Monthly Archives: March 2017

China kicks out South Korean missionaries in unprecedented numbers

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In the past few months, China has expelled dozens of South Korean missionaries from Jilin, a northeastern province that neighbors North Korea.

“Chinese authorities raided the homes of the missionaries, citing a problem with their visas, and told them to leave,” one human rights activist and pastor told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said that most were on tourist or student visas.

There are about 500 officially registered South Korean missionaries in China, though some say the actual number could be as high as 2,000. Many gather in the northeast, drawn by the proximity of North Korea.

Pastor Kim Hee-Tae told AFP that 20 percent of the expelled Koreans were assisting North Korean refugees, and that 40 of the defectors had been sent back across the border.

China gave no reason for the expulsions. While some observers pointed to newly-tightened restrictions on Christians, most blamed China’s opposition to Seoul’s plan to build an American missile shield, THAAD..

[Christianity Today]

UN urged to bring North Korea before International Criminal Court

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A veteran investigator urged the United Nations to appoint an international legal expert to prepare judicial proceedings against North Korea’s leadership for documented crimes against humanity.

Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney-general who served on the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea, said the U.N. Human Rights Council must pursue North Korean accountability during its current session. His call came amid an international furore over the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A U.N. commission of inquiry, in a 2014 report issued after it conducted interviews and public hearings with defectors, recommended North Korea be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC).The landmark 2014 report, rejected by Pyongyang, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might be personally responsible for crimes against humanity.

“If North Korea is able to do this to the older brother of Kim, to the uncle of Kim (Jang Song Thaek executed in 2013), and all the elite purging left and right, can you imagine what life might be like if you are a prisoner in a North Korean prison camp, with over 100,000 of them?” Lee Jung-Hoon, South Korean ambassador for North Korean human rights, said.

Evidence recorded over the past decade or more by U.N. investigators should be given to a new U.N. mechanism for prosecution, Darusman said, adding: “Let us prevail in the end-game.”


South Korean cash incentive for elite North Korean defectors

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South Korea announced Sunday that the amount of money given to defectors from the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will quadruple.

For defectors with sensitive information, the South previously offered $217,000. That figure will increase to $860,000 in a bid to gather more intelligence about its northern neighbors.

There has been no change in the amount offered to defectors for 20 years. “One of the biggest reasons why North Koreans are hesitant about defecting is because they are fearful of [how they would make a living] after they come to South Korea,”  reported the South Korean Yonhap news agency, quoting an anonymous South Korean minister, according to The Guardian.

The cash incentive is designed to encourage more people to flee south, especially North Korean elites. The amount of money given would depend on the quality of information, the article said.

“To be clear, the vast majority will not benefit from this ‘fee’. Only the North Korean elite will have secrets worth anything to the South Koreans,” says Aidan Foster Carter to Newsweek, honorary research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at the University of Leeds.


Diplomat defector compares North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to Roman emperor Nero

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The senior North Korea diplomat who defected to the South from Pyongyang’s embassy in London described Kim Jong Un as a “21st century Nero” in a recent interview.

In an interview with South Korean newspaper Kukmin Ilbo, Thae Yong-ho said Kim Jong Un is a despot who cannot tolerate those who disagree with him.

Thae then provided an anecdote about Pyongyang Folklore Park, which he ordered destroyed after assassinating his uncle Jang Sung Taek, who managed the park.

“After [Kim Jong Un] killed Jang Song Taek, he said he kept seeing Jang’s face each time he passed the areas surrounding the folklore park and recruited military units to have the park destroyed.”

Thae compared Kim Jong Un to the Roman emperor Nero, who according to historical records began a fire in Rome to make room for a new palatial complex.

Thae said Kim Jong Un lacks trust in others and his existence was completely unknown to most North Koreans until 2009. The former diplomat also said Kim is not well rooted in North Korean society because he grew up in Switzerland, a background that amplifies his distrust of people in the regime, according to the report.


China warns Trump he is facing a ‘head-on collision’ with North Korea

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The United States and North Korea are racing towards a catastrophic “head-on collision”, China’s foreign minister has warned, amid Chinese fury at America’s deployment of a controversial anti-missile system. Speaking in Beijing on Wednesday, Wang Yi said a “looming crisis” was brewing on the Korean peninsular.

Wang scolded Pyongyang for ignoring international opposition to its nuclear and missile programs but also accused the US of stoking regional tensions by holding “military exercises of enormous scale” with South Korea.

“The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other with neither side willing to give way. The question is: are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?” Wang told reporters, painting China as a signalman attempting avert the disaster.

Wang was speaking after the US angered Beijing by announcing it had begun delivering its controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea on Monday night.

The deployment came one day after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in what its state media called a bid to “mercilessly retaliate against the warmongers” in Washington and Seoul. US president Donald Trump, who has accused China of not doing enough to rein in North Korea, responded by warning that Pyongyang’s threat had entered a “new phase”. China, however, views the THAAD project as part of a broader US attempt to stifle its rise.

[The Guardian]

Malaysia expels North Korean ambassador over Kim Jong-nam killing

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Malaysia says it has expelled the North Korean ambassador over the death of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the North Korea’s leader. Kang Chol must leave Malaysia within 48 hours, the foreign ministry says.

The move comes after the envoy said his country “could not trust” Malaysia’s handling of the investigation. Mr Kang, who has become a fierce critic of his host country, said the probe into the killing had become “politicised” and was being interfered with.

Malaysia has not directly blamed North Korea for the attack, but there is suspicion Pyongyang was responsible.

The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, declared the ambassador “persona non grata”, and said his country had demanded an apology for the comments, but none was forthcoming. “Malaysia will react strongly against any insults made against it or any attempt to tarnish its reputation,” Mr Anifah said in a statement.

The decision also follows reports suggesting that North Korean intelligence agencies used shell companies in Malaysia to cover an illicit arms sales operation.

Malaysia was one of very few countries that had relatively friendly relations with North Korea. It had already recalled its ambassador in Pyongyang as it investigated the case.


 How North Korean math-whizz defector escaped through Hong Kong

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For Jong Yol-ri, the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong last year was his last chance for freedom. If the then 18-year-old, two-time silver medalist in the ­competition waited another year, he would be too old to take part, losing his chance to travel and ­escape North Korea.

Once in Hong Kong, Jong and other North Korean contestants were placed under strict surveillance. They could not use smartphones, had to relinquish their passports and were closely monitored by a team leader.

On July 17 last year, a day after the competition, Jong sneaked out of the dormitory at the Hong Kong University of ­Science and Technology, where the event had been held, and took a taxi to the airport. The student had planned his defection well before he left North Korea for Hong Kong.

Once at the Hong Kong International Airport, he approached staff working for a South Korean airline and told a manager that he wanted to go to South Korea. The manager then called the South Korean consulate and Jong was told that he had to take a taxi there by himself – protocol prevents diplomats from helping citizens from any country go into a foreign embassy or consulate.

Jong spent the next two months at the consulate, living in a small room, playing computer games and using a treadmill to exercise. “After staying in the consulate for a month, Jong became a bit uneasy, having no idea how long would he need to stay there until Beijing allowed him to leave for Seoul,” a source said.

In late September, Jong flew to Seoul with a new passport and a valid Hong Kong tourist visa. In Seoul, Jong took classes in South Korean language, culture, society and international relations. Next month he will start university.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea boosts efforts to hack defectors’ computers

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North Korea has drastically stepped up its efforts to hack into the computers of defectors since last August when an outspoken, senior diplomat defected to the country’s mortal enemy South Korea, a Korean computer expert with knowledge of the situation said.

There were hardly any hacking incidents of the computers of North Korean defectors last June and July, but after the defection Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, there were 15 hackings in August, said Choi Sang-myong, head of the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERTCC) at the privately owned South Korean internet security company HAURI Inc.

North Korean agents sent emails to defectors with file attachments called “Thae Yong Ho interview,” “North Korea democratization,” and “Balloons sent to North Korea,” Choi said. When the recipients opened the attachments, their computers became infected.

“It is believed that Free NK, an online news outlet run by a North Korean defector in the United Kingdom, was hacked because it has links to Thae Yong Ho,” Choi said.

North Korea has been known to have trained professional computer hackers since the early 1990s. Experts now assume that the country’s hackers number about 6,000 to 7,000.

Choi predicts that North Korea may try to hack and manipulate South Korea’s computer network for traffic and communication in order to divert attention away from the controversy surrounding the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia in February.

[Radio Free Asia]

South Korean Intelligence concludes North Korean government killed Kim Jong Nam

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South Korean intelligence officials announced that officials from North Korea’s secret police and Foreign Ministry were involved in the killing of the estranged half brother of the country’s leader.

Speaking in a closed-door parliamentary hearing, Lee Byung-ho, the director of the National Intelligence Service, said that four of the eight North Koreans identified as suspects by the Malaysian authorities were agents from North Korea’s Ministry of State Security, the country’s secret police.

Mr. Lee said that two other suspects worked for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and another was affiliated with Air Koryo, the North’s state-run airline company.

Mr. Lee, the South Korean intelligence chief, was quoted by the lawmakers as saying that the eight North Koreans, working as two four-member teams, converged in Kuala Lumpur to carry out the Feb. 13 assassination. Malaysian authorities have said that the North Koreans had hired and trained two women, one from Indonesia, the other from Vietnam, to attack Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Hyon Kwang-song, a senior diplomat at the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, and three other North Koreans worked as a support team, Mr. Lee told the lawmakers. Mr. Hyon and the Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk-il, remain at the embassy in Malaysia.

[New York Times]

North Korea defectors fear for their lives after Kim Jong Nam assassination

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North Korea defectors who now live in South Korea are being warned against traveling overseas after the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of ruler Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam may have been killed on the orders of the North Korean leadership, and many defectors believe they could be next.

That’s according to Ahn Chan-il, a North Korea defector and president of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, who fled the regime in 1979 – and became the first North Korea refugee to earn a doctorate in the South.

Kang Chol-hwan, another prominent defector-activist who grew up in a North Korea prison camp and later wrote a memoir of his experiences, was originally scheduled to speak at a conference in the Philippines. But in the wake of the deadly chemical attack against Kim Jong Nam in nearby Malaysia, The Aquariums of Pyongyang author was advised to stay in Seoul, Ahn said.