Category: DPRK Government

Ex-Marine faces prison for assisting Adrian Hong and Free Joseon

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Ex-US-Marine Christopher Ahn is out on bail and shows his electronic monitoring device placed on him by U.S. marshals. How did Ahn wind up in this situation? He is an unlikely person to be treated as a criminal by his own government. Burly and bearded, he is described by family friends in court filings as a “happy-go-lucky guy who is like a teddy bear inside.” A son of Korean immigrants, Ahn has been taking care of his family since he was 17, when his father died of cancer. He now takes care of his ailing mother, who has a debilitating nerve disease, and his 97-year-old, blind grandmother, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

It is Ahn’s altruistic impulse that now threatens his freedom. In 2009, Ahn met a charismatic Yale dropout named Adrian Hong who had created a human rights group to help North Korean refugees. Eventually, Hong founded another group, called Free Joseon. Ahn is in his current predicament because of a call he received from Hong in early 2019 — this time to help facilitate the defection of North Korean diplomats in Madrid.

Responding to an extradition request from Spain, the Justice Department decided to arrest Hong at a time when then-President Donald Trump was seeking to strike a deal with Kim Jong Un. Ahn went to Hong’s apartment in Los Angeles only to discover that a heavily armed task force of U.S. marshals was there looking for Hong. (Hong, who had fled, is now a fugitive from the governments of Spain, North Korea and the United States.) Ahn was then arrested and spent three months in a federal jail.

Now, a pro bono lawyer is helping Ahn fight the Justice Department’s attempts to extradite him to Spain. (The standard to extradite him is relatively low — prosecutors need only prove “probable cause” that the charges are true.) If convicted by a Spanish court on charges including kidnapping, breaking and entering, battery and being part of a “criminal organization,” he could be imprisoned for 21 years.

Ahn is, above all, an idealist. The bitter irony is that in trying to grant North Koreans their freedom, Ahn might have sacrificed his own.
[Washington Post]

North Korean posturing

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Joe Biden, in his first address to Congress, called North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs “serious threats” to American and world security and said he’ll work with allies to address those problems through diplomacy and stern deterrence.

“His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century,” Kwon Jong Gun, a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official, later said in a statement.  “Now that the keynote of the U.S. … policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the U.S. will find itself in a very grave situation,” Kwon said. He didn’t specify what steps North Korea would take.

An unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman vowed a strong, separate response to a recent State Department statement that it would push to promote “accountability for the Kim regime” over its “egregious human rights situation.” He called the statement a preparation for “all-out showdown with us.”

Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, also slammed South Korea over anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated across the border by a group of North Korean defectors in the South. The group’s leader, Park Sang-hak, said Friday he sent 500,000 leaflets by balloon last week, in a defiance of a new, contentious South Korean law that criminalizes such action. “We regard the maneuvers committed by the human waste in the South as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement. She accused the South Korean government of “winking at” the leaflets.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the North Korean statements indicate that “Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States” ahead of the May 21 summit between Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

[AP]

Biden charts new North Korea policy

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After months of closed-door talks, President Joe Biden’s administration has completed its review of North Korea policy, charting a path forward that rejects both of his immediate predecessors’ stances on the nuclear-armed rogue state.

Kim Jong Un, the totalitarian leader in Pyongyang, has tested Biden once with a launch of two short-range ballistic missiles and urged the U.S. to drop its push for denuclearization.

But the White House said Friday that its “goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with the clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administration have not achieved this objective.”

This was a shot not just at Donald Trump, but also Barack Obama, Biden’s old boss. The new policy says Biden will not “rely on strategic patience,” the term that defined the Obama era approach of hoping U.S. and United Nations sanctions would ultimately put the screws to the North Korean government.

While the Biden administration hasn’t provided full details, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday they will deploy a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”

Biden will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 21, just the second world leader that Biden will host early in his term, after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited on April 16.

[ABCNews]

Souring conditions in Pyongyang

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Russian diplomats departing North Korea have reported acute shortages of medicines and other basic goods in the country, indicating a crisis fueled by one of the world’s strictest quarantine regimes amid the coronavirus pandemic. Employees of the Russian embassy in Pyongyang described a “collective exit” of foreign diplomatic staff that they predicted would “unfortunately not be the last” due to unbearable conditions in the North Korean capital.

Russia has one of the largest foreign diplomatic footprints in North Korea, but staff have begun leaving due to shortages and problems obtaining key medicines. There were “hardly any diplomats left” in Pyongyang, the embassy letter said, tallying the total international presence in North Korea at 290 people. All but three foreign aid workers had evacuated the country as of last December.

In a report last month, a senior researcher on North Korea for Human Rights Watch said she had been told last year of shortages of food, soap, toothpaste and batteries. North Korean trade with China has fallen by about 80%, with imports of food and medicine falling close to zero last year as the government claimed that the trade, along with “yellow dust” blowing over the border from China, could lead to the spread of coronavirus. Severe floods have also undermined agricultural production, exacerbating food shortages in the country, Lina Yoon, a researcher, wrote.

[The Guardian]

North Korea snaps back at Biden over his criticism of its missile launches

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North Korea snapped back at President Joe Biden’s criticism of its ballistic missile tests, calling his comments a provocation and encroachment on the North’s right to self-defense and vowing to continuously expand its “most thoroughgoing and overwhelming military power.”

The statement issued by senior official Ri Pyong Chol came after the North on Thursday tested-fired two short-range missiles off its eastern coast in the first ballistic launches since Biden took office. Ri, secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, is a former air force commander who has been seen as a key figure in the development of the North’s missile program.

“We’re consulting with our allies and partners,” Biden had said earlier at the first news conference of his presidency. “And there will be responses if they choose to escalate. We will respond accordingly. But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

Ri said it was “gangster-like logic” for the United States to criticize the North’s tactical weapons tests when the Americans are freely testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and could send their strategic military assets to the region surrounding the Korean Peninsula at any time.

Pyongyang has a history of testing new U.S. administrations with weapons demonstrations aimed at forcing Washington back to negotiations. 

[AP]

North Korea warns US not to ‘cause a stink’

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In North Korea’s first comments directed at the Biden administration, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister warned the United States to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.

Kim Yo Jong’s statement was issued as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Asia to talk with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea about North Korea and other regional issues.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off (gun) powder smell in our land,” she said. “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

[AP]

North Korea’s trade with China declined 80% during 2020

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Two-way trade between North Korea and its biggest partner, China, fell 80.7% in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to estimates from Seoul’s Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

Trade activity dropped significantly in February 2020, with two-way trade falling to $10.71 million in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic that began in Wuhan, China. North Korea shut its 880-mile border with China as part of its COVID-19 response in January 2020, but trade levels recovered by June to $96.8 million, according to SP News.

Pyongyang has claimed its draconian tactics against the novel coronavirus have paid off and that there are zero COVID-19 patients in the country. North Korea has also ordered vaccines from the COVAX Facility, managed by the World Health Organization.

[UPI]

North Korea’s economy ravaged by sanctions and pandemic isolation

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Kim Jong Un is angry, and he’s lashing out, complaining that North Korea’s last economic plan failed “tremendously.”

And his inner circle lacked an “innovative viewpoint and clear tactics” in drawing up a new one, Kim told the ruling Workers’ Party last month, yelling and finger-pointing at frightened-looking delegates.

His economy minister, appointed in January, has already been fired.

North Korea is suffering its worst slump in more than two decades, experts say. It’s a combination of international sanctions and especially a self-imposed blockade on international trade in attempts to keep the coronavirus pandemic out.

A shortage of spare parts usually supplied from China has caused factories to close, including one of the country’s largest fertilizer plants, and crippled output from the country’s aging power plants, according to news reports. Electricity shortages, long a chronic problem, have become so acute, production has even halted at some coal mines and other mines.

[Washington Post]

North Korea’s former acting ambassador to Kuwait Ryu Hyeon-woo speaks out

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In his first interview since defecting to the South more than a year ago, North Korea’s former acting ambassador to Kuwait Ryu Hyeon-woo told CNN that Kim Jong Un will not give up his nuclear arsenal but may be willing to negotiate an arms reduction for relief from the international sanctions crippling Pyongyang’s economy.

“North Korea’s nuclear power is directly linked to the stability of the regime” — and Kim likely believes nuclear weapons are key to his survival. Ryu also said previous US administrations had boxed themselves into a corner by demanding denuclearization up front in negotiations with the totalitarian state.

The former diplomat, who adopted the name Ryu upon moving to the South, is one of several high-profile North Korean officials to defect in recent years. Ryu and his family defectedto South Korea in September 2019, but their actions were only made public last week.

Determined to give their teenage daughter a better life, Ryu said he and his wife planned their escape for about a month while living in Kuwait. Ryu took his family to the South Korean embassy in Kuwait to claim asylum. They traveled to South Korea several days later.

Ryu said that if they had been caught, North Korean agents would have quickly taken them all back to Pyongyang for certain punishment, as defection is considered a major embarrassment to the Kim regime and is not taken lightly.

Kuwait was a particularly important revenue stream for Pyongyang, as the Persian Gulf nation used to employ about 10,000 North Korean laborers. Those workers were allegedly treated like modern-day slaves, and experts say almost all of their earnings were funneled back to the government.

Ryu also was posted to Syria, a close ally of North Korea, from 2010 to 2013. While Ryu was charged with overseeing relations with Syrian politicians, his countrymen were selling conventional weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime, including long-range multiple launcher artillery and anti-aircraft weapons systems.

Looking back over the past 16 months, Ryu says his only regret is what might happen to his remaining family members back in Pyongyang. He and his wife believe they did the right thing for their daughter, by taking her away from her home country.

Defection from North Korea comes at a monumental cost, with defectors having to instantly sever ties from all family left in their home nation. Ryu is worried about his three siblings and 83-year-old mother still in North Korea, and the family also worries for his wife’s elderly parents living in Pyongyang.

[CNN]

North Korea’s envoy to Kuwait defects to South Korea

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It’s now been confirmed that North Korea’s acting ambassador to Kuwait defected to South Korea, the latest in a recent string of high-profile escapes from the isolated country, a South Korean lawmaker said on Monday.

Ryu Hyun Woo had led North Korea’s embassy in Kuwait since former Ambassador So Chang Sik was expelled after a 2017 U.N. resolution sought to scale back the country’s overseas diplomatic missions.

Ryu defected to South Korea last September, according to Thae Yong Ho, who was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to Britain before settling in the South in 2016 and being elected as a lawmaker last year.

Tae said Ryu is the son-in-law of Jon Il Chun, who once oversaw a Worker’s Party bureau responsible for managing the ruling Kim family’s secret coffers, dubbed Room 39.

Ryu fled several months after Jo Song Gil, who was North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, vanished with his wife from the embassy and resurfaced in South Korea.

[Reuters]