About Grant Montgomery

Grant Montgomery is co-founder of Family Care Foundation (FCF), a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for communities, families and children in 50 countries.

North Korea drought: “Worst crisis since 2001”

North Korea is facing severe food shortages after being hit by its worst drought since 2001, a report from the United Nations says. Crop production in the country has been hampered by a prolonged dry period and food imports are now urgently required to fill the gap, the UN has warned.

The most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, will be worst hit.

In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died during a widespread famine.

The latest drought is serious, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday, because bilateral food aid to the country has dramatically fallen in recent years. A persistent lack of rainfall in North Korea in recent months has decimated staple crops such as rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, which many of the country’s citizens depend on during the lean season that stretches from May to September.

The key regions affected include the major cereal-producing provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for about two-thirds of overall cereal production, the FAO said. Inefficient food production means that large parts of the North Korean population face malnutrition or death.

[BBC]

Homosexuality virtually unheard-of in North Korea

When North Korean defector Jang Yeong-jin arrived in South Korea in 1997, officials debriefed him for five months but still hesitated to release him. They had one crucial question unanswered: Why did Mr. Jang decide to risk crossing the heavily armed DMZ border between the two Koreas?

“I couldn’t explain what it was that bothered me so much, made my life so miserable in North Korea, because I didn’t know until after I arrived here that I was a gay, or even what homosexuality was.” Mr. Jang said. His struggle continued even in the capitalist South, where he said he felt like a “double alien”: a North Korean refugee who was also gay.

Mr. Jang, 55, is the only known openly gay defector from North Korea living in the South. In  an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor,” he described his experiences as a gay man growing up in the totalitarian North, where the government maintains that homosexuality does not exist because people there live with a “sound mentality and good morals.”

Mr. Jang said he never heard of homosexuality while growing up in Chongjin on the eastern coast of North Korea, even when he developed a crush on another boy. “When the subway was crowded, I sat on his lap, and he would hug me from behind,” Mr. Jang said. “People didn’t care, thinking we were childhood friends.”

“In North Korea, no ordinary people conceptually understand what homosexuality is,” said Joo Sung-ha, who attended the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the 1990s and now works as a reporter for the mass-circulation South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo. “In my university, only half the students may have heard of the word. Even then, it was always treated as some strange, vague mental illness afflicting subhumans, only found in the depraved West.”

[New York Times]

Defector appears in North Korean propaganda video

South Korean intelligence officials are investigating whether a prominent defector from the North has been kidnapped back to Pyongyang. In 2014, the woman, known as Lim Ji-hyun, fled to South Korea in 2014, where she became a popular TV personality.

In the North Korean video, she says she was lured away and forced to slander the North, and has voluntarily returned across the border.

The propaganda video was released on Youtube by the North Korean Uriminzokkiri website on Sunday. In the video, the woman introduces herself by another name, Jeon Hye-Sung. She is shown in conversation with an interviewer and Kim Man-bok, another former defector who also returned to the North.

She says she was lured to the South by the “fantasy” that she could “eat well and make lots of money” and claims that she was forced into slandering her own country. She describes how in the South everything was judged by money, how she was struggling to make ends meet and was asked to discredit the North on several TV shows. She said she was now living back with her parents again after returning to the North last month.

JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reports that the defector had thanked her fans as recently as April for a birthday party, calling it “possibly the happiest birthday of my life”.

Intelligence officials are investigating how Ms Lim might have re-entered North Korea. Some North Korean defectors have speculated that she may have been abducted on the China-North Korean border while attempting to smuggle out family members, the Korea Times reports.

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of North Koreans have defected from the authoritarian state into South Korea. The unification ministry in Seoul told the BBC that since 2012 only 25 have returned.

[BBC]

Where North Korea’s elite get banned luxury goods

In much of the countryside, humanitarian groups say North Koreans live in grinding poverty. But in the capital, there is clearly money to spend.

You can buy anything your heart desires in one North Korean department store: premium blended whisky, jewelry and perfume. Or you can pick up a brand new drum set or a saxophone that’s carefully displayed in a glass case.

But there’s a catch. The department store is cash only.

New images released as part of a yearlong investigation by NK Pro, an independent North Korea monitoring group, shows just what money can buy in two luxury Pyongyang department stores.

If Western sanctions are meant to punish the ruling elite, it doesn’t appear to be working. Several items for sale in the NK Pro photos appear to be banned.

But why does the regime go to all the trouble of getting luxury goods to Pyongyang?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likes to keep the ruling elite loyal with sweeteners says Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korea defector who helped finance illicit imports into North Korea. But he adds there is another reason.

“They earn a lot of dollars and cash from these luxurious department stores by selling all these goods and they re-allocate these dollars into their priorities like the nuclear and missile program,” he said. “Luxury goods sales help them build more missile and nuclear material.”

Kim Kwang Jin says the luxury stores are part of the secretive Office 39 — a group the US government describes as a slush fund for the regime.

[CNN]

North Korean insider on why sanctions fail to work

American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong Ho says.

He should know. For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance.

Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it. “North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after they’re sanctioned,” he said. “That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.”

Ri’s Chinese counterparts weren’t bothered, either, he said. “My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions,” he said. “When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.”

He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border. In first the nine months of 2014 alone, Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.

For more than two decades, the United States has been trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, alternating between inducements and punishments. In both cases, American policy has relied on China, North Korea’s erstwhile patron, using its economic power over its cash-strapped neighbor. But Beijing’s implementation of sanctions, even those it backed through the United Nations, has been patchy at best. China’s overwhelming priority is ensuring stability in North Korea.

China’s interest in North Korea is well known, but Russia’s role in supporting the former Soviet client state is often overlooked. Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent–some reports suggest exports have quadrupled–to North Korea this year.

“Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them,” Ri said.             Continue reading

 

North Korean insider now living in Virginia suggests top-level talks

In 2014, Ri Jong Ho grew increasingly disillusioned after Kim Jong Un suddenly denounced his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, as a “traitor for all ages” and had him executed at the end of 2013.

For three decades, Ri worked in Office 39, the Workers’ Party operation responsible for raising money for the Kim family. The office has long been associated with both legal trade and illicit activity, including counterfeiting dollars and drug smuggling. The 59-year-old and his family now live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014, and moved to the United States last year.

Jang had been leading economic cooperation efforts with China, and dozens of people who worked for him were also purged at the time, Ri said. He worried that his family would be next. They escaped to South Korea.

The former money man advocates an approach that combines Trump’s “maximum pressure” with another idea that the president has at least flirted with: talks.

“I think there should be top-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea, so that they can both work together to solve the problem,” Ri said.

While there is a great deal of skepticism in Washington about negotiations, that shouldn’t stop the current administration from trying, Ri said: “Like they say in politics, yesterday’s enemy can be today’s friend.”

[Washington Post]

Kim Jong Un spouse Ri Sol Ju makes appearance at banquet

North Korea’s leadership has been in a celebratory mood since the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week that the country said meant it had “risen to become one of the few nuclear weapons states.” There is so much joy, in fact, that even the wife of leader Kim Jong Un has come out of hiding.

Public appearances by Ri Sol Ju have become increasingly rare within the past two years. But she was by Kim’s side as the pair attended a banquet in Pyongyang Monday to pay tribute to the developers of the recently launched missile. It was the first time she has been seen in public since early March, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

Video of the celebrations shows Ri largely observing impassively next to her husband. When Kim offers toasts to the missile developers, the head of whom was promoted to the role of colonel general, Ri moves into the background, without a glass in hand.

Ri was first seen by Kim’s side in 2012, shortly after he had succeeded his father as the country’s leader. It wasn’t until after her appearance, though, that North Korean state media confirmed her name and the fact that she was Kim’s wife. The wedding is believed to have taken place in 2009, when Ri was said to be 23. Little, however, is known about her.

A former member of a renowned orchestra, Ri was, though, seen in public on numerous occasions through 2012, 2013 and 2014, something which in itself was a break from tradition. The wives of Kim’s father and grandfather were never seen in public.

But sightings have declined substantially since.

The couple is known to have one child, a daughter who was confirmed by the unlikely source of Dennis Rodman following his visit to North Korea in 2013. Kim is believed to be desperate for a son to continue a family dynasty that has ruled the country since Korea was officially split into two states, in 1948.

[Newsweek]

Helping North Korean defectors overcome the language gap

Dedicated to closing the education gap in Korea, the nonprofit “Dream Touch For All” provides afterschool tutoring services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds ― including North Korean defectors. For defectors, training focuses on enhancing their language skills ― both Korean and English ― that have been widely cited as the main barrier for them adjusting to the South.

According to a 2016 study by the Korea Development Institute (KDI), 40 percent of the 2.95 million North Korean defectors in South Korea were students in their 20s, 10 percent of whom were enrolled in a university. And although affirmative action policies here make it relatively easier for them to get into universities, most of them struggle. Their dropout rate is significantly higher than that of their South Korean peers, the most cited reason was difficulties with the English language. Getting used to the Korean language used in the South  is also a challenge, as the two Koreas have grown apart in their use of dialect, terminology and expressions over the past several decades.

“Dream Touch For All”s work with North Korean defectors began coincidentally in 2013, its CEO and founder Choi Yu-kang told the Korea Times. “I met one student who had fled the North and this led to us hosting a summer camp for student defectors,” he said. Choi talked about the first day at the camp, when a volunteer stood up and talked about a fleeting conversation he had with one of the students. “The student told the volunteer, jokingly, that no matter how hard they study, they will never be able to become like him, a student at a top-ranking university in Seoul. But then, the volunteer burst into tears and soon the whole floor was flooded with tears.”

The organization provides afterschool English lessons at Yeomyung School, in central Seoul, which consists of student defectors aged between 14 and 28.

[The Korea Times]

North Korean defectors down as border tightened

The number of North Koreans escaping to the South declined sharply in the first half of this year as Pyongyang strengthened controls on its border with China, officials said Wednesday.

Since the DMZ dividing the Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, almost all defectors go to China first — where they still risk being repatriated if caught — and then on to a third country before traveling to South Korea.

In the six months to June, 593 Northerners entered South Korea, down 20.8 percent from the same period in 2016, statistics compiled by Seoul’s Unification Ministry showed.

As usual most — 85 percent — were women. North Korean men who try to leave are likely to be rapidly identified as absent by their work units.

Pyongyang’s “tightened grip on the population and strengthened border controls add to the risks for potential defectors to take the plunge”, a ministry official told AFP.

The Seoul-financed Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that since late 2015, the North has been bolstering border controls and installing high-tension electric fencing along the Tumen River that forms the border with China.

A total of 30,805 North Koreans have fled to the South, many of them leaving during the famine years of the 1990s. Arrivals peaked in 2009, but numbers have fallen more recently, with leader Kim Jong-Un reportedly ordering crackdowns on defectors and tightened border controls after inheriting power from his father in 2011.

[SBS-Australia]

Meet an American woman helping North Korea’s defectors

One woman in Virginia has made it her mission to find people who have escaped North Korea’s totalitarian regime and can tell their story to inspire and liberate others.

Suzanne Scholte is president of Defense Forum Foundation. In a “labor of love,” she has been reaching out to North Korea defectors for over a decade, helping fund a small radio station run by these people in South Korea to broadcast news, truth, information and messages of hope to those living under the North Korean brutal dictator, Kim Jung Un.

The shortwave radio station run by North Korean defectors relies exclusively on private donations, allowing it to include Christian programming as part of its daily broadcast. Scholte seeks partners who, with $250, can sponsor a full hour of programming that provides vital information and news.

In late April, she hosted her 14th annual North Korean Freedom Week to “prepare for the regime collapse and peaceful reunification of Korea” with North Korean defectors in Washington, D.C.

These defectors, like all North Koreans, were manipulated to hate Americans as “Yankee Imperialist Wolves.”  Now they start with a church service and then go to the Korean War Memorial where they lay a wreath, with great emotion, for the Americans who died making South Korea free.

“It’s very powerful because these are people brainwashed to hate us and now they know we were the good guys,” Scholte says.

 [The Daily Caller]