North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un says his country has developed a hydrogen bomb, but senior defense and intelligence officials poured cold water on that claim.
There is no evidence that North Korea has made such a weapon, they said. And while the communist country has some level of nuclear capability, that does not mean they have succeeded in building a working atomic bomb.
Also known as a thermonuclear bomb, a hydrogen bomb produces a much stronger blast than the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
A Canadian pastor of South Korean descent is still being interrogated in North Korea, where he has been held for almost a year, his fellow pastor has told VOA.
Rev. Hyeon-soo Lim, who leads the Light Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada, has been detained by the North Korean government and has not been in contact with family or friends since January 31.
His fellow pastor, Lisa Pak, said Canadian officials have visited Pyongyang and met with North Korean authorities twice since Lim’s detention, but have not made any meaningful progress.
Back in July, Lim made his first public appearance at a news conference in Pyongyang. Reading from a statement, he confessed to activities aimed at toppling the North Korean government and to violating the country’s Ebola quarantine policy.
His fellow Christians believe that to be a forced confession by the North.
Lim traveled into North Korea from China on January 30, to aid projects established by his church in the northeastern city of Rajin. The projects include aiding an orphanage, a nursery and a nursing home. Lim had previously visited the North more than 100 times.
Kim Jong-un has dispatched his all-female dance troupe on a six-day mission to China in an effort to rebuild relations with their northern neighbor.
Relations between North Korea and China have been strained since Kim Jong-un decided to test new ballistic missiles and detonate a nuclear bomb in a secretive underground bunker in defiance of a request from Beijing.
According to North Korean newspaper the Rodong Sinmun: “The DPRK State Merited Chorus and Moranbong Band will pay friendship visit to China to give performances from December 10 to 15.”
North Korean top military officials often look nervous and uneasy on state broadcasts as they face leader Kim Jong-un, well aware of his sometimes brutal struggle to bring the unruly military under control.
In one scene broadcast last week, Kim Jong-un can be seen sitting in the podium, when he gestures to Armed Forces Minister Pak Yong-sik to sit down. Pak, the North’s No. 2 military official … stares at Army politburo chief Hwang Pyong-so, the top-ranked military official. Kim then gestures Hwang to sit as well, but Hwang also appears too nervous to sit next to the leader. Eventually he sits down awkwardly after saluting Kim and Pak follows suit, also visibly nervous.
As the officials gather for a commemorative photo, Hwang stands next to Kim … but then suddenly steps aside, apparently mindful of being spotted standing next the leader for an extended period. Hwang was also pictured accompanying Kim at a military ceremony in June and suddenly back-stepping after realizing he had ended up walking ahead of the leader.
“Kim Jong-un’s reign of terror appears to have made officials very cautious,” a researcher at a South Korean state-run think tank said. “The atmosphere seems to have worsened after Kim’s key aide Choe Ryong-hae was demoted again and sent to a reeducation camp.”
Kim has carried out sweeping purges since he came to office, tacitly killing his father Kim Jong-il’s “military-first” doctrine that led to the army becoming a voracious and belligerent state within the state.
Rumors have circulated that Kim Jong Un narrowly avoided death after explosives were found at an airport he was due to visit last October.
A stack of explosives was reportedly found hidden inside the roof of Kalma Airport a day before Jong-Un was scheduled to arrive.
The TNT was discovered by North Korea’s State Security Department (SSD) just hours before the visit. The device had apparently been missed during an earlier sweep of the airport by Jong Un’s personal Supreme Guard Command bodyguards.
A source told Radio Free Asia: “The explosives found at the desk was a box of TNT which North Koreans use to blast through mines. The explosives were planted inside the roof of the airport’s information desk.”
South Korean commentators have suggested the incident was a stunt aimed at winning support for the security services. Jeong Jin-man, formerly of the South Korean Special Forces, said: “It might have been an SSD setup to win Kim Jong Un’s favour by setting up the TNT and pretending that they found it after the Supreme Guard Command had already swept the site.”
This comes as North Korean officials are said to be growing increasingly disenchanted with Jong Un’s iron-fisted rule.
North Koreans are hunkering down for a harsh winter that some fear could be made worse by a poor harvest following summer floods.
In rural areas, people are out each day on snow-covered roads pulling cartloads of firewood and cabbage and stockpiling whatever else they can for the months ahead. Most have just finished preparing their kimchi, the pickled and spiced cabbage that is a staple of the Korean diet.
To get through the winter, many rural North Koreans will use charcoal braziers or burn wood or corn husks for heat, which can lead to asphyxiation if homes shut tight against the subzero temperatures are not ventilated properly.
They will also need to stretch out their supply of kimchi, government rations and whatever they can grow in their “kitchen gardens” — small plots of land that families are allowed to maintain to grow food for their own needs. If they are lucky enough to have a chicken, they may have an egg or two. In some regions, they might have access to a very small amount of meat and fish.
The combination of the limited variety of foods that are available and the stresses on the body from the frigid weather creates major hardship for most North Koreans. Read more
Winter is generally not the toughest time of year as far as the North Korean food supply goes. North Korea’s “lean season” is from March to August, when supplies are depleted and the next harvest is still growing.
If the main crops of rice, potatoes and corn are thin and the winter crop — mainly wheat — is poor, that could make the coming lean season even leaner in a country where an estimated 80 percent of people still do not have an adequately varied and nutritious diet. According to the U.N.’s World Food Programme, North Koreans consume 25 percent less protein and 30 percent less fat than the amount required for a healthy life.
Darlene Tymo, the WFP’s country director in North Korea, said that although official statistics from the North Korean government are not out yet, the main harvest is believed to have been worse than last year’s. Especially remote and impoverished areas — particularly the mountainous provinces of Chagang and Ryanggang along the border with China — therefore could be looking at a hard winter ahead. “All indications are that it will be down from last year and the question is what percentage down,” Tymo said in an interview at the WFP’s office in Pyongyang.
“The big problem that remains — and I think it’s particularly difficult in the winter — is the lack of diversity in the diet. Outside of the capital, it is a population that very seriously lacks in proteins and fats, and certainly in vitamins and minerals,” Tymo said.
The United States and eight allies on the United Nations Security Council called for reviving discussions on human rights in North Korea, which has been accused by a U.N. inquiry of abuses comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.
“Chile, France, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States have requested another meeting of the Security Council to examine conditions in DPRK (North Korea) and their effects on international peace and security,” Hagar Chemali, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said in a statement.
Chemali said the United States, which holds the council’s rotating presidency this month, would work quickly to schedule the meeting.
Last month China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, said it would be a “bad idea” for the 15-nation Security Council to hold such a meeting, adding that the council “is not about human rights.” China is likely to veto any Security Council bid to refer North Korea to the ICC, diplomats said.
A year ago this month the 193-member U.N. General Assembly urged the U.N. Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court after a U.N. Commission of Inquiry detailed wide-ranging abuses in the hermit Asian state.
According to one survey, 50% of North Korean defectors described their status in the North Korea as “upper” or “middle” class, but only 26% said they fell into this category when living in South Korea.
The vast majority – 73% – described their new status as lower class.
Andrei Lankov, a historian at Kookmin University in Seoul who has also studied in Pyongyang, says the problem is that skills acquired in the North are insufficient for the modern South Korean economy. For example, doctors who defect often fail to get jobs in South Korean medicine.
In his opinion, this has implications for unification whenever (and if ever) it happens. “Can a graduate of a North Korean medical school hope to get a license in post-unification Korea if all his (or, more likely, her) medical knowledge is taken from poorly translated Soviet textbooks that are a few decades old?” he asks in a story for the NK News website.
Over the past two months, at least 12 wooden boats have been found adrift or on the coast, carrying chilling cargo — the decaying bodies of 22 people, police and Japan’s coast guard said. The first boat was found in October, then a series of boats were found in November.
Their best guess so far is that the ships are from North Korea. One clue pointing that direction is Korean lettering on the hull of a boat containing 10 decomposing bodies, one of three boats that were found adrift off the city of Wajima on the west coast of Japan on November 20.
“There’s no doubt that these boats are North Korean,” John Nilsson-Wright, head of the Asia program at the Chatham House policy institute, told CNN after looking at pictures of the boats. Wright said the lettering on the boats he looked at is Korean — or Hangul — text and the “primitive” boats and reference to the Korean People’s Army makes it “very logical” to assume the boats are from North Korea.
Yoshihiko Yamada, a maritime expert, told NHK the vessels bear a “striking resemblance” to those used by defectors from North Korea.
Wright believes it is people trying to flee the regime, although he said it’s impossible to be sure with the limited information available.
“What we do know is that for those people living outside of (North Korean capital) Pyongyang … life remains extraordinarily hard, and it may be an economic necessity as much as a desire for political freedom (that is) encouraging some people in the North to try and leave the country.”
He added that defectors could be taking the more dangerous route across the Sea of Japan — also known as the East Sea — because traditional routes, like crossing the border into China, are now policed and could be harder to use.