Monthly Archives: January 2014

North Korea’s special forces comprise 200,000 soldiers

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The special operations branch of the Korean People’s Army is reported to comprise 200,000 soldiers, 60,000 specialized troops and 140,000 light infantry soldiers, according to the Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo.

General Walter Sharp, the former commander of the South Korean-US Combined Forces Command stated that the infantry soldiers are lightly armed and trained to infiltrate deep behind enemy lines to destroy key installations and engage in black ops.

Specialized troops could infiltrate South Korea on foot or through underground tunnels, General Sharp said. They are also able to land at major ports in the South with 130 hovercraft and 260 landing vessels. The North Korean air force’s 170 aging but operable low-flying AN-2 transport planes introduced from Russia and 130 helicopters can also be mobilized to deploy airborne troops as well.

The United States only has about 50,000 soldiers in its special forces, while South Korea has fewer than 20,000.

“The havoc-raising potential of North Korea’s special forces has grown as their numbers have increased and their training has shifted to terrorist tactics developed by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan,” General Sharp told the Washington Post. “They are very capable, and they will employ these tactics.”

All members of North Korean special forces have been die-hard Kim family loyalists since the establishment of the unit, Sharp said, adding that to avoid capture when they are defeated, all soldiers are ordered to kill themselves.

[Source: Want China Times

Senior North Korean diplomat says Jang killed due to crimes against the country

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A senior North Korean diplomat has revealed new details about why Kim Jong-Un’s uncle was executed.

North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, Hyun Hak-Bong, said Jang Song Thaek “made anti-party, anti-government crimes, and as well he abused his power in hindering the national economy and hindering the efforts of the national economy and for improving people’s living standards.”

He claimed Jang had stolen more than 7.5 million dollars from the people in 2009 alone and been repeatedly pardoned by the party and Kim Jong-Un.

But he said that the party’s patience had run out with Jang, adding: “He made tremendous crimes against the government, against the people, against the country.”

[Daily Mail]

North Korean prisoners programmed to be informants

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As a 13-year-old in a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk overheard his mother and brother speaking. One word made him perk up — escape.

Knowing the rule, “Any witness to an attempted escape who fails to report it will be shot immediately,” Shin’s “camp-bred instincts took over,” as journalist Blaine Harden writes in “Escape From Camp 14.” Running out of the house and finding the school’s night guard, Shin did exactly what he had been raised to do — he ratted on his own mother and brother, explaining what he had overheard.

That night, he slept at the dormitory, not at home.

The next day, guards came and found Shin in the schoolyard. Handcuffed, blindfolded, pushed into a car and taken to an underground prison in Camp 14, he was confused why he, an informer, was being treated like this. Eventually, he realized that the night guard had taken all the credit for foiling his family’s escape plan — his mother and brother were both caught. Unable to trust the son of attempted runaways, guards held Shin in the underground prison for eight months, initially subjecting him to brutal torture and feeding him just enough tasteless food to survive his dark cell, which he shared with a kind old man.

Upon his release, he was handcuffed and blindfolded, then driven to a field near his childhood home — the same field where he had witnessed several annual executions for most of his life. A guard removed his handcuffs and blindfold and sat him down. Then, his mother and brother were dragged out and led to a gallows and wooden stake lodged in the ground.

Facing execution, his mother tried to catch his eyes, but he refused to look. As his mother hung, he felt at the time that she deserved death for endangering his life with the escape plan.

Tied to a wooden pole, his brother was next: Three guards each fired three shots, killing him instantly, which, Shin felt he also deserved.

[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel]

Methamphetamine in North Korea

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After the North Korean coal mine in Hoeryong, a hardscrabble mining town of 130,000 on the Chinese border, stopped paying salaries, Park Kyung Ok tried her hand hawking methamphetamine.

Park used to travel to another North Korean city, Chongjin, to buy meth, known as orum or ice, that she would carry back hidden in a candy box. She would sell it behind the counter at a bicycle parts store at the public market. Hidden among the spare parts were metal plates, burners and other drug paraphernalia.

She usually paid the equivalent of US$17 for a gram of high quality product, which she would then cut with cheaper meth and divide into 12 smaller portions to resell for a few dollars’ profit.

“It was just enough money that I could buy rice to eat and coal for heating,” said Park, who was interviewed recently in China and, like most North Korean defectors, used an assumed name.

North Koreans say there is little stigma attached to meth use. Some take it to treat colds or boost their energy; students take it to work late. The drug also helps curb appetites in a country where food is scarce. It is offered up as casually as a cup of tea, North Koreans say.

“If you go to somebody’s house it is a polite way to greet somebody by offering them a sniff,” said Lee Saera, 43, of Hoeryong, also interviewed in China. “It is like drinking coffee when you’re sleepy, but ice is so much better.”

Despite its draconian legal system, North Korea has long been easygoing about narcotics use.  With analgesics scarce, opium paste is commonly sold for pain relief. Marijuana (called “mouth tobacco”) is legal and frequently grown at home to be mixed in with rolling tobacco.

Through the 1990s, the North Korean government ran the production of opium, meth and other drugs for Office 39, a unit raising hard currency for late leader Kim Jong-il, according to narcotics investigators. But the North Korean government has largely gone out of the drug business, according to the US State Department’s 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

North Koreans say meth then appeared on the streets around 2005 and that it came from Hamhung, the one-time center of the nation’s pharmaceutical and chemical industry, and thus a city filled with unemployed scientists and technicians. The industry then spread to Chongjin and the capital, Pyongyang.

What life is like in a North Korean prison camp

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Based on North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk’s experiences, families at Camp 14 get just two hours daily of electricity — from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. They have no beds, tables, chairs or running water. They use a communal privy, the waste from which is used as fertilizer for the camp farm.

At Camp 14, Shin’s diet was corn porridge, pickled cabbage and cabbage soup, twice daily, for 23 years. There were no exceptions, except when the political police, the bo-wi-bu, withheld food as punishment.

As is true for most North Koreans, who live near starvation, almost anything at Camp 14 is viewed as edible. Shin and his fellow prisoners ate frogs, snakes, insects, rats —anything.

In the winter, when food is scarce, prisoners try to abate hunger pangs by not defecating, regurgitating and re-eating food — nothing is off limits, but none of it changes the fact of starvation.

One day, when Shin was 6, he was sitting in class when his teacher “sprang a surprise search,” digging through the pockets of all 40 students in class. The teacher found five kernels of corn, as Shin tells it, all of which belonged to a female classmate.

Ordering the girl to kneel in front of the class, the teacher repeatedly struck her head with his chalkboard pointer. After repeated strikes, lumps puffed up on her skull, blood poured from her head, and she collapsed, unconscious. Later that night, she died. The next day, the teacher was back in front of the class.

It wasn’t the first murder Shin witnessed, but it was the first informal one. Aside from the two or three annual executions that every prisoner has to watch at Camp 14, the bo-wi-bu have the green light to punish at will.

Unlike students in the rest of North Korea, prisoners are not fed the brainwash devised by the Kim regime of its own god-like benevolence. Rather, they are taught next to nothing. Shin believes children born in the camp were intentionally kept ignorant.

[Excerpted from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel]

Jang Song-thaek relatives also executed

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All relatives of the executed uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, including children and the country’s ambassadors to Cuba and Malaysia, have also been put to death at the leader’s instruction, multiple sources said Sunday.

Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle, was executed last month on charges of attempting to overthrow the communist regime, including contemplating a military-backed coup.

“Extensive executions have been carried out for relatives of Jang Song-thaek,” one source said on condition of anonymity. “All relatives of Jang have been put to death, including even children.”

The executed relatives include Jang’s sister Jang Kye-sun, her husband and Ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong-jin, and Ambassador to Malaysia Jang Yong-chol, who is a nephew of Jang, as well as his two sons, the sources said.

All of them were recalled to Pyongyang in early December and executed, they said. The sons, daughters and even grandchildren of Jang’s two brothers were all executed, they said.

“Some relatives were shot to death by pistol in front of other people if they resisted while being dragged out of their apartment homes,” another source said.

Some relatives by marriage, including the wife of the ambassador to Malaysia, have been spared from executions and sent to remote villages along with their maiden families, according to the sources.

“The executions of Jang’s relatives mean that no traces of him should be left,” a source said. “The purge of the Jang Song-thaek people is under way on an extensive scale from relatives and low-level officials.”

[Yonhap News]

North Korea using prisoners as lab rats

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Like its Nazi counterpart, the North Korean government sometimes uses prisoners as lab rats to test the potency of certain chemicals.

Shin Dong-hyuk [formerly interned in the North Korean Camp 14] remembers when guards gave 15 inmates chemical solutions to rub on themselves. Shortly thereafter, they developed boils on their skin. As [his biographer] wrote, “Shin saw a truck arrive at the factory and watched as the ailing prisoners were loaded into it. He never saw them again.”

According to The Guardian newspaper, prisoners and guards from Camp 22 in Hamgyong “described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed.”

One official document smuggled out by a defector said that 39-year-old Lin Hun-Nwa was transferred from Camp 22 “for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas for chemical weapons.”

“I will never forget the anguish of a North Korean defector who years after the fact broke down describing how he supervised the slow killing of parents and their child in a glass-encased chamber,” writes Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who also sits on the board of directors of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“Shocking details of how long the agony went on and the efforts of the doomed parents to breathe air into the lungs of their dying child were duly written down and forwarded for analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gases.”

[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel]

After Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from the North Korean gulag

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Shin Dong-hyuk lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp. After his escape from Camp 14, Shin spent about a month making his way through North Korea, making friends with the homeless underworld and hopping on and off trains between cities. Eventually, he reached the Tumen River, bribed a border guard and crossed the river into China.

He spent more than a year laying low in China. Well-fed but working for measly pay in people’s homes, he was wary of attracting attention from the government, which typically repatriates North Korean defectors, claiming they are “economic migrants.” If the Chinese government were to recognize defectors like Shin as humanitarian refugees, it would be prohibited, under international law, from returning them to North Korea.

In February 2006, after moving around much of China, Shin ran into a Korean-born journalist in a restaurant in Shanghai. The journalist listened to — and believed — Shin’s story, then smuggled him past Chinese police and into the South Korean consulate, which provided Shin diplomatic immunity.

After six months living at the consulate, Shin was flown to Seoul; soon thereafter, he moved to a government-run resettlement center. He struggled to adapt to life in the free world. His self-described growth has been like the “slow growth of a fingernail.”

Shin said he knows of no silver bullet for the North Korean crisis. But what he does know, and what disappoints him, is the world’s ignorance of and seeming indifference to the 21st century’s gulag — the same kind of indifference that allowed Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot to carry out similar political persecutions and mass imprisonments.

[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel] 

Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from North Korean gulag

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As Shin Dong-hyuk crawled over his friend’s lifeless body, the 23-year-old North Korean could feel the electric current shooting through him. Luckily, for Shin, the two pairs of pants he was wearing, coupled with his friend’s corpse, shielded him for the most part from the deadly voltage pulsing through the barbed-wire fences.

Those fences had trapped him since his birth inside Camp 14, a North Korean prison on the Taedong River in the hills about 50 miles northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang. But on this frigid afternoon, Jan. 2, 2005, something happened at the camp that had never happened before — someone escaped.

Shin’s friend, Park Yong Chul, had made it to the fence first, pushing his upper body through the lowest two strands of electrified wire. The current, though, was so powerful that it glued Park to the fence, killing him within seconds.

As journalist Blaine Harden writes in “Escape From Camp 14,” the gripping account of Shin’s life in the forced labor camp, “The weight of his [Park’s] body pulled down the bottom strand of wire, pinning it against the snowy ground and creating a small gap in the fence.”

Shin crawled through that gap, but not before exposing both of his legs to the wire, incinerating his skin. In terrible pain, he ran down the mountain away from Camp 14, becoming the first known person to have been born in and lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp, and then to escape.

By evening, after traveling a few miles, he had found a few ears of dried corn, some cotton shoes and a worn military uniform that would allow him to ditch his prisoner’s garb and avoid unwanted attention. Shin had no money but was trying to make his way 370 miles north, to the Chinese border, to freedom.

He was wary of running into police, but he was also thin and starving.

He blended perfectly into North Korea.

[Excerpt of Jewish Journal article, authored by Jared Sichel]

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View video clip of Shin Dong-hyuk

Stating the obvious: Kim Jong Un irrational, unpredictable

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No less than US Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, went on record stating that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is at the top of the worst offenders list.

America’s top officer in the region expressed grave concerns Thursday about how the U.S. charts a path toward the untested and reclusive despot.

kim jong un“The young leader, for me…is unpredictable,” said Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command. “His behavior, at least in the way it’s reported and the way we see it in sense, would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision-making mode or not. And this is a problem.”

North Korea’s continued nuclearization threatens the Korean peninsula, the region, and potentially the world, says Locklear.

“The way ahead with the new leader there is not clear to me,” he said at a Pentagon press briefing. “It is potentially a very dangerous place.”

[USNews & World Report]