A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
An American man has been detained in North Korea, two State Department officials told CNN. Diplomatic sources speaking on condition of not being identified said the man is a Korean-American businessman. One of the sources said the businessman had a visa to enter North Korea.
The State Department is working with the Swedish Embassy in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, the officials said. The United States is urging North Korean authorities, through the Swedes, to release the man on humanitarian grounds.
Sweden represents America’s interests in North Korea because the United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
North Korea has detained several Americans in recent years, increasing tension levels in what is already a rocky relationship between Pyongyang and Washington.
A 15-year-old American girl, Charlotte Heffelmire, is using helium balloons and neighborhood donations to break into North Korea.Standing on the roof of a building in South Korea, Charlotte releases about a dozen balloons — pearly greens, pinks and blues — which she said will hopefully float over the 2.5-mile-wide Korean Demilitarized Zone into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Charlotte’s mother says, “Charlotte’s always told me she’s 100 percent Korean.” Charlotte’s mother Darmie Yoon, who emigrated from South Korea to the U.S. in 1985 for college, adds, “When I lived in South Korea, I got a flier from North Korea. These fliers, I thought, had to come from a balloon … There were fliers that would say their Korea or military was better than ours.”
As a child growing up in South Korea, Yoon said she was taught that North Korean children were not given the same advantages or quality of education as their South Korean peers. This is a lesson Yoon and her husband, Eric Heffelmire, shared with their children.
“Charlotte has grown up in two worlds — one cultural foot in America and the other in Korea — and has tried to take the best out of both cultures,” Heffelmire said. “Because she is part Korean, I think she feels for the sick and dying North Korean children more and at a deeper emotional level than she might otherwise.”
Charlotte continues, “I sent about a 1,000 balloons [over], about a dozen each release. We tie a dollar [a South Korean 1,000 Won note] to each balloon and attach a note that reads ‘Stay Strong,’ in Korean,” said the teen, who is planning another visit to South Korea for the release of more balloons later this month.
So far, Charlotte estimates she has sent $2,500 tied to balloons over the DMZ. Her charity — Winds of Change —has raised about $14,000 toward the effort through Charlotte pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, asking for donations from family and friends, and mowing yards to raise money. Her parents pay for her travel expenditures so as not to take away from the charity.
“Whenever I think about North Korea, I think, ‘It needs to be changed.’ And [North Korea] can’t control the wind,” said Charlotte, explaining the name of her charity. “I got the idea after watching this documentary from National Geographic where they were showing all these awful things going on in North Korea,” Charlotte said. “These teens they were showing were so small from being malnourished that they looked like little kids.”
The 160-mile long DMZ is considered by the U.S. Department of State to be the most heavily militarized border in the world and divides the Korean Peninsula at the 38th parallel north. The border is the result of an armistice agreement in 1953, which followed the Korean War that began in June 1950 and claimed the lives of more than 3 million people.
Because of the nature of the DMZ, Charlotte said balloons were a natural fit.
“I think her idea is very novel and a very brave thing for her to do as someone her age,” said family friend and teacher Jessica Kim, who was born in South Korea. “I think it’s a small thing that many people may not recognize, but the small things all add up.”
Charlotte admits she is not sure how successful her efforts are and, because of the lack of communication with North Korea, she might never find out.
“Even if these balloons don’t actually get there, there’s hope in that we’re helping or doing something,” Charlotte said. “You’ve seen pictures and videos, but you can’t fully understand what is being done to these people by their own government. … Be grateful for what you have.”
Public outcry continues over journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee (both from California) who spent nearly six months confined in North Korea, resulting in the American government sending Bill Clinton to a country with which the U.S. has no formal relations to negotiate their release.
But the video footage that was confiscated during their arrest put the journalists’ subjects in danger far worse than their own.
Ling and Lee were reporting for the American cable news network Current TV on the human trafficking of North Korean women into China, where they serve as sex workers and are purchased as wives. As part of the story the journalists videotaped and interviewed pastors, volunteers, and residents of five secret shelters for the children of North Korean women trafficked into China.
When Ling and Lee’s footage was confiscated by the North Korean government, the women ended up exposing the identities of the children and pastors living at the Durihana Mission, as well as the people who helped North Korean refugees cross into China and brought them to the Mission.
The Chinese government shut down all of Durihana Mission’s shelters and deported some of the pastors, many of whom were South Korean or North Korean defectors. The pastors are saying Ling and Lee reported recklessly and weren’t careful enough with the sensitive information and footage they gathered.
News outlets and blogs say they have found evidence that the women intentionally crossed the border (after they were continually warned not to go near it), violating international law and putting the subjects of their footage in danger. Other people are upset because they say the women need to use their public statements as a way to bring more attention to the North Korean refugees. Thus far the women have only spoken out about journalists held captive in other parts of the world.
The Women’s Media Center reports that 80 to 90 percent of female North Korean refugees living in China are trafficking victims. North Korea treats refugees— whether they emigrated voluntarily or were trafficked—as criminal defectors. China treats them as illegal immigrants, and deports thousands per year. While a refugee is an emigrant who has fled their country for safety reasons, a trafficked person has been sold and forced to work for others in a new country. These people are vulnerable, and often refugees or immigrants pursuing what seem like work opportunities only to have their identification and rights taken away.
The Economist puts it this way: With a decrepit economy, and now devastating floods, the closed regime of North Korea shows signs of greater openness—though not to everyone.
North Korea has been suffering flooding on a biblical scale. The official news agency this week reported that, after the heaviest rainfall in 39 years, 169 people had died and more than 200,000 had lost their homes. Some 65,000 hectares of farmland had been inundated, exacerbating the chronic food shortage the country has endured since famine killed as many as 1million people in the 1990s.
Both floods and hunger can be largely blamed on the government. Even without this year’s huge downpours, the policy failure that let goats and farmers desperate for arable land
Even without this year’s huge downpours, the policy failure that let goats and farmers desperate for arable land strip the country’s hillsides bare of trees has made flooding an almost annual event. Similarly, food shortages are the result of the economic mismanagement that saw GDP shrink almost by half in the 1990s, and never recover, leaving North Korea dependent on food aid from abroad.
Now the government has appealed to the United Nations for emergency aid, in a country where one in three children is chronically malnourished or stunted. Even before the floods, the World Food Programme expected life to be difficult through the annual “lean season”, until the harvest in October, with reduced rations from the public distribution system on which two-thirds of the population rely, and few ways of making up the shortfall.
Things would be a little less dire had Kim Jong Un, the young dictator and Great Successor to his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December, not reneged on an agreement reached in February with America, which had offered food. After just a fortnight Mr Kim’s regime announced it would launch a satellite, in breach of United Nations sanctions.
If this made him look like his father’s son, he has since shown signs of becoming his own, rather different man. He has presented a jollier image, and people remember that, by local standards, he is cosmopolitan, having spent a couple of years at a school in Switzerland. On one recent outing, to a funfair, he enjoyed a ride with a young British diplomat and the Chinese ambassador. This seemed to be sending a message to a foreign as well as local audience. The British ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme, detects “more openness” in the regime under Kim Jong Un.
There is little to show for this yet in terms of closer economic or political contacts with Japan, South Korea and the West.
Signs of economic reform are even harder to detect. Three counties have been picked to test a new system of small farms, which will be allowed to keep 30% of their production quota, and any excess. Mr Kim has also complained about the way the country’s resources are being sold off on the cheap. He did not mention that the buyers are almost all Chinese, nor that many of the sellers are parts of the 1.2m-strong armed forces. Scholars in Beijing say he is trying hard to “recentralise” economic control, from the army as well as the largely illicit private sector.
That does indeed seem more likely than any radical reform. Economic relaxation is hampered by the fear of losing political control. As the official news agency puts it, “to expect…‘reform and opening’…is nothing but a foolish and silly dream, just like wanting the sun to rise in the west.”
Reuters reports that heavy rains between 18-30 July have left approximately 84,000 people homeless in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), primarily in South Pyongan, Kangwon and North and South Hamgyong provinces.
The floods have also damaged 74,700 acres of farmland, exacerbating the pre-existing food security crisis linked to a severe drought earlier this year.
Kim Kwang-dok, vice-chairman of the Anju City People’s Committee in South Pyongan, described the flooding as the worst in the city’s history.
Flooding in North Korea has killed at least 169 people since late June, around 212,000 homeless along with 400 missing.
Vietnam pledged a donation of 5,000 tons of rice to flood-stricken North Korea.
This week North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam visited Vietnam to boost ties between two of the world’s few remaining communist countries. Kim met with the Vietnamese President, Communist Party chief and Prime Minister. The North Korean official then moved on to a state visit to Laos.
North Korea requires immediate food assistance after heavy rains killed scores of people and submerged vast swaths of farmland, a U.N. office said Thursday.
Floods caused by two storm systems last month killed at least 119 people and left tens of thousands homeless, according to the North’s state media. A city official told AP that it was the worst disaster in Anju’s history.
The flooding, which occurred on the heels of a severe drought, renewed concerns about North Korea’s ability to feed its people.
In June, the U.N. said two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people are coping with chronic food shortages.
North Korean officials are asking for food, fuel, medicine, water and purification supplies, while farmers are requesting seeds and fertilizer for the next season, the U.N. said.