Envoys for six-party talks gather in Seoul

Top nuclear envoys for six-party talks to dismantle the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s nuclear program gather in Seoul this week to discuss cooperation in Northeast Asian region.

Top delegates to the six-way dialogue from China, the United States, Russia and Japan will take part in the multilateral forum on the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative. Attending the forum, the second after last year’s first round, will be Chinese vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Igor Margulov, U.S. special representative for DPRK policy Sung Kim, and Kimihiro Ishikane, recently appointed director-general for the Japanese foreign ministry’s Asian and Oceanian affairs bureau.

The South Korean foreign ministry asked the DPRK’s counterpart to participate in the multilateral forum, but there has been no response delivered from Pyongyang.

[Xinhua]

November 1 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Last year was the worst year for persecuted Christians in contemporary history; beatings, rapes, kidnappings and killings all increased. To let persecuted Christians know they are not forgotten and to educate Americans about persecution, Open Doors USA is turning to technology to reach into homes and churches across the nation via the ministry’s second live webcast.

During the live webcast, Open Doors USA will provide expert commentary and give viewers the chance to ask questions of persecuted Christians from Iraq and Kenya through a live chat. There will also be a rare interview with a North Korean woman who spent several years in a prison camp because of her faith.

[Christian News Wire]

Comparing North Korean and British Birthday Celebrations

“It was a birthday celebration, but it felt more like a cult meeting in adoration of the leader. Row upon row of soldiers and civilians … marched in a minutely choreographed formation for two hours,” reported the BBC during a recent report from North Korea.

But the accompanying video does not pan over lavish celebrations held in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party. Instead it has been dubbed over London‘s flag-waving birthday celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s unelected head of state.

“A signal of unity, fearsome missiles means they [are] ready to fight any kind of war,” the BBC’s Seoul correspondent Stephen Evans goes on to say in the BBC clip … But Evans’ voice-over fits just as comfortably with footage of a flyover by the Red Arrows – the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team who are regularly deployed on big national occasions, peppering London’s sky in patriotic red, white and blue smoke.

But the video mashup – first uploaded to YouTube last week – is a humorous take on the UK’s fascination with North Korea, while showing up how the country’s media are seemingly blinded to our own national eccentricities. Of course, the comparison is crude: the UK is a healthy democracy whilst the DPRK has only known leaders from one adulated family, the Kims.

In the YouTube edit, adoring citizens are shown singing and waving the union jack in front of the Queen and her offspring, while the voice-over describes footage of North Koreans celebrating under the watchful (and forceful) eye of their authoritarian government.

“It does arguably highlight an uncomfortable truth about idolization,” wrote the Independent.

[Read full Guardian article]

Kim Jong Un and wife enjoy a night out with the rogue state’s premier girl band

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju (4th from right), along with members of the Moranbong Band who performed at the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. [Click photo to enlarge]

Kim Jong-Un has continued the celebrations of his ruling Workers’ Party’s 70th anniversary with a concert by North Korea’s most popular girl band – and even posed for pictures surrounded by the young women.

Kim Jong-Un, 32, and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, believed to be in her late 20s, can be seen surrounded by members of the Moranbong Band, an all-female group reportedly the most popular in North Korea.

In another photo, the rotund ‘Dear Leader’, appears to be enjoying himself, as he laughs and enjoys a crafty cigarette while sitting next to his young wife, who wore a pale pink satin jacket and matching skirt.

 

[Daily Mail]

Former army officer defects from North Korea

The man is polite, but clearly anxious. He has asked us not to show his face, and to conceal his identity.

After more than two decades serving in North Korea’s military, he escaped from the country last year. He had to leave his wife and his two daughters behind.

His defection was driven by desperation. His family was struggling for food, and the only way he could see to provide for them was to cross the border to China and earn money to send back. During his first attempt he was caught, but before it was clear he intended to cross the border. He says he was beaten for 15 days, his family rounded up and questioned, the friend he had been traveling with taken away.

He resolved to ‎try again, but this time he knew it would be his last chance. He told his family to deny all knowledge and blame everything on him. He set out in the dead of night, inching his way down a 150-metre cliff and wading a‎cross a river in the dark. “Where the water was deep, the surveillance wasn’t so strong. … I sat down and cried for an hour, thinking my wife and children would be in jail.”

Now, in his immaculately tidy flat in South Korea, he has one of everything: one mug, one bowl, one soup plate. Dinner time is the worst, he said, eating alone. He hasn’t been able to speak to his children since he left and has only occasional, brief phone contact with his wife.

In the corner is a piggy bank. On it he has written, “Thinking of my Kyung-Ae” ‎- his youngest daughter. He’s working long shifts and saving up to try to get his family out.

He knows they are alive, and has managed to get some money to them, but he ‎misses them terribly, and constantly re-lives how he said goodbye.

[Sky News]                                                                                      Read more

North Koran defector tells of the cult of fear

Forced to witness public executions and beaten for 15 days after his first escape attempt, a former North Korean soldier who dramatically defected to the South talks exclusively to Sky News about the horrors of life under Kim Jong-Un – and how he dreams of one day being reunited with his family.

I asked this former army officer, now defected and living in Seoul, about the TV footage we see from Pyongyang – the vast celebrations last weekend, the resounding applause for the country’s leader.

“When people are clapping,” he says, “if you don’t clap, if you nod off, you’re marked as not following Kim Jong-Un’s doctrine. … You chant ‘Long Live’ and clap because you don’t want to die.”

For all of the very public displays of ‎devotion, he says the reality is a brutal dictatorship.‎ He describes public executions, and a regime that demands total loyalty. “In our unit, when I was a lieutenant, we saw one of our own soldiers executed by gunfire. … I have seen a lot of public executions.”

Under Mr Kim, he says, people are more afraid‎. “When Kim Jong-Un does something wrong, or if the people don’t live well, he points to someone else and says , ‘you have done it wrong.’ … Therefore, the people get punished, or executed.”

“In North Korea, if you watch South Korean dramas, they can take you away; in extreme cases you can be executed.”

[Sky News]

North Korean defector trafficked and raped hopes her story raises awareness

A young North Korean defector who was trafficked and raped at the age of 13 after fleeing to China said on Friday that she hoped going public with her life story would shine a light on “the darkest place on earth”, her homeland.

In her memoir, Park tells how at age 13 she was sold, kidnapped and resold, ending up with a trafficker who made her an offer. If she became his mistress he would buy her mother who had been sold to a farmer but if she refused he would hand her to the police who would deport her to North Korea where defectors are sent to labor camps or even executed.

“For a long time I thought of it as a business transaction, not rape,” she writes. “Only now can I accept what happened in all its terrible dimensions.”

Park describes a hierarchy of gangsters who specialize in the trafficking of North Korean brides in China, which has a shortage of women as a result of its one child policy. Park said sometimes women asked to be sold into prostitution so they could make money to send home. She was told about brothels in Shanghai and Beijing where North Korean girls were injected with drugs so they couldn’t run away.

In her memoir, Park urges China to end its policy of repatriating North Koreans as it fuels trafficking and slavery. “I wish it had all never happened, and I never had to talk about it again. But I want everyone to know the shocking truth about human trafficking,” writes Park. “If the Chinese government would end its heartless policy of sending refugees back to North Korea, then the brokers would lose all their power to exploit and enslave these women.”

[Reuters]

North Korean defector Yeonmi Park on adjusting to a new life

Yeonmi Park is smart. She speaks three languages (Korean, Mandarin, English) and is the co-author of a new book, In Order to Live, with Maryanne Vollers. Park has rubbed elbows with Hillary Clinton, addressed the United Nations, recently moved to New York and experienced culture shock of a Martian-fallen-to-Earth magnitude since escaping to China in 2007.

“I didn’t know how to order a coffee,” she says. “People would ask me about my hobbies and what I liked. I had never been asked those questions. …  I didn’t know what a hobby was.”

“My life was about surviving.” In North Korea, survival meant food. “In North Korea I thought a frozen potato was the fanciest food in the world.”

She isn’t sure how she feels about love. She dreams of meeting someone and having a baby, but trust is an issue. Park escaped to China with her mother at age 13 only to be betrayed by human smugglers. Her first memory of China is of witnessing her mother’s rape. Her mother was then sold for $65. Park fetched $265 because she was a virgin — and 13 — and was passed around from trafficker to trafficker until one made her an offer: if she became his mistress, he would reunite her with her family, who are now in South Korea.

“He was married,” she says. “His daughter was a year younger than me. I thought maybe if I sacrificed myself I could do something for my family. I was raped. But he kept his word. He brought my mother back to me.”

Park tries to stay emotionally detached when she speaks of the past. It helps her to tell her story, but because it is not a story, but her life, the traumas lurk just beneath her polished, attractive and articulate surface. Indeed. Park didn’t cry during our 50-minute interview. But she wept afterwards, heaving and sobbing, before apologizing for losing control.

“I feel guilty,” she says. “I love North Korea, but not the regime. It is my country, but it is far away, another universe.”

[National Post] 

Canadian ruling party offers asylum for North Korean refugees

In response to a request from the Korean community, Canada’s Conservative Party is proposing a plan to help resettle stranded North Korean refugees.

Minister of Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said a re-elected Conservative government would develop specialized immigration measures for North Korean refugees stuck in countries in Southeast Asia.

“Our Conservative government’s openness to North Korean refugees is in keeping with Canada’s best humanitarian traditions,” Kenney said.

The Conservatives added that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been clear in condemning North Korea for their “atrocious human rights record” and “belligerent actions at the United Nations.”

Pyongyang show vs. rural life struggle

While North Korea prepares a big show to mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, the daily struggles of life outside the capital –such as finding clean running water and putting nutritious food on the table year-round– pose a harsh, but largely unseen, contrast to the grand celebrations the world will see Oct. 10.

To make sure Pyongyang looks its best, extensive construction projects have considerably prettied up the capital, which is far and away the most developed city in North Korea and is even relatively comfortable for the increasingly affluent segment of its populace.

North Korean farmer tills the soil by hand

But life in the provinces, and particularly in rural areas, is quite a different story. Instead of the new high-rise apartments and bicycle lanes that have been put up in Pyongyang for the party anniversary, the people in the communities of Sinyang County, which is just 150 kilometers (100 miles) from Pyongyang (takes three hours to reach by car on mostly unpaved roads), are just now just beginning to enjoy a far more fundamental improvement in their lives …”disease-free” running water.

North Korean women cart supplies by bicycle

Elsewhere, an old woman sits outside her home scraping corn off recently harvested cobs. The dry corn will be ground into flour to make food. In the North Korean countryside, this is a common sight. Everything must be done by hand, from the fields to the home.

A farmer on ox wagon between Pyongyang and the DMZ

[AP]