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]

Christian and non-faith-based groups rescue trafficked women in China

Several Christian and non-faith-based groups work to rescue women and girls from sex trafficking along China’s border areas, in Yunnan and Henan provinces, and in northern China.

In 2006, I witnessed the beginning of a small grassroots movement of Christians from the house churches joining the fight against human trafficking in China – a radical concept, since women in prostitution were traditionally treated with contempt and not welcomed into churches.

Ai Jin, one of the outreach leaders, said that before she began to rescue women from sex trafficking. “I didn’t want to shake hands with prostitutes, thinking their whole body was dirty. Now I can treat them like my own family,” she said.

Dan Chung of Crossing Borders, a NGO that provides humanitarian support for trafficked North Korean women, said this past January that several arrests have been made of missionaries who had been simply helping North Korean refugees in China with counseling and spiritual support.

“That’s alarming to us,” he said. Apart from the government crackdown, these rescuers also face the danger of being killed by gangsters behind the trafficking networks.

[South China Morning Post]

Human rights activist Tim Peters helping North Korean refugees

Officials confirmed North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test was the same day Tim Peters flew to Alaska. “And I thought to myself, this is a rather bizarre coincidence,” he said.

The Christian missionary is visiting Alaska and spent Saturday speaking at the Ninilchik Senior Center sharing his story about his organization, Helping Hands Korea. It’s a non-profit helping North Korean refugees escaping the regime under President Kim Jong-un.

Peters says he calls it a coincidence because the timing only motivated him more to raise awareness about North Korean refugees.

“There is a desperate humanitarian and human rights crisis that is raging in North Korea,” Peters said. “When you see the dark underbelly of human nature, in terms of the tyranny that exists in North Korea, the absolute deprivation of human rights. That is rampant in North Korea.”

Peters said his organization has people from Asia and Europe assisting with this work through what he calls Asia’s underground railroad. He won’t reveal the process, citing security and confidentiality issues, but says there’s always a need for help in other ways.

“The financial and material support at this point is rather critical,” he said.

Peters said his organization is in its twenty-first year of work. He said he and his wife will continue helping North Korean refugees and that he “hopes to the very core of his being” their efforts will debilitate the North Korean regime.

[KTVA.com]

North Korea a society where all anger must be suppressed

Missile launches have galvanized world attention again on the strange isolated country of North Korea. But scant attention is paid to the trickle of defectors who escape the country’s hardships, and then, basically drown in new freedoms.

Lee Sang-jun is one of tens of thousands of defectors who have settled in South Korea, and most struggle to adjust.

“They lived in an environment where they had to suppress their anger,” says counselor Kim Young-in who works in a government support service. She says many of them suffered a traumatic past.

For Lee, pangs of hunger sear his memory: of being aged seven and surviving on his own as famine gripped North Korea. “I used to just stare at people eating. We’d wait until people threw scraps of food on the ground,” he says. “I spent more than four years living on the streets, hungry and alone. I was literally skin and bone.”

Lee’s mother had fled to China to survive, abandoning her family. His siblings had died or gone far away. Tragically, Lee witnessed his father take his own life. “I had seen people executed by a firing squad since I was little, so it wasn’t really a big deal that everyone in my family had died or left me,” he says matter-of-factly.

After four years his mother made contact through a broker. “It was good to hear she was alive, but it also hurt me a lot,” he says. “I wanted to tell her off badly.

An escape plan was hatched — for Lee to make the perilous journey across the Tumen River into China. Suddenly he was surrounded by plentiful, succulent food. He devoured fried chicken feeling like he’d never stop. But his reunion with his mother was difficult. “She was crying a lot … but I just felt nothing and numb,” he says.

Lee felt overwhelmed by South Korea when he finally arrived in 2006. “I couldn’t believe I’d arrived in this unbelievably perfect place where freedom and happiness were guaranteed,” he says.

But he soon struggled to cope. “I was very aggressive and just had the worst personality. I upset my mum and a lot of people along the way. .. She wasn’t there for any of [my struggles]. So, I don’t see why I need her in my life.”

[Australian Broadcast Corporation]

A North Korean refugee cartoonist draws what life is like for those who escape

An online comic strip series created by a North Korean refugee, who now lives in Seoul, attempts to bring some humor to what is an often-harrowing journey and difficult resettlement.

After his defection to South Korea in 2010, Choi Seong-gok, 37, soon realized that the two Koreas were no longer the same country — many cultural and linguistic differences have arisen during more than 70 years of division.

Choi once worked for Pyongyang’s premier animation studio, SEK. In 2016, he returned to drawing and began an online comic strip series called “Rodong Shimmun,” which means “labor interrogation” — it’s a play on the name of North Korea’s “Rodong Shinmun,” the labor newspaper.

The satirical series follows a group of newly arrived refugees as they spend their first months in South Korea at a government–run integration center. Choi pokes fun at their ‘newbie-ness,’ like their shock about all the food at a buffet restaurant.

Not all of Choi’s drawings are funny, though. Some depict scenes in North Korea of people starving in the streets. Others portray how some defectors made their escape under fire from border guards.

Choi says he hopes his comic series will help change the mindset of South Koreans, who are generally apathetic toward North Korean refugees. And it might be working.

“Rodong Shimmun” now receives tens of thousands of views and some readers leave comments saying it’s helped them better understand the cultural differences between North and South Korea. Others write that they feel more empathetic toward defectors.

[Read full PRI article]

Experts say North Korean ICBM has at least 4100 mile range

North Korea is reporting that their missile test launch early Tuesday was a success, marks their first successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a significant milestone in a missile development program.

US military analysts expressed “high confidence” that the report of an ICBM launch was correct, and private scientists said the missile, which is being dubbed the Hwasong-14, demonstrated a range of at least 4,100 miles, which would allow it to reach any spot in Alaska.

As tested, the missile flew some 578 miles, landing in the sea just west of Japan, with Japanese officials complaining that it landed in their exclusive economic zone.

Officials say this is sooner than they expected North Korea to have such a delivery capability by a couple of years, though it is still generally accepted that North Korea does not have the capability of miniaturizing their nuclear warheads to launch them from such a missile.

Still, the launch earned rebukes from Russia and China, who are trying to talk down the risk of a US attack on North Korea, and led to a new push by President Trump for China to put “a heavy move” on North Korea, or risk having the US make its own move.

[antiwar.com]

North Korean missile test with claim to reach anywhere in the world

North Korea claims to have conducted its first successful test of a long-range missile that it says can “reach anywhere in the world.”

Tuesday morning’s missile test reached a height of 2,802 kilometers (1,741 miles), according to state broadcaster Korea Central Television, which would be the highest altitude a North Korean missile had ever reached.

The country claimed it was an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which would put the United States on notice that Pyongyang could potentially hit the US mainland. South Korea said this latest missile had an “improved range” compared with its May launch.

North Korea appears to have timed the launch for maximum political effect, giving the order to fire on the eve of the July Fourth holiday, just days after President Donald Trump spoke with Japanese and Chinese leaders about the North Korean threat and before this week’s G20 meeting.

The launch was North Korea’s 11th missile test this year and comes amid increasing frustration from Trump about the lack of progress in curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

[CNN]