North Korea restricts access to Tumen River at border

North Korea is restricting access to the border with China and banning its citizens from using their mobile phones in places where they can still receive signals.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Radio Free Asia the “vetting” of ordinary North Koreans has “made it difficult to even go outside.” The source said, “We must report to the head of the local cooperative every time we look for firewood or farm the fields.”

North Koreans in North Hamgyong Province “who go to the mountains” are searched at sentry posts because people “can use their [international] mobile phones undetected” in more remote areas, according to the source. North Koreans with relatives on the outside frequently use mobile phones that can access Chinese networks at the border.

A second source in North Hamgyong Province said “the center” has “completely banned residents from coming within 150 meters of the Tumen River.” (The “center” refers to the central leadership in Pyongyang.)

“People who used to do their laundry at the river, or use the water for everyday living are being inconvenienced,” the source said. The source also said water was supplied for about an hour morning and evening, but “recently even that source has been shut off. …We now depend on mountain valley water merchants for our livelihoods,” the source said.

Additionally, North Korea has increased border surveillance, and China has also stepped up crackdowns on North Korean refugees.

[UPI]

A North Korean defector on Kim Jong Un launching nuclear war

Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector who witnessed her first public execution at age seven, is convinced despot Kim Jong-Un would launch nuclear weapons against its enemies as a “last stand”. Hyeonseo says the despotic leader would certainly launch his deadly arsenal if he faced defeat at the hands of the US.

“Kim Jong Un would launch missiles at South Korea, Japan and America. He’s a dictator who’d have nowhere to go and there would be no way to stop him. …There’s a slogan in North Korea which goes: ‘America dies, we die, we all die together’.”

Hyeonseo, now 37, went on to reveal how most North Koreans are ‘brainwashed’ into believing the regime’s propaganda and how the thousands who are forced to attend military parades “pee their pants” because they are forbidden from leaving. This past weekend Kim Jong-un paraded new ballistic rockets, tanks and his never before seen Special Forces units through the streets of Pyongyang in a show of strength against President Trump, who has refused to rule out a preemptive strike should Kim reach for the nuclear button.

Hyeonseo says her former compatriots believe Kim commands the most powerful military force on earth. “Most people in the country didn’t – and might still not – know about how powerful the United States is. They think North Korean weapons are the best in the world and they’re very proud of them. They believe they can protect the country from anyone.”

At the same time, she revealed how the thousands who lined the streets and frantically waved flags at the annual Day Of The Sun parade are secretly “sick and tired” of being forced to attend such events. “The people in the crowd are sick of [taking part in the parade]. They are still proud of the army but they don’t want to take part in these events.”

[Daily Mail]

North Korean defector warns Kim Jong-un plans to kidnap Americans if US attacks

North Korea has been secretly training special forces to kidnap Westerners in South Korea and hold them hostage in the event of a US attack, a defector has claimed.

Ung-gil Lee, who defected to South Korea in 2006, said Kim Jong-un had highly armed snatch squads designed to grab foreign diplomats and tourists from across the South Korean border. Mr Lee, who defected to South Korea after serving for six years in one of these clandestine units, said: “The best case [for his old unit] would be to round them up and take them north, but if not they will take the foreigners hostage in South Korea. But they will all be killed, come what may – this goes hand-in-hand with assassination.”

The 37-year-old, who now works as a financial adviser in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un’s rule was worse than all the prominent dictators in the Middle East and Africa combined, and warned that Mr Trump should only carry out an attack if he thinks he can remove Kim from power.

“[Kim Jong Un] is going to fight back and use all retaliatory measures. Unless Trump thinks he can get rid of him, he must not carry out an attack,” Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee was recruited to join North Korea’s infamous special forces and spent five years training as a communications officer. He said he was part of a 100-strong land and air group selected for raids on the South to destroy infrastructure, disrupt roads and ports, and kidnap foreigners. His group was also taught to memorize details about mobile phone systems, and were armed with nerve agents, with which they were in some cases required to carry out “suicide missions”.

[The Independent]

US warns North Korea while not ruling out talks

US Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea on Monday not to test American resolve, but he also raised the possibility that the Trump administration could pursue talks. The message, delivered by Mr. Pence on a visit to South Korea that included a stop at the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean Peninsula, showed that the American administration, while talking tough, was not ruling out negotiations.

North Korea should not test “the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Mr. Pence said in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Yet, he also noted that Washington was seeking security “through peaceable means, through negotiations.”

Though North Korea refrained from detonating a nuclear device and botched another missile test this weekend, the Trump administration has not yet found a way around the limited options against the North that constrained his predecessors and put it on the path to becoming a nuclear power.

The Trump administration essentially has three choices: a military strike that could ignite a full-blown war; pressure on China to impose tougher sanctions to persuade the North to change course, an approach that failed for his predecessors; or a deal that could require significant concessions, with no guarantee that North Korea would fulfill its promises.

Thus far, Trump has tried to signal both resolve and ambiguity, suggesting at various times that he is open to all three options. The question is whether his apparent willingness to consider both war and a deal may be enough carrot and stick to persuade China to change its approach and apply enough pressure to bring the North to the table.

[The New York Times]

Deal reached between Malaysia and North Korea

Three North Koreans wanted for questioning over the murder of the estranged half-brother of their country’s leader returned home on Friday along with the body of victim Kim Jong Nam after Malaysia agreed a swap deal with the reclusive state.

Malaysian police investigating what U.S. and South Korean officials say was an assassination carried out by North Korean agents took statements from the three before they were allowed to leave the country.

Angered by the Malaysian probe, North Korea had ordered a travel ban on Malaysians, trapping three diplomats and six family members–including four children–in Pyongyang.

Malaysia, which previously had friendly ties with the unpredictable nuclear-armed state, responded with a ban of its own, but was left with little option but to accede to the North’s demands for the return of the body and safe passage for the three nationals hiding in the embassy. Malaysian authorities released Kim’s body on Thursday in a deal that secured the release of nine Malaysian citizens held in Pyongyang after a drawn out diplomatic spat.

“It is a win (for North Korea), clearly,” Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said on the swap deal. “I presume the Malaysians decided not to get too involved in a remote country’s palace intrigues, and wanted their hostages back.”

Kim Jong Nam, the elder half-brother of the North’s young, unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un, was killed at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on Feb. 13 in a bizarre assassination using VX nerve agent, a chemical so lethal the U.N. has listed it as a weapon of mass destruction.

[Reuters]

Forbidden book smuggled out of North Korea

Written by a dissident writer still living inside the country, “The Accusation; Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea” is a collection of short stories about the lives of regular people, who live without freedom and under constant scrutiny.

Officially fiction, the book is considered to be a reflection of life under North Korean rule. The author is known simply as “Bandi”, Korean for firefly, a pen name he apparently chose himself.

The South Korean activist who helped smuggle it out, Do Hee-youn, tells CNN: “It doesn’t deal with political prison camps, or public executions, human rights issues. It shows normal life of North Korea citizens and it is very frightening. This book shows that they live like slaves.”

The book was published last month in the United States and United Kingdom, and is now available in 19 languages.

Do said he first heard about the manuscript completely by chance. “We heard about a North Korean defector,” Do told CNN, “A woman who had been arrested by Chinese border troops… We have been helping such cases in the past so we were helping her and we learned about Bandi and the manuscript.”

The woman told them Bandi was a relative and Do sent a trusted contact into North Korea to make discreet contact with the author. The hand-written manuscript was then smuggled out in between propaganda books on former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Do says the author Babdi is now retired and still living in North Korea but gives little else away, fearful the regime will discover his identity.  Do has little doubt Bandi is still writing and at some point in the future will attempt to share with the world his views of life under the current leader Kim Jong Un.

[CNN]

Why the sudden collapse of North Korea could be overwhelming

On the surface, the downfall of Kim Jong Un would seem like an unquestionable good thing. However, just a quick walkthrough of what could happen in an uncontrolled collapse sends shivers down the spine of anyone who has studied the subject in detail.

For our purposes, let us assume an internal event has caused the Kim family dynasty to come to a quick death. There is no central government and allied forces comprised of South Korea and the United States are moving across the 38th parallel to ensure order. What could be so bad?

Well, for starters, there would be immediate concern over who has control over not only of Pyongyang’s nuclear and atomic materials, but its perhaps much larger chemical and biological weapons stockpiles as well. North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons might be a much a bigger threat than its nuclear program. U.S. and allied forces would surely need to mount an unprecedented intelligence effort to not only locate almost all of these materials but protect themselves from chemical or biological weapon attacks by forces who could be still vying for power. Allied forces would also need to ensure that no weapons of mass destruction left the country–a non-proliferation nightmare of the worst kind.

There is an even more basic problem–that of a shattered society. How does one put back together a people broken by almost seven decades of being ruled as if they were slaves? How will the average North Korean, who only knows the Kim family, react to the end of the regime? Would some take up arms against those who would be there to ensure order? Is civil war a possibility? One thing is quite clear: It could take decades, but more likely generations, to wipe away the scars of psychological, emotional, and surely spiritual torture that was suffered.

Then there is China. Beijing’s greatest international worry is the collapse of the North Korean state. They fear a united Korea would become a major player in Northeast Asia, allied with America and armed with Washington’s best weapons and troops. And if millions of refugees started coming across the border into China, President Xi Jinping might send his own forces into North Korea–where a superpower showdown between Washington and Beijing could be in the offing.

And last, the sheer cost of rebuilding and reintegrating the North back into a united Korea would likely be in the trillions of dollars.

[The Week]