Monthly Archives: May 2013

Laos unexpectedly sends 9 North Korean refugees to China

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Laos sent back to China nine North Koreans who had fled their impoverished homeland.

The deportation raises fears the defectors may be repatriated by Beijing to North Korea, where they are likely to face harsh punishment. Reports of those who have been forcibly repatriated tell of beatings, torture, forced labor and sexual violence.

A South Korean source who works with defectors and who had been in contact with the nine North Koreans confirmed to VOA they were flown from the Laotian capital, Vientiane, to Kunming in southwest China on Monday.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier reported on the defectors, who it said were 15 to 23 years old. Quoting an anonymous South Korean foreign ministry official, the report said Laos “unexpectedly” rejected the South’s plea to send them to Seoul.

Laos, along with other Southeast Asian countries, is a common destination for North Korean defectors, most of whom eventually are resettled in South Korea.

Thousands of North Koreans have defected to the South since famine crippled agricultural production in their homeland in the past decade. Those reaching Chinese territory often do so with the help of activists, missionaries or smugglers.


Kenneth Bae’s jail different than North Korean prison camp

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It’s bad for Kenneth Bae, but it could be worse, according to people familiar with the workings of one of the world’s most secretive and repressive regimes.

“These are not really camps like the political prison camps used for the North Korean people,” said Kang Chol-hwan, a survivor of North Korean gulags, who was sent to a prison camp at age 9 because his uncle had insulted the government. “If Kenneth Bae was really sent to a prison camp, he would not survive and that would not be good for the Kim regime.

“Normally a person dies in three years after being sent to a real camp,” added Kang, who was released from the Yodok prison in 1992 after enduring brutal conditions for a decade.

Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based North Korea expert, said being held in a special camp actually bodes well for Bae.

“This prison will be isolated (no interaction with normal prisoners) and quite comfortable,” he said. “Had they said the guy is going to be in a “normal” prison camp, it would most probably mean he would never be allowed to get out alive!

“This statement indicates he has a fairly high chance of being released in due time,” Lankov added.

Experts said North Korea is likely planning to use Bae to leverage aid or concessions from the West, or simply in an effort to raise its stature by appearing to be humanitarian when it ultimately frees him.

“North Korea, by having a show trial and causing all this tension in the international media, will be preparing for big negotiations with the United States,” said Kang, who wrote about his experience in a memoir titled, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang.”

Bae was arrested in November and accused of trying to establish an anti-Pyongyang base in the North. But Bae’s friends say he worked as a Christian missionary in Dalian, a Chinese city near the North Korean border, and that he crossed the border to bring food to starving orphans.

Source: Fox

Life for a North Korean orphan

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Hyuk Kim, who asked that his real name not be used for the safety of family members still in North Korea, lost his mother when he was 6, then his father when he was 11. After his father died, he lived in North Hamgyong province with a group of six other orphan boys.

“We started a fire together, but we still couldn’t sleep because it was so cold,” he said. “We just warmed ourselves with the fire at night and we mainly slept during the day when the sun was shining.

In the punishing winters, Hyuk and other orphans would break into sheds containing electric transformers near factories and markets to find a warm place to sleep. “Many children accidentally end up touching the transformers while sleeping and die,” said Hyuk. As he dozed off each night curled next to a transformer, he would try to stay as still as possible — willing himself not to move in his sleep.

“During the night, we needed to find food to eat. We sometimes stole food from others and gathered food from here and there.”

When something went missing in the neighborhood, the blame automatically fell on Hyuk and his friends, even when they had not been involved. The children would be taken to the police station and tied to chairs, he said. “The police would then automatically accuse us of stealing because they assume we would have stolen since we don’t have parents. They hit us, tie us up, and torture us. There was no one to defend us.”

Hyuk Kim fled North Korea in 2011, nearly a decade after becoming an orphan. Street children who flee to China become easy prey to traffickers, according to human rights activists. The girls are sold into the sex trade, or as wives for rural Chinese men.

China sends back those escapees they catch, so defectors live in hiding — fearing they’ll be imprisoned and tortured back home.

Now 21, Hyuk attends Hangyeore Middle-High School in South Korea, where he sleeps in a real bed inside a heated dormitory. The school serves three warm, buffet-style meals a day, and students can pile as much food as they’d like on their metal trays. The school, set up by the South Korean government, does not charge tuition.



The abandoned children of North Korea

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Yoon Hee was born in a village near North Korea’s sacred Mount Baekdu. At 8 years of age, she was abandoned by her mother and did what many abandoned North Korean children do — live on the streets, nearly freezing to death in the winters, begging for mercy, plucking grass for food and crying so hard at night only the pain in her face could stifle her tears.

One day, alone and 10 years old, she lay in the snow as the icy winter descended in North Korea. Eventually, Yoon Hee caught what she suspects was typhoid, leaving her in a hell of fire and ice. Although she lay in the snow about two weeks, no one offered help or food.

She tried to muster her energy to sit and wiggle her fingers and toes, but her hands and feet barely budged — they were frozen in place. She could no longer move. Surely, this was it, Yoon Hee thought. She prepared herself. “I am going to die.”

Yoon Hee would become yet another corpse rotting in the street — she had seen the frozen corpses on the roadside because no one bothered to bury bodies of strangers. A voice interrupted her feverish daze. A villager thrust money into Yoon Hee’s hand. Her voice was firm: “You have to survive.”

For a decade, Yoon Hee roamed the streets, slept in crevices and picked rice off the ground that people had dropped. “I appreciated every single grain of rice,” she said.

Every night, she had the same concern: “Where am I going to sleep tonight? How can I survive?”

Yoon Hee learned survival skills fitting of “The Hunger Games” — where to scavenge for food, where to sleep, how to stay warm, how to keep safe. She curled into a fetal position in a nook under the windows of houses.

In North Korea, homeless children like Yoon Hee are called “kotjebes,” or flowering swallows. Like the bird, these children are free to roam, unconstrained by the country’s societal norms.

Yoon Hee attempted her first escape into China in the wintertime, the river at the border frozen, paving the way for a quick escape. In China, she was caught three times by local police and each time, she was sent back to a North Korean prison. She was pummeled with fists, sticks and kicked, Yoon Hee said. But each time, she was released.

In early 2010, she escaped North Korea for the fourth time and eventually met an underground network of Christian activists and missionaries.

The plight of orphans who’ve escaped North Korea caught the attention of U.S. humanitarian groups, who’ve lobbied for years to pave the way for their adoption by Americans and others. In January, President Obama signed the North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012. The law is aimed primarily at those orphans hiding in China and other countries. Those who make it to South Korea are provided an education, a path to citizenship and even a chance at adoption.



North Korea’s prison camps outlive Stalin’s

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North Korean prison camps have survived twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags, and much longer than the Nazi concentration camps. Another important difference is that they are still in operation today.

Shin Dong-hyuk has brought new insights into the secretive camps.  Shin, 30, is the only man known to have been born and to escape from a North Korean prison known as Camp 14. He was born in a “total control zone” where prison authorities wield complete power, where guards beat children to death with no hesitation.

The unflinching account from a defector revealed how he picked corn kernels out of cow manure to eat as he competed with his family for food at one of North Korea’s notorious prison camp.

He was also forced to watch his mother’s hanging and his brother’s execution.

The concept of “reward marriages” was unknown until Shin told his story. These are rewards dispensed by prison guards, who allow a male and female prisoner to have sex. Shin was a product of a reward marriage in the prison camp.

The reward marriage works as an incentive for prisoners, Shin said.

North Korea brands American missionary as subversive plotting to overthrow the government

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North Korea (DPRK) has painted a picture that imprisoned Korean-American Kenneth Bae is a subversive who was plotting to overthrow the government. A spokesman of the North Korean Supreme Court told state news agency KCNA that Bae “set up plot-breeding bases in different places of China for the purpose of toppling the DPRK government, from 2006 to October 2012 out of distrust and enmity toward the DPRK.”

The state news agency KCNA refers to Bae by his Korean name, Pae Jun Ho, and charges that he committed such hostile acts as egging citizens of the DPRK overseas and foreigners on to perpetrate hostile acts to bring down its government while conducting a malignant smear campaign against it. KCNA goes into detail on the “propaganda materials” Bae is accused of carrying, which reportedly included a 2007 National Geographic documentary “Don’t tell my mother that I am in North Korea” and a book called “1.5 billion in China and North Korea, the world’s last closed nations.”.

NK News describes him as “a trained missionary who was using his China-based tour company as a platform to bring missionaries into North Korea.” It is reported that Bae was dispatched to China as a missionary of the Youth With A Mission in April, 2006.

KCNA reports that Bae set up “plot-breeding bases disguised with diverse signboards in different parts of China for the past six years.”

As to the proclaimed freedom of religion in North Korea, a North Korean defector told the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a report on treatment of Christians in the country, that the few visible churches in North’s Korea capital city are an elaborate show.

“North Korea does have Christians and Catholics. They have buildings but they are all fake,” the defector said. “These groups exist to falsely show the world that North Korea has freedom of religion. But [the government] does not allow religion or [independent] religious organizations because it is worried about the possibility that Kim Jong Il’s regime would be in danger [because] religion erodes society.”

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More on UN inquiry into North Korean torture and labor camps

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Michael Kirby, an outspoken former justice of Australia’s top court, was named this week as head of a three-member team that will look into allegations of torture, food deprivation and labor camps in North Korea that are believed to hold at least 200,000 people. Kirby previously investigated human rights abuses in Cambodia.

The U.N. Human Rights Council launched the one-year inquiry on March 21, hoping to gather enough information from camp survivors and other exiles to document violations that it says may amount to crimes against humanity. The commission is expected to be up and running by early July. The U.N. team would speak to North Koreans living in South Korea, Japan and Thailand, Kirby said.

Kirby said in an interview he had received hundreds of emails from human rights groups and representatives of those alleging abuse by North Korea in the day since his appointment.

Contacting North Korean authorities would be “top of the list” of priorities, he said, adding he was hopeful of a response from the government and its strongest supporters in neighboring China and Russia but that a lack of engagement would not stop the panel from completing its task.

Kirby said it was too early to discuss possible outcomes of the inquiry, such as whether it could lead to charges in the International Criminal Courts against any individuals. “In the end, it will be the political branches of the United Nations that will be making the decisions on the report of the commission of inquiry,” he said.

The inquiry is due to file an interim report by September, with a final report due by March next year.

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Enter Dennis Rodman maverick diplomat to North Korea

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There are reportedly no plans so far to send an American high-profile envoy to North Korea to act on behalf of US citizen Kenneth Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor after finding him guilty of unspecified crimes against the state in a move possibly intended to force concessions from Washington.

However, Dennis Rodman, the maverick basketball player turned maverick diplomat, has his own plan going. “I’m calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea, or as I call him ‘Kim’, to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose,” he tweeted.

Kim Jong Un, Dennis RodmanThere can clearly be no doubt about the depth of the rapport between Kim Jong-un and Rodman. A couple of months ago, the two men met in Pyongyang, hugged, watched basketball together and became what Rodman called afterwards “friends for life”.

It may be that Kim is puzzling over the meaning of “do me a solid”, which would even stretch some people who speak English. The phrase appears to have its origins in the 1980s, with “a solid” being any fairly demanding favor that one (usually male) friend might do as a mark of friendship for another.

In January Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico, and the Google chief executive, Eric Schmidt, attempted to secure Bae’s release during a visit to North Korea but they were not allowed to meet him.

Last week the US state department called for Bae’s immediate release and said it was working on his case with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which looks after US interests in the North.


UN investigating torture camps in North Korea

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The United Nations on Tuesday named a team of three human rights investigators who will look into allegations of torture and labor camps in North Korea, that are believed to hold at least 200,000 people.

The one-year inquiry, launched by the Council on March 21, hopes to gather enough information from camp survivors and other exiles to document violations that it says may amount to crimes against humanity and build a case for future prosecution. Activists hope the investigation, which is due to produce a preliminary report in September, will help expose decades of abuse by North Korea’s reclusive government.

Michael Donald Kirby, a former justice of Australia’s High Court, and Sonja Biserko, a founder of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, are to join Indonesia’s Marzuki Darusman, its current special rapporteur on North Korea, on the team, to be backed by researchers, lawyers and forensic experts.

The U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously passed a resolution brought by the European Union and Japan, and backed by the United States, which set up the inquiry and condemned alleged North Korean torture, food deprivation and labor camps.

Pyongyang denies the existence of such camps and is not expected to cooperate with the investigation, having denounced it during a U.N. Human Rights Council debate, activists said.


Potential impact of North Korea on South Korean economy

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Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, shares this opinion on the Korean crisis:

We are at risk of losing sight of the deeper, longer-term danger to the region. The crisis that has receded to the background is an economic one — and we should not ignore it.

Now we all know that South Korea has been quite the rock star of emerging markets. It is one of the rare examples of countries that emerged from war, poverty and the inevitable “middle-income trap.” It multiplied its GDP three-fold in just 20 years. It was the first nation that went from being an OECD aid recipient to joining the OECD donor committee.

But, South Korea’s charmed decades may end soon. It is possible that its future may resemble that of its neighbor, Japan, and its “lost decades.”  As it stands, South Korea’s economy is too heavily reliant on manufacturing.

Of course, the crisis with North Korea creates its own drag in three major ways. One is that the uncertainty spooks investors away from South Korea and scares away companies as well (General Motors is already considering hedging their bets and establishing manufacturing elsewhere in Asia). Second, a geopolitical crisis, can take the Korea’s new president Park Geun-hye’s focus away from fixing the economy and instituting a process for reform of the South Korean conglomerates (chaebols) and helping re-build the middle class – her “economic democracy” agenda. Third, getting drawn into a conflict with North Korea, puts South Korea on the wrong side of a political alliance vis-a-vis its most important market: China.

Over the longer term, a continuation of the conflict has a fourth negative impact: one of the most powerful economic arguments for unification of the Koreas would be a solution to the forthcoming demographic crisis; North Korea would add to the labor force when the inevitable demographic constraint becomes a real bind.

There is, indeed, a bomb waiting to go off on the Korean Peninsula, but it is not of the Kim Jong-un’s making.