Monthly Archives: December 2018

Amid stalled nuclear talks, North Korea’s Kim sends message to Trump

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a “conciliatory message” to U.S. President Donald Trump amid stalled nuclear negotiations, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Monday.

Kim’s “letter-like” message to Trump was delivered on Friday through an unspecified channel, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source. The report did not include details about the substance of the message but said they related to U.S-North Korea talks.


Kim Jong-un vows to meet South Korea’s leader frequently in 2019

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North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has vowed in a rare letter to meet the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “frequently” next year to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Moon’s office said on Sunday.

The leader of the isolated North met Moon three times this year, as a reconciliatory push gathered pace. During Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in September, Kim promised to pay a return visit to Seoul “at an earliest date”.

The North’s leader “expressed a strong determination to visit Seoul while watching [the] future situation”, Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.

Kim Jong-un also “expressed an intention to meet with Moon frequently in 2019” to pursue peace and “solve the issue of denuclearizing the peninsula together”, the spokesman said.

Moon welcomed the latest message, saying the North’s leader had also expressed “active intention to carry out agreements” made in his previous summits with the US and the South, without elaborating further.

[The Guardian]

Returned North Korean defectors lecture on miseries of capitalism they saw in China

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North Koreans who defected but later changed their minds and returned to the North are giving lectures in towns and cities on the Chinese border extolling the pleasures of life under Kim Jong-un and the misery of being on the run in China and struggling to survive in a capitalist state. 

The lectures are part of the North Korean government’s efforts to halt the steady flow of its citizens over the border into China, from where they attempt to reach a third country and seek asylum and the assistance of Seoul to settle in South Korea. The use of double-defectors is designed to reinforce the regime’s message that many who flee the North regret their decision. 

A North Korean who attended a recent lecture in the city of Hoeryong, which is on the Tumen River that marks the border with China, said a double-defector in her 40s said she had not been able to earn any money after she had crossed the border and that she could not even go to a hospital when she was taken ill. The woman said she had been discriminated against the entire time she had been outside the North, adding that she was “treated as less than human” and that she became a perpetual “social outcast”. 

The double-defectors’ lectures have hammered home the message that it is difficult to earn enough money to survive in China and that there is a high likelihood of women being sexually exploited. People-smugglers are known to sell young women to Chinese farmers looking for a bride or into the sex industry. 

The woman added in her lecture that she had been surprised after returning to the North at “how fast our country is developing”. 

Similar lectures were delivered to women working in farms and factories across Onsong County and at the Musan mine, the Seoul-based Daily NK news site reported. 

[The Telegraph]

Hacker steals data on 1,000 North Korean defectors in the South

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The personal information of nearly 1,000 North Koreans who defected to South Korea has been leaked after unknown hackers got access to a resettlement agency’s database, the South Korean Unification Ministry said on Friday.

A computer at an agency called the Hana center, in the southern city of Gumi, was infected with malicious software. “The malware was planted through emails sent by an internal address,” a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the issue.  

The Hana center is among 25 institutes the ministry runs around the country to help some 32,000 defectors adjust to life in the richer, democratic South by providing jobs, medical and legal support.

The ministry official declined to say if North Korea was believed to have been behind the hack, or what the motive might have been, saying a police investigation was under way to determine who did it.

The latest data breach comes at a delicate time for the two Koreas which have been rapidly improving their relations after years of confrontation.


The Warmbiers’ court victory over North Korea

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This week, a federal judge ordered North Korea to pay the parents of Otto Warmbier and their son’s estate more than $501 million for fatally mistreating him and causing the death of the University of Virginia student.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier filed the legal action in April seeking damages. The North Korean government never responded. On Dec. 19, Beryl Howell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., heard evidence from the Warmbier family and North Korea experts. On Christmas Eve, Howell issued a 46-page opinion granting the Warmbiers a default judgment and the damages.

Otto Warmbier, of Wyoming, Ohio, was ending a visit to North Korea in January 2016 when authorities arrested him at the airport in the capital city of Pyongyang. Three weeks later, Warmbier delivered a stilted “confession” to stealing a poster from a hotel. In March 2016, Warmbier was convicted in a show trial of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

In June 2017, the North Korean government released Otto Warmbier, but he returned to Cincinnati with a massive brain injury that had left him blind, deaf and unable to move under his own power. He died June 19, 2017, at 21.

Otto Wambier was an unfortunate pawn to North Korea. The judge pointed out that four days after Warmbier’s detention at the Pyongyang airport, North Korea claimed to have tested its first hydrogen bomb. A few days later, after Congress passed new sanctions on North Korea, and the NK government released Warmbier’s “confession.” The trial and sentencing occurred one day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on North Korea.

[USA Today]

North Korea rejects denuclearization unless U.S. ‘nuclear threat’ is eliminated

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North Korea will not give up its nuclear arms unless the “U.S. nuclear threat to Korea” is eliminated, North Korean state media said Thursday. The statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency was a particularly blunt indication that the two countries are still far apart on their ideas of what “denuclearization” means on the Korean Peninsula.

The North Korean statement said “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” includes elimination of not only the North’s nuclear arms but also “the United States’ nuclear weapons and other invading forces in South Korea.”

“If we lay down our nuclear weapons first, that is not denuclearization, but putting ourselves in a defenseless state,” continued the commentary. “This will apparently shatter the balance of strategy of nuclear forces, as well as bring about a nuclear war.”

The United States withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, but continues to operate nuclear-armed bombers and submarines that can reach Korea from elsewhere, constituting a so-called “nuclear umbrella.”

[Washington Post]

North Korean persecution of Christians and Buddhists

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According to the Christian Open Doors organization, North Korea is the leader among countries who persecute Christians. Christian Solidarity Worldwide say there are numerous reports of people being sent to prison camps and subjected to torture and inhuman treatment because of their faith. It is estimated that 50,000–70,000 Christians are held in North Korean prison camps.

There are reports of public executions of Christians. For example, Ri Hyon-ok was publicly executed in Ryongchon … for giving out Bibles, while her husband and children were deported to the Hoeryong political prison camp.

If authorities discover that North Korean refugees deported from China have converted to Christianity, they suffer harsher ill-treatment, torture, and prolonged imprisonment. The government considers religious activities political crimes, because they could challenge the personality cult and semi-deification of the [ruling] Kim family.

Only 60 out of 400 Buddhist temples have survived the religious persecution of the 1950s, when 1,600 monks were killed, disappeared in prison camps or were forced to recant their faith. The remaining temples are now preserved as national cultural heritage. North Korean defectors reported that government-employed “monks” are serving as caretakers and tourist guides, but they did not see genuine worship. As reported, most Buddhists are afraid to openly practice their religion in the temple areas and practice their religion only in secret. However, on special occasions, ceremonies were permitted by the authorities.

Since 1988, four church buildings have been erected in Pyongyang with foreign donations: one Catholic, two Protestant and one Russian Orthodox. However, they are only open to foreigners,and North Korean citizens cannot attend the services. The services are used to bring in foreign currency from foreign visitors, including South Koreans. It is therefore clear that the churches are there solely for propaganda purposes.

The North Korean constitution nominally protects religious freedom, as long as it is not used to harm the state or the social order. However, in practice, there is no genuine religious freedom, and the government severely restricts religious activity except if it is supervised by government organizations.


North Korean female defectors find a perfect match with South Korean men

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Dating had never been easy for Kim Jeong-soon. In her native North Korea, couples holding hands were chastised for “disturbing public order”, and when she arrived in South Korea potential suitors were often repelled by the mere fact of the country of her birth.

 It was with a certain reservation, then, that she went on a blind date witha South Korean man three years ago. They dined on fried chicken and beer and launched right into conversations about marriage, divorce and what a future together might look like. “South Korean men are more attentive and considerate compared with North Korean men, and they’re also more friendly,” Kim said.

Six months after that first date they were married. Not only was it a cause for celebration for them, it was another success story for the woman who arranged their meeting. Han Yoo-jin has helped about 300 couples marry since she started her matchmaking company  four years ago. Amid a skewed gender ratio,cultural differences and a desire among many North Korean refugees for a sense of security in their adopted home, an industry has sprung up catering for lonely South Korean men and North Korean women interested in marriage.

Han’s own relationship makes her the literal poster child for her business. After three failed escape attempts, – each time receiving increasingly harsh punishments in one of the North’s infamous labor camps – Han arrived in South Korea in 2001. She worked as a highway toll collector and then in a string of matchmaking firms before striking out on her own. She met her South Korean husband at a party for prospective clients, and photos of the twoon their wedding day fill her company’s website. Her service is part matchmaker, part therapist because frequently mediates conflicts between couples, sometimes even after their wedding.

Hong Seung-woo, another matchmaker, says the divorce rate among North-South couples is about 5%, lower than the South Korean national average. But the industry has its problems, not least the fact that in the south suspicion ofNorth Koreans still remains. She is confident that her business will endure despite the proliferation of apps such as Tinder. “North Korean refugees prefer handling things face-to-face,” she said, adding that most were deeply skeptical of technology, and concerned about revealing even mundane personal details online.

[The Guardian]

How close we came to nuclear war with North Korea

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“Most people are not aware of how close we came to nuclear war and how plausible it actually was throughout 2017 and early 2018.”

That’s North Korea expert Van Jackson’s stunning conclusion. In his new book On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War, Jackson retraces the Washington-Pyongyang standoff during President Donald Trump’s first two years in office.

He identified at least “seven or eight moments” when he believed war between the US and North Korea was possible. And while much of the tensions had to do with North Korea’s aggression before Trump took office, the president found ways to make it much, much worse.

“Trump talks shit everywhere about everybody, but only as it relates to North Korea did we come close to nuclear war because of it,” Jackson, a former Obama administration official now at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, told me. “So I blame Trump, but I don’t blame him entirely.”

What’s scarier is that Jackson doesn’t see the relationship improving anytime soon. The current diplomatic opening is solely because of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s relationship, he notes, but tensions could escalate if Trump changes his mind or leaves office.

“This is not a stable situation. We’re forced to rely on the whims of a dictator and a wannabe dictator,” he says.

Read transcript of interview with North Korea expert Van Jackson

Secret workforce funds North Korea—and defies sanctions

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Inside one of Uganda’s main air bases lurks a resource the nation pledged two years ago to jettison—North Korean soldiers. The commandos, from North Korea’s special-operations division, are covertly training Uganda’s elite troops in skills from martial arts to helicopter-gunnery operations, say senior Ugandan military officers.

The instructors are among the North Korean soldiers, companies, contractors and arms dealers operating around the world in violation of United Nations sanctions, helping Pyongyang skirt a Washington-led “maximum pressure” campaign, say military officers and foreign diplomats.

The pattern traces across a swath of smaller nations, such as Tanzania, Sudan, Zambia and Mozambique, that have pledged to sever relations nurtured over decades as part of a U.N. campaign to pressure North Korea to drop its nuclear-weapons programs. North Korean operatives or Pyongyang-controlled companies in those countries and Uganda generate foreign exchange for Pyongyang.

Malaysia Korea Partners, or MKP, a company that U.N. monitors say is part of a joint venture of North Korean entities directed by the intelligence agency responsible for clandestine operations has earned tens of millions of dollars for the Kim regime on projects in Uganda, Angola and Zambia over the past decade, the Journal reported last year, citing analysts who evaluated MKP.

Two military officers say they viewed documents confirming North Korean weapons deliveries as recently as August that included antitank systems, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The weapons, for Uganda’s special forces, were shipped through a Kenyan port and driven across Uganda’s border at night, they say.

“We never ended our ties,” said an Ugandan officer who described how North Korean commanders recently trained him in close combat. “They just moved underground.”

A Ugandan Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement: “These are despicable allegations.” Uganda’s defense force, he said, “has totally complied with the UN Security Council resolutions on the subject and the Uganda government as required of it, has made numerous reports to the UN in that regard.” Asked directly whether there were North Koreans training in the country, he didn’t respond.

The American Embassy in Uganda and the Pentagon’s U.S. Africa Command didn’t respond to requests for comment. U.S. officials say many in the Trump administration have been instructed to remain quiet on North Korean defiance over concern speaking out could undercut the image of an effective sanctions regime or weigh on negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

[Wall Street Journal]