Monthly Archives: July 2014

North Korea preparing to prosecute 2 Americans

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North Korea says it plans to prosecute two American tourists that it detained earlier this year, accusing Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller of “perpetrating hostile acts.”

“According to the results of the investigation, suspicions about their hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their testimonies,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Monday. “The relevant organ of the DPRK is carrying on the investigation into them and making preparations for bringing them before court on the basis of the already confirmed charges,” the report said.

The U.S. State Department called on North Korea to release the two men on humanitarian grounds.

North Korea said in late April that it had taken Miller into custody, claiming he had come to the country seeking asylum and had torn up his tourist visa.

It announced the detention of Fowle in early June, saying he had violated the law by acting “contrary to the purpose of tourism.” It didn’t provide details at the time on what exactly he was accused of doing. But the Japanese news agency Kyodo cited unidentified diplomatic sources as saying that Fowle was part of a tour group and that he was detained in mid-May after allegedly leaving a Bible in a hotel where he had been staying.


Imprisoned Kenneth Bae feels abandoned by US

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Kenneth Bae, an American citizen detained in North Korea, said he feels like the U.S. government has abandoned him, according to an interview he did with a pro-North Korea, Japan-based newspaper, Choson Sinbo.

Bae said that he heard the U.S. government is doing everything it can to have him released and thanked the American and North Korean government for allowing him to speak to his family over the phone and medical treatment.

He’s been in North Korea for two years and there is no sign of this issue being solved, according to the paper.

Bae said he is suffering from several health problems and is worried that his condition will worsen when he returns to a special labor camp soon. Bae was re-admitted to a hospital in Pyongyang in March. “He expressed anxiety that if he is to go back to the labor camp, such symptoms may become worse and said he is stressed that he is unable to pay fees for the hospital treatments,” the newspaper reported.

Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, was arrested in November 2012. Pyongyang sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor, accusing him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities. He is widely reported to have been carrying out Christian missionary work in North Korea.

Bae is one of three Americans currently held in North Korea. Matthew Miller Todd was taken into custody on April 10 and Jeffrey Fowle, from Ohio, was detained in June for breaking a law, according to North Korea’s state news agency.


Michael Kirby wants action on North Korea human rights abuses

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It’s one thing to bring down a comprehensive and definitive UN report on vile human rights abuses in North Korea. It’s quite another, especially in the fast-moving 24-hour news cycle, to keep the horrors of it in the public eye.

But the former High Court judge Michael Kirby, who chaired the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into North Korea, is determined that the report of the UN Human Rights Council will not be forgotten, and he wants action.

This was Michael Kirby’s response when I asked him to compare North Korea’s prisons to World War II concentration camps:

MICHAEL KIRBY: There are many similarities. I remember one witness who came before us who told of his job, which was to pick up the bodies every day because people just died of hunger and starvation and to put them into wheelbarrows and wheel them to a vat and put them in the vat and turn the vat on and reduce them to ashes and liquid and then to pick up the remains, including legs and arms that hadn’t quite incinerated, and then put all of this into the nearby fields where some food was grown, mainly for the guards, as fertilizer.

The prisoners themselves lived on grass, leaves and items that they could gather and rodents that were in abundance over the fields. And it’s a really horrible story. As you say, no gas ovens, that type of thing, but still people and their families…

MARK COLVIN: So back to the UN. A lot of people are cynical about what the UN can and will do. Do you think that in this case, in the case of North Korea, there’s a prospect of action?

MICHAEL KIRBY: I believe there is. Some people say that’s a naïve belief but I believe that in the end the power of the report which has been produced, the testimony, the findings that these are cases of crimes against humanity which activates the so-called principle of the responsibility to protect: that was what happened with Gaddafi in Libya. That did ultimately secure the support of the permanent five: those who have the veto under the charter.

The Chinese government must be aware of the dangers to them of a country so unstable that it could remove the second or third most powerful man in the land – Jang Song-Thaek, the uncle of the supreme leader – drag him out of the politburo under the television cameras, put him before judges who screamed and shouted at him according to the North Korean reports, calling him a traitor and a dog, and then executed him by firing squad within a matter of three or four days.

I mean, that way of resolving a political dispute essentially, as one understands it, Jang saying, “We should go down the China model and we should engage with the world and we should get a market system,” and the way that was resolved was by simply killing him, and it’s a sign of the instability of the politics of that country.

MARK COLVIN: I was just wondering if you think, maybe, that people – the media – tend to concentrate on the almost comic opera aspects of the Kim dynasty?

MICHAEL KIRBY: Well, they certainly do.

[Excerpt of ABC interview]

Choco Pie propaganda balloons launched into North Korea

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Around 200 anti-Pyongyang activists released 50 large helium balloons carrying 350 kilograms (770 pounds) of snacks, including 10,000 Choco Pies from a park in the South Korean border city of Paju, organizers of the event said.

The humble Choco Pie — a saliva-sapping confection of chocolate-coated cake and marshmallow — has become an oft-referenced footnote in the volatile history of inter-Korean ties.

Offered as perks to North Koreans working in South Korean factories in the Kaesong joint industrial zone, Choco Pies spawned their own black market and were traded on at sharply inflated prices. The emergence of a South Korean snack as an unofficial currency became too much for the authorities in Pyongyang who in May ordered the factory owners to stop handing them out.

“Embarrassed by the growing popularity of Choco Pie, North Korea banned it as a symbol of capitalism,” said Choo Sun-Hee, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s balloon launch.

South Korean activists regularly launch balloons, usually carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets, across the border.

Pyongyang has repeatedly pressed Seoul to stop the activists and threatened to shell the launch sites.


North Korea’s threatening unpredictability

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North Korea is a Riddle Kingdom that is simultaneously threatening, bizarre and brutal. The regime’s unpredictability is one of the factors that allow a small, impoverished state, unable to feed its own people, to stand toe to toe with much more powerful rivals.

It is those random, capricious, frequently dangerous behaviors that allow fragile, brittle, bankrupt North Korea to force its dazzlingly successful neighbor, South Korea, to maintain a constant state of alert, to wonder if its capital city can survive an attack across a border that lies just 35 miles away.

With its conventional and nuclear arsenals, North Korea manages to keep the international community, including the United States, scrambling for an approach that might neutralize the danger and send a lifeline to the victims of the cruel regime.

The many quirky, mystifying, baffling developments in Pyongyang make its young ruler, Kim Jung Un, an irresistible target for comedians. It was hard to suppress a laugh, for example, when North Korea severely declared that an upcoming satirical Hollywood movie constituted “an act of war” and filed an official complaint with the United Nations.

Those are two sides of North Korea — deliberately frightening and inadvertently comical. Then there’s a third side — the part that makes us gasp in horror. A yearlong investigation conducted by the United Nations found that North Korea is a country whose depth of brutality “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

[Read full CNN article

Silicon Valley to host North Korea hackathon

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A two-day “hackathon” plans to harness the technical prowess of Silicon Valley to come up with new ways to get information safely into North Korea. Hack North Korea, scheduled to take place in San Francisco on August 2-3, is organized by the Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based group that focuses on closed societies.

Several prominent North Korean defectors will attend the event including pro-democracy activist Park Sang-hak, former North Korean child prisoner Kang Chol-hwan, media personality Park Yeon-mi and Kim Heung-Kwang, a former professor in computer studies in North Korea. They are expected to speak on the methods currently used to get information into the country, which include CDs and DVDs, USB sticks, shortwave radio, and leaflets dropped from balloons.

Organisers said they are not encouraging hacking in the sense of gaining unauthorised access to data, but is instead hoping to “spark better ideas for getting information into the world’s most closed and isolated society”. Participants will become familiar with the various ways that information and truth are smuggled into North Korea today, and gain an understanding of the technology landscape inside the country.

Earlier this year, helped HRF to launch balloons carrying USB flash drives loaded with Korean-language Wikipedia as well as pro-democracy materials and DVDs with South Korean dramas, so that they could float from the launch site in Paju, in South Korea, across the border into the North.

Park Sang-hak also visited Silicon Valley with HRF, to improve GPS tracking on the balloons, so that the group can try and follow what happens to the balloons once they cross the border.

[The Guardian]

The politics of Beijing’s impatience with North Korea

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Senior officials from China and South Korea will hold talks over the coming days to boost their cooperation on regional security, following a landmark visit to Seoul by President Xi Jinping. Xi’s visit indicated Beijing was shifting its attention from North Korea to the South as the Chinese president broke a tradition of his predecessors by not visiting Pyongyang first on an official visit to the Korean peninsula.

There have been no top-level visits between Beijing and Pyongyang since Kim Jong-un assumed power in 2012. Xi’s trip to Seoul is being interpreted as a sign of Beijing’s growing frustration with the volatile hardline state following a series of nuclear tests and missile launches.

An Asia-based diplomat who did not wish to be named said Beijing had been exerting pressure through diplomatic channels to stop Pyongyang launching a fourth nuclear test after it conducted its third in 2013.

Stalled six-nation nuclear talks have been dormant since late 2008. South Korea, the US and Japan demanded Pyongyang show its sincerity to seek denuclearisation before the talks could resume, but Pyongyang demanded there be no pre-conditions.

[Despite these recent actions] Cui Zhiying, a professor of Korean affairs at Tongji University in Shanghai, said China still believed that taking tough action against Pyongyang would create further uncertainties on the Korean peninsula. So Beijing would not go hand in hand with Seoul against Pyongyang, while Seoul still depends on its security alliance with Washington.

The US has urged Seoul and Tokyo to improve their relationship as their worsening ties could play into China’s hands, while Seoul is aware that its strategic value to Beijing will be lessened should Sino-US relations return to a more positive track, Lee Jung-nam, a professor at the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University said.

“The development of ties between South Korea and China has implications for the relationship between South Korea, the US and Japan.”

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea testing weapons much more than in past

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Officials in Seoul have confirmed nearly 100 missile, rocket and artillery tests by North Korea this year. While North Korea routinely tests short-range projectiles, the number of launches this year has been much higher than in previous years.

The regular test-firings of short-range projectiles, analysts say, are the latest signal that the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, is determined to do things differently than his father, dictator Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011. And analysts see no end to the test-firings in sight.

Kim Jong Un, who pushed tensions to extraordinary levels last year with threats of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington, will likely order his military to keep up the launches, they say, until the United States and South Korea make major concessions such as scaling down their regular joint military drills that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal. That’s a major contrast to the style of Kim’s father, who sparingly used longer-range missile and nuclear tests more as negotiating cards with the outside world to win concessions.

The continued launches show North Korea’s leader is pushing to strengthen military capabilities because his country feels threatened by U.S.-South Korean military drills even as it pushes for talks with the allies, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.

Kim Jong Un’s push for better ties with Seoul and Washington are seen by outside analysts as an attempt to help lure international aid and investment to revive the country’s moribund economy. South Korean and U.S. officials have largely dismissed the North’s overtures, saying the country must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.


North Korea whines to UN about anti-Kim Jong Un comedy

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A soon-to-be-released Hollywood film will mercilessly and hilariously mock the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea. And, therefore, Kim Jong Un and his cronies are very, very upset.

James Franco and Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, The Interview, depicts the pair trying to kill the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry had previously warned the U.S. of “stern and merciless” retaliation if it fails to block the release of the film. Now, Kim’s envoy to the United Nations penned a rather alarmist letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to block the film’s release, or else.

“The North Korean Foreign Ministry had previously warned the U.S. of ‘stern’ and ‘merciless’ retaliation if it fails to block the release of the film, which is out on October 14.

“Now, in a letter addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, North Korea’s UN envoy Ja Song-Nam says allowing the film to be made and seen constitutes ‘the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as a war action.’

“‘The US authorities should take immediate and appropriate action to ban the production and distribution of the film, otherwise it will be fully responsible for encouraging and sponsoring terrorism,‘ the letter says.

Ironically, the United Nations is the same deliberative body that earlier this year found that, among other things, the regime’s “human rights violations” are so barbaric and so evil they are unparalleled in modern times:

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed” by the leaders of North Korea against their own people, the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights declared in a report that goes on to accuse that nation’s communist regime of “crimes against humanity.”

According to U.N. investigators, “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” They conclude, for example, that “hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have perished” in prison camps over the past five decades.

The High Commissioner’s report calls on the U.N. Security Council to “refer the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court.”

“The United Nations must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are held accountable,” the report concludes.

The UN’s first order of business should be dealing aggressively with this murderous regime, not placating it.


The income gap in North Korea

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Ordinary North Koreans are lucky to earn US$30 a month, but senior state officials easily make more than $100 a day from endemic corruption, a survey by the Chosun Ilbo and Center for Cultural Unification Studies shows, after interviewing 100 North Koreans living in the Chinese border areas of Dandong and Yanji earlier this year.

Ninety-eight of them said there is a huge gap between the rich and poor in North Korea. The North Koreans said the collapse of the state rationing system and growth of the black economy have enabled those in power and successful traders to amass fortunes, while ordinary people who have been unable to adjust to these changes often barely have enough to eat.

One woman from Pyongyang said “Ten percent of the public is rich, 10 percent are middle class and almost 80 percent are poor.”

The majority said that the gap is most apparent when it comes to the bare necessities. “Poor people can barely afford to buy new shoes no matter how hard they work and don’t have the money to buy pork, which costs W30,000 per kilogram,” a woman from North Pyongan Province said.

Food aid provided by the UN usually ends up in the hands of party and military officials. Forty-three of the North Koreans who took part in the survey said party officials wield the greatest power in the North, and 41 percent said party officials in charge of overseeing Pyongyang’s overseas businesses are the most powerful.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Hwanghae Province on the impregnable border with South Korea is said to be at least half a century behind Sinuiju bordering China in the North. A man from Hwanghae Province described the difference between the two regions as “like night and day.” “After we supply crops to Pyongyang, we end up starving,” he added.

[Chosun Ilbo]