Monthly Archives: April 2016

Senior North Korea military officer defects

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A colonel from North Korea’s military spy agency fled to South Korea last year in an unusual case of a senior-level defection, Seoul officials said Monday.

Defections are a bitter source of contention between the rival Koreas, and Seoul doesn’t always make the high-profile cases public. The colonel who defected worked for the North Korean military’s General Reconnaissance Bureau before fleeing to South Korea, according to Seoul’s Defense and Unification ministries. Both ministries refused to provide further details, including a motive for the defection.

The Unification Ministry said that a North Korean diplomat based in Africa separately defected to South Korea last year. It didn’t elaborate.

There have been occasional reports of lower-level North Korean soldiers defecting, but it is unusual for a colonel to flee to South Korea. Some South Korean media outlets said the colonel was the highest-ranking North Korean military officer to ever defect to the South.

The highest-level North Korean to take asylum in South Korea is Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’ Party official who once tutored Kim’s late dictator father, Kim Jong Il. Hwang’s 1997 defection was hailed by many South Koreans as an intelligence bonanza and a clear sign that the North’s political system was inferior to the South’s. Hwang died in 2010.

More than 29,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean government records.


North Korea sanctions pose human rights dilemma

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Human rights organizations are supporting the new international sanctions imposed on North Korea to restrict its nuclear program, even though the economic measures could make life more difficult for many people in the country who already live on the margins of poverty.

The United States and China collaborated on developing the international sanctions, and Beijing most likely opposed any focus on human rights violations, given its own record of, according to critics, unlawful harassment, imprisonment and torture.

Workers in the mining industry will likely suffer from the U.N. ban on the export of North Korean minerals. The U.S. unilateral sanctions could also target anyone connected to the North Korean labor export program that earns billions of dollars, most of which goes to the state.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a February report that the North Korean people are already suffering a significant food shortage. Human rights advocates support providing aid and assistance to innocent people in North Korea caught in the middle of this international standoff.

But the tighter sanctions are enforced, the more likely it is that ordinary North Koreans will experience greater economic pain than will Kim Jong Un or the well-to-do elites in Pyongyang. But that is a risk that even some human rights advocates are willing to take to end repression in North Korea and to make its leaders accountable.


North Korea’s largest recent defector group arrives in South Korea

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In one of the largest known group defections of North Koreans in recent years, 13 restaurant workers have arrived together in South Korea. The group of one male manager and 12 female employees were based at a restaurant in an undisclosed country outside North Korea and reached South Korea on Thursday, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.

The defection is unusual because of the size of the group and because North Koreans who are allowed to work abroad are regarded among the most loyal to the Pyongyang regime. Group defections by North Koreans are also usually by families or those with very close ties because of a culture of individuals informing on each other to the authorities.

International efforts to crack down on North Korea’s sources of funding for its nuclear weapons program may have increased demands on restaurant workers to send remittances. North Korea operates some 130 restaurants in 12 countries, a source of around $10 million annually for Pyongyang, according to the ministry.

The South Korean government spokesman also cited the defectors’ exposure to TV shows, movies and the Internet as a likely contributing factor for their decision to come to South Korea. Access to foreign information and media is highly restricted inside North Korea.

The official said it was the first group defection from a North Korean restaurant. The largest single group of North Koreans to seek South Korean residency in recent years was a group of nine people in 2011, according to the official.

The overall number of annual defectors from North Korea has fallen sharply since Kim Jong Un took power at the end of 2011 and tightened the nation’s borders. Last year, 1,276 North Koreans defected to South Korea, down from a recent peak of almost 3,000 in 2009.

[Wall Street Journal]

Apparent Kim Jong Un assassination suspects arrested

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At least two suspects who attempted to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were arrested, according to unconfirmed reports in the country.

The suspects had been reportedly arrested at the China border near the Tumen River as they were preparing a hit on Kim in the city of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province, Radio Free Asia reported Thursday.

A source in the North who spoke to Japanese news service Asia Press on the condition of anonymity said he had heard the “terrorists” had not yet crossed the Tumen, which separates North Korea from China, when North Korean border guards crossed the border to arrest them. The source went on to say the suspects were transferred to the State Security Department, and that the border guards were given rewards – including a chance to become members of the Korean Workers’ Party.

One of the suspects is allegedly a North Korean defector from the South, but the other one or more were Chinese nationals.

Japanese journalist Jiro Ishimaru, founder of Asia Press, said it is likely a rumor that was manufactured by the state to bolster support for the party ahead of its Seventh Congress in Maya congress that is to be held for the first time in more than three decades.


Kim Jong Un’s North Korean nuclear capabilities and economy

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Back in 2013, Kim Jong Un publicly outlined his policy of byungjin — which roughly translates to “simultaneous” — as in developing nuclear capabilities and the economy at the same time. But this creates a contradiction for a poor country of 25 million with a small economy: Developing nuclear weaponry undermines economic development.

North Korea needs foreign investment and knows it. Its nuclear test and missile launches have brought a new round of United Nations sanctions and reinforced its status as a pariah state. China, which has protected North Korea in the past, supported the sanctions. Who’s going to do deals with the North now?

“It might have looked plausible to [Kim] that he could have it both ways, as he watched the China-North Korea relationship deepen at the end of his father’s era,” Haggard says. “… Even as trade was falling off with the rest of the world, he still had Kaesong and he still had the Chinese. But that’s why this sanctions move is different.”

While survival may be the top priority, the North Korean leadership seems concerned at some level with the outside world. “The North Korean side knows it suffers from a very serious credibility deficit in its public engagements with the world, and is changing to meet the information management challenges of the current era,” says Christopher Green, a regional researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands.


China restricts trade with North Korea over nuclear tests

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China on Tuesday banned most imports of North Korean coal and iron ore, the country’s main exports, in a significant increase in pressure on the North under U.N. sanctions against its nuclear and missile tests. China buys an estimated two-thirds of impoverished North Korea’s exports, making Beijing’s cooperation essential for trade penalties approved by the U.N. Security Council last month to succeed.

In a sign of growing frustration with its ally, China signed onto Security Council sanctions last month that include mandatory inspections of cargo bound to and from North Korea. The council called on all countries to “redouble their efforts” to enforce the sanctions.

The latest Chinese restrictions ban most imports of North Korean coal, iron ore, gold, titanium, vanadium and rare earths — a key revenue source for the mineral-rich North. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimated North Korea’s 2013 exports at $4.4 billion, with 65 percent of that going to China and the bulk of it made up of mineral sales.

The announcement also banned sales of jet fuel to North Korea but said aircraft would be allowed to refuel during flights to China.

Chinese leaders are reluctant to lean too hard on North Korea for fear the collapse of Kim’s government could set off a flood of refugees and possibly lead to U.S. and South Korean troops being stationed in the North near China’s border.