground railroad, a network of smugglers and NGOs working to bring North Koreans to safety via a shadowy route that snakes from China to Southeast Asia and finally to Seoul. Many of these refugees are women, who willingly sell themselves as brides to rural Chinese men and then wait, often bearing several children to their husbands, until the opportunity for escape presents itself.

It has also brought Emery close to the aid workers – a handful of Israelis among them – who help the process along. One of his closest Jewish friends these days is Yotam Polizer, the Israeli serving as Asia Director for the NGO IsraAid, which offers trauma care training and workshops. IsraAid has offered training to the counselors and therapists who serve as refugees’ first contacts when they make it to South Korea and to the government-run Hanowan Resettlement Center that sits in the hills south of Seoul. There, the refugees learn the bare bones of democracy, free speech, and capitalism. They are taught that they can say whatever they wish about their government and practice any religion they choose. It’s a paradigm shift of massive proportions.

This evening two dozen aid workers and psychology students gather together in a lecture hall to discuss the intricacies of trauma and how they can identify, salve and treat the emotional wounds of shell-shocked North Korean defectors. Much of that work focuses on nonverbal treatment, be it through art, music, or movement, allowing survivors of the North Korean regime to express themselves without the burden of a written record.

Such a cross-section of humanitarians, Emery says, is typical. “The people doing the work and defectors themselves are all over the map politically,” he says. “You have fundamentalist Christians and you have very secular professional Western organizations and you have IsraAid. What we share in common is a sense of the absolute urgency of this crisis.”

It’s really a question, Emery says, of how much we believe in the term “never again.” He says, “I grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust and hoping that if I had been alive at that time I would have had the moral fortitude to do something. I simply cannot look myself in the mirror and not do something. It’s just a very simple response of the heart.”

[Times of Israel]

Disillusioned by meeting Kim Jong Il

“Until the day I met Kim Jung Il,” North Korean defector Jang Jin-Sung says, “I truly considered him divine, as someone more holy, like a sage – someone to be revered, someone who was better than us, who was sacrificing his own life for the people.”

Jang, a poet, caught the dictator’s eye, and was invited for a private audience with him.

Unti then, so effective was the regime propaganda machine, Jang told CNN’s Christine Amanpour, that he did not even believe that Kim the elder used the toilet.  “The man I saw standing in front of me was a man, he was a human being. He was not a holy man; he was not a saint; he was not a god. He was a man just like me, who did use the toilet.”

In propaganda, Kim had used “perfectly composed, flowery language,” Jang said, and was deeply reverential of the people. “But when I met him, he just spoke in slang like in a kind of commanding colloquial, working-class slang, even to his most senior men. …. And that was shocking to me.”

From that highest perch of North Korean society, Jang could clearly see for the first time all the lies he had been told. The truth became even starker when he went back to visit his hometown of Sairwon, in the southwest of the country.  “That was when I really witnessed the devastating effects of the famine. That’s where I saw the corpses in the station area just piling up and being taken away.”

As many as 3.5 million people are estimated to have died during North Korea’s severe famine of the 1990s, according to the South Korean NGO Good Friends. (Official North Korean numbers estimate that 220,000 people died.)

Jang also witnessed a public execution [in his hometown]. “It’s considered a method of moral education … So that’s why these executions happen in public places, such as market squares, where people watch it. It becomes a theater.”

A decade ago Jang decided to flee the country. Not even his family knew he was planning to leave.

 [Read full CNN article

Shadowy organization in control of North Korea

Who controls the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea? According to a North Korean defector, it is not the 31-year-old dictator Kim Jong Un.

“When Kim Jung Il died and Kim Jong Un succeeded him, people saw the transfer of power from father to son,” Jang Jin-Sung told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in London. “What they did not see also was what happened to the apparatus of the totalitarian system that supported the rule of Kim Jung Il.”

That apparatus, Jang said, is the Organization and Guidance Department, or OGD, an “old-boy’s network” made into a massive surveillance organization. Kim Jong Un has had to rely on his father’s “old-boys network” to get anything done.

“After the execution of [Kim Jong Un’s uncle] Jang Song Thaek, [Kim Jong-un] has become an orphan – not just in terms of family connections, but in terms of politics.”

Because that group does not respect the younger Kim, who was educated in Switzerland, the way it did his father, Kim Jong Un has become nothing more than the symbolic head of North Korea.

[CNN] 

China denies planning for North Korean collapse

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed purportedly leaked plans for dealing with regime collapse in North Korea, while the plan’s authenticity itself has come under question:

John Delury, a professor of Chinese history at Yonsei University in Seoul told NK News that it is highly likely that China, along with other stakeholders such as the U.S. and South Korea, would have contingency plans for a North Korean regime collapse but that he is “deeply skeptical” of the validity of this report.

“I don’t doubt the existence of such plans. The Chinese have mentioned them to me and others, at least in think tank settings, if not publicly. Indeed, it would be pretty odd if the PLA and other agencies did not have such plans, but I’m not convinced Kyodo actually saw them,” said Delury.

This is a sentiment shared by Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese history at the University of Leeds. “Where are the documents? If they don’t actually exist or cannot be excerpted in Chinese or English, I would be skeptical, although Kyodo is a decent news agency.”

Genuine or not, the plans highlight China’s high stake in North Korean stability, with collapse likely to send both a humanitarian crisis and geopolitical chaos washing over its border.

The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne notes that the intact Pyongyang regime presents a “more immediate nightmare” for Beijing: “Evidence North Korea is about to pull the trigger on its fourth nuclear test underline that the North is marching determinedly, one step at a time, toward the day when it can target any city in the Asian Pacific—and potentially large population centers in the U.S.—with nuclear attack.

“This is China’s nightmare: a nuclear arms race on its doorstep, and one that adds muscle to its rival Japan as the two wrangle over a set of islets in the East China Sea.

“Yet it would be a huge leap for Beijing to actually abandon one of its few real friends in the world. In the end, the demise of a socialist ally may be too unnerving a prospect for the Chinese Communist Party, which frets about its own mortality.”

[China Digital Times]

North Korea hits out at Christian missionaries

Responding to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, North Korean ambassador Se Pyong stated, “There are in the northeastern area of China so-called churches and priests exclusively engaged in hostile acts against the DPRK. They indoctrinate the illegal border crossers with anti-DPRK ideology and send them back to the DPRK with assignments of subversion, destruction, human trafficking and even terrorist acts.”

Rev. Eric Foley, who is the CEO of Seoul USA, a US/Korean NGO that operates a number of discipleship bases reaching North Koreans, says, “The significance of North Korea’s comments cannot be overstated. North Korea is choosing to publicly blame Christian missionaries for its human rights problems and internal difficulties.”

Foley notes that the situation facing North Korean missionaries in Northeast China is tight and getting tighter. But Foley adds that the challenge is not only from North Korea. “If North Korea is pointing to missionaries operating in China as a source of potential North Korean instability, and if it is alleging that China is the host, then missionaries can expect an increasing crackdown on churches and discipleship bases reaching North Koreans.”

[Christian Newswire]