Seoul charges North Korean defector with selling military secrets

A South Korean court has charged a North Korean defector with breaching a law on military secret protection, media reported Thursday. The man identified only by his surname, Lee, was detained for selling sensitive data about the South’s military to a foreign agent.

Lee is suspected of leaking 109 pieces of data, including personal details of South Korean spies working abroad, to a person from an unspecified East Asian diplomatic mission.

The classified military information was reportedly obtained from former ranking officials at the South Korea Defense Intelligence Command.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said earlier that North Korea had stolen information from dozens of Seoul top government officials’ smartphones.

[Yonhap]

North Korean defector-turned-Christian

Sung-min (not his real name) was well-off and a college graduate in North Korea. But he was disenchanted with his country and decided to leave. In January 2007, he crossed the Tumen River into China.

“The border guards told me to go to a church where I could get help but I refused because I was an atheist. At first, I hid out in an apartment in China. A Chinese man I got to know during the river-crossing ended up bringing over a preacher to me who I had refused to meet him at first. He said he understood my hardships and told me that Jesus died on the cross to give me eternal life.

“I cried, knelt down and prayed with him and made the decision to become a Christian.”

Today, Sung-min works on a Christian radio program in South Korea, which promotes unity among North and South Koreans in preparation for reunification. He says, ” I believe around 10 million North Koreans are listening to our program on mobile devices.”

Sung-min believes many of the North Koreans who have defected and become Christians have returned to their country in order to share the Gospel. He estimates 30,000 of them belong to the underground churches in North Korea.

Sung-min adds, “I believe God has a plan for us and will reunite Korea in his time and in his way. Our program aims to embrace the differences and restore common identity of the people of two Koreas.”

[CBN News]

North Korean defections to South down in first half of 2018

The number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea during the first half of 2018 fell by 17.7% compared to the same period in 2017, according to official statistics recently released by the South’s Ministry of Unification (MOU).

If the trend continues through to December, this year could become the first time since prior to 2001 where fewer than 1000 defectors enter the South in one calendar year – just one-third of the peak recorded in 2009.

Of the defectors arriving in South Korea, 88%, were women – representing a small rise in the female-to-male ratio compared with the same period in 2017. This ratio has slowly risen in recent years, first reaching 80% of the total in 2015 and 83% for the full year in 2017.

Women currently make up 72% of all recorded defectors, which, according to the MOU, now stands at 31,827, having passed the 30,000 mark in November 2016.

But numbers have been dropping since Kim Jong Un assumed power at the end of 2011, due to a range of new and varied proactive measures by North Korean authorities.

Before settling in South Korean society, all newly arriving North Koreans are required to undergo three months of “training for social adaptation” inside the MOU-operated Settlement Support Center for North Korean Defectors, also known as Hanawon.

[NK News]

North Korean defector the lone survivor of five siblings

Jae-un is the lone survivor in a family of five siblings. Her father was taken to a labor camp in North Korea when she was 2 years old, and never heard of again. During the Great Famine in the mid-1990’s, her only brother died of malnutrition. Her mother died on the road while trying to find food to bring back to her starving family.

Jae-un, vividly recalled in tears, the hardship they went through. “During the famine, we only got rice once in three days. When my mother died, we did not have the strength to bury her. My older sister went to China to earn a living for the family. She sent money once to buy rice but I never heard of her after that. I learned that she was sold as a slave. My other sister engaged in smuggling, got caught, and was sent to a labor camp where she also died.”

Out of desperation, Jae-un decided to escape from North Korea. One night in December of 1999, she crossed the Yalu River and swam for the Chinese border. The water was freezing and the current was so strong but she was determined to survive.

After arriving in China, she was sold to a man who she ran away from because he did not treat her well.

It was then that Jae-un joined a Bible study group in China. She remembered the woman she met prior to her escape who spoke to her about God. Jae-un said she was impressed with the woman’s kindness. “She gave me money to buy three months’ worth of rice and she told me that God is alive and is with me since He is the Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows. I had heard of God in North Korea but I was also aware that believers are taken to prison.”

Jae-un married a North Korean man she met in church and they eventually made it to South Korea.

[CBN News]

Trump’s battle of wills with North Korea and China

The Trump message to Kim Jong Un was direct and blunt: You, your father, and your grandfather have all touted your nuclear program as a guarantee of regime security. Policies of previous U.S. administrations allowed you to persist in that delusion. Not this one.

President Trump used a two-track approach to drive the threat home. First, his “fire and fury” rhetoric was accompanied by credible, calibrated leaks of administration preparations for kinetic action that, depending on Pyongyang’s response, could readily escalate to destruction of the Kim government.

At the same time, the president seized on an even more plausible and readily available instrument of regime change: North Korea’s internationally-condemned crimes against the humanity of its own population. With the proper mix of covert action, strategic communications, and coordination with North Korean defectors, the despised Kim machine could be effectively dismantled without the massive carnage inherent in major military conflict.

To China’s Xi Jinping, Trump was equally clear: You will no longer be able to garner undeserved international prestige as a responsible and moderating force while duplicitously enabling and protecting North Korea’s mounting existential threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States. Chinese entities, both official and commercial, which subvert international sanctions against North Korea, will pay an increasingly heavy price.

These indicators of Trump’s seriousness brought Kim Jong Un to agree to meet with President Trump in Singapore.

Presently, It is clear there is now a test of political will between Washington and Beijing on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

[The Hill]

UN official seeks inquiry into defection of North Korean waitresses

A United Nations official called for an investigation into the defection of North Korean restaurant workers to the South in 2016, saying at least some of the group appeared to have been deceived into leaving and hinting that Seoul officials were responsible. The fate of the waitresses has become a source of tension between North and South Korea, threatening to strain the cross-border detente that has blossomed over recent months. Pyongyang says the women were abducted by Seoul’s spy agency and has demanded their return.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that his interviews with some of the women revealed concerns about how they ended up in the South. He has urged the South Korean government to repatriate any who wished to return to North Korea.

Seoul says the 12 women and their male manager defected willingly from the restaurant in China where they worked. North Korea has long sent workers abroad to earn money for the regime; as part of that effort, Pyongyang operated dozens of restaurants in numerous countries employing North Koreans.

North Korea has used the issue to try to extract concessions from the South, presenting the Moon administration with a dilemma: Risk hurting the current detente by refusing, or set a precedent of returning defectors to North Korea, which could discourage future defections.

[Wall Street Journal]

Economists who fled North Korea on the significance of special economic zones

South Korea’s blueprint for railroad links through North Korea to China and Russia falls well short of Kim Jong Un’s vision for developing his impoverished nation, according to a defector who provides economic research to the government in Seoul.

Defector Kim Byeong-uk, 55, teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and runs a small private economic research firm. Kim’s research firm interviews defectors to gather information about facilities ranging from factories to schools and hospitals. Kim said: “What South Korea wants is to connect the Korean Peninsula to reach out directly to Russia and China, but what the North primarily wants is to shore up its own economy by bringing in more money from overseas to its special economic zones.”

Kim Jong Un has increased the number of special economic zones more than fivefold to 27 since succeeding his father as North Korea’s leader in 2011. While the regime in Pyongyang has focused on military and nuclear deterrence to ensure its survival, the time may have arrived for boosting the economy.

Kim’s wife, Kim Young-hui, who is a specialist on the North at the Korea Development Bank in Seoul, concurs with his view that most of economic zones in the North remain severely underdeveloped. “North Korea is dying to see an inflow of multinational and U.S. companies to its economic zones,” she said. “If Americans go to North Korea and start living there, then there’s virtually no chance that the U.S. would attack it or start lobbing bombs there. What could be a better security guarantee than having U.S. citizens in the country?”

She and her husband made their way to Mongolia before defecting to South Korea with their two sons.

[The Japan Times]

Defector twice escapes North Korea

Growing up in North Korea, Gim Gyu Min listened to banned radio broadcasts from the South that turned him against his own country. “I was born in a normal worker family,” he said. “My father was a weapons technician, and my mother worked at the local state-owned market.”

As a student, he turned to activism. He destroyed several symbolic sites of the state, including a local polling station. He was arrested and while in prison awaiting trial, Gim realized he would be sentenced to a prison camp. In order to be sent to a hospital instead, he swallowed a nail, causing enough injury to require surgery. After the operation, he took advantage of lax security during a public holiday to escape and flee across the border into China, where he was arrested and returned to North Korea.

This time he was imprisoned at the Chongjin Detention Center, a political prison in the mountainous northeast corner of North Korea, relatively near the Chinese border. From there, he escaped a second time, again taking advantage of the public confusion during a holiday. Crossing parts of China and Mongolia on foot, he was finally rescued by the South Korean government.

Gim had good reason to flee a North Korean concentration camp. Political prisoners in the camps have been ordered to dispose of corpses and women have been forced to kill their own babies, according to a 2014 UN report. Some escapees have described watching the mortal remains of prisoners being “burnt like rubbish” and their ashes used as fertilizer.

It is not unusual for entire families, including young children, to have been incarcerated as a form of collective punishment against a single malcontent who committed the same sort of anti-state activities as Gim. As for his own family, Gim has heard they’re all dead.
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North Korean defector filmmaker making movies that expose human-rights abuses

Gim Gyu Min is a filmmaker dedicated to making movies that expose the human-rights abuses in his native North Korea.

His movies are based on events that he witnessed during the North Korean famine. In the late 1990s, he watched a woman being arrested for cannibalism after she resorted to eating her own son. Gim’s 2015 movie “Winter Butterfly” was sparked by her story.

Today Gim is openly decrying South Korea and the US for not publicly condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s human-rights abuses. “It is wrong not to make North Korean human-rights abuses an issue,” Gim emailed from his office in Seoul shortly after the June 12 summit. “Peace that excludes the human rights of North Koreans cannot be a genuine peace.”

“Since the June 12 summit, we know the North’s propaganda machine has been working flat out to portray it as a success for their ‘Great Leader.’” The harsh realism of Gim’s films contrasts sharply with the glitzy meeting in Singapore, where the dictator posed for selfies and was generally feted like a rock star. Is it any wonder that defectors are worried their concerns will be lost in the diplomatic shuffle?

“It may be nostalgia and revenge for my family that’s driving me to make films about human rights,” Gim said.

[New York Post]

Why these North Korean defectors are learning English

Yoon-ho: “I took a leave of absence from my university because I was struggling with classes, mainly because of English. I had also applied for some opportunities abroad, but I was rejected because my English wasn’t good enough.”

Sunhee: “Some people think that because I am studying hair design and working in a beauty salon that I don’t need English, but that is not true. I have attended many workshops and career fairs where it is clear that you need English. I am at the final stage of a competition for an internship abroad for which there will be an individual English interview.”

Hyunhee: “My major is nursing, and there is so much English terminology that I must learn. When it is time for discussion in my university classes, I am quiet because I don’t have confidence to say anything in English. It is so stressful because next semester I will have three classes in English.”

Hea-young: “I remember the moment that I decided I would learn English. I was at church, a foreigner greeted me. But I could not reply, even the word “hello” was stuck in my brain but could not come out of my lips. I was thinking, “I escaped from North Korea where I was taught that foreigners are dangerous, but I was with some foreigners trying to talk to me, but I can’t communicate at even a basic level.”

Mikyung: “I saw Yeonmi Park give a speech at an international event. ….At that moment, I decided I would focus on English.”

[Korea Times]