Monthly Archives: April 2014

Diverse opinions on how the world should deal with North Korea

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North Korean defectors, now living in Seoul, were invited to share their thoughts on how the world can best help North Korea. Some excerpts:

Nayoung Koh, 25, defected North Korea in 2009, now attending university:
“The whole of the international community needs to simultaneously criticize the DPRK about its human record. In my experience – until early the early part of the last decade – capital punishment was commonly witnessed in North Korea and there were almost no criminal trials. However, some of these incidents and practices were photographed by cameras and satellites in the early 2000s and revealed to the world. When that happened, North Korea was severely criticized by the international community – and shortly afterwards there was a temporary halt to the practice of public capital punishment.”

Jinwoo Ham, mid-50s, had been a NK military officer for 22 years before he left:
“The international community needs to have heavy sanctions on the DPRK while it continues to violate the human rights of its own people and remains unwilling to give up nuclear weapons. That is the only way to make North Korea collapse. At the same time, the international community also needs to help North Koreans speak up and rebel against the current dictatorship. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to take advantage of all kinds of media including broadcasting, publications, and video to raise public awareness.”

Jimin Kang, 28, had been in the military before he defecting from Pyongyang in 2005:
“In my opinion, the greatest contribution the international community can make to North Korea will be in the form of economic aid and better quality education. You see, once North Korea opens up, the greatest priority will be in rebuilding the economy. … North Korea needs talented individuals to lead the country into the future. … Therefore what the people of North Korea really need is a transplant of the West’s educational environment into the DPRK.”

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North Korean defectors on humanitarian aid and human rights

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Se-hyok Oh, mid-30s, left North Korea in 1999. Now a journalist for Daily NK:
“The international community needs to let North Koreans know that it has a continuous and long-lasting interest in them. One method of achieving this is through humanitarian aid – though only under certain conditions. The international community needs to impose sanctions while informing Pyongyang of the many positive effects and consequences that would result from the DPRK making changes.”

Mina Yoon, 28, had been in the military before defecting in 2010. Now an university student in Seoul:
“What frightens ordinary North Koreans the most is either starving or being beaten to death. …While human rights need to be enhanced, food supplies still need to be provided. We also need to ensure that food aid goes to ordinary North Koreans, not the government. And it is important that those receiving aid should be informed where it comes from.”

Soon-kyung Hong, mid 60s, had been a DPRK Trade Councillor before he defected in 2000:
“The most important thing the international community can do is to speak out for the human rights of ordinary North Koreans. Also, the international community should impose additional sanctions on the North Korean government.”

[Read Guardian article] 

American intelligence admits it has no idea what Kim Jong-un is doing

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Almost all of the conventional wisdom from American intelligence agencies about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been wrong, Peter Sanger of The New York Times reports.

When Kim became supreme leader two years ago, U.S. intel thought his China-allied uncle would guide his transition to power. In December, Kim had his uncle and some of his allies executed.

The U.S. thought Kim would focus on an economic overhaul of the meager economy instead of further development of military programs. Instead, Kim has chosen to continue testing ballistic missiles, working toward an intercontinental missile that could threaten the U.S., in addition to promoting the North’s nuclear program, special operations forces, and long-range artillery.

As former State Department North Korea specialist Evans J. R. Revere told The Times: “We have failed. For two decades our policy has been to keep the North Koreans from developing nuclear weapons. It’s now clear there is no way they will give them up, no matter what sanctions we impose, no matter what we offer. So now what?”

Basically, the Hermit Kingdom has defied American expectations, and now the U.S. doesn’t know what to do about it.

Further, American spies are in the dark. The Washington Post, citing the leaked “black budget” of the U.S. intelligence community, reported last year that “there are five ‘critical’ gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.”

[Stamford Advocate]

8 ways Kim Jong-Un has blindsided the US

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When Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011, many experts saw his ascent as an opportunity for the West to transform the last bastion of hard-line communism, believing that the untested leader would shy away from confrontation with the U.S. and even South Korea.

Instead, North Korea’s leader has “proved to be more ruthless, aggressive and tactically skilled than anyone expected,” Peter Sanger of The New York Times reports. Here are a few things North Korea’s supreme leader has done in the past 18 months to surprise and unnerve the U.S.:
1. The U.S. expected Kim to ease up on obtaining a nuke, but North Korea conducted a third nuclear test in February 2013. Kim is expanding the production of highly enriched uranium to get a more plentiful supply of nuclear fuel, and recently threatened to conduct “a new form of nuclear test.”
2. When the world thought that any North Korean rocket launch would be a farce, the North launched a rocket 1,600 miles in December 2012. The event is suspected of being a test for long-range ballistic missiles.
3. In April 2013, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said it believed the North had learned how to make a “low-reliability” nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile.
4. “Defense officials say they now have less warning time on missile launches than they had two or three years ago because Mr. Kim has put his resources into mobile launchers that are regularly moved from tunnel to tunnel, making them harder for American satellites to track.” – New York Times
5. President Obama had been told that Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek would keep Kim in check, but Kim executed Jang, who was seen as an experienced diplomat with close ties to China.
6. While many waited for the North’s economy to collapse under sanctions, Kim has developed an underground illicit economy.
7. China, the world’s second-largest economy, has Kim’s back: Beijing recently rejected a damning report about horrific human-rights abuses by Kim’s regime, provides it with military hardware, and reportedly holds a trust fund for the young leader in Chinese banks.
8. Despite bans on military hardware, North Korea probably has drones to spy on South Korea, and the technology will get only better.

[Business Insider]

Obama dismisses North Korea as weak pariah state

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North Korea is a weak “pariah state” whose heavily militarized border with South Korea marks “freedom’s frontier”, President Barack Obama told American troops in Seoul on Saturday.

The meeting place of the two countries is a division between a “democracy that is growing and a pariah state that would rather starve its people than feed their hopes and dreams”, he said.

Pyongyang’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is “a path that leads only to more isolation”, said Obama, as he dismissed the Stalinist state’s sabre-rattling.

“Anybody can make threats. That does not make you strong. Those things don’t come through force, they have to be earned.”

Obama also said the US-South Korean alliance was as “strong as it has ever been”.

“We don’t hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life,” he told cheering troops and air force personnel.


North Korea announces it has American in custody

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On the day that U.S. President Barack Obama visited South Korea — a trip that North Korea’s foreign ministry condemned as being “aimed to escalate confrontation and bring dark clouds of a nuclear arms race” — the reclusive country announced it is holding an American man who it claims arrived in the country this month to seek asylum.

KCNA identified the man as 24-year-old Miller Matthew Todd, who it says was taken into custody on April 10.

The man, according to KCNA, entered the country on a tourist visa. He tore his tourist visa and shouted that “he would seek asylum” and “came to the DPRK (North Korea) after choosing it as a shelter,” KCNA said.

The United States is aware of the report and has been in touch with Sweden — which represents American interests in North Korea — about it, State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.


Obama hints at new sanctions for North Korea

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In a display of unity against North Korea’s provocations, President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned Pyongyang on Friday that it could face tougher sanctions if it follows through with threats to launch a fourth nuclear test.

Striking an even harsher tone than Obama, Park also suggested any test would trigger an undesirable nuclear arms race in the region and render further nuclear negotiations pointless.

North Korea will get “nothing except further isolation” if it proceeds with its test, Obama said at a joint news conference in Seoul. But he also acknowledged there are limits to what effects additional penalties can have on the country.

“North Korea already is the most isolated country in the world, by far,” Obama said. “Its people suffer terribly because of the decisions its leaders have made. And we are not going to find a magic bullet that solves this problem overnight.”

Still, he said, it’s important to look at new ways to pressure North Korea, including applying sanctions that have “even more bite.”

In 2009, North Korea walked away from six-party talks with the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and China that offered financial incentives in exchange for denuclearization.

The White House said it was keeping close tabs on activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site. The website 38 North, which closely monitors North Korea, said commercial satellite imagery from Wednesday showed increased movement of vehicles and materials near what are believed to be entrances to two completed tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in what could be advanced preparations for an underground atomic explosion. But predicting such tests is notoriously difficult; the most crucial activity happens underground, out of aerial view.


Childhood pictures of Kim Jong-un emerge amidst rumors of North Korean nuclear test

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Rare new photographs of Kim Jong-un as a young boy have emerged during a concert for the North Korean air force.

kim-jong-un as a boy

Pictures showing the 31-year-old North Korean leader as a chubby toddler, saluting while in uniform, were shown on KCTV, the country’s state broadcaster.

Young kim-jong un airplane cockpitOther photographs showed him as a teenager, at the controls of an airplane.

Until now, only a handful of pictures of Kim as a young boy have been seen.

kim-jong un teenOnly one photograph is known to exist from his days as a student, which shows him on what appears to be a school trip with fellow pupils at the International School of Berne, in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, South Korea warned that the North could be planning a fourth nuclear test to ramp up tensions during President Obama’s upcoming visit to Seoul. A spokesman for the Defense ministry said North Korea is now able to conduct a nuclear test “at any moment”.

However, a respected US think tank says chances of North Korea testing a nuclear warhead during President Barack Obama’s visit are slim. Satellite imagery analyzed by 38North, which is part of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said that while there had been a pickup in activity, there were few signs of an imminent test.

 [The Telegraph; The South China Morning Post] 

Two North Korean activists flee their country

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Kim Seung-chul of North Korea Reform Radio told the Chosun Ilbo two North Korean activists made a telephone call to his station from China asking for help. The two are from Jagang Province and had been listening to the South Korean radio station for five years with a home-made receiver, which moved them to launch a pro-democracy group in North Korea.

Kim quoted one of the men as saying the broadcasts inspired him to think about how to improve North Korea. He said they printed anti-regime leaflets based on the broadcasts and scattered them in markets and streets.

But they decided to flee late last year because one of their members was arrested last November and state security dragnet was closing in.

Kim said he helped them escape through China, from where they made their way to Thailand and then on South Korea.

Powerful aunt of Kim Jong-un disappears from official footage

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The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mysteriously disappeared from a re-run of a propaganda film, leading to speculation that she has been purged – or even executed.

Kim Kyong Hui

Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that while the original screening featuring Ms Kim (as shown circled above), a re-run shown on Tuesday depicts a scene in which only Kim Jong-un, his wife, and male military officials are visible.

Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is the widow of Jang Song-taek who was recently executed. It was believed she would always remain ‘safe’ under her nephew’s brutal regime, leading analysts to say that her disappearance from the documentary is ominous. Ms Kim’s safety from purging or execution had always been assumed because she is the daughter of North Korean founder Kim Il-sun and the sister of the late leader, Kim Jong-il. Despite all this, Ms Kim is still associated with a husband who was publicly denounced as a traitor and executed in December.

Until January this year, Ms Kim was frequently seen at the side of her nephew and his wife at public events. In the footage in question, which aired in January, she was seen walking with the leader and his wife towards the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, Pyongyang, to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The apparent ‘disappearance’ of Kim Kyong-hui has led to speculation that her place in high positions in the Workers’ Party has been taken by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Yo-jong.