Monthly Archives: June 2013

Major government and media websites shut down in South and North Korea

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Major government and media websites in South and North Korea were shut down for hours Tuesday on the 63rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Seoul said experts were investigating attacks on the websites of the South Korean presidential Blue House and prime minister’s office, as well as some media servers.

The North Korean websites that shut down Tuesday included those belonging to the national airline, Air Koryo, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the North’s official Uriminzokkiri site and Naenara, the country’s state-run Internet portal. All but Air Koryo were operational a few hours later.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible. North and South Korea have traded accusations of cyberattacks in recent years.

The shutdowns came on a war anniversary that both countries were marking with commemorations. North and South Korea are also gearing up for the 60th anniversary of the end of the fighting July 27.


Anonymous takes on North Korea

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Operators of several Twitter accounts who purported to be part of a global hackers’ collective known as Anonymous claimed that they attacked North Korean websites today.

Some days back, Chosun Ilbo reported that Anonymous was poised for a massive cyberattack on North Korea. In April, the “hacktivists” had threatened to attack 46 North Korean websites including the official KCNA news agency at 12 noon on Tuesday.

In a recent video clip on YouTube, they also claimed to have extracted missile blueprints from the intranet of the North Korean military and other information. Anonymous vowed to reveal the information on the internet.

Last Friday, KCNA denounced the hackers as a “ragtag band” under the control of U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies. It claimed the intranet which Anonymous claim to have infiltrated “does not even exist.”

Last February, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed confidence in his regime’s cyber warfare capabilities against South Korea.

A South Korean official indicated the North has reason to be confident in its 12,000 highly skilled hackers. It is believed that North Korean children talented in the sciences get intensive computer training at Kumsong Middle School in Pyongyang, and are then raised as “cyber warriors” for three to five years at either Mirim College under the General Staff Department or Moranbong College under the Reconnaissance Bureau.

Plight of North Koreans persists amid posturing

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As last week’s abortive meeting between the two Koreas illustrated, the region’s foreign policy often seems to be at the mercy of Pyongyang’s irrational whims.

But while diplomats debate ad infinitum, many of North Korea’s 25 million people live a nightmare. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International estimate that up to 200,000 North Koreans, some of them children, are imprisoned in camps modeled after the Soviet gulags, where they are subjected to torture and forced labor. Millions waste away in hunger, without freedom of expression or religion. Arbitrary arrests and public executions maintain order by instilling fear. The U.N. Human Rights Council has condemned North Korea’s “systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights.”

Many North Koreans are jailed after failed attempts to cross the Chinese border. Because the demilitarized zone dividing the Koreas is heavily fortified, North Koreans can only escape northward. After the new government gave a shoot-on-sight order to curb illegal crossings, the number of defectors was almost halved, to 1,500 last year.

For those fortunate enough to make it to China, the journey has only begun. In violation of international agreements, China routinely repatriates North Korean refugees. So defectors face a 3,000-mile clandestine journey to Southeast Asia to gain refugee status and entry to South Korea, where they are naturalized and given government stipends. While around 25,000 have settled there, more than 30,000 North Korean refugees live illegally in China.

Humanitarian organizations such as Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) and Helping Hands Korea facilitate their journeys. The Rev. Tim Peters, a North Korea activist, has compared the network to the Underground Railroad that once helped African-American slaves from the South reach the North. While these organizations make up a small bandage for the hemorrhaging, more relief may be achievable through diplomacy.

[The Philadelphia Inquirer]

Scratch Laos off North Korean defector route?

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Over the years, Laos has been a vital safe haven for North Korean defectors, with its Communist government quietly helping thousands reach South Korea. But Laos reversed course with little explanation, recently detaining 9 defectors for traveling without documents, then handing them over to North Korean agents, who whisked them away on a series of commercial flights back to Pyongyang.

The cooperation between Laos and North Korea blindsided aid workers and South Korean officials, who say that North Korea, under leader Kim Jong Un, is taking new forms of recourse against those who escape its borders.

During Kim’s 18 months in power, the North has cut defections nearly in half, according to South Korean government data. North Korea has tightened security on its own borders and sent agents into China to pose as and expose escapees. But until now, escapees who made it to Southeast Asia had remained relatively free from danger.

The case in Laos has sparked fears that the North, as part of that strategy, is also pressuring Southeast Asian governments to return defectors, though “we still don’t know for sure,” said one South Korean government official, requesting anonymity to discuss details of the case.

Analysts say the North views defections as a double-edged threat: Once out, escapees can testify about the country’s gulags and poverty. They can also send back money and information to family members, planting the seeds for others to defect via a labyrinth of safe houses and small churches operated by aid workers and Christian missionaries.

South Korean officials say they have little clue about whether Laos and North Korea will continue to cooperate in stopping defections, or even why they cooperated in this instance.

Either way, the case has prompted new concern among activists for those who escape the North, who depend on the governments of Southeast Asian countries — typically Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos — to help them seek asylum and resettle in South Korea.

[Washington Post]

North Korean defector routes

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The Korean peninsula is divided by a nearly impassable demilitarized zone, a border strung with barbed wire, peppered with mines and patrolled on both sides by militaries. As a result, North Koreans who want to eventually reach South Korea, where they are granted citizenship, must take the long route.

North Korean border guardThey start by crossing one of two shallow rivers — the Yalu or Tumen — into China, either swimming across or walking over ice during winter. They try to avoid the watchtowers and North Korean guards who have occasional shoot-to-kill orders.

In China, they are far from safe. Beijing views North Koreans as “economic migrants,” not valid asylum seekers, and repatriates them to the North, where they are deemed traitors and subject to re-education camps, prison, torture, and sometimes execution.

NK refugee routesIf they make it to Southeast Asia, they have roughly a half-dozen options. Many defectors transit through Laos or Burma and head to Thailand, the nation most welcoming to defectors. (Its fines for illegal entry are minimal, and it allows defectors to meet with United Nations officials.)

Others pass through Vietnam in order to make it to Cambodia, which the UN describes as a “model” for protecting refugee rights.

[Washington Post]

Time for China to discipline their wayward child North Korea?

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In 2011, China accounted for an estimated 67.2% of North Korea’s exports and 61.6% of imports, according to the CIA World Factbook. So LA Times’ Beijing Bureau Chief Barbara Demick suggests, “There’s a lot more China could do that it has chosen not to.”

So why is China not using its economic leverage to rein in the nuclear threat and proliferator next door?  In a word — fear.

There’s fear of a North Korean collapse that would lead to instability and a refugee crisis along its 1,400 kilometer (880 mile) border with North Korea. And then there’s the far greater fear of an all-out conflict that would redraw the geopolitical map.

And there’s something else holding Beijing back — the historic and symbolic relationship with Pyongyang that is hard to give up.

“The Chinese Communist Party thinks of North Korea as this small state that is in its own image,” says Demick. “The structure of the North Korean government is very similar to the Chinese government and, in a way, it’s the pure Communist state. It’s just really hard psychologically to dump North Korea.”

“They treat North Korea a bit like a wayward child,” adds Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the North Asian head of the International Crisis Group. ” You want to be the one to punish your child, but you’re not going to turn them over to police.”

But for many people in China, enough is enough.

“Their rhetoric is increasing the number of Chinese who feel very, very disgusted by their behavior, their psyche and their regime,” says Zhu Feng, professor of International Relations at Peking University. “China’s government is seriously under fire because I think the majority of Chinese really, really feel that North Korea’s bad behavior will inevitably endanger China.”


European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights in North Korea

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U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Ambassador Robert King will be in Brussels June 19-21, where he will participate in the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights’ Exchange on the Human Rights situation in North Korea.

King will be joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Daniel Baer for meetings with officials from the European Parliament, European Union, and countries that share concerns about the deplorable human rights situation in the DPRK.

China’s tougher stance on North Korea

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US President Barack Obama said that China is taking a tougher line against North Korea’s nuclear program as he credited new President Xi Jinping with taking more responsibility in the world.

“We’ve seen the Chinese take more seriously the problem of constant provocation and statements from the North Koreans — rejecting the nuclearisation,” Obama said on “The Charlie Rose Show.”

China is the main economic and diplomatic supporter of Kim Jong-Un’s isolated regime, which brazenly defied Beijing’s warnings by carrying out its third nuclear weapons test in February.

China took the rare step of cracking down on North Korean bank accounts as part of new UN-led sanctions, although many experts doubt Beijing would go so far as to risk a collapse of the impoverished state separating it from US ally South Korea.

Obama held two days of informal talks with Xi on June 7-8 at a California desert resort. “My impression of President Xi is that he has consolidated his position fairly rapidly inside of China, that he is younger and more forceful and more robust and more confident, perhaps, than some leaders in the past,” Obama said.


On North Korean defectors apprehended in Laos – Part 1

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Early last month, nine young North Korean defectors, guided by a South Korean pastor and his wife, thought they were on the last leg of a long escape.

Already, they’d traveled some 2,500 miles, sneaking from the northern tip of North Korea into China, then — in the most dangerous part of their journey — across much of eastern China. Next, they’d headed into Laos.

The group’s goal was to make it through Laos undetected until arriving at the South Korean embassy in Vientiane. For several days, the escapees traveled across Laos by bus, disguised as a school group, wearing backpacks and matching T-shirts, according to video and photos released after the group’s detention.

Over the years, Laos has been a vital safe haven for North Korean defectors, with its Communist government quietly helping thousands reach South Korea. But Laos reversed course with little explanation, recently detaining 9 defectors for traveling without documents, then handing them over to North Korean agents, who whisked them away on a series of commercial flights back to Pyongyang.

Nearly all the defectors were orphans, between 15 and 23 years old, who’d crossed into China, starving and sickly. Some had parasite infections and had been eating out of trash cans in the North. continued …

On North Korean defectors apprehended in Laos – Part 2

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Human rights activists say that perhaps no group of escapees has ever made it farther from the North only to be dragged back.

Some non-governmental organizations put part of the blame on the South Korean government, saying its officials underestimated the willingness of Laos and North Korea to work together and failed to meet with the group during the 18 days between its detention and the hand-off to the North. South Korea says it was notified by the pastor on the day the group was first detained, but that Laos never granted its diplomats a meeting with the escapees.

Laos, in a statement released by its foreign ministry, said it returned the nine to the North after its investigation found that they were victims of “human trafficking.” But activists, including some who worked with the nine escapees or know the pastor, strongly dispute that claim, and have drawn up their own personal theories to explain Laos’s behavior. They say the handoff could be the result of a diplomatic favor or a bribe.

Laos has been the preferred route of nearly half of the 25,000 defectors who’ve successfully fled impoverished and authoritarian North Korea, and its critical role on that escape route highlights the convoluted path defectors take from one Korea to the other.

[Washington Post]