Monthly Archives: August 2013

How North Koreans view their country and history

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North Korea has long been vilified and condemned by the Western press as bellicose, provocative and unpredictable.

However, to many Koreans, North Korea represents something praiseworthy: a tradition of struggle against oppression and foreign domination, rooted in the experience of a majority of Koreans dating back to the end of WWII and the period of Japanese colonial rule.

This tradition found expression in the Korean People’s Republic, a national government, created by, for, and of Koreans, that was already in place when US troops landed at Inchon in September, 1945. The new government was comprised of leftists who had won the backing of the majority, partly because they had led the struggle against Japan’s
colonial occupation, and partly because they promised relief from exploitation by landlords and capitalists.

By 1948, the peninsula was divided between a northern government led by guerrillas and activists who fought to liberate Korea from Japanese rule, and a southern government led by a US-installed anti-communists backed by conservatives tainted by collaboration with colonial oppression. Bringing this forward to today:
• Park Geun-hye, the current South Korean president, is the daughter of a former president, Park Chung-hee, who came to power in a military coup in 1961. The elder Park had served in the Japanese Imperial Army.
• Kim Il Sung, grandfather of North Korea’s current leader Kim Jong Un, was an important guerrilla leader who, unlike the collaborator Park, fought, rather than served, the Japanese.

North Korea thus represents the traditions of struggle against foreign domination, both political and economic, while the South represents the tradition of submission to and collaboration with a foreign hegemon.

North Korean troops have never fought abroad, but South Korea’s have, odiously in Vietnam, in return for infusions of mercenary lucre from the Americans, and later in Iraq.

[Excerpt of article by Stephen Gowans]

Deteriorating Kenneth Bae moved to hospital

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Kenneth Bae, the American citizen sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp, has been moved to a hospital after a serious deterioration in his health, his sister said.

Detained in North Korea in November and sentenced in April for “hostile acts to bring down its government,” Bae is now suffering from severe back and leg pain and has lost more than 50 pounds, his sister Terri Chung told CNN late Sunday.

Chung said she received the information from the U.S. State Department, which told her the Swedish ambassador to North Korea had visited Bae in the hospital on Friday. Sweden represents U.S. interests in North Korea because the United States has no diplomatic presence in the secretive state.

Kenneth Baeimprisoned Kenneth BaeDetention in North Korea has taken a heavy toll on Bae, who has already been dealing with other health problems, including diabetes. In a video released early last month, Bae had stated, “Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” his head shaved and face noticeably thinner than in earlier photos. in that interview, he spoke of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and a back problem.

“I think the last three months in the labor camp have certainly been very trying on both his mental and physical health,” Chung said by phone from the Seattle area. The eight hours per day of farm labor, which Bae had never done before, appear to have worsened his symptoms, she said, adding that “he’s also under a tremendous amount of stress.” Other problems he’s suffering from include kidney stones, dizziness, blurred vision and loss of vision.

The family is “extremely concerned” about the situation and is pleading with the U.S. government to help Bae’s case, Chung said.

North Korea has so far showed no sign of budging on the case of Bae, who they call Pae Jun Ho, his Korean name.


North Korean defector meets Australian benefactor

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Hyeonseo Lee fled North Korea three years ago, making the treacherous journey through China to South East Asia. Her family crossed into Laos, but Hyeonseo’s mother and brother were detained at the border and put in prison.

Desperate, in tears and with no money she was spotted in a café by Australian backpacker Dick Stolp, who gave her £645 ($981) to pay prison officials to get her family released.

They went their separate ways, but Hyeonseo has always wanted to thank Mr. Stolp in person.

An Australian TV program looking at North Korean issues recently brought the pair back together in an emotional surprise reunion. The associate producer of SBS Television’s Insight program, Luan McKenna, explained, “It was worth it to see her face when she met Dick in the SBS foyer. … After all, not only did his money get Hyeonseo, her mother and her brother to safety – it was also an act of kindness that restored her faith in humanity.”

Hyeonseo now lives in Seoul where she helps other North Korean refugees, and gives lectures around the world about the difficulties facing the friends and family she left behind.

Stolp says he is happy to see her making a difference. “I’m meeting someone who is now doing good things, and inside I can’t help but feel ‘Hey! I helped this lady to go out and change her life’,” he said. “People have been touched (by the story) and hopefully they will go and do something.”

Sky News

UN provides food aid to North Korean flood victims

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The World Food Program (WFP) spokeswoman Nanna Skau said corn is being provided to North Korean households that have been hit hard by recent flooding caused by torrential rain, Radio Free Asia reported. She added that assistance is being offered because flooding has caused extensive damage to farmlands and irrigation systems.

The WFP also said support will be provided to 38,067 people in 10 cities and counties in Pyongan, Hwanghae and Hamgyong provinces.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said torrential rains that caused flooding and landslides left 33 North Koreans dead and displaced roughly 50,000 people from their homes. In places such as Anju in South Pyongan Province, some 80 percent of the city was flooded, resulting in extensive damage to homes and buildings.

Related to the international food effort underway, Korean Sharing Movement, a South Korean non-governmental organization, said it wanted to send emergency food aid to the North and requested permission from Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, which oversees inter-Korean affairs.

[Yonhap News]

Don’t forget incarcerated American Kenneth Bae

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Kenneth Bae, an American man from Washington State, has spent more than nine months imprisoned in North Korea. That’s longer than any other American recently held there.

While the US has called for Bae’s immediate release, North Korean scholar Charles Armstrong explains part of the dilemma for US officials dealing with the situation. “They don’t want to encourage this type of behavior from North Korea,” said Armstrong, professor of Korean studies at Columbia University and director of the school’s Center for Korean Research. “They don’t want to be seen as giving in to pressure from the North Korean government, but there’s also a strong humanitarian interest in getting an American citizen released.”

Since 2009, North Korea has detained at least six Americans, then released them only after visits from prominent US dignitaries. Armstrong suspects that’s what the reclusive Asian regime is after.

Based out of China since 2006, Kenneth Bae traveled frequently to North Korea as a tour operator and Christian missionary. In November, he was arrested, then later convicted of “hostile acts” against the North Korean government. Details about his alleged crimes are still unclear.

“All I know is my brother is a good man,” his sister says.  “He has a huge heart to help people in the nation of North Korea. He is religious, and his religious convictions may have been overzealous and may have been deemed, and seen, as hostile against the state.”

His sister adds they try to stay hopeful, through the dark moments. One of the darkest came in May, when CNN aired a video of Kenneth in prison. He appears in a stained prison uniform, his eyes downcast and tearful. “He looks so sad and panicked,” his mother Myunghee Bae said. “He’s not my son I remember. He looks totally broken. It’s the worst moment of my life.”

From the video, Myunghee Bae noticed her son had lost a lot of weight. He’s since told her that his health is failing, possibly from diabetes-related complications.

In recent months, Kenneth Bae has been able to call home four times and send several letters.



The sensitive case of North Korean defector Kim Kwang-ho

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North Korean defector Kim Kwang-ho originally defected to South Korea in 2009 with his wife and had a daughter there, but for obscure reasons returned to North Korea and ended up paraded before the state media in January this year in an effort to denounce life in South Korea. He was later arrested for stating he ate better in South Korea.

North Korean defector Kim Kwang hoRecently, Kim fled North Korea again, this time with his sister- and brother-in-law. They went to China, where they were caught on July 14 and are being held.

The South Korean government will make the case that Kim remains a South Korean citizen and will ask China to send his in-laws to South Korea on humanitarian grounds.

“Although Kim and his wife returned to the North after settling in the South, they are clearly South Korean citizens,” said a government official on Monday. “We believe the Chinese government will consider this fact. If it sends a South Korean citizen to North Korea, the decision could turn into a major diplomatic problem.”

A spokesman for activist group NK Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea, who helped the family defect again, said Kim and his relatives are being held in China’s Yanbian Province. Other activists said Chinese security forces conducted a massive manhunt to capture them, and they were captured on Sunday in the mountains surrounding Yanji.

Activists believe North Korea must have sought China’s help to catch Kim and his family. When it was reported that Kim succeeded in fleeing North Korea again by bribing border guards, North Korea belatedly started tracking the Kims down and asked China to arrest them.

A government source in Seoul said Sunday, “It seems the Chinese government is trying to buy time in handling Kim Kwang-ho’s case. The reason they’re refusing the South Korean consul’s requests to interview Kim’s family is because it has not determined Kim’s nationality.”

If Beijing allows the South Korean consul to interview Kim and his family, it means it recognizes them as South Korean, and that puts China under pressure given that the case is sensitive for both Koreas.

[Chosun Ilbo]