Monthly Archives: July 2016

North Korea will have America’s most advanced missile system in its backyard

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The most advanced missile system on the planet, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), can hunt and blast incoming missiles right out of the sky with a reportedly 100% success rate — and it appears to be headed to North Korea’s backyard.

“North Korea’s continued development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction require the alliance to take this prudent, protective measure to bolster our layered and effective missile defense,” US Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of US forces in South Korea, said in a statement.

“Oh, it’s going to happen. It’s a necessary thing,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter had earlier said during a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Meanwhile, satellite imagery indicates a high-level of activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site to ensure the facility is always ready for use on any orders from Pyongyang, a US think-tank said. The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said images from July 7 of the Punggye-ri site show what appear to be supplies and/or equipment stacked next to the North Portal where the North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January.

“Based on imagery alone, it is not possible to determine whether this activity is for maintenance, excavation or preparation for a fifth nuclear test”, it said Monday on its website 38 North. “Nevertheless, it is clear that North Korea is ensuring that the facility is in a state of readiness that would allow the conduct of future nuclear tests should the order come from Pyongyang,” it added.

[Yahoo News]

North Korea says it will treat U.S. detainees under ‘wartime law’

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North Korea said on Monday it has told the United States it will sever the only channel of communication between them, at the United Nations in New York, after Washington blacklisted leader Kim Jong Un last week for human rights abuses.

All matters related to the United States, including the handling of American citizens detained by Pyongyang, will be conducted under its “wartime law,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

Two Americans known to be detained in North Korea include Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, according to North Korean state media. The other, Korean-American Kim Dong Chul, is serving a 10 year sentence for espionage, state media said.

The move is the latest escalation of tension with the isolated country, which earlier on Monday threatened a “physical response” after the United States and South Korea said they would deploy the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.

Pyongyang  said, “The Republic will handle all matters arising between us and the United States from now on under our wartime laws, and the matters of Americans detained are no exception to this.” It was not clear how “wartime laws” would affect the handling of the two Americans detained. But North Korea has indicated in the past that wartime laws would mean that detainees will not be released on humanitarian grounds.

The North and the United States remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War, in which Washington sided with the South, ended only with a truce.


North Korea warns of a ‘physical response’ if US missile deployment continues

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South Korea and the U.S. are reportedly close to finalizing military locations for the THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea.

North Korea’s military warned of “physical response measures from us as soon as the location and time that the invasionary tool for U.S. world supremacy, THAAD, will be brought into South Korea,” Reuters reports.

According to the Associated Press, South Korea’s deputy defense minister, Yoo Jeh Seung, told a nationally televised news conference Friday that Seoul and Washington would quickly deploy the system because North Korea’s growing weapons capabilities pose a big threat to the region.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have grown since last month, when Pyongyang successfully sent a mid-range ballistic missile more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) high. Analysts say this means that North Korea has made progress in its ambition to be able to strike at American forces in the region.

North Korea, which frequently makes grandiose threats, has warned that it will turn South Korea “into a sea of fire and a pile of ashes” if the THAAD deployment goes ahead.


North Korean diplomat and family flee Russia seeking political asylum

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A North Korean diplomat based in Russia has gone missing, and it is likely he is attempting political asylum with his family.

According to a Pulkovo Airport official in St. Petersburg, the diplomat left the country on a plane bound for Belarus on July 2, Ria Novosti reported.  The man was identified by Russian media as Kim Chol Song, a third secretary and trade representative of the North Korean mission in St. Petersburg. (Chinese state media, however, has said the man’s name is Kim Chol Sam.)

The diplomat, his wife and son boarded a Belavia Belarusian Airlines flight, purchasing the tickets three hours prior to boarding, according to the report.

Fontanka, an online Russian news site, quoted a local investigator who also said the North Korean envoy had left for Belarus to seek asylum in Europe.


Number of North Korean defectors arriving in the South rises 22%

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The number of North Korean defectors who left the reclusive state this year reached 749, marking a 22 percent increase on-year, the Unification Ministry said Thursday.

This is the first significant rise in the number of the defectors since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took helm at the end of 2011, the ministry added.  The number had declined in recent years, from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,502 in 2012, 1,514 in 2013, 1,397 in 2014 and 1,276 last year.

The ministry said at the current rate, the number of the defectors is expected to reach 1,500 by the end of this year.

The South Korean government has said that the recent rise in the number of defectors is attributable to the strong sanctions slapped on the reclusive regime upon its fourth nuclear and long-range missile tests earlier this year.

They pointed to the increasing defections by North Korean workers sent overseas. A total of 13 workers from a North Korean restaurant in China entered the South on April 7, and another group of three North Korean restaurant workers in China defected and arrived in Seoul last month.

The ministry added that the total number of North Korean defectors settled in the South was on track to exceed 30,000 by October. The number currently stands at 29,543 as of the end of June.

[Korea Herald]

US sanctions North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

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The Obama administration today slapped sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and 10 other regime officials for their alleged complicity in human rights abuses against the North Korean people.

The move marked the first time Washington sanctioned Kim Jong Un personally. Administration officials said Kim was “ultimately responsible” for what they called “North Korea’s notorious abuses of human rights.”

“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea continues to inflict intolerable cruelty and hardship on millions of its own people, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, and torture,” Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin said in a statement announcing the new action.

“As a result of today’s actions, any property or interest in property of those designated by (Office of Foreign Assets Control) within U.S. jurisdiction is frozen,” the Treasury Department said. “Additionally, transactions by U.S. persons involving the designated persons are generally prohibited.”

The sanctions also extend to five North Korean state entities, including the Ministry of People’s Security, which the report says oversees labor camps and other detention facilities, where torture, execution, rape, starvation and forced labor takes place.

U.S. officials briefing reporters on the new actions say they expected the sanctions to have “a worldwide ripple effect” making it harder for those on the list to do business with global financial institutions.


North Korea no longer a smoker’s paradise

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North Korea, one of the last bastions of free, unhindered smoking, a country where just about every adult male can and does light up almost anywhere he pleases and where leader Kim Jong-un is hardly ever seen without a lit cigarette in his hand, is now officially trying to get its people to kick the habit.

Ri Yong-ok, a 57-year-old pharmacist whose heavy-smoking husband nearly died of lung cancer, is leading the charge. Her small anti-smoking center that she manages in Pyongyang has something you almost never see in the North — a no-smoking sign placed prominently above its entrance.

The potential health benefit to the nation could be tremendous. Ri estimated about 54 per cent of adult male North Koreans smoke — a higher figure than the 43.9 per cent given by a World Health Organization report released at the end of 2014.

North Korea has toyed with the idea of pushing harder to get smokers to kick the habit before — Ri’s humble anti-smoking center has been around since 2007. But it has stepped up its effort to at least provide more education of smoking’s health risks since an anti-smoking decree was made by Kim in April.

The start of the new drive prompted speculation in the foreign media that Kim himself had quit, since cigarettes were conspicuously missing from his hands in photos carried by the state media of his “on-the-spot guidance” visits around the country from around that time. The buzz didn’t last long. He was pictured smoking on a visit to a children’s camp in June.


North Korean defectors’ detention unlawful, say human rights lawyers

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The ongoing tussle between the two Koreas over 12 waitresses from North Korea who defected to the South spilled into a courtroom in Seoul on Tuesday, where human rights lawyers accused the authorities in the South of unlawfully detaining them.

The 12 women, together with their male manager, flew to Seoul, the South Korean capital, in April after leaving a North Korean government-run restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo. South Korea welcomed the women and described them as having defected of their own free will after growing fed up with their totalitarian government.

Colleagues and family members of the 12 North Korean waitresses who defected were presented to the news media in Pyongyang

North Korea immediately accused the South’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, of kidnapping the women. It has since arranged for their parents to give interviews with the Western news media, during which they have demanded that South Korea allow them to meet with their daughters to learn their true intentions. The South has dismissed the demands as propaganda.

The inter-Korean standoff took an unexpected turn recently, when a South Korean human rights group, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, asked a court in Seoul to release the women from a tightly guarded government facility south of the city where they have been kept since their arrival, so they could speak for themselves. The group accused the National Intelligence Service of blocking the women’s access to legal services and their right to speak freely.

The South Korean government has denied the lawyers access to the women, saying that the defectors do not want their services. It has also said that if the women appeared in court and testified that they abandoned North Korea of their own accord, that would prompt the North to persecute their relatives in retaliation.

By law, the National Intelligence Service can keep North Koreans who flee to the South at a secluded facility outside Seoul for as long as six months for debriefing and to ferret out spies.

[New York Times]

Kim Jong-un Swiss school days

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Kim Jong-un spent his early years in Berne, Switzerland, where as a “shy” student he learned German, French and English, and honed skills in skiing and playground dispute resolution.

“He was a shy and introverted young man who liked team sports. He used to really admire [US basketball player] Michael Jordan and [action film star] Jean-Claude Van Damme,” said former student Ron Schwartz from Canada.

He was humble and friendly with the children of American diplomats and often helped break up fights between classmates, explained a former school director. A car arrived every day after school to pick him up, the report said; classmates and school officials thought he was the driver’s son.

Kim studied at the International School of Berne in the 1990s, but left in 1998 at the age of 15 before taking his baccalaureate exam, the equivalent to a British A-level. The Swiss weekly news magazine L’Hebdo reported that he went by the pseudonym Pak Chol. The boarding school welcomes around 300 pupils from 40 different countries, half of which are the offspring of diplomats.


Kim Jong Un fearful about his personal safety and image

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is so paranoid about his personal safety that he has developed insomnia, South Korea’s spy agency says.

The young leader lives in fear of assassination and spends his days gorging on food and drink, supposedly ballooning in weight from about 90 kilograms (198 lbs) when he took power in 2012 to around 130 kg (286 lbs) today, the National Intelligence Service reported to a committee of the national assembly on July 1.

Members of the Intelligence Committee said Kim, who in the past ordered his mentor uncle executed on grounds of treason, could well be suffering from lifestyle-related diseases as a result.

Recently, an aunt of Kim who lives in exile in the United States, granted an interview with The Washington Post and said of her nephew’s childhood: “He was short-tempered and had a lack of tolerance.”

Kim instructed North Korean ambassadors overseas to ensure that those details do not reach the masses in North Korea.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Un is portrayed as a boy genius who learned to drive a car at the age of three and excelled in sports and as an academic.

[Asahi Shimbun]