Monthly Archives: January 2017

North Korea demands UN assist with repatriation of waitresses

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North Korea sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requesting assistance in repatriating a group of North Korean waitresses who defected from China.

North Korea has previously claimed the waitresses were abducted to South Korea.

North Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ja Song Nam sent the letter to Guterres last Friday: “We cannot but express our disappointment at the fact that no action has been taken by the U.N. until now as we have entered 2017 without even a reply to our letters,” Ja wrote, according to KCNA. “How to deal with this case will be a touchstone testing the true stand of the U.N. for the promotion and protection of human rights.”

The letter also demanded the repatriation of Kim Ryen-hi, a North Korean defector living in the South who has claimed she was kidnapped in June 2011, according to South Korean newspaper Maeil Business.

The group of waitresses escaped from Ryugyong restaurant in Ningbo, China, then entered South Korea.

Choi Sung-ryong, a rights activist in South Korea, said a source in North Korea informed him Pyongyang plans to send envoys to the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.


Kim Jong Un’s leverage in discouraging other diplomats from defecting

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Thae Yong Ho was number two in the North Korean embassy in London before defecting with his family last July.

When asked about relatives back in North Korea, Thae’s voice drops. He admits they may be sent to prison camps as punishment for his defection, or may even be used by the regime against him.

He knows he was extremely lucky to have his wife and both children with him in London, and that it’s unlikely to happen to any other diplomat again.

He says North Korean diplomats will remain in place rather than defect because their children are back in Pyongyang. “The children are used by Kim Jong Un as kind of hostage,” he says.

When Thae finally revealed to his wife and sons of his intention to lead them all to safety, he says they were “very grateful.” He says he could not miss the opportunity to “cut off this slavery chain” for his sons, knowing they would never have forgiven him if, in the future, they knew he had not taken the chance for their freedom.

But still defection is bittersweet for Thae Yong Ho. “It made my life very miserable because I spent 50 years of my life on the wrong side.”


Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho on plotting his defection

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Before his defection, Thae Yong-ho was a career diplomat for North Korea, fluent in English, who had served in Britain, Denmark and Sweden, often delivering passionate speeches glorifying the Kim family that has ruled North Korea for seven decades.

Mr. Thae, now affiliated with South Korea’s Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank arm of the National Intelligence Service, has vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to bring down the North Korean government.

The former diplomat said he had come up with a detailed plan for his defection, first ensuring that his two sons joined him and his wife in London. (North Korean diplomats are required to leave a child in the North, a measure intended to prevent their defection.)

While in London, his sons began asking questions, like why the North Korean government executed people in public without a proper trial, Mr. Thae said. Their English friends taunted them with questions, like why Mr. Kim had smoked a cigarette inside a nursery.

Further than that, Thae declined to reveal details of his defection plan and the circumstances.

“When we got out of the embassy, I told [my sons] that now I’m going to cut the chain of slavery and you are free,” Thae said. His 19- and 26-year-old sons’ first concern was whether they could freely browse the Internet.

[New York Times]

Diplomat: “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time”

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The decision that North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho made to defect from a regime he had spent his whole life defending did not happen overnight. His misgivings had been simmering for two decades, even as he went around Europe espousing the superiority of the North Korean system.  “I’ve known that there was no future for North Korea for a long time,” Thae told The Washington Post.

In the 1990s, as a relatively young diplomat, Thae Yong-ho was posted to Denmark, where his youngest son was born, and after that to Sweden. In Scandinavia, home to the flagbearers of European socialism, Thae’s eyes began to open. “During my first foreign posting in Denmark, I came to doubt and question whether North Korea could say that it was a true socialist or communist system,” he said.  “North Korean society doesn’t have the concept of comparing,” he said. “The more time you spend in the outside world, the disbelief in your system grows more and more.”

During this second stint in London, in the second year of Kim Jong Un’s regime, Thae’s concerns started to become unbearable. “Not only me but other North Korean elites were hopeful that because Kim Jong Un had studied abroad and was young, he might change the policy direction and modernize North Korea,” he said. But his doubts heightened after Kim had his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, executed at the end of 2013. Although executions are not rare in North Korea, there was something disturbingly arbitrary about this one, Thae said.

Still, he continued his duties in London, voicing the idea that North Korea was a “people’s paradise” with free housing, health care and education. But at home, Thae’s youngest son, who was still in high school and hoped to study computer science at a top London university, was asking why North Korea doesn’t allow the Internet, why North Koreans are not allowed to watch foreign films, why North Koreans can’t read any books they want. “As a father, it was hard for me to tell lies, and it started a debate within the family,” Thae said.

Last July, after much preparation and as the end of his posting was approaching, Thae defected with his wife and both their sons.

[Washington Post]

Kim Jong Un would like to meet Trump

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Thae Yong Ho, who was number two in the North Korean embassy in London before defecting with his family, says after his initial surprise that President Donald Trump won the US election, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un now sees it as “a good opportunity for him to open a kind of compromise with the new American administration.”

But Thae insists Kim will only talk on his terms, pointing to the leader’s New Year’s Address. In the address, Kim made it clear that if the US continued its current policy against North Korea, he would continue to add nuclear weapons to the country’s military capability.

During his campaign, President Trump said he would be open to meeting Kim.* Thae makes a plea for the president to reconsider, saying it would give the North Korean leader legitimacy he currently doesn’t have in his own country.

“Even Chinese President Xi Jinping and even Russian President Putin — they haven’t even met Kim Jong Un,” he says.

Thae claims that despite commanding loyalty through fear, Kim is still struggling to secure the legitimacy enjoyed by his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea.


*As a candidate, Donald Trump called North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un a “bad dude” and a “maniac,” but also offered to meet him over a hamburger to discuss how the two nations might get along peacefully.

North Korean sanctions have been taking effect says diplomat defector

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Thae Yong Ho, who was number two in the North Korean embassy in London before defecting with his family, says sanctions passed last March by the United Nations Security Council against North Korea — described at the time as “ground-breaking” and “unprecedented” — are working.

Thae says Kim Jong Un had wanted to establish 14 special economic zones inside North Korea and set up two ministries to encourage foreign investment, but these two ministries have since been dissolved.

He also says the sanctions are a “very, very strong factor” in the North Korean economy and have a “psychological effect on North Korean people and high ranking officials.”

But they’re not enough.

In keeping with President Trump’s line, Thae says China needs to be persuaded to do more. He says it needs to prevent natural resources being smuggled across the border from North Korea for cash, and also has to take North Korea’s nuclear program more seriously.

Thae even goes one step further — saying that nuclear weapons aren’t only a threat to the US and South Korea. “According to international geopolitics there is no eternal enemy or friend… nobody can predict if one day Kim Jong Un may want to blackmail China,” he says.


Diplomat defector: “Greatest threat to the North Korean government is information”

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Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador in London who defected to South Korea in July, says the greatest threat to the North Korean government is information from the outside world, not only critical news reports and oppositional political messages, but also movies and TV series that show how the outside world has developed.

“North Korea will collapse on its own when enough external information introduced through the internet reveals the truth of the Kim regime to the residents,” he said.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch has criticized Kim for tightening controls on citizens through the country’s borders, increasing efforts to restrict expression and preventing outside information from entering the country.


Top North Korean defector says information flow will help bring down Kim Jong Un

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What makes North Korea feel so oppressive? If you ask its highest-ranking defector in decades, the answer is censorship. Thae Yong Ho, who was until last summer a Pyongyang envoy in London, argues that increasing the flow of information into the North is what can sow the seeds of popular discord to bring down the Kim Jong Un regime.

In North Korea, fewer than 1 percent of the population has Internet access. Foreign books, films and information are banned — and TV only broadcasts propaganda. Breaking down the censorship and surveillance state from within, Thae believes, is the only way to bring down North Korea’s nuclear weapons-obsessed leader.

With information comes education, Thae says — and that can lead to a popular uprising. “Once they are educated to that level, I am sure they will stand up,” Thae told reporters.

A shortwave radio station called Free North Korea Radio has been delivering information from outside the country since 2005, broadcasting from the second floor of a multipurpose building just outside Seoul. “The power of radio has been huge in advancing the cause of freedom and human rights,” says Suzanne Scholte, head of the American group that partners with the station.

This kind of tactic is far more effective than any military action, Thae, the defector, said. And the power of information explains why the Pyongyang regime is so resistant to moves like propaganda loudspeakers on the border, he said. The many tactics to spread information into the North are working, he said. “The leaflets, USBs with films [stored on them] can be introduced to North Korea. So the ways of educating North Korean people for people’s uprising is also evolving,” Thae said.


Diplomat defector: “Kim Jong-un’s days are numbered”

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The highest-ranking defector from North Korea in years said on Wednesday that the days of the country’s leadership were “numbered,” and that its attempts to control outside information were not working because of corruption and discontent.

“I am sure that more defections of my colleagues will take place, since North Korea is already on a slippery slope,” the defector, Thae Yong-ho, said during a news conference in Seoul. “The traditional structures of the North Korean system are crumbling.”

One sign of Mr. Kim’s weakening control, Mr. Thae said, is evident at the unofficial markets in North Korea where women trade goods, mostly smuggled from China. The vendors used to be called “grasshoppers” because they would pack and flee whenever they saw the police approaching. Now, they are called “ticks” because they refuse to budge, demanding a right to make a living, Mr. Thae said.

Such resistance, even if small in scale, is unprecedented. The spread of outside news and market activities could eventually doom Mr. Kim because his government “can be held in place and maintained only by idolizing Kim Jong-un like a god,” Mr. Thae said. “If he tries to introduce a market-oriented economy to North Korean society, then there will be no place for Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and he knows that.”

“Kim Jong-un’s days are numbered,” Mr. Thae said on Wednesday.

[New York Times]

Time for regime change in North Korea?

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From an Opinion piece by Lee Min-Yon,  a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University and the chief advisor of the Sookmyung Research Institute of Global Governance in Seoul, Korea:

There is a growing international consensus that the key to dealing with North Korea is regime change in the country.

The amount and degree of sanctions imposed on Pyongyang is regarded as the strongest ever. In 2016, the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which handles humanitarian affairs in the UN, unanimously adopted yet another resolution, calling for sending North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations in North Korea.

The General Assembly acknowledged that North Korea is subject to most of the provisions regarding crimes against humanity stipulated in Article 7(1) of the Rome Statute of the ICC and added state-induced starvation of its citizens to the list of accusations. According to annual reports of the World Food Programme, North Korea is one of the four countries that suffer the worst chronic food shortages in the world. In 1990, about 5 million people suffered hunger in the country.

Now that five years have passed since Kim Jong Un took power, he is considered as even more tyrannical and vicious than the previous leaders. The acquired sins created by Kim himself are as follows: inhumane purges and tortures, including the killing of his uncle Jang Song Thaek and top military officers with anti-aircraft guns; and, aggressive and intensive threats and provocations, including the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island of South Korea, nuclear tests and missile launches. While it took seven years for Pyongyang to conduct its third nuclear test, Kim carried out the fourth and fifth nuclear tests in 2016 following the third nuclear test in 2013. There have been 37 missile tests since Kim came to power, which is far more frequent than those during the reigns of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Experts are having meaningless debates about when the country would cease to exist. Rather, the international community should talk about regime change in Pyongyang, as UN sanctions resolutions on North Korea have already provided the justification and rationalization.

 [Read full article]