Monthly Archives: July 2017

North Korean defector shocked she might have aided assassination of pastor

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A North Korean defector has claimed she was forced to provide information on the movements of a pastor living in China who was helping defectors, shortly before he was murdered by agents of Pyongyang’s Ministry of State Security.

Han Chung-ryeol, a pastor at a church in China’s Changbai City, helped to run a network that assisted people fleeing the border region before they could be caught and sent back to North Korea. He disappeared in April 2016 but was later found dead with a slashed throat.

In an interview with the Seoul-based DailyNK news site, the woman, who defected from North Korea in June, explained  she had been caught smuggling medicinal herbs and scrap metal into North Korea, and local authorities forced her to become an informant.

She was ordered to record the movements of Pastor Han and pass the information on to security officers.

The woman, who has not been named, said she was “shocked” when she learned that the information she had been providing was used to kill Mr Han.

[The Telegraph]

North Korean defector repair boy

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Kim Hak-min, 30, was born in coal country in the North Korean province of North Hamgyong, which borders China. His father worked in the mines as an engineer.

At the age of 7, Kim became obsessed with electric gadgets. “I just wanted to disassemble everything,” he says. At 13, he started fixing neighbors’ watches and electrical appliances, earning the nickname “Repair Boy.” After his father died of liver cancer in 2003, Kim started making a living fixing people’s broken appliances. He got to know how televisions work.

“To prevent North Koreans from watching Chinese channels that air South Korean dramas, state security officials fix televisions so they only broadcast state-run channels. I was the kid in the town who could unlock that code and let people watch South Korean dramas. I watched them myself.”

He was arrested three times for watching forbidden dramas. The first two times he avoided punishment because he was underage. The third time he got caught, in early 2009, he was 22. “Watching a single drama can earn you a five-year sentence. I was busted for having watched hundreds! I was certain I would be sent to a far-flung prison camp, where I would perish.”

Soon after his arrest, beatings and sleep deprivation began. “They [interrogators] made you sit absolutely rigid for 15 hours straight,” he recalls. “If you move an inch, a punch follows.”

To his surprise, he was released after two months. “People in the town pleaded with the authorities to release me, for which I am forever grateful.” They were the neighbors and friends whose electric gadgets Kim had fixed in the past – often for free.

On a freezing day in January 2011, he crossed the frozen Yalu River to China with a girlfriend. After making another crossing into Thailand, a route arranged by defection brokers, the couple landed in Seoul in March 2011. Kim is now majoring at electronic engineering at Sogang University in Mapo District, western Seoul.

[JoongAng Ilbo]

Kim Jong Un claims whole US mainland in range

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North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile Friday that appears to have the range to hit major US cities, experts say, and prompted a fresh round of condemnation from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.

If the missile were fired on a flatter, standard trajectory, it would have major US cities like Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago well within its range, with possibly the ability to reach as far as New York and Boston, according to David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

However, early analysis of Friday’s test cannot determine how heavy a payload the missile was carrying in its warhead, Wright said. The heavier the payload, the shorter the range.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they estimate that the intercontinental ballistic missile tested Friday is more advanced than one launched earlier this month based on the range it traveled.

Kim Jong-Un is quoted as saying “the whole US mainland” is now within North Korea’s reach. He called Pyongyang’s weapons program “a precious asset” that cannot be reversed nor replaced, according to KCNA.

US President Donald Trump condemned the missile launch and said the US would act to ensure its security.


The mystery of the defector now back in North Korea

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The case of a Korean woman Lim Ji-hyun who defected from North Korea, made a new life for herself as a TV personality in the South and then “returned home” to the communist state three years later has left South Koreans wondering why such people return to the repressive state they once fled.

From her new vantage point in North Korea, Lim has denounced South Korea and TV Chosun, which produced the programs about defectors that she appeared in. Despite that, the South Korean public is still fascinated by her, because of intense curiosity about one puzzling question: Was her return to the North voluntary?

One North Korean defector, Kim Ji-young, who appeared with Lim on the show Moranbong Club, doesn’t think so.

Another Moranbong Club star, defector Kim Ka-young, believes Lim was kidnapped and taken back to Pyongyang against her will. “Why would she go back on her own? Of course she was kidnapped,” said Kim. “Every word she said during that interview sounded disingenuous and fabricated.”

According to Kim Kwang-jin, another defector who now is a researcher at the government-funded Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS) in Seoul, such “involuntary repatriation of North Korean defectors” — particularly from China — is not uncommon. “There are many other cases where North Korean defectors are abducted in China while trying to send money to their families in their homeland,” Kim told VOA.

Kim told VOA’s Korean service that almost everyone …who winds up back in the North was coerced: “Going back to North Korea after living [in the South] is a lot riskier than escaping from there. It’s like running into a fire, carrying fuel.”


North Korean defector: Time for intervention

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Ae-ran was born in Pyongyang and spent her teenage years in captivity in a North Korean work camp.

She tells a standing room only crowd in the Seattle area about the beatings and starvation she endured. She escaped and defected to South Korea, where she started up a successful health and culinary institute for women like her. She was honored by the U.S. State Department in 2010 with an International Women of Courage Award, standing beside Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

She fought back tears reflecting on the story and is using it now as a driving force to prompt change in her native country. A packed house listened closely to her every word.

Ae-ran is expected to pass through multiple U.S. cities before returning to Seoul where she now lives. Ae-ran says she’s been prompted to speak out after the death of American Otto Warmbier after he was held in captivity in North Korea. “I do believe the North Korean government killed him,” she said through a translator Tuesday, and that she was surprised the death didn’t gather more attention in the United States.

In fact, Ae-ran says she thinks Kim Jong Un’s weapons testing is par for the course. “He’s trying to make people fear him,” she said, “by using nuclear weapons, and long distance missiles to make people around the world be afraid of him.” In fact, she says, it’s how he stays in power.

She added that in her belief there is only one solution for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The answer for that, it’s very direct,” she said. “We need to remove Kim Jong Un and free the North Korean people.”

[King TV]

Family of 5 North Korean defectors arrested in China takes cyanide

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A family of five North Korean defectors committed suicide last week after they were arrested in China, according to various media reports.

The father, a former member of the Korean Workers’ Party, his wife, and their three children crossed the Yalu River into China earlier this month, reports Radio Free Asia.

“Right after they were caught in Yunnan, they tried to bribe their way out through a local fixer, but once they were taken to Shenyang they probably lost hope,” Kim Hee-tae, an activist, told the Chosun Ilbo Sunday.

North Korean defectors are known to sometimes carry cyanide capsules, and suicide is not uncommon, although it is unusual for an entire family to commit suicide. The family “committed suicide because they were afraid of the severe punishment” they would face in North Korea, one of the brokers in China who was helping them escape revealed.

North Korean defector Grace Jo told the Daily Caller News Foundation, “China needs to stop sending people back. Thousands of people are trying to get out of North Korea, but the Chinese are standing in their way.”

[The Daily Caller]

North Korea promises nuclear strike on US if regime is threatened

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North Korea threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday. The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.

On Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said at some point military plans would be presented to President Trump on how to deal with North Korea.

KCNA reported that a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, “The DPRK legally stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.”

A spokesperson for Defense Intelligence Agency declined to comment directly on a report from The Washington Post that the agency’s latest assessment concludes Pyongyang will have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year but admitted that Pyongyang’s missile capabilities are progressing.

North Korea also appears to be preparing for another missile test, according to a US Defense official who said that transporter vehicles carrying ballistic missile launching equipment were seen arriving in Kusong, North Korea last week. A launch could occur to coincide with the upcoming July 27 North Korean Holiday celebrating the armistice which ended the Korean War.


China reportedly preps for crisis along border with North Korea

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The Chinese military has reportedly been building up defenses along its border with North Korea that coincide with warnings by President Trump that he is considering military action over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons push.

The Wall Street Journal, citing a review of official military and government websites and interviews with experts, reported that Beijing has built bunkers to protect against nuclear blasts, established a new border brigade and a 24-hour surveillance of the mountainous frontier. The preparations are intended to respond to worst-case scenarios, like an economic collapse, nuclear contamination or a conflict, the experts told the paper.

The Chinese government has not spoken out about the report of preparations. An official from its defense ministry said in a statement that the forces “maintain a normal state of combat readiness and training.”

Mark Cozad, who works at the Rand Corp think tank, told the paper these preparations “go well beyond” creating a buffer zone at the border.

“If you’re going to make me place bets on where I think the U.S. and China would first get into a conflict, it’s not Taiwan, the South China Sea or the East China Sea: I think it’s the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

[Fox News]

The US Military considers military option for North Korea

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Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford suggested Saturday that Americans must be prepared for the possibility of a military confrontation with North Korea, whose nuclear program he deemed an urgent threat.

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dunford is the United States’ highest-ranking military officer.

Although Dunford stressed the importance of applying continued economic and diplomatic pressure aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program, he dismissed the oft-stated notion that a military option shouldn’t be on the table.

“Many people have talked about military options with words like ‘unimaginable,'” Dunford said. “I would probably shift that slightly and say it would be horrific, and it would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes…”

“But as I’ve told my counterparts … what’s unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado. That’s unimaginable to me. So my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn’t happen.”


More on the subject:
What war with North Korea would look like
A nuclear war with North Korea
Akin to World War II
Aftermath of war with North Korea
A refugee crisis no one is ready for

What war with North Korea would look like

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Robert Kelly is an American living in South Korea, teaching at an university in Busan. Busan in the south of the country would still be in range of the North’s ballistic missiles, including nukes. The THAAD shield system might stop some of them but not all.

There is no such protective shield to defend the capital Seoul against the rain of artillery and rockets that could be fired by the North from the demilitarized zone. In greater Seoul, which the North has threatened to turn into “a sea of fire” if it were ever attacked, there are an estimated 100,000 Americans living among the population of 25 million people.

If Donald Trump lost patience with the North’s recalcitrance over its nuclear program and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against the regime of Kim Jong-un, he would have to consider whether he wanted to see images of hundreds, maybe thousands of dead Americans on CNN on top of the tens of thousands of dead South Koreans.

This is just part of the devilish difficulty that military planners face as they try to keep “all options on the table” as the Trump administration insists it is doing. Bruce Bennett, a Korea expert from the RAND Corporation, points out is that “there are no good military options”. Read more