Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

North Korean scam defection scheme

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North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un have done a lot to deter defection, in collaboration with Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. As one such incentive, North Korea offers those rural Chinese who turn in North Korean defectors 2m3‘s worth of logs per defector captured on Chinese soil and repatriated.

Life as a North Korean defector is rough. Ms. Sohn, a 36-year-old North Korean woman, had lived in South Korea for four years when she had her husband decided to set up a scam defection scheme. They collected brokerage fees from North Korean defectors in South Korea, promising to escort their clients’ families from China to South Korea. But in actuality what they did after receiving the money was convene a total of 43 defectors in China and then arrange for North Korean Embassy officials to come and forcefully repatriate them back to the DPRK.

The couple was rewarded with a vacation in Pyongyang, before returning to their hometown of Hyesan. Upon their return, the people of Hyesan all cursed the woman when they found out what she had done to all these would-be defectors, with curses like: “A thunderbolt will strike that human-garbage devil for putting those innocent people in an unescapable political prison!”

Interestingly enough, the locals in Hyesan didn’t view the defectors as state betrayers, they simply grieved their fates with curses.

The returnee defectors themselves were dragged to a reformatory, this result planting within North Koreans deep grudges against the government.

[Written by Tae-il Shim, is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector who arrived in South Korea in 2018.]

For North Korean defectors, fear may never leave

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Dae Hyeon Park was 17 when he fled North Korea with his mother, grandfather and sister in 2007. He says the fear never leaves him. “Most of North Koreans have the experience – the fear [of] death. … I mean 30,000 North Korean defectors are also facing those kind of problems and the fears – even now, every day.”

The East Asia Research Director for Amnesty International, Roseann Rife, said of North Koreans who manage to slip into China are tough and there is not always a happy ending. “We hear stories of people who actually spend most of their time in hiding, trying to avoid being noticed,” she said. “And it is very common in detention centers in China for torture to occur. A lot of the judicial system is based on unfortunately, confessions, and many of these confessions are extracted through torture.”

And even those who manage to reach South Korea, she adds, “They are coming under greater scrutiny and being detained and questioned about this transiting across the border.”

They also struggle to integrate into a very different country to the one they have left behind. They stand out because of their strong dialects, poor education and short heights, caused by severe malnourishment. Rife said of North Koreans in the south: “They often find it difficult to integrate and find jobs, and it’s a very difficult transition for many of them.”

The owner of a factory near Seoul which employs defectors from the north requests not be named because of fear of what the regime in the north could do to her brother, who is still there.

Once, she shared her real name and hometown with a client, who subsequently returned to the north. “So if that client was really a spy and exposed everything to the state, her younger brother could be in danger,” she said, through an interpreter.

Family members in South Korea paid NZ$80,000 (more than US$50,000) to brokers for the family of Dae Hyeon Park to make the dangerous crossing into China and later South Korea. It turns out the reality for those finally arriving in South Korea can be very different than the South Korean soap operas shown in the north.


Chinese asylum-seeker tortured for helping North Koreans escape

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A Chinese citizen drove back roads all day, all night and all day again, to transport a group of North Koreans – including two children – 1000km from the border town where he lived. And in a recently-released decision, immigration authorities have given the man protected person status in New Zealand because of his risk of being detained and tortured if he returned to China.

It heard he was taken in by Chinese police for questioning and released, and then men who he thought were North Korean agents followed him. “Over the next few days, [he] suffered several incidents on the road, in which the North Korean men tried to block him in or cut him off and stop his car. He managed to avoid them each time but they followed him.

“Four days after his first visit to the police station, [he] was again summoned to attend. When he did so, he was treated much more harshly. Initially, he was shackled into a chair in which his wrists and ankles were restrained in positions which quickly became uncomfortable. The police did not believe [him] and he was made to squat on the floor for some seven to eight hours, which caused him great pain, particularly in his lower back.”

When he was released, his son told him to leave and gave him an air ticket to New Zealand.

“[He] has consistently related a detailed and plausible account of being drawn into assisting the North Koreans, and subsequently being investigated about it,” the New Zealand tribunal said. “[He] has consistently related a detailed and plausible account of being drawn into assisting the North Koreans, and subsequently being investigated about it,” the tribunal said. “The narrative is brief in compass, but has been related with a wealth of detail.”

The tribunal found the man could be expected to be detained if he was returned to China and would likely be held in detention for some two to seven months. “During that period of detention, he will be at risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in an attempt to make him confess,” it ruled. “The use of torture in such conditions is widely acknowledged by reliable human rights monitors to be routine.”

The fate of the North Koreans is unknown.


South Korea should welcome defectors, not pander to Kim Jong Un

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One of the more troubling questions facing the government South Korean President Moon Jae-in is how to deal with defectors from the North. If Moon appears to welcome and support them, he risks incurring the wrath of the North. If he tries to cut back on aid and other forms of support for these people, many of them women, all of them lost in their new environment, he appears heartless and unconcerned about frightened people who must fend for themselves.

South Korea routinely puts defectors through several months’ training and then provides them with limited resources for living on their own. Moon is not inclined to do more for them and might even like to do less while hoping for ever more contact with the North.

In a competitive society where they’re viewed as strangers from a strange land, defectors tell stories of slights and slurs, fruitless searches for jobs. It’s not uncommon for defectors to try to get around questions about their northern accents by saying they’re from Gangwon province, divided between North and South, though most of them come from the northernmost provinces bordering China across the Yalu (Amnok) or Tumen rivers.

It’s out of the question that President Moon would openly talk about North Korea’s horrendous human rights violations, the quickest way to trigger a volley of denunciations in the North Korean media. But South Korea should remain a safe haven for those fleeing the North. The South Koreans should also never stop demanding that China view defectors as victims of the North’s inhumane policies rather than as economic migrants.

[Excerpts of Opinion piece by Donald Kirk, writing in Las Vegas Sun]

Empathy for defectors even in the top ranks of North Korean society

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Even in the top ranks of North Korean society, there are some who spit on the dictatorship and the hereditary politics of the Kim family — case in point, the incident of Mr. Lee.

A North Korean defector, now living in the South, recalls, “While I was serving a 10-year prison term in North Korea, Mr. Lee gave my son money to get some food for me.

“Sad to say, Mr. Lee, who worked at Ryanggang province’s Ministry of State Security, later shot himself with his own gun, allegedly after being harassed for helping would-be defectors.

“One may consider suicide as merely a cowardly evasion of one’s responsibility, but in North Korea it is considered an act of rebellion and thus the person’s bereaved family is punished severely. His son who was working in the Bodyguard Bureau in Pyongyang was subsequently discharged, leaving the family with no way to support themselves.

“Given Mr. Lee’s rank in the Ministry of State Security, a very authoritative institution, and the fact that he committed such ‘treacherous behavior’ against the government shook all of Ryanggang province, as well as throughout the entire country.”

[Written by Tae-il Shim, the pseudonym of a North Korean defector who arrived in South Korea in 2018.]

Highly personalized diplomacy: When Trump is debilitated, the diplomacy suffers

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What has been most distinctive about his North Korean diplomacy is how President Trump has thoroughly personalized it—whether by measuring his “nuclear button” against the North Korean leader’s when they were at odds or by feeding a narrative that he and Kim alone could resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons thanks to their “beautiful” relationship.

This weekend, U.S. and North Korean officials met in Sweden to revive nuclear negotiations, a development that barely registered amid the impeachment frenzy in the United States. With little fanfare, certainly not the kind on display during his meetings with Kim Jong Un, the bill is coming due for Donald Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea. The chief North Korean negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, blamed the “breakdown” on his U.S. counterparts not coming to the table with fresh ideas, and suggested that talks be suspended until the end of the year, a period that North Korean officials have ominously described as a deadline for Washington to adopt a more flexible position. U.S. negotiators tried to cast the impasse in the best light, stating that they’d raised “new initiatives” and describing the discussions as “good.”

If Kim’s negotiators remain determined to tread water between summits with Trump, that doesn’t bode well for the prospects of a comprehensive nuclear agreement. As the nuclear expert Toby Dalton has observed, concluding such a deal with North Korea would be more complicated than the process of negotiating the nuclear-arms-control treaty known as START was; the United States and the Soviet Union signed START in 1991 after nearly a decade of diplomacy involving “1,000 hours or more of negotiations where you had teams of Soviet and American experts who were living in Geneva, meeting every day,” and churning out hundreds of pages of text. “Presidents don’t negotiate 100-page documents,” he pointed out.

North Korean officials (who are known to closely follow U.S. politics) may be calculating that they are in a stronger negotiating position, and that Trump, a “self-advertised dealmaker” without many actual deals in foreign affairs, will be interested in “a distraction” from his domestic troubles in the form of a nuclear accord, notes Joseph Yun, who served as Trump’s North Korea envoy at the State Department until 2018. But if the assessment in Pyongyang is indeed that Trump is desperate for a win and will scramble to cut a deal at the end of the year, it could prove a hugely consequential miscalculation. One of the downsides of highly personalized diplomacy is that when the person in question is debilitated, the diplomacy suffers.

It’s also possible that North Korea’s leaders have drawn the opposite lesson from the political turmoil in the United States: that there’s no use in surrendering assets as part of an agreement with Trump that could collapse within months as a result of impeachment pressures or the 2020 election.

[The Atlantic]

North Korean artist defector Sun Mu

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Sun Mu was trained in the North Korean Army to be a propaganda artist and assigned to paint murals and posters for the Communist government in the North and to honour Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-un. Having defected from North Korea in 1999 amidst a deadly famine, Sun now uses his experience as a former creator of propaganda to create satirical art that blends images of North Korea’s Communism with pop aesthetics.

Sun Mu has seen his art cause major uproars due to the subjects that it touches on. In 2015, an exhibition of his work in China was unexpectedly shut down, an incident that he believes was orchestrated by the government of North Korea.

This autumn, his works are on display in a solo exhibition at the Kunstraum in Munich, Germany, where addresses the recent summits between the two Koreas and the United States. He also shows the interrelationship, the similarities, and the differences between the South and the North, as well as their tangible dependence on the US. 

Sun Mu explains, “In February of this year I had an exhibition in Los Angeles which was founded by an American scholar of European history… One day I saw a woman who was standing in front of my painting and crying. I think she was from East Germany. … The crying woman understood something that many others do not understand because art is always something personal. The more personal it is to people the more they are touched by it.”

“The freedom to have political and artistic expression in South Korea gave me space to create paintings filled with strong satirical messages aimed at the North Koran regime, but it also attracted controversy and threatened the safety of my family members living in North Korea. Under the Communists’ “three generations of punishment” – three generations of a family can be disciplined by the North Korean government if a relative has gone against the state. For this reason, I work under a pseudonym and hide my face. Instead of my birth name I am using the pseudonym ‘Sun Mu’ which means ‘without borders’ or ‘boundlessness.”
Read full article by clicking link below

North Korea breaks off working-level nuclear talks in Sweden

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Working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington have broken off, North Korea’s top negotiator has said.

Chief nuclear negotiator Kim Myong Gil blamed what he called US inflexibility.

Delegations from the two countries had been discussing Pyongyang ending its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions being lifted.

The US says it has accepted an invitation from Sweden to return for more talks in two weeks’ time.

North Korean defectors reveal 30 times safe level of radiation exposure

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Tests on North Korean defectors in September who lived near the secretive state’s Punggye-ri region have revealed dangerously high levels of radiation exposure. Radioactivity levels exceeding 250 millisieverts (mSv). Exposure to just 100 mSv a year is considered the threshold for cancer risk.

One 48-year-old woman, reports Chosun Ilbo, showed 1,386 mSv of radiation. That’s nearly 30 times the level allowed for workers in the nuclear industry. Tests on half of the defectors also revealed significant genetic damage.

Punggye-ri is the site of three nuclear weapons tests undertaken by the Kim regime between 2006 and 2013.  Observers suspect the nuclear tests have contaminated the soil and ground water table in the area.

Kim Tae-woo, the former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, told Chosun Ilbo: “Residents of Kilju county and other areas near the test site get their drinking water from underground springs emanating from Mt. Mantap. “I believe a lot of the exposure to radiation comes from the drinking water.”

Jeong Yong-hoon from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology added: “There is no way these levels of radiation exposure could happen under normal conditions. … The reason must be that a tunnel at the test site collapsed, so it is urgent to check how the site is being managed.”

Joo Han-gyu at Seoul National University said that “the radioactivity levels found in North Korean defectors is hundreds of times higher than normal and can only be the result of exposure to severe radiation.”

There are fears not only for the health of people still living in the region, but for South Koreans as well – water from springs in Punggye-ri eventually flows into the Sea of Japan, known in Korea as the East Sea. Korean cooking involves a good deal of fish, and a threat to fish stocks represents a significant danger to food supplies in general.

[Daily Star (UK)]

How the North Korean mobile phone industry is changing the country

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North Korea is evading U.N. sanctions to cash in on soaring domestic demand for smartphones, using low-cost hardware imports to generate significant income for the regime, according to defectors, experts and an analysis of North Korean-made phones. Economists estimate as many as six million North Koreans – a quarter of the population – now have mobile phones, a critical tool for participating in an informal market economy that has become a key income source for many.

Reuters spoke to some 10 defectors and experts about the use of mobile devices in North Korea, as well as reviewing advertisements for mobile devices, and examining two North Korean-branded smartphones. The phones feature Taiwanese semiconductors, batteries made in China and a version of Google’s open-source Android operating system, analysis of the North Korean phones revealed. These basic North Korean phones typically cost between $100 and $400 at state stores or private markets.

One young North Korean woman surnamed Choi recalled selling two pigs and smuggling herbs from China to raise the 1,300 Chinese yuan ($183) her family needed to buy a mobile phone in 2013. She used the phone to help successfully run a retail business selling Chinese clothes and shampoos, arranging deliveries from wholesalers. “It turned out we could make a way more money than our official salaries,” said Choi, who has since defected to South Korea.

Phones are typically sold with service plans that include 200 minutes of calling time. Prepaid plans cost about $13 dollars for 100 minutes. While those prices are comparable to or higher than what mobile phone customers pay in other countries, North Koreans only earn an average of about $100 per month.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has endorsed wireless networks, some reportedly built with the help of China’s Huawei Technologies, and local mobile phone brands through public speeches and state media reports.