European Parliament has been in ‘secret’ talks with North Korea for 3 years

A European Parliament delegation said Wednesday it has been conducting secret talks with North Korea over the last three years to try to persuade Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear programme.

The group led by British MEP Nirj Deva has met senior North Korean officials, including ministers, 14 times and plans another meeting in Brussels in the near future. News of the below-the-radar diplomacy effort comes after the surprise announcement that US President Donald Trump plans a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, part of fast-paced developments following an Olympic detente.

Deva said he and his colleagues on the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula had been “relentlessly advocating the case for dialogue without preconditions” to end the increasingly tense nuclear standoff with the North.

The group also met senior officials in the US, China, Japan and South Korea, Deva said, for dialogue aimed at achieving a “verifiable denuclearized Korean peninsula. We told them in no uncertain terms that if they carry on with the missile programme and the nuclear bomb programme they will only lead to an inevitable conclusion which is unthinkable,” Deva said.

Deva said that from his meetings he believed the tough sanctions the EU has in place against North Korea had been an important factor in driving Pyongyang to agree to talks. “Part of the reason that this happened was the sanctions started to bite poor people – not the elite,” he said.

[The Telegraph]

How to cope with a North Korean refugee crisis

In the event of conflict breaking out in North Korea, analysts expect a large human toll. With a 1,670 kilometre shared border with North Korea, there would undoubtedly be a mass refugee spillover. To be prepared, both China and South Korea need to learn from other refugee emergencies by making three key policy decisions.

1. Adopting a temporary protection regime – Since 2011, the Turkish government has been providing asylum to Syrian nationals under a temporary protection scheme, which provides them with a set of rights, including the right to protection from forcible return, until a solution to their situation is reached. To benefit from this regulatory scheme, Syrian nationals must register themselves with the authorities within a designated time, and are issued identity cards, without which they cannot access vital services such as health care.

2. Allowing them choice of settlement – China and South Korea can emulate the Jordanian model, where Syrian refugees were given a choice to self-settle or stay in one of the designated refugee camps.

3. Including them in the formal economy – While needs in the early emergency phase mainly revolve around relief assistance, as time goes by refugees’ needs change. When refugees do not have a source of livelihood, they resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as child labor and street begging. China and South Korea can get inspiration from the Ugandan model if a refugee influx occurs. In this model, refugees work, pay taxes, and use their entrepreneurial skills to boost the formal economy.

[Read full article at The Conversation]

Meet the North Korean defector honored by Trump

During his State of the Union address, President Trump honored North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho.

Ji entered his teens during the famine and mass starvation in North Korea in the 1990s. In 1996, Ji was on a train trying to steal some coal to trade for food. He passed out from hunger and fell off the train onto the tracks. His left leg and parts of his left hand were pulverized as the train wheels plowed through them. Doctors amputated Ji’s leg and hand in a four-and-a-half-hour surgery with no anesthetics.

A decade later, Ji and his brother made a daring escape across the Tumen River into China. From there, Ji trudged on his hand-made crutches all the way to Laos and then Thailand. From there, he was sent to South Korea and reunited with his mother and sister who had escaped there prior. (Ji’s father died after a failed attempt to escape North Korea. Authorities tortured him severely, and he died from his injuries a few days later.)

While still living in North Korea, Ji met Christians during a temporary food-finding trip to China. When he returned, the North Korean authorities tortured him and wanted to know if he met any Christians. After escaping, Ji eventually converted to Christianity.

During an exclusive interview with the Daily Caller, Ji said of Communism, “Simply put, it is a horrible thing. Communism is a Hell.” When asked what he would say to North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un. Ji said he would tell the Communist leader, “In the land I lived in, you could choose life or death. I chose life. I chose to live in a land of freedom. I won. I achieved victory.”

In April 2010, Ji established Now Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), an NGO dedicated to fighting the human rights violations in North Korea.

[Church Militant]

Trump honors North Korean defector in his State of the Union speech

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Trump highlighted the inspiring stories of several individuals, one of whom was a man who defected from North Korea, Ji Seong-ho.

As a boy, Ji was run over by train as he tried to collect coal for his struggling family. He endured multiple amputations, and his siblings ate dirt so that he could have their allotment of food as he recovered.

Later, after a brief trip to China, Ji was tortured by North Korean authorities wanting to know if he had met any Christians. “He had,” Trump said, “and he resolved, after that, to be free.”

Ji traveled thousands of miles on crutches, across China and southeast Asia, to freedom. Ji now lives in Seoul, where he works to rescue other defectors. “Today, he has a new leg,” the president added. “But Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those old crutches, as a reminder of how far you’ve come.”

[National Review]

North Koreans can’t escape human rights abuses even after fleeing to China

The majority of North Koreans who attempt to escape the repressive regime cross the Yalu River from Korea into either Jilin or Liaoning provinces in Northeast China. From there, they commence an arduous 3000-mile journey south ― commonly known as the “underground railway” ― through China, Vietnam and Laos until they “safely” arrive in Thailand. Sadly, throughout their whole journey in China, these refugees are considered by the Chinese government to be “illegal economic migrants,” and if caught, are arrested and routinely forcibly repatriated to North Korea.

Over the years there have been thousands of documented accounts of refugees being arrested by Chinese authorities and being sent back to North Korea, a country that is widely recognized as being devoid of basic rights and freedoms. Upon return, they face serious human rights abuses including jail, internment in re-education facilities and even death ― tactics used by the Kim government to intimidate other North Korean citizens from attempting their own escape.

In addition to the unknown number of refugees that are caught by Chinese authorities each year, it is estimated that there are a further 50,000 to 200,000 North Koreans residing in China. Forced to live in the shadows, they have no social or legal protections, no support, no rights and no hope. This population includes a large number of women who face heightened vulnerabilities, including being trafficked into the sex trade or sold as wives to local Chinese men.

The decision by the Chinese government to continuously return refugees to North Korea seriously calls into question China’s credibility as a member of the international human rights community. While it might not be common knowledge, China did in 1982 sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This treaty contains a series of international legal obligations, including the fundamental tenet of non-refoulement: not sending someone back to a country where their life or liberty may be threatened. Despite this, China continues to proclaim that its national asylum legislation is “under development.” As 36 years have passed since its original signing of the Convention, it is safe to say that refugee protection is not a government priority.

The failure of China’s international commitments was again highlighted in the 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on the human rights situation in North Korea, which condemned Beijing for not only repatriating North Koreans but also for failing to protect them from falling into the hands of human traffickers. [However, China] dogmatically continues to arrest and deport North Koreans, citing them exclusively as “illegal economic migrants.”

[Excerpts from Opinion by Evan Jones, program coordinator at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network]

Concerns over US launching ‘limited’ strike or ‘preventive’ action against North Korea after the Olympics

Despite peace gestures tied to next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, officials in South Korea are worried the U.S. may be preparing for military action against North Korea.

Bruce Klingner, former chief of the CIA Korea division and now senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Washington-based conservative think Heritage Foundation, just returned from Korea, where he heard firsthand the concerns of senior South Korean officials. He said the unanimous view is that even a limited strike would certainly trigger a response from the North Koreans.

Some proponents of the Trump administration’s limited-strike option contend that the North Koreans might actually hold back from any military response out of fear that the risks of doing so are too great because it could produce a massive response from Washington and perhaps be fatal to the Kim regime. Yet others disagree, saying the North Korea leader would look bad if he didn’t respond since the regime has blamed the U.S. for crippling international sanctions and its other problems. They also contend that a faction of the military could act on its own if Kim failed to order a military response.

“Kim would have no choice but to respond back or he’d face the possibility of a coup,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, a U.S. think tank. “And maybe even respond more ferociously than we attack him.”

Any retaliation could potentially pose a threat to the greater Seoul area, where about half of the South Korean population lives. North Koreans are known to have thousands of hardened artillery sites, including some dug into mountains, along the Korean DMZ and within range of Seoul.

Another wildcard is what China would do if the U.S. were to conduct a strike against North Korea. An editorial last year in China’s semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested Beijing might help North Korea if Washington launched a pre-emptive attack. China was noticeably absent last week when diplomats from 20 countries met in Vancouver, British Columbia, to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat and international sanctions.

The upcoming war games known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve are set to get underway after the Olympics and involve American and South Korean ships, tanks and aircraft as well as live-fire exercises and more than 230,000 combined troops.


China stepping up repatriation of North Koreans who have attempted to escape

This year China has increased the arrests and repatriation of North Koreans attempting to escape the poverty and repression at home. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, 41 North Koreans were arrested in July and August alone, compared with 51 arrests documented for the entire year before.

Analysts attribute the rise in border arrests to efforts by China to discourage a possible flood of refugees as tougher economic sanctions imposed for Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests increases poverty and food scarcity among ordinary North Koreans.

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch has criticized China for violating the U.N. Refugee Convention by designating North Korean refugees as illegal “economic migrants,” and forcibly repatriating them despite the likelihood they will be imprisoned and likely subjected to inhumane treatment.

“This is condemning people to decades of forced labor, possible executions, certainly torture in every case,” said Robertson.

China has also reportedly blocked the United Nations Security Council from acting on a General Assembly recommendation to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, based on a 2014 Commission of Inquiry report documenting a network of political prison camps and systematic human rights abuses, including murder, enslavement, torture, rape, and other sexual violence.


China adds troops, cameras, radiation detectors at North Korean border

China has ramped up security along its border with North Korea, installing new surveillance cameras, deploying extra security forces and operating radiation detectors as it braces for a potential crisis.

Bellicose rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has raised fears in China of a conflict that could send millions of North Korean refugees across the 1,420-kilometre (880-mile) border, and of nuclear fallout that could hit Chinese towns.

Residents have seen an increase in patrols along the frontier. Radiation monitors are running in border towns, and locals say interactions with North Koreans have been discouraged. A red banner tacked to a border fence in Dandong — a major trading hub separated from North Korea by the Yalu River — has a Cold War-like message to residents: “Citizens or organizations who see spying activities must immediately report them to national security organs.”

On the opposite bank, North Korean soldiers peered out from turquoise watchtowers and at least one warplane surveilled the territory from above. Relations between China and North Korea have deteriorated as Beijing has backed a series of UN sanctions to punish its secretive ally over its repeated missile and nuclear tests.

Further north in Longjing, where the Tumen River freezes over in the winter, villages have established border protection units and cadres have taught self-defense to residents. The local propaganda department said last year that hundreds of cameras were being installed to build a “second generation border surveillance system.”

At the Dandong border crossing, authorities last week checked to make sure their nuclear radiation monitoring and protection equipment was working properly. “If the monitoring stations show any abnormalities, we will immediately alert citizens,” said Guo Qiuju, a professor at Peking University.


North Korean defector speaks out after China repatriates his family

North Korean defector Lee Tae-won is still plagued with guilt over his failed efforts to bring his wife and child to South Korea, which resulted in their forced repatriation and the likely prospect of imprisonment and possible execution in North Korea.

Lee’s wife and four-year-old son were reportedly among a group of 10 defectors that were apprehended by China soon after they crossed the North Korean border in late October.

In November he last spoke with his wife by phone while she was in a detention center in China. “As soon as my wife told me she was being repatriated, the call was cut. I thought the call was cut because the police took the phone. It was devastating,” he said.

At the time Lee made a public video message appealing to both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump to intercede and prevent the repatriation of his family, during the time the U.S. leader was visiting the region. His plea went unanswered. Lee was later told by a friend in North Korea that his wife and child were turned over to a North Korean state security department in late November.

There is concern among human rights advocates that North Korean human rights violations and China’s complicity are being downplayed by both the U.S. and South Korea. Focusing on human rights issues could complicate Washington’s efforts to persuade Beijing to enforce tough economic sanctions, and could also undermine Seoul’s efforts to increase cooperation and dialogue with Pyongyang.


A tale of two defectors – Part 1 – Sun-sil Lee

As delegates met in the no man’s land of Panmunjom yesterday, raising anew the prospect of reunification for families separated by the Korean War, two North Kor­ean defectors — one fearful of reunification, the other desperate to return — illustrate the deep ­divisions that scar the peninsula.

Last month, Sun-sil Lee moved into a new apartment outside of Seoul — a landmark moment for the 50-year-old who 12 years ago was starving on the streets of a North Korean border town, ­begging for food for herself and her three-year-old daughter.

The former army nurse, who gave birth on the streets after fleeing an abusive marriage, tried eight times to defect before succeeding at a terrible cost in 2005. Ms Lee had been determined to give her daughter a life without hunger but says human traffickers pounced soon after she stepped into China, carrying her child in a rucksack on her back. Over her own screams, and the little girl’s frightened pleas to her mother, they auctioned her off to the highest bidders among a group of people gathered for the sale.

“My daughter was grabbing hold of my hand as they took her away. She kept saying to me; ‘Mummy, I will never say I am hungry again. Please take me with you,’ ” she recalls.

Ms Lee herself was sold to a local Chinese wheat farm but escaped and eventually made her way into South Korea with help from a well-established defection ­network. She has never found her daughter, despite years of searching.

“People here [in South Korea] live in so much abundance and happiness, that they just cannot imagine the horrors that millions endure daily just two hours away by car,” she said.  [Continue story]