A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
It’s rare for North Korean defectors to set sail for Japan, but last September, a group of nine North Koreans, who have since resettled in South Korea, was discovered drifting about 15 miles off the coast of Noto peninsula.
In 2006, four other North Koreans also successfully floated to northern Japan. And previously, in 1987, a family of 11 drifted from North Korea to west Japan.
This group was not so fortunate. A small wooden boat was discovered early morning Wednesday off the western island of Sado in Japan contained decomposing bodies, according to local police. The boat was badly damaged and contained faint markings on the side that appeared to be Korean characters.
Police would not say exactly how many bodies were found on the boat, but said that some bodies had decomposed to the point where only skeletons remained. Local Japanese media reported five bodies were found.
North Korea has replaced its defense minister with a hardline military commander believed responsible for deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010, diplomats in Pyongyang said Thursday. It is the latest in a series of high-profile appointments leader Kim Jong Un has made since he took power nearly a year ago.
Diplomats in Pyongyang told the Associated Press that they were informed that Kim Jong Gak had been replaced as armed forces minister by Kim Kyok Sik, commander of the battalions linked to two deadly attacks in 2010 blamed on North Korea. South Korean officials said they also received similar information about the North Korean personnel changes.
The move comes amid speculation that North Korea may be preparing a long-range rocket launch. North Korea says its launches are meant to put a satellite into orbit.
The appointment of a hawkish general could mean North Korea wants to show a tough face to Washington and Seoul, said analyst Hong Hyun-ik at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.
Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un is trying to put his stamp on the military by building loyalty with troops and also by creating tension among generals through personnel changes.
In July, Kim dismissed military chief Ri Yong Ho, who was seen as one of his key mentors, and named little-known vice marshal Hyon Yong Chol as his new General Staff chief.
In April, Kim also reshuffled top Workers’ Party posts by taking on top party posts held by his father and giving other high-level posts to close associates.
In recent months, North Korea has also reshuffled top Cabinet members such as the ministers of sports, electronics industry and agriculture, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Xinhua reports on North Korea denouncing a human rights resolution adopted by the Third Committee of the 67th UN General Assembly:
“The DPRK flatly rejects and vehemently denounces the anti-DPRK ‘human rights resolution’ which the hostile forces adopted to bring down the Korean-style socialist system centered on the popular masses by abusing the noble idea of human rights, prompted by their sinister political purposes,” a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.
From their perspective, the Western forces are blindly following the United States’ hostile policy toward the DPRK “out of inveterate repugnance” toward its socialist system, the spokesman said, adding that the “absurd political chicanery” is aimed at playing down the increasing international prestige of North Korea.
The one attempted military coup in North Korea’s 60-year history took place during the mid-1990s famine. It was likely that the severity of the famine drove the military to mutiny.
[Today, as another major famine looms, the recent purge of North Korean military officers] has created a class of officials angry at the new leadership for their loss of power and its perquisites. When Mao and Stalin purged officials, they executed or exiled them to the prison camps for a slow death. These officials are simply being retired. North Korea also sends 40 percent of its young men between the ages of 18 and 25 into the military, [all this a] recipe for political uprising and revolution.
And in a country with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, political uprisings can be dangerous to the world order, particularly if the regime loses control of the weapons as it collapses.
North Korea was able to keep control of the country in the last famine because its propaganda machine convinced the isolated and easily manipulated population that the Chinese and South Koreans were facing mass starvation more severe than what they were suffering. [Today though, more North Koreans are aware this is untrue.]
Another aspect of the North Korean regime’s control over the population: For 40 years the regime successfully used the food system—under which each non-farm family would get a twice monthly ration of food through the public distribution system—but it collapsed during the last famine. Repeated attempts by Pyongyang to resuscitate it have failed.
People are now getting their food through the farmers’ markets which have grown more powerful and more extensive as the sclerotic old order has slowly died. The new economic order taking its place will ensure the people are no longer dependent on the state for their survival which will make them less servile and more prone to dissent.
We saw remarkable evidence of this dissent in January 2010 when popular opposition to a currency manipulation scheme announced by Pyongyang led to public demonstrations, the burning of a police station, and a graffiti campaign by the public attacking the policies which the regime was forced to rescind.
Excerpts from an article by Andrew S. Natsios, an executive professor at Texas A&M University, and former USAID administrator and Special Envoy to Sudan
Investigators in Seoul have revealed some of the gadgets they claim are used by their bitter rivals from North Korea to assassinate political enemies in the South. The murderous catalogue of secret weapons reads like something from James Bond’s collection. The first weapon looks like an innocuous electric torch, except it is able to fire three bullets. The second is a ballpoint pen with a poisoned needle. The third is another “poison pen”, containing a bullet that both punctures the skin and releases a deadly toxin.
The weapons were found on a failed Pyongyang assassin last year, whose target was Park Sang-hak, an activist who has angered Pyongyang by sending helium-filled balloons containing propaganda leaflets into North Korea.
Pyongyang sent a former commando, known as “Ahn” and disguised as a defector, to Seoul to kill Mr Park. He pretended to be keen to join Mr Park’s activist movement, but was foiled by intelligence services and jailed for four years in April. Ahn had been in South Korea for 17 years before the assassination attempt, having worked with numerous groups opposing the government in North Korea.
In 2010, two North Korean army officers tried to assassinate activist Hwang Jang-yop, a former official from North Korea who defected to South Korea, which seriously angered the late leader of the North, Kim Jong-il. Mr Hwang subsequently died of a heart attack, although there are question marks over what might have caused it.
Similar activities previously included:
On 21 January, 1968, a group of 31 North Korean commandos infiltrated the Blue House, the official residence of the president of South Korea, Park Chung-hee, to “slit his throat” as the only commando captured alive described his mission.
In 1974 the mother of South Korea’s current presidential election candidate, Park Geun-hye, was killed by North Korean assassins, who tried for a second time to kill her father, then President, as he delivered a speech.
In 1983, North Korean assassins struck again, this time in Burma, when they exploded a bomb during a ceremony. President Chun Doo-hwan, who was on an official visit to Rangoon, escaped but 21 people were killed.
The online version of China’s Communist Party newspaper has hailed a report by The Onion naming North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as the “Sexiest Man Alive” — not realizing it is satire.
The People’s Daily on Tuesday ran a 55-page photo spread on its website in a tribute to the round-faced leader, under the headline “North Korea’s top leader named The Onion‘s Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.”
Quoting The Onion‘s spoof report, the Chinese newspaper wrote, “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.”
“Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile,” the People’s Daily cited The Onion as saying.
It is not the first time a state-run Chinese newspaper has fallen for a fictional report by the just-for-laughs The Onion. In 2002, the Beijing Evening News, one of the capital city’s biggest tabloids at the time, published as news the fictional account that the U.S. Congress wanted a new building and that it might leave Washington. The Onion article was a spoof of the way sports teams threaten to leave cities in order to get new stadiums.
After only the second power transition in North Korea’s history, the government, essentially a Kim family criminal enterprise, appears to be stable. However, the regime’s foundation is weak.
Last December “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il died, and his son, Kim Jong-un, tagged the “Great Successor,” was left nominally in charge. However, it remains unclear if Kim also is the Great Decision-maker. Kim is surrounded by party officials and military officers who have long awaited their turn to rule. Who is most accomplished at brutal intrigue? Probably not the spoiled brat who spent his time in Swiss boarding school playing computer games and American basketball.
Greater power likely lies with Jang Song-Taek (Kim Jong-un’s uncle), Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-un’s aunt) and other regime elders. Indeed, Jang’s experience with Kim family governance—he was purged and rehabilitated by both his father-in-law and brother-in-law—suggests that he might not desire to elevate the third generation to supreme power.
In any case, Jang promoted his ally Choe Ryong-hae to oversee the military. And the State Security Ministry, long overseen to some degree by Jang, also has gained in status.
Within and beyond China, remarkable heroes extend the North Korean Underground escape networks into numerous Asian countries as they work to assist North Koreans’ escape to freedom in South Korea and beyond. These heroes include:
Steve Kim, founder of 318 Partners (named for Article 318 of the Chinese criminal code which sent him to jail for aiding North Koreans in China);
“Mary and Jim,” a retired couple, who run orphanages in China for mixed children abandoned by missing North Korean mothers and desperate Chinese fathers (the undocumented status of these children makes them ineligible for adoption);
“Mr. Jung,” who has undergone face-changing surgeries to repeatedly fool Chinese authorities while rescuing South Korean prisoners of war held illegally in North Korea since 1953.
The tenacity of such brave individuals is sharply contrasted with the failure of the world – especially South Korea, the United States, even the United Nations – to confront and combat North Korea’s atrocities.
Melanie Kirkpatrick is a methodical writer, and her recent book “Escape from North Korea” offers an eye-opening opportunity to explore an overlooked, pressing topic. She shares with readers the harrowing testimonies, the wrenching struggles, and the inspiring successes of the North Korean Underground. Read more
Chosun Ilbo projects that China’s new leader Xi Jinping is unlikely to change the country’s relationship with North Korea drastically, but experts predict Xi could push for specific reform plans and greater market opening. “They will ask North Korea for more specific and tangible reforms and market-opening measures than in the Hu Jintao era,” said Choo Jae-woo at Kyunghee University.
“Beijing believes it is important to stabilize North Korea and halt its nuclear ambitions to benefit China’s economic growth,” said Park Byung-kwang at the Institute for National Security Strategy. “China thinks it is possible to stabilize North Korea and resolve the nuclear dilemma over the long-term by strengthening economic cooperation.”
North Korea is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore China’s demands. The North’s dependence on China for trade rose from 52 percent in 2005 to 84 percent last year. And 90 percent of the crude oil North Korea uses comes from China.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to visit China and meet Xi as soon as possible. Some forecast a visit to China by Kim as early as January. He will also be looking for handouts from China ahead of the birthdays of former leader Kim Jong-il (Feb. 16) and nation founder Kim Il-sung (April 15).
Chinese experts have said that Beijing’s influence on the stubborn North Korean military is limited. If on the other hand China’s relationship with the U.S. worsens, North Korea’s strategic value increases. “China-North Korea relations will be closely related to China-U.S. relations, inter-Korean relations and China-South Korea relations,” said a diplomatic source.
According to former Swiss federal councillor’s Peter Vollmer, just back from a trip to North Korea with a group of Swiss politicians, “North Korea has a cell phone network with its own frequency, and there is internet service, but it’s very limited. You can make a phone call, but it’s complicated. You don’t see any satellite dishes”.
The tour group visited a number of Swiss-funded aid projects, such as an agricultural one with a focus on cultivation methods for steep slopes. In addition, Switzerland has been supplying milk powder which is enriched with vitamins and distributed to infants, schools, hospitals and day care centres through the World Food Programme (WFP). “The project makes sense and helps the population,” Vollmer said.
There is little traffic outside Pyongyang and hardly any private transport. “On the highway, our bus was all alone. There were potholes, and we also drove on dirt roads – where corn was being dried and pedestrians and cyclists were travelling, too. It was pretty demanding for our driver; it took two hours to cover 60 kilometres.”
“Some of North Korea looks like Switzerland’s Emmental. Gently rolling hills plus steep slopes and many mountains with little arable farmland.” Although North Korea’s landscape is similar to that of the Emmental, he adds “the country is still a far cry from a democratic civil society”.
According to Vollmer, an atmosphere of change had prevailed there during his last visit in 1985. “At that time, agricultural mechanization was taking off there, and North Korea was developing its own tractors. But the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union brought on a total collapse. From one day to the next, Russia turned off the oil spigot and only delivered in exchange for hard currency, while the North Korean economy was on the brink of ruin. Then came the great famine – a huge setback,” Vollmer said.
Today the country is heavily de-industrialised; productivity is low, crop yields modest and infrastructure obsolete. You see factories that no longer operate, and because of international sanctions, there are no spare parts.
“People are constantly walking somewhere briskly, often carrying heavy loads. They march for 20 or 30 kilometres, sometimes with ox carts,” Vollmer said. He says the little-developed railway network is mainly used for the transport of goods, while people often travel in 50-year-old open trucks.
“We were able to take photos of everything except military installations. Earlier, there was a soldier stationed at every intersection, bridge and tunnel, but this is no longer the case,” Vollmer said.
Vollmer is aware that his group only saw a tiny part of the country during its short visit. And the chaperones were omnipresent. But in his opinion, North Korea is a poor country that is trying to meet the basic needs of its population – albeit at a very low level.