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.
North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of international staff it deploys to Pyongyang, saying the organization’s programs have failed “due to the politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces,” according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
North Korea wants the number of international staff with the UN Development Programme cut from six to one or two, the World Health Organization from six to four and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to cut its 13 staff by one or two.
In the letter dated August 21, Kim Chang Min, secretary-general for North Korea’s National Coordinating Committee for the United Nations, gave a deadline of the end of the year for the agencies to make the cuts.
Kim said the number of international staff with the World Food Programme should also be reduced “according to the amount of food aid to be provided”, once the agency and North Korean agree how to implement a plan for 2019 to 2021.
The UN estimates 10.3 million people – almost half the country’s population
– are in need and some 41 percent of North Koreans are undernourished, while
Pyongyang said in February it was facing a food shortfall this year and had to
halve rations, blaming drought, floods and sanctions.
“Historically there’s been a critical lack of international expertise
and oversight and capacity to monitor the use of the assistance that is
provided,” said a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re
deeply surprised by this turn of events in part because this is when the needs
have grown and the UN has been trying to mobilize support to scale up
assistance in country.”
The move comes amid stalled talks between the US and North Korea aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The UN Security Council has tightened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for those programs.
Allegations that the North Korean government is responsible for getting over $2 billion in a long-running hacking campaign, including attacks on crypto-exchanges, are a “sheer lie,” says a North Korean government spokesperson.
The statement, which was published by KCNA, North Korea’s state news agency, denies allegations
that North Korea “illegally forced the transfer of two billion US dollars
needed for the development of WMD programs by involving cyber actors”.
“Such a fabrication by the hostile forces is nothing but a sort of a nasty
game aimed at tarnishing the image of our Republic and finding justification
for sanctions and pressure campaign against the DPRK,” reads the statement.
A UN report, leaked to the AP and Reuters, reveals that North Korea hit South Korean
exchanges hard, stealing cryptocurrencies from exchanges and using victims’
computing power to mine bitcoin for the development of mass destruction
The cybercrime group Lazarus, alleged to be sponsored by North Korea, is
said to be responsible for $571 of the $882 million–or 65%– of the total
crypto stolen from exchanges between the second quarter of 2017 and early 2018,
according to a report released by cybercrime watchdog Group-IB last
North Korea, one of the most secretive countries in the world, is no
stranger to building underground military facilities. Whether a tunnel dug
under the demilitarized zone designed to pass thousands of troops an hour, or
bunkers to accommodate the regime’s leadership, North Korea has built extensive
underground facilities designed to give it an edge in wartime.
One of the earliest examples of North Korean underground engineering was the discovery of several tunnels leading from North Korea under the demilitarized zone to South Korea. The first tunnel located in 1974, extended one kilometer south of the DMZ, and was large enough to move up to two thousand troops per hour under the DMZ.
Thanks to a tip from a North Korean defector, an even larger tunnel was
discovered in 1978, a mile long and nearly seven feet wide. Since then at least
four tunnels have been discovered, with reinforced concrete slabs, electricity
for lighting and fresh air generation, and narrow railway gauges.
It’s difficult to determine how many tunnels exist. One report says that Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North Korean state and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, ordered each of the ten front-line combat divisions to dig two tunnels. If completed, that would theoretically mean another dozen or so tunnels remain undiscovered. A former South Korean general, Han Sung-chu, claims there are at least eighty-four tunnels—some reaching as far as downtown Seoul. (The South Korean government does not believe Han’s numbers—nor the claimed ability to reach Seoul—are credible.)
The North Korean People’s Liberation Army Air Force is also believed to have three different underground air bases at Wonsan, Jangjin and Onchun. The underground base at Wonsan reportedly includes a runway 5,900 feet long and ninety feet wide that passes through a mountain. According to a defector, during wartime aircraft would take off from conventional air bases but return to underground air bases.
Another underground development is a series of troop bunkers near the DMZ. A
North Korean defector disclosed that, starting in 2004, North Korea began building bunkers capable
of concealing between 1,500 and two thousand fully armed combat troops near the
border. At least eight hundred bunkers were built, not including decoys, meant
to conceal units such as light-infantry brigades and keep them rested until the
start of an invasion.
Other underground facilities are believed to have been constructed to shelter the North’s leadership. According to a South Korean military journal, the United States believes there are between 6000-8000 such shelters scattered across the country. This information was reportedly gathered from defectors in order to hunt down regime members in the event of war or government collapse.
North Korea is believed to have hundreds of artillery-concealing caves just north of the DMZ. Known as Hardened Artillery Sites, or HARTS, these are usually tunneled into the sides of mountains. An artillery piece, such as a 170-millimeter Koksan gun or 240-millimeter multiple-launch rocket system, can fire from the mouth of the cave and then withdraw into the safety of the mountain to reload. As of 1986, and estimated 200-500 HARTS were thought to exist.
All these facilities are hard to spot via satellite, so gleaning information
from defectors has been the best way to learn about them in peacetime. Pyongyang’s
eventual defeat in any wartime scenario is a given, but its underground
headquarters, fortifications and troop depots have the potential to not only
enhance the Korean People’s Army’s ability to mount a surprise attack, but also
to prolong the war, confounding the high-tech armed forces of its adversaries.
Fleeing North Korea
11 years ago, Heo Jun sought a better life, studied hard and won a prized
admission to South Korea’s most prestigious university. But his aspirations
have swung to a profession where a fancy degree isn’t required: YouTube star.
Mr. Heo has made videos challenging strangers to hug a “commie, spy or traitor.” He’s shown people tasting North Korean food, defectors trying dating apps and filmed his own exasperated reaction watching a music video by BTS, the mega-popular South Korean boy band. His subscribers recently surged past 100,000.
“We defectors have an advantage in attracting attention,” says Mr. Heo, 27, who says he earns several thousand dollars a month from advertising revenue—enough to suspend his studies at Seoul National University. He is one semester away from graduation, though he says he is in no rush to embark on a traditional career path.
“Why would I work for a company when I can make enough money off my YouTube channel?” says Mr. Heo, who lives in a chic downtown Seoul studio apartment.
Before becoming a
full-time YouTuber, Mr. Heo had started a nonprofit company trying to promote
more harmony between North and South Koreans. The endeavor didn’t gain nearly
as much traction as his first video uploaded two years ago, where he stood
blindfolded in a bustling Seoul neighborhood and asked strangers for hugs. It
attracted more than four million views.
He’ll continue to
make YouTube videos to improve Korean ties—so long as they remain popular, he
says. “My North Korean background shouldn’t be a shame,” Mr. Heo says, “It’s
who I am.”
Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, told UPI that North Koreans in the South are in dire need of better networks from which they can seek help in difficult times. Most North Koreans are not ready for life in the advanced and industrialized South. About 80 percent of defectors are women, come from rundown areas “even by North Korean standards,” and do not have high school degrees, Scarlatoiu said.
Scarlatoiu said it is easy to pin blame on the South Korean government for the recent tragedy of a North Korean refugee mother and disabled son who apparently starved to death in Seoul. But one must also remember that South Korea continues to improve upon support programs for defectors that include vocational training, extra remuneration for defectors who keep their jobs and maintain savings accounts. All defectors receive substantial financial support upon arrival, a “pilot program for Korean unification,” the analyst said.
Casey Lartigue, a co-founder of Seoul-based Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center, said he dismisses the idea that a lack of state support in the South is responsible for the recent tragedy. “The danger is not that the South Korean government is not doing
enough, but rather, that it is doing too much and is expected to do even more
for North Korean refugees,” Lartigue said.
“The surprise is not that a refugee starved to death, but that more don’t do so, because the various levels of South Korean government seem to be teaching North Korean refugees learned helplessness.”
Lartigue, who has helped hundreds of North Korean refugees learn English
through his volunteer program, said defectors need to seek help from people
they know rather than suffering in silence or isolation.
Public opinion polls continue to indicate high levels of anxiety and
unhappiness prevail among the majority of the North Korean refugee population.
“From what I have heard, about 35 South Koreans on average commit suicide
every day,” Lartigue said.
The deaths of a North Korean defector and her young son in their apartment in Seoul have shocked Korea. And the incident is also shedding light on the difficulties faced by South Korea’s overwhelmingly female population of North Korean refugees.
Jung Gwang-il, founder of activist group No
Chain in Seoul, said the refugee mother Han slipped through the cracks of
South Korea’s support system for resettled North Koreans while struggling with
domestic violence and a disabled child.
Han met her “husband,” a Chinese citizen whom she later divorced,
after her initial escape to China where she was the target of human trafficking.
After Han was granted residence in the South in 2009, her husband followed her,
and the couple had a second child. The child was born with disabilities because
Han’s spouse beat her during her pregnancy, Jung said, recounting conversations
he’s had with other defectors.
Human-and sex-trafficking practices in northeast China explain why the majority of defectors in the South and in China are women. First of all, North Korean women defectors are able to leave their country easier, because women are less noticed when they go missing, defectors have said. And in China there is a high demand for women of reproductive age in rural areas, where male Chinese nationals buy undocumented “wives”.
Jung, who survived abuses at a North Korean prison camp, said “almost all”
North Korean women fall prey to trafficking or choose to be trafficked due to
poverty. Han was no exception.
Former defectors based in South Korea have long understood the power of foreign news and culture in countering the regime’s propaganda. Projects such as Flash Drives for Freedom smuggle in USB sticks loaded with Hollywood movies and American television shows, as well South Korean dramas and music videos.
But growing private enterprise may be the most powerful driver of change, with videos brought in en masse by traders who cross back and forth from China. The risks for viewers are real though, with a special unit of the police and security services known as Group 109 in charge of a renewed crackdown. Even minors who are caught can face six months to a year of ideological training in a reeducation camp – unless their parents can bribe their way out – while adults can face a lifetime of hard labor or, for sensitive material, even execution.
As far as the music, it’s not just the melodies and lyrics that prove catchy, it’s also the performers’ clothes and hairstyles. “The kind of thing I wanted to do was dye my hair and wear miniskirts and jeans,” said Kang Na-ra, 22. “Once I wore jeans to the market, and I was told I had to take them off. They were burned in front of my eyes.”
Kang, who had been a singer at an arts high school in Pyongyang, defected in 2014, so “I could express myself freely.” Now she has a successful career as a TV personality and an actress.
As a girl, Ryu Hee-Jin was brought up to perform patriotic songs praising
the iron will, courage and compassion of North Korea’s leader at the time, Kim
Then she heard American and South Korean pop music. “When you listen to
North Korean music, you have no emotions,” she said. “But when you
listen to American or South Korean music, it literally gives you the chills.
The lyrics are so fresh, so relatable. When kids listen to this music, their
facial expressions just change.”
Western music once helped tear a hole in the Iron Curtain. Now, there is
evidence that South Korean K-pop is playing a similar role in subtly
undermining the propaganda of the North Korean regime, with rising numbers of
defectors citing music as one factor in their disillusionment with their
government, according to Lee Kwang-Baek, president of South Korea’s Unification
Media Group (UMG). A survey of 200 recent defectors by UMG released in June
found that more than 90 percent had watched foreign movies, TV and music in
Ryu is one of many defectors who say K-pop and Western popular music opened their eyes, convincing them that North Korea was not the paradise it was made out to be and that their best prospects lay abroad. “We were always taught that Americans were wolves and South Koreans were their puppets,” she said, “but when you listen to their art, you’ve just got to acknowledge them.”
In 2015, at 23, she defected to the South. These days, Ryu is studying for a business degree but still dreams of breaking into K-pop or – better yet – Hollywood.
“It’s so incredible how far I have come,” she said. “South
Korean music really played a central role in guiding me through this
The death of a North Korean woman and her child in their apartment in Seoul is raising questions about South Korean state support for defectors who resettle in the South, according to a local press report.
The woman, who was found dead with her 6-year-old son in her home in late July, may have died from starvation.
The woman, only identified by her surname Han, was in her early 40s, according to Seoul’s Gwanak District police. She may have no longer been eligible for a monthly stipend from the South Korean government at the time of her death.
After resettlement, Han the woman defector had apparently left South Korea, and married an ethnic Korean man from China. Han later returned to the South in 2018 after a divorce.
A South Korean unification ministry official said current law provides support for defectors up to the fifth year of resettlement. The official also acknowledged that Han’s death indicates a “blind spot” is posing problems for defectors who continue to face difficulties adjusting to South Korea’s capitalist society.