American student held in North Korea “confesses”

Otto Frederick Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who has been detained in North Korea for the past two months,  is accused of trying to steal a North Korean banner, containing a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel.

A North Korean official says the 21-year-old held a news conference “at his own request” Monday morning at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. The event provided insight into the bizarre charges he is facing, including allegations that he was encouraged to commit the “hostile act” by a purported member of an Ohio church, a secretive university organization and even the CIA.

In a video supplied to CNN, North Korean guards escorted Warmbier into the room. He was not restrained and was wearing dark trousers, a light-colored blazer, shirt and tie. Appearing to read from a statement, Warmbier said: “I committed the crime of taking down a political slogan from the staff holding area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel.”

Warmbier is also seen in the video sobbing and pleading for forgiveness, and bowing deeply to apologize, and stating, “I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”

Warmbier, a third-year business major at the University of Virginia, originally was detained on January 2 as he was about to board a plane and leave the country, according to Young Pioneer Tours, the China-based travel company that organized his trip.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard

Once the bodyguard of  Kim Jong Il, Lee Young Guk today is a human rights advocate for the people of North Korea.

Last week, Lee was in Geneva at the Human Rights Summit. The 54-year-old has a clear mission: to draw attention to the grave human rights violations in North Korea and get current leader Kim Jong Un in front of the International Criminal Court. He wants a conviction for the son of the man he used to protect with his life.

Lee was a high school student when he got the prestigious summons to become Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard. All candidates had to go through extensive tests of their bodies, as well their characters. “The most important factor was your family background,” Lee said. “They focused on the question of whether one of your relatives was a political prisoner or had defected to South Korea.”

Before he started, he had to go through training and was somewhat brainwashed, Lee said. “They told us again and again what a godlike being Kim Jong Il was,” Lee said. “In my mind, he was this great person.”

Lee said that impression was quickly corrected when he began working for Kim. “His language was vulgar,” Lee said. “He wasn’t the man I had expected at all.” Lee added. Kim was a very moody person.

Despite the preferential treatment the bodyguards enjoyed, they were always scared. They were afraid of making a mistake and falling out of favor.

Even small mishaps could have grave consequences for their entire families. “He was cruel and had no mercy,” Lee said. “If people talked about him behind his back or laughed at him, he had them ‘disappear’ in the dark of night. Even his close confidants.”          Continued

Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard now a human rights advocate

Lee Young Guk’s time as bodyguard came to an end in 1988. He had to leave – not because he didn’t do a good job, but because his cousin got the job of Kim Jong Il’s personal driver. It was prohibited for two members of the same family to work directly for the Kims.

For the first time in over a decade, Lee left Pyongyang, and was shocked by the poverty in the rest of North Korea. “I saw that basically nothing had changed in the outside world while I was gone,” Lee said. “People were still doing as badly as they were before: They were still going hungry or even starving.”

That’s when Lee first started doubting the regime. He used his professional past to get out of the country.. In 1994 Lee got a visa to China, from where he intended to flee to South Korea. His plan did not work, as he was sold out by a man who had promised to help him. He was returned to North Korea and sent to the Yodok camp: the infamous penal labor colony No. 15.

“Prisoners were treated like animals,” Lee said. “No – worse than animals.” Lee said he ate mice and snakes to survive; there was hardly any other food. “Every two weeks, many prisoners were selected and executed,” Lee said. “The rest of us had to watch, from maybe 10 meters away.”

Lee spent four years and seven months at the camp before he was released. When security forces tried to arrest him again, he managed to get away and flee across the river that marks the border with China.

[Deutsche Welle]

US calls proposed sanctions on North Korea a major upgrade

The United States on Thursday introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that it said will significantly increase pressure on North Korea in response to its latest nuclear test and rocket launch.

US Ambassador Samantha Power said the draft, which for the first time would subject cargo ships leaving and entering North Korea to mandatory inspections, goes farther than previous sanctions and is meant to ensure North Korea will be held accountable for its actions.

The draft is the result of an agreement between the United States and China, North Korea’s main ally and Beijing’s involvement signals a policy shift with regard to its often erratic neighbor. The council is expected to vote on it over the weekend.

China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi said China was working very closely with other members of the Security Council and that he hoped the resolution “would achieve the objective of denuclearization” and result in “peace and stability.”

Ambassador Power said the sanctions would also prohibit the sale of small arms and other conventional weapons to North Korea, closing a loophole in earlier resolutions. Sanctions would also limit and in some cases ban exports of coal, iron gold titanium and rare earth minerals from North Korea and would prohibit countries from supplying aviation fuel, including rocket fuel to the country. In addition, the resolution imposes financial sanctions targeting North Korean banks and assets and bans all dual use nuclear and missile related items. Items such as luxury watches, snowmobiles, recreational water vehicles and lead crystal were also added to a long list of luxury goods that North Korea is not allowed to import.

Jeong Joon-Hee, a spokesman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said the measures included in the draft would significantly hurt the North’s foreign currency income because it’s estimated that minerals account for nearly 40 percent the country’s exports. South Korea and Japan have also announced new measures against Pyongyang.

[AP]

Draft agreement by US and China on UN Resolution on North Korea

The U.S. and China reached an agreement over a new United Nations Security Council resolution that would punish North Korea for its recent rocket launch and nuclear test, according to diplomats from two Security Council member countries.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Washington and said they were making “significant” progress on new sanctions, without giving details.

China’s participation is essential as it is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, providing most of the isolated country’s energy and food. Any draft resolution would have to be voted on in the Security Council, where the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K. wield veto power.

That vote could be taken this week, according to one of the diplomats, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Reuters cited unnamed diplomats as saying the U.S. is seeking Chinese support to curb North Korea’s access to international ports, and to tighten restrictions on North Korean bank routes to the international financial system.

[Bloomberg]

As tensions grow on North Korean border, US to fund defector groups

UPI is reporting that a number of representatives of North Korean defector groups operating out of South Korea believe they will soon receive financial support from the State Department.

While UPI does not identify the individual organizations, it claims that representatives of these groups met with State Department officials in January and were told the White House was willing to “commit significant funds to defector organizations that can work toward internal regime change in the North.”

Among the programs that may be funded are airdrop operations using balloons, which provide information on the outside world to North Korea, as well as groups within the country that try to identify potential dissident leaders.

Pro-democracy groups have been working near the North Korean border for years, attempting to break the information wall set up by the Kim regime to block out the reality of the outside world.

[Read full article at Breitbart]

US general says conflict with North Korea would be akin to World War II

The commander of American forces in South Korea, Gen. Curtis Scaparrrotti, warned the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that a conflict with North Korea could resemble the scale of World War II.

Describing what the confrontation might look like, Scaparrrotti said, “Given the size of the forces and the weaponry involved, this would be more akin to the Korean War and World War II — very complex, probably high casualty.”

The U.S. military suffered 405,399 fatalities in World War II and 36,574 during the Korean War of 1950-1953. Korean casualties were in the millions.

Scaparrotti also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would use a weapon of mass destruction if he thought the fate of his rule was at stake. He said that tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at their highest level in more than 20 years.

The North Korean military warned the U.S. and South Korea Tuesday to expect retaliations for their annual joint military drill in March.

[CNN]

Seoul spy agency says North Korea plotting terror attack

South Korea said Thursday North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered greater preparations for terror attacks on the South, including cyberattacks.

According to an official from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, F-22s were brought to the country to demonstrate South Korea’s force and to warn North Korea.
The U.S. and South Korea on Wednesday intensified its pressure on North Korea by deploying stealth bombers and prohibiting civilian exchanges in response to the recent nuclear test from the regime of Kim Jong-un.

The US will send 15,000 soldiers, up from 3,700 a year ago, and South Korea will also increase its number of participants.

Seoul says the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system would be meant to destroy North Korean missiles targeting the South.

The reported threat comes amid worldwide tensions over North Korea’s February 7 rocket launch. Since August 2010, Pyongyang has broadcast strong radio signals to the South three times, disrupting Global Positioning System signals in Seoul and other regions and causing mobile phones and other electronic equipment to temporarily malfunction.

[utcecho.com]

North Korea offered — then rebuffed — talks with US

North Korea quietly reached out to U.S. officials through the United Nations in New York last fall to propose formal peace talks on ending the Korean War, a response to President Barack Obama’s comments that the U.S. was willing to engage Pyongyang as it has with other rogue regimes, senior U.S. officials told CNN.

That effort fell short, the officials said, with the North Koreans refusing to include their nuclear program in any negotiations as the U.S. required and soon after testing a nuclear weapon.

But it represented a new step from the Obama administration as it tried to lure the hermetic country out of its isolation and extend its track record of successful negotiations with nations long at odds with the United States, such as Iran and Cuba.

The U.S. told North Korea it was willing to discuss a formal peace to replace the 63-year-old armistice that ended hostilities after the Korean War, but only if efforts to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear program were part of the discussions.In doing so, the administration dropped a longstanding demand that North Korea take steps toward “denuclearization” before talks on a formal peace treaty began. Still, the North Koreans refused to allow the nuclear issue to be part of any talks.

[CNN]    

Chinese banks freeze North Korean accounts

Chinese banks including a branch of China’s biggest bank Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) have frozen accounts belonging to North Koreans, a South Korean newspaper reported on Monday.

Citing phone conversations with an unnamed employee of ICBC’s office in the northeastern Chinese border city of Dandong, the Dong-A Ilbo reported that since late December it had suspended all deposits and transfers of foreign currencies in and out of accounts with North Korean names. “[The bank] had never told me why it was taking such measures, but it seems that they are related with the strained relations between North Korea and China,” the ICBC employee told the Dong-A Ilbo.

Washington and Seoul are seeking support from Beijing, Pyongyang’s main ally, for tougher sanctions against North Korea for its Feb. 7 rocket launch and January nuclear test.

After the rocket launch, another bank in northeast China, had also blocked transactions to North Koreans’ accounts, according to the Dong-A Ilbo report, which cited a Chinese businessman who has invested in North Korean mines.

Dandong is home to many ethnic Korean Chinese traders who deal with both North and South Korean businessmen. It is also home to South Korean and western Christian missionaries trying to operate in North Korea.

[Reuters]