Tag Archives: North Korea

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Kenyan Man Headed for South Korea Accidentally Travels to Pyongyang, North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Planning to attend the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics? Be sure to book your flight to the right Korea, unlike a certain Kenyan traveler who accidentally traveled to North Korea last September.

Daniel Olomae Ole Sapit, a 42-year-old representative for indigenous cow herders in the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe in Kenya, was invited to attend a United Nations conference on biodiversity in PyeongChang, a town that lies just 110 miles east of Seoul.

Instead, he found himself in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

“Pyongyang and Pyeongchang,” Sapit recalls. “For an African, who can tell the difference?”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the two similar sounding names had confused both Sapit and Shenaz Neky, his travel agent in Nairobi.”

Neky claimed that she was only given the name of the final destination and when she typed “PyeongChang” into the reservation system, it linked her with the closest match, Pyongyang.

“The name of the towns are very similar. Apparently it’s a mistake that is very commonly made,” she said. “This was the first time I’ve done a booking to North Korea.”

Even after boarding the Air China flight to Pyongyang, Sapit did not suspect anything to be wrong. It was only when he peered out the window as the plane descended into Sunan International Airport that the Kenyan national thought something was amiss.

“It seemed to be me a very underdeveloped country,” said Sapit, who was expecting to see the highly urbanized and industrialized cityscape of South Korea.

He said his suspicions were confirmed when he saw hundreds of soldiers and portraits of the ruling Kim family. Sapit was almost immediately apprehended after customs discovered that he did not have an entry visa.

BN-IA161_PYEONG_M_20150421183847Sapit takes a selfie after landing safely in South Korea. His expression reads: “Never again.”

After being interrogated in an inspection room for several hours and signing a form attesting to violating travel laws, Sapit was eventually allowed to leave the country and board a flight to Incheon International Airport from Beijing. However, he had to pay for his new ticket and a fine of $500 for entering North Korea without a visa.

Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, said in 2002, there was “a bit of initial confusion” when PyeongChang was first announced as a bidder for the upcoming Winter Olympics, according to the WSJ.

The 2018 Winter Olympics organizing committee has already taken measures to rebrand the host town, changing the spelling from “Pyongchang” to “PyeongChang.” Even Wikipedia has included a disclaimer in the town’s wiki page that reads: “Not to be confused with Pyonyang.”

Sapit said he will never forget his memorable trip to Pyongyang, but strongly advised 2018 Winter Olympics attendees to “study the names like the fine print of insurance contracts.”

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U.S. Court Orders North Korea to Pay $330 Million Over Kidnapped Pastor’s Death

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

It’s been 15 years since Kim Dong-shik, a South Korean pastor with permanent resident status in the United States, was kidnapped by North Korean agents in northeastern China, but the family of the late pastor has finally found some measure of justice.

On April 9, the Washington D.C. District Court ordered North Korea to pay $300 million in punitive damages for Rev. Kim’s abduction and presumed torture and killing, according to the New York Times. The court also ordered the North to pay $15 million in compensation each to Rev. Kim’s brother, Yong-seok Kim, and his son, Han Kim.

“North Korea has caused irreparable emotional and psychological harm to the Kims,” Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts said in his ruling.

Rev. Kim, then 52, was kidnapped in January 2000 while hailing a taxi in the Chinese border town of Yanji, where he provided aid to North Korean defectors and refugees. A group of unidentified men jumped the pastor, and the car sped away. It was the last time Rev. Kim was ever seen in public.

Although Kim’s family suspected that North Korean agents were involved, there was very little evidence regarding the pastor’s disappearance. That changed in April 2005, when a North Korean defector, Chung Kwang-il, arrived in South Korea and told government officials that he had seen Rev. Kim in an underground cell in Hoeryong, a North Korean town across the border from Yanji, soon after his kidnapping.

Chung revealed that one of Kim’s kidnappers, Liu Yong-hua, had fled to South Korea to avoid questioning from the Chinese police about the abduction. South Korean authorities quickly arrested Liu, who confessed to participating in Rev. Kim’s abduction and admitted that the abduction team spent 10 months plotting the seizure, according to the Washington Post.

In 2009, Israeli civic group Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against North Korea on behalf of Rev. Kim’s family. However, the North never admitted kidnapping the pastor and refused to respond to the lawsuit.

A district court in the U.S. initially dismissed the lawsuit, claiming that there was insufficient evidence that proved North Korea was responsible for torturing and killing Rev. Kim at a prison camp. But an appeals court overturned that ruling in December 2014, granting default judgment to Rev. Kim’s family. It argued that North Korea had successfully blocked all specific details of Rev. Kim’s plight from being leaked and that testimony from experts on widespread torture in North Korean gulags were enough for the family to seek damages.

“The Kims’ evidence that the regime abducted the Reverend, that it invariably tortures and kills prisoners like him, and that it uses terror and intimidation to prevent witnesses from testifying allows us to reach the logical conclusion that the regime tortured and killed the Reverend,” the appeals court said in its written decision.

Despite the U.S. court ordering North Korea to pay $330 million in damages for Rev. Kim’s abduction, few expect the regime to actually comply with the verdict and pay the vast sum.

Shurat HaDin plans to seize North Korean assets that the U.S. government has frozen as part of financial sanctions against Pyongyang, reports Yonhap News Agency.

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Featured image via The Times of Israel

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Link Attack: East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy; North Korean Soccer; Amadeus Cho in ‘Avengers’

Interesting reads from around the Internet. Take a gander!

East West Players Honors Susan Ahn Cuddy in ‘Born to Lead’

Above photo: The 100-year-old veteran attended the performance along with her son Philip Cuddy. It was the first time she’d seen the EWP Theatre for Youth play about her life that is currently on tour. (Pasadena City College Courier)

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Kenneth Choi joins horror-thriller Stephanie

The Allegiance and Sons of Anarchy star has joined Universal’s horror-thriller, Stephanie, which is directed by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. The story centers on a young girl named Stephanie (Shree Crooks) who is abandoned by her parents. When her parents return to claim their daughter, they find supernatural forces are wreaking havoc, with Stephanie at the center of the turmoil. (The Hollywood Reporter)

Korea to punish local governments for paying native English teachers

The central government has threatened to take punitive measures against financially struggling local governments if they insist on paying the salaries of native English teachers. (The Korea Observer)

Songun soccer: Football politics in North Korea

NK News explores North Korea’s complex relationship with soccer and how politics eventually became involved.

It’s Time For Us To Update Our Image of North Koreans

Daniel Tudor, former Korea correspondent for The Economist, writes on The Huffington Post that we must start paying proper attention to the North Korean people themselves–they are where the only real hope, he says.

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Leonardo da Vinci inspires Ottawa Jazz Orchestras latest chamber jazz

Bassist and bandleader Adrian Cho’s Ottawa Jazz Orchestra has a long track record of tackling some of jazz’s seminal works, whether its pieces by Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Charles Mingus or Benny Goodman. But this Thursday, the group mounts its first evening of all-original music, written by Cho and trumpeter Rick Rangno. (Ottawa Citizen)

The chaebols: The rise of South Korea’s mighty conglomerates

CNET’s Cho Mu-hyun details how these “cornerstones of the economic, political and social landscape” helped “save South Korea from crushing poverty and defined a country’s role on the global stage.” Part one of a series.

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Blogger Crush: Joy Cho of Oh Joy!

Style Bistro profiles L.A. native John Cho, who runs one of the top blogs on the Internet, as well as a thriving YouTube channel, a line of party supplies at Target and a graphic design business. She is also a wife, author and mother of two.

Man Charged With Repeatedly Stabbing Ex-Girlfriend Inside Subway Restaurant In NJ

Yoon S. Choi, 48, of Silver Spring, Md., is charged with first-degree attempted murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon. (CBS News, Philadelphia)

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Will Avengers: Age Of Ultron Introduce Amadeus Cho To The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Dr. Helen Cho (played by South Korean actor Claudia Kim) is a world-renowned geneticist and an ally of the Avengers. From her offices in Seoul, South Korea, to sharing workspace with Bruce Banner in his lab at Avengers Tower, Dr. Cho’s research and technology help keep the Avengers in the fight. (ComicBook.com)

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North Korea Expels ‘Plot-Breeding’ Korean American Aid Worker

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea has deported a Korean American aid worker, accusing her of using her humanitarian status as a cover to produce anti-North Korean propaganda, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Sandra Suh is the founder of the Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization, Wheat Ministries.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Wednesday that Suh had visited North Korea a number of times over the past 20 years “under the pretense of humanitarianism.” It also claimed that Suh had “engaged in plot-breeding” by secretly producing photos and videos that had been used as “propaganda abroad.”

According to the organization’s website, Suh founded Wheat Ministries in 1989 to provide food aid and medical technology to North Korea and formally established it as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2005. However, she is not listed as a current staff member.

KCNA reported that Suh “apologized for her crimes and earnestly begged for pardon” and said the authorities decided to deport her because of her “old age.”

According to the L.A. Times, Suh was originally from the Pyongyang area, but fled south during the 1950-53 Korean War. She initially began visiting North Korea in hopes of reuniting with her long-lost family members.

Suh arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport on a flight from Pyongyang on Thursday, according a U.S. embassy spokesman. There has been no further news about Suh’s detainment or release.

In February, North Korea expelled Regina Feindt, the country director of German aid agency Welthungerhilfe, without any explanation or warning. The isolated state also detained a Korean Canadian pastor, who went missing during a humanitarian mission, in the same month.

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North Korean Students Connect with ‘Harry Potter’ Characters

Pictured above: Suki Kim teaches the sons of North Korea’s most privileged families. (Photo courtesy of Suki Kim)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

When Suki Kim, the author of Without You, There Is No Uswent undercover to teach English at Pyongyang University of Technology in 2011, she learned many surprising things about her students, such as their absolute devotion to the country’s leader and their passion for basketball. But Kim never expected the sons of North Korea’s elite to connect with the fictional characters of Harry Potter.

Under the strict supervision of the North Korean staff, Kim and her students could only talk about topics that were included in pre-approved textbooks. Surprisingly, Harry Potter was briefly mentioned in one of those textbooks.

“They [the students] kept mentioning Harry Potter,” Kim told PRI in an interview. “And one of the teachers had a DVD with her so I tried to show it to them.”

Kim formally requested the school authorities to allow her to screen Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban in class and was surprised to see her request “miraculously approved.”

IMG_1462North Korean students watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Photo courtesy of Suki Kim)

However, she was even more surprised by her students’ reaction to the film. Instead of being mesmerized by the film’s special effects, the young North Korean men were more focused on the characters writing essays.

“I had been teaching them essay writing, which was impossible there … because they don’t allow critical thinking,” Kim said. “To fight for your argument and backing it up with proof was something they could not understand. So essays became something [that was] really difficult in their mind.”

The students were amazed to find that Hermione Granger, one of Harry Potter’s best friends, also found writing essays to be difficult. Kim found that her students personally connected with the film’s characters over their shared dislike for essays.

“It was a connection they felt with the outside world, which they had never been allowed,” Kim recalls. “And that moment was a really touching moment.”

To learn more about Suki Kim’s memoir Without You, There is No Us, read our interview with the author here.

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North Korean Defector Drops ‘The Interview’ in Pyongyang

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Although North Korean defector Lee Min-bok found the controversial Hollywood comedy The Interview to be vulgar and admitted that he could not watch the film in its entirety, he decided to send thousands of DVD copies to the North anyway. 

“The regime hates this film because it shows Kim Jong-un as a man, not a god,” Lee told CNN Seoul. “He cries and is afraid like us, and then he’s assassinated.”

After weeks of studying wind speed and directions, Lee drove to an area close to the border at 1 a.m. on Tuesday, with 80,000 DVD copies of The Interview hidden underneath black garbage bags in his truck. The South Korean police and military accompanied Lee to the launching site. After Pyongyang open fired on similar propaganda balloons last October, with the South returning fire, Seoul authorities have been taking precautions.

At 3 a.m., Lee filled the balloons with helium and tied them with packages of DVDs, dollar bills and political leaflets. A timer attached to each balloon ensures that the package is dropped once the balloon is safely in North Korean territory.

Unlike some activist groups, Lee chooses to launch the balloons in the dead of night to avoid confrontation from South Korean border-town residents. Many locals have protested against the launches, arguing that they are being put in the line of fire and that their safety is being jeopardized. Some have physically tried to stop activists from their campaigns, even though the South Korean government said the balloon launches are a private exercise of freedom of speech.

Despite the locals’ protests, Lee believes that the balloons are crucial in providing the North Korean people with a different perspective from the regime’s propaganda.

“If you tell the truth in North Korea, you die. But by using these balloons from here, I can tell the truth in safety,” he said. According to CNN, Lee has already sent three batches of balloons prior to his launch on Tuesday.

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Women’s Group Gets North Korea’s Approval to Walk Across DMZ

by CARA ANNA, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea has decided to support a proposed walk across the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, and organizers say they hope South Korea will give its approval as well.

Co-organizer Christine Ahn told the Associated Press that North Korea gave permission this week after she visited Pyongyang. The walk proposed for May 24 is a call for reunification of the two countries.

The DMZ is the world’s most fortified border, with the two Koreas still technically at war. The walk would mark the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula.

The walk would include two Nobel Peace laureates, and Ahn says North Korean women will walk with the group from Pyongyang to the DMZ.

Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org have said they hope for 30 women to cross from North Koreato South Korea on May 24, which is International Women’s Day for Disarmament.

Officials from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles the country’s affairs with the North, and the U.N. Command said they have yet to decide whether to allow the women to walk across the DMZ.

The DMZ is one of the most highly charged places in the world. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers face off across the heavily mined zone that separates South Korea from closed-off, nuclear-armed North Korea.

“It’s hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings,” said iconic feminist activist Steinem during last month’s announcement of the walk.

Ahn said she had meetings in Pyongyang in the past week with officials from the country’s Overseas Korean Committee and Democratic Women’s Union. She said she received support to hold a symposium in North Korea on women and peacebuilding as well.

“I wish I knew how the ultimate decision was made, but at this point I’m just relieved that at least we have Pyongyang’s cooperation and support,” Ahn said in an email.

A North Korean diplomat to the U.N., Kim Song, last month told the AP the proposal was being discussed in his capital.

Ahn and the other participants also are calling on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, as well as President Barack Obama and the leaders of North and South Korea to take the necessary actions to finally end the Korean War with a peace treaty. The war ended in 1953 with the armistice.

The women would like to cross the DMZ at the village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border and is the place where troops from North and South come closest, just a few yards (meters) from each other.

The women have said they take heart from successful crossings of the DMZ by five New Zealanders with motorbikes in 2013 and by 32 Korean Russians by motorcade last year. Both had permission from both sides.

This new attempt includes Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, who worked to end those long-running conflicts.

Ahn has said the women are being advised by former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, and that the U.N. Command at the DMZ has said they would be willing to facilitate their crossing once South Korea’s government gives its approval.

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Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of WomenCrossDMZ.org.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Fires 4 Short-Range Projectiles Into West Sea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea fired short-range missiles into the West Sea for a second consecutive day on Friday in an apparent protest against the ongoing Seoul-Washington military exercises, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Four projectiles, presumed to have a range of some 140 kilometers, were launched into waters off North Korea’s west coast between 4:13 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday from Dongchang-ri, where the North’s missile test site is located, according to Yonhap News Agency.

North Korea claims that the joint military drills between Seoul and Washington are “dress rehearsals” for a nuclear invasion against Pyongyang. Both South Korea and the U.S. have repeatedly dismissed North Korea’s claims and stressed that the exercises are defensive in nature, aimed solely at preparing soldiers for a possible invasion by Pyongyang.

The drills began March 2 and are scheduled to run through April 24.

North Korea fired two short-range missiles on the first day of the drills and also test-fired seven ground-to-air missiles into the sea two weeks later.

Earlier this year, the isolated state told the U.S. that it would be willing to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear test if the joint military exercises were canceled, reports the Associated Press. The U.S. rejected the offer.

The U.S. has been South Korea’s main military ally since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice. There are about 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.

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Featured image courtesy of Yonhap