Monthly Archives: November 2015

Defector: North Korean education consisted of learning how to worship the Kims

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Ga Eul, a peppy, English-speaking 23-year-old starts out, “I was born in January of 1991. Until 2005, my education consisted of learning how to worship Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jung-Il.”

As a middle-schooler, Ga Eul dreamed of becoming a math teacher. She came from an upper-middle-class family—her father managed a clothing factory and her mother was a farmer—and her parents scrounged up the money to pay for a private tutor. But when Ga Eul’s extended relatives were caught trying to escape from North Korea, she wrote, “My dream of becoming a math teacher was not possible anymore. My family members were branded enemies of the state.” Ga Eul was told that she wouldn’t be able to join the military—a key step to getting good jobs in North Korea—and neither would her children.

Ga Eul and her mother successfully escaped North Korea after receiving this news, but her brother and father were caught en route, in China, which deports defectors back to North Korea. Ga Eul’s brother, who was a teenager at the time, only spent a month in jail, but her father was sent to a political prison camp. The family hasn’t heard from him since 2006.

Nowadays her brother, Ye Jun, a construction worker, has plenty to eat. Every month or so, Ga Eul speaks with Ye Jun on the phone; like many North Koreans living near China, he uses a smuggled phone and spotty Chinese phone service to call South Korea.

Between money from Ga Eul’s scholarship and her mother’s job at a Chinese restaurant, the two women send roughly $500 per month to North Korea, of which about $200 gets to Ye Jun—the rest is siphoned off by the brokers.

In addition to spending this money on clothing and gadgets from the market, Ye Jun is saving up for a bigger goal: This year, he will attempt once again to escape to South Korea. If he’s caught, the 25-year-old is likely to suffer the same fate as his father.

[Mother Jones]

Two Koreas to talk on Thanksgiving

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Whenever North Korea heads to the negotiating table one remembers the traditional description of a second marriage: the triumph of hope over experience. We’ve been here before. Or, more accurately, the two Koreas have. Many times. Still, that’s not a criticism. As Winston Churchill famously said, “to jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war.”

Diplomatic dialogue requires two parties. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) always prefers a monologue. Kim Jong-un is most concerned about preserving his rule through what has evolved into a family dynasty. In any talks, humanitarian concerns will never be more than a gloss for the DPRK. The objective is never going to be far from extortion.

So what does each side want? Pyongyang almost certainly hopes to persuade Seoul to restart economic aid and investment suspended in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship and the bombardment of a South Korean island.

For its part, Seoul must decide what it most desires out of Pyongyang. One goal should be continuing dialogue, even if the results are largely inconsequential and the process frustrating. A more substantive objective for South Korea should be to lessen the North’s conventional threat. North Korea’s military is unsophisticated, but its advanced positioning puts Seoul at risk.

The United States should offer its full endorsement for the talks and indicate its readiness to step both forward diplomatically and back militarily if the two Koreas strike a deal.

All of this goes well beyond the working-level discussions planned for [Thanksgiving Day]. But if successful such an effort would be something for which all of us could give thanks.

[Excerpts from Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at Cato Institute]

Re-education for Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man?

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The right hand man of North Korean leader, Choe Ryong Hae, has not been seen for weeks now after failing to attend a top military chief’s funeral

Reports indicate that Kim Jong-un has purged Choe Ryong Hae, who dared to defy him, and sent this former inner circle cohort for “re-education”. Those sent for “re-education” are usually subjected to brutal psychological torture.

Speaking to CNN, Victor Cha, from the Centre for Strategic and International studies, said: “It’s not a country club, it is almost certainly a very grueling process where there is both mental and physical abuse.”

The reason why Choe Ryong Hae may not have suffered the same fate as many other high-ranking members of the regime who have stood up to the tyrant is that he is known as a “princeling” – the son of a North Korean revolutionary hero who fought the Japanese.

Choe Ryong Hae’s exile has been confirmed by South Korean intelligence officials. “Choe Ryong-hae is receiving education at Kim Il-Sung Higher Party School,” an official told Yonhap news agency.

[Daily Mirror]

Kim Jong Un demotes top North Korean official

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have demoted one of his top officials and sent him to a rural collective farm for reeducation, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Tuesday.

If confirmed, the banishment of Choe Ryong Hae would be the latest in a series of executions, purges and dismissals that Kim has orchestrated in what analysts say is a further strengthening of his grip on power since taking over in late 2011.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Choe’s demotion was related to the alleged collapse of a water tunnel at a power station. Choe was reportedly responsible for the construction of the power station in North Korea’s northeastern Ryanggang province. The NIS said Choe and Kim were also at odds over youth-related policies, according to Shin’s office.

Choe was a rising star after Kim inherited power upon the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il. He held a series of top posts, including the top political officer in the Korean People’s Army which once made him North Korea’s second most powerful official following the 2013 execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek.

His influence is believed to have diminished in April 2014 when his top army post was found to have been given to Hwang Pyong So, who is now widely considered to be the North’s No. 2 official.

Choe was still considered one of Kim’s top aides and held a number of important posts, including member of the powerful Political Bureau of the ruling Worker’s Party and secretary of the party’s Central Committee. The NIS told lawmakers that Kim is eventually expected to rehabilitee Choe, but didn’t say when.

[Associated Press]

Seven North Korean refugees apprehended in Thailand

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Seven North Korean defectors have been arrested on the Mekong River in Nong Khai for illegally entering Thailand, a senior immigration police officer said.

The four men and three women aged between 22 and 75 were apprehended on Tuesday night, said Pol Col Panlop Suriyakul na Ayutthaya, chief of Nong Khai immigration police, during a media briefing in the northeast province.

Kyodo News reported none were carrying passports and confirmed through a translator they were from North Korea. They were charged with illegal entry and later handed over to Ban Due police station.

Many North Koreans fleeing their country have entered Thailand illegally through its northeastern borders in recent years, but Thai authorities have not repatriated them to North Korea on humanitarian grounds.

[Read full Bangkok Post article]

North Korea proposes talks with South Korea

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North Korea has proposed talks with South Korea to be held on Nov. 26 at the truce village on their militarized border, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Friday.

The talks, if held, would be the first government-level meeting focused on easing tension since the two sides agreed to improve ties following an armed standoff in August.

An official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles ties with the North, confirmed receiving Pyongyang’s proposal and said it would soon make a decision on whether to accept it, possibly later Friday.

“Now we’re back on again, the game’s afoot,” John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said, adding the proposal for working-level talks would ease the way for the two sides to get on with discussions. “Sometimes these talks break down before they even start over what level to send, so this sounds like a very pragmatic and straightforward approach,” he added


Helping North Korean defectors enter the 21st century

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Joseph Park wants others who have escaped North Korea to buy in, literally and emotionally, to his venture. Ten dollars is all it takes to become a shareholder in the Yovel coffee shop in Seoul. It’s not about the money. It’s about the investment.

“There are a handful of coffee shops and restaurants in South Korea that employ North Koreans, but they don’t have any decision-making power . … They don’t get a chance to learn and take responsibility. No one lasts more than a year because they don’t have a stake in it,” he said. “That’s why, when I started this company, I wanted to give North Koreans power to make decisions.”

There are more than 28,000 Koreans who have escaped the North and now live in the South, and many struggle to make it in the frenetic South Korean society. When they arrive, most have never used a computer or owned a credit card. …Many struggle to hold down jobs in the capitalist South.

The South offers some job training to the North Koreans who make it. After three months in a reception center, they can choose to continue with vocational training, such as hairdressing, welding or car repair. But these classes are not popular, with most defectors eager to get out in the “real” South Korea. Only 174 have opted for such courses this year, according to the Unification Ministry.

[Washington Post]

China to send back 9 defectors to North Korea

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Nine defectors are in danger of being sent back to North Korea after being caught in Vietnam and handed over to China last month, an activist group said. Among the North Korean defectors are an army captain and a one-year-old boy.

After fleeing the North in early October, they traveled from Shenyang to the town of Nanning on the Chinese border with Vietnam, according to the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

They crossed the border on Oct. 22 but were caught by Vietnamese police during a random check on a bus bound for Laos in Móng Cái, Vietnam. They were handed over to Chinese police in Dongxing, Guangxi, where they were detained until recently.

On Monday they were taken to Shenyang by train and transferred to a garrison in the border town of Tumen and are now facing repatriation to the North.

China used to repatriate all defectors that were caught there, but since last year it has mostly stopped. Now there are worries that improving ties between the two allies mean defectors will be sent back again.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Why North Korean defections are down – Threatened North Korean border guards

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For the first time in 12 years, an average of less than 100 North Koreans now defect to South Korea each month.

A North Korean defector who was a chief border guard in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province until late 2013, said, “Since Kim Jong-un took power, border guards have been punished for taking bribes from defectors, even if this came to light after they’d already left the job. They became terrified. So bribes no longer worked.”

On the other hand, border guards who capture defectors are rewarded with promotion, Workers Party membership and recommendations to prestigious universities.

Apart from all this, the regime also installed CCTV on popular defection routes and fortified the border with barbed wire.    Read more

Why North Korean defections are down – More expensive trafficker fees

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As the risks rise, so do the fees of traffickers who assist North Koreans in their escape. These have doubled from five years ago.

A source said traffickers who used to charge $3400-4300 to cross the Yalu or Tumen rivers into China, now charge nearly $8600. In some areas along the Tumen River, the cost climbs to $14,000.

China has also boosted crackdowns on North Korean defectors because it fears a mass exodus.

Better living condition in North Korea also undoubtedly plays a part in less defectors. One researcher at a state-run think tank said since there are now some 400 markets in the North, and they have improved the lives of many who might earlier have risked their lives to flee destitution.

However, this same development has prompted more members of the elite to defect, often to escape the side effects of nascent capitalism.

“Capitalism has spawned corruption and business conflicts,” said Cho Dong-ho at Ewha Womens University. “It seems a lot of fat cats defect when they lose a battle over business interests or face corruption charges.”

[Chosun Ilbo]