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.
There has been no further word about
North Korea’s top diplomat in Italy who went into hiding along with his wife in
November before his posting to Italy ended late that month. Media reports
indicated that Jo was under Italian government protection as he seeks asylum in
a Western nation.
A high-profile defection by one of
North Korea’s elite would be a huge embarrassment for leader Kim Jong Un as he
pursues diplomacy with Seoul and Washington and seeks to portray himself as a
geopolitical player. North Korea, which touts itself as a socialist paradise,
is extremely sensitive about defections, especially among its elite diplomatic
corps, and has previously insisted that they are South Korean or U.S. plots to
undermine its government.
In this case, North Korea has publicly
ignored Jo Song Gil’s possible defection and held back harsh criticism to avoid
highlighting the vulnerability of its government as it tries to engage
Washington and Seoul in negotiations.
“It could be difficult for some
diplomats to accept being called back to the North after enjoying years living
in the free West. They could want their children to live in a different system
and receive better education,” Thae Yong Ho, a former minister at the North
Korean Embassy in London who fled to South Korea in 2016, told The Associated
Jo seemed comfortable moving around
Italy. In March 2018, accompanied by another embassy official, Pak Myong Gil,
he visited two factories in Italy’s northeastern Veneto region with an eye on
eventual trade, according to La Tribuna di Treviso, a local daily.
Jo comes from a family of diplomats,
with his father and father-in-law both serving as ambassadors.
“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.
The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on three North Korea officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.
The sanctions “shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier,” the department said in a statement. Warmbier was an American student who died in June 2017 after 17 months of detention in North Korea, which contributed to already tense exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington, primarily over North Korea’s nuclear development program.
The sanctions freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits them from engaging in any transactions with anyone in the United States.
Ryong Hae Choe, an aide close to Kim who, according to the U.S. Treasury, heads the Workers’ Party of Korea Organization and Guidance Department, was sanctioned, as were State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong and the director of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kwang Ho Pak.
These days, markets throughout North Korea are not just a place for buying food, clothes and household goods. They have also become the clearing house for information from the outside world, a place where USB sticks loaded with foreign movies and soap operas can be bought.
A documentary, Jangmadang Generation, came about after North Korean escapees kept telling Sokeel Park, South Korea country director for LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), that the change inside the country was important. LiNK decided to make the film, to show that young North Koreans are not brainwashed automatons and are not just victims. That they have agency, and that they are at the forefront of social change inside North Korea.
“This is the most closed and repressive country in the world,” said Park, who directed and narrates the film. “But we wanted to let the audience see North Koreans are relatable people, to see that many of these people have experienced incredible loss and tragedy, but to also see the dynamism that is happening across the country.”
All the members of the Jangmadang Generation featured in the film escaped to South Korea, where they are now studying at universities or making their own way in the world. While older North Koreans often struggle to adapt to the fast-paced and ruthless capitalism of the South, people of this generation usually settle right in.
“Our generation grew up learning about and seeing freedom while being repressed by the government at the same time,” Huh Shimon said. “So our desire for freedom is strong.”
Asked to define freedom, he said: “Freedom means being able to work in a certain place if you want and not if you don’t want, being able to do your own business if you want, living where you want and being able to go where you want.”
While the capital Pyongyang does boast several churches, these buildings are essentially empty shells used to sell foreign visitors a vision of religious tolerance. Instead Christians throughout North Korea are forced to practice in secret.
Kim Sang-Hwa, whose name has been changed for her own safety, is a North Korean defector now living in South Korea, told Open Doors: “Our house was very small, so we all slept in the same room. When I was about 6, I saw my father and mother under the blanket and I could hear the soft noise of the radio. Later I learned they were listening to a broadcast from a Christian radio station.
“In our house was a hidden closet. When I was 12, I accidentally found it. I started to feel inside the cabinet with my hand and I felt a book. I pulled it out, opened the Bible and began to read the first chapter of Genesis. …From that point on Ms Kim became a practicing Christian, albeit in absolute secrecy.
She said: “Sometimes my father met people in a secret location. Among the people visiting the secret meetings were some non-believers too, even spies.
“When one of those visitors was dying, my father went to see him on his death bed. He confessed ‘I know everything about you, your family and your faith. I was a spy and ordered to watch you. You are a good man. I never told anyone you were a Christian. Tell me how I can become a Christian too.’”
The economy and people of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has suffered through decades of international sanctions.
The health system of DPRK has been one of the most impacted sectors. International aid organizations and aid workers who are active in DPRK have been quite straightforward and linked the collapse of the vital public services to the international sanctions. Surgery anesthetics, common antibiotics, obstetric medicines, spare parts of medical devices and laboratory supplies cannot be imported or are significantly delayed to enter the country if some of their parts or substances are listed as prohibited goods.
Even a product which is almost entirely made in a third country but it has a component or a spare part made by a US based company, cannot be imported to North Korea without the permit of the US authorities. Those restrictions apply to everything, from the import of much needed technology to modernize public services, to spare parts of agricultural machinery, fertilizers and pesticides.
Even the donation of soccer balls is considered a breach of the international sanctions because the 1874 resolution of the UNSC includes all sports goods in its list of luxury items. Accordingly, in the autumn of 2013 the cargo of an American Charity was confiscated; it contained 1000 soccer balls to be donated to two North Korean orphanages.
The years of 2013 and 2014 were probably the worst for aid organizations working in DPRK. The sanctions against the Bank of Foreign Commerce of North Korea had frozen all financial transactions and the aid groups were unable to pay salaries to their staff, rent and utilities bills. Even the World Food Program (WFP) had to suspend production in five out of its seven factories producing fortified biscuits for malnourished children. More than half a million children were dependent on the WFP ratio for their daily nutritional needs.
But as far as the country’s elite, even with the sanctions they have never really suffered. Chanel goods, Italian wines, foreign cigarettes, Swiss watches were still largely available in Pyongyang and the major cities and the nuclear program continued to develop.
The question is: Is there any justification for the international sanctions besides their political significance?
[Read full CounterPunch article by Fragkiska Megaloudi]
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to have demoted one of his top officials and sent him to a rural collective farm for reeducation, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
If confirmed, the banishment of Choe Ryong Hae would be the latest in a series of executions, purges and dismissals that Kim has orchestrated in what analysts say is a further strengthening of his grip on power since taking over in late 2011.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Choe’s demotion was related to the alleged collapse of a water tunnel at a power station. Choe was reportedly responsible for the construction of the power station in North Korea’s northeastern Ryanggang province. The NIS said Choe and Kim were also at odds over youth-related policies, according to Shin’s office.
Choe was a rising star after Kim inherited power upon the death of his dictator father Kim Jong Il. He held a series of top posts, including the top political officer in the Korean People’s Army which once made him North Korea’s second most powerful official following the 2013 execution of Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek.
His influence is believed to have diminished in April 2014 when his top army post was found to have been given to Hwang Pyong So, who is now widely considered to be the North’s No. 2 official.
Choe was still considered one of Kim’s top aides and held a number of important posts, including member of the powerful Political Bureau of the ruling Worker’s Party and secretary of the party’s Central Committee. The NIS told lawmakers that Kim is eventually expected to rehabilitee Choe, but didn’t say when.
During a famine in the North in the mid-1990s, the Kim regime began to tolerate illegal trade because it was the only option to feed a starving population. Since then, black-market commerce has been nearly impossible to stamp out. And some of the hottest commodities—particularly for young people who don’t even remember a North Korea before that underground trade existed—have been foreign music and movies, along with the Chinese-made gadgets to play them.
A 2010 study by the US Broadcasting Board of Governors found that 74 percent of North Koreans have access to a TV and 46 percent can access a DVD player. Thanks to the flourishing black market, the jangmadang generation’s technology has advanced well beyond radios and DVDs. Despite North Korea’s near-complete lack of Internet access, there are close to 3.5 million PCs in the country and 5 million tablets, according to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity.
Perhaps the most important piece of hardware in North Korea today is what’s known as a notel—a small, portable video player sold for $60 to $100 and capable of handling multiple formats. It has a screen, a rechargeable battery to deal with frequent blackouts, and crucially, USB and SD card ports. In a surprise move in December, the North Korean government legalized the devices, perhaps as part of a bid to modernize its propaganda machine, according to Seoul-based news outlet Daily NK. The result is millions of ready customers for the USB sticks smuggled across the Chinese border.
In one of North Korea’s bustling markets, a buyer might quietly ask for something “fun,” meaning foreign, or “from the village below,” referring to South Korea. The seller may lead him or her to a private place, often someone’s home, before turning over the goods. The foreign data is then consumed on a notel among small, discreet groups of mostly young people, friends who enter into an unspoken pact of breaking the law together so that no one can rat out anyone else. Read more
Health, nutrition and sanitation conditions have deteriorated for citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) due to “a long period of abnormally dry weather,” according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body OCHA. In a report released Wednesday, OCHA warned that a continued lack of rainfall will have a severe impact on the autumn harvest.
While UN agencies say the government has made major agricultural reforms over the past decade, and the famines of the past are unlikely now, mass hunger remains a threat that has been exacerbated by 18 months of low rainfall.
Here are some key figures:
• 600,000 – 2.5 million: Estimates of the number of people who died from famine in the 1990s
• 70: The percentage of the DPRK’s 24.6 million people whom the World Food Programme (WFP) deems “food insecure and highly vulnerable to shortages in food production”
• 27.9: The percentage of the population that is chronically malnourished and subject to stunted growth (2012 Nutrition Survey)
• 4: The percentage of the population that is acutely malnourished and subject to wasting (2012 Nutrition Survey)
• US $1,800: GDP per capita (CIA World Factbook)
• US $645,800,000: The estimated amount North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jon-un spent on luxury goods in 2012 (UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK)
• 106: The percentage increase in diarrhoea incidence between January and June in 2015 compared with 2014 in the four provinces hardest hit by the drought (OCHA)
• 36: The percentage received by August of the US $117 million the UN says it needs to address humanitarian needs
• 100: The number of years the state-owned Korean Central News Agency says it has been since the country faced a drought of these proportions
Jung Gwang Il is sitting in a comfortable hotel room in Seoul, South Korea, recalling the hell he endured when he still lived in North Korea.
He describes something that resembles waterboarding and being shocked repeatedly with live wires. Worse, he says, was “pigeon torture,” where his hands were bound behind his back and fastened to a wall at a height that made squatting or standing impossible. He was forced to lean forward, twisting in agony for days, his chest puffed like a pigeon’s breast. “It was so awful because they could just leave me there for a week, and I’d be tortured without them having to do anything,” he says. “That’s how evil they are.”
Jung ended 10 months of torture by confessing to spying — a crime he hadn’t committed — and was sent to a prison camp where he slept in barracks with 600 other men. The slave labor and lack of food took a toll: He arrived weighing 167 pounds and left three years later at 79 pounds, his teeth bashed into stubs.
Now a defector living in South Korea — with a new set of teeth — Jung, 51, is determined to inflict maximum damage on the regime of supreme leader Kim Jong Un to the north. His primary weapon is not military arms but rather the Western media he smuggles into his former country, designed to embarrass the regime and expose the lies told by its propagandists and believed by its subjects. Educational material and entertainment both are popular within North Korea’s black market, but the latter is more effective because it is more difficult to demonize as propaganda.