Tag Archives: North Korea


Korean Canadian Pastor Reported Missing in North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

UPDATE (Thursday, March 5, 3 p.m. PST): Reverend Lim’s church and Canadian consular officials confirmed that he is being held by North Korean authorities, according to Wall Street Journal.

The Light Korean Presbyterian church said Lim’s family was notified by Canadian officials that the North Korean government had sent them a confirmation of his detainment.

A Korean Canadian pastor has lost contact with the Canadian government after visiting North Korea for humanitarian work, reports Reuters.

Reverend Hyeon-soo Lim, 60, has traveled to North Korea more than 100 times since 1997 to help oversee a nursing home, a nursery and an orphanage in the Rajin region, said Lisa Pak, the spokeswoman for the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

Lim entered North Korea through China on Jan. 31, and has since lost contact with his church, family and friends. The pastor was expected return from his trip on Feb. 4, but church officials were not alarmed, believing that Lim was delayed by North Korea’s quarantine of foreign travelers who may have been exposed to Ebola.

“We didn’t want to cause unnecessary hysteria, just make sure he is OK. He’s very non-political; he just wants to help the people,” said Pak, according to Reuters.

North Korea ended the quarantine program on Monday, but there has been no sign of Lim. Meanwhile, the Canadian government has advised against all travel to North Korea.

The North Korean government has a strict policy against proselytizing, as religion is seen as a threat to the ruling Kim family. Over the years, many Christian missionaries have been detained in the hermit kingdom.

Kenneth Bae, a missionary who entered North Korea in late 2012, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for alleged anti-government activities. After being detained for two years, Bae was released last November, along with fellow U.S. detainee Matthew Miller, who was formerly sentenced to prison for six years for alleged espionage.

Born in South Korea, Lim immigrated to Canada in 1986. He has a wife and an adult son.


Featured image via The Telegraph


N.Korea Encourages Citizens to Play Sports to “Strengthen National Defense”

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Amid young leader Kim Jong-un’s incessant passion for basketball, North Korea is amping up efforts to ingrain sports into the daily lives of its citizens in the hermit kingdom.

A recent Yonhap News Agency report cited a North Korean official who said that the country is encouraging the citizens to play sports, such as basketball and soccer to “boost industrial output” and “strengthen national defense.” North Korea’s communist regime has even launched a new sports-exclusive government ministry, called the National Sports Guidance Committee, to promote sports among its people.

The ministry’s role is to set up to support the practice of playing sports at workplaces in various cities and counties within North Korea, according to Ri Chi-ung, vice director of the country’s Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports. Ri added that sports could help develop the impoverished country’s halting economy.

“People find themselves [to] do their work better amidst the sporting zeal,” Ri reportedly said. “And it gives full play to collectivism, and the love for their working places and home villages is going up remarkably.”

He added, “They feel more pleasant at their jobs and the spirit of helping and leading one another forward is prevailing in the factory. All this gives great energy to the effort to fulfill the national economic plan.”

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is known to have picked up his  love for basketball while he was studying in Switzerland during his teens. A fan of Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the mid-90s, he even held an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang last year with former NBA star Dennis Rodman.


Featured image via Quazoo.com: North Korea national under-20 soccer team

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.33.36 PM

‘Hidden Treasures’ Features Artworks by North Korean Painters

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

There’s more to North Korean art than propaganda images of political leaders and rosy-cheeked farmers.

On Jan. 29, the Springtime Art Foundation launched their “Hidden Treasures of North Korea Revealed” exhibition at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in the city of Goyang, just north of Seoul. “Hidden Treasures” is a rare exhibit of North Korean art in South Korea, where most of the North’s cultural works are banned, since the two countries remain technically in a state of war.

BN-GR233_0128ic_J_20150128144014“Untitled” by Gong Chong-kwon (Springtime Art Foundation)

The exhibition features 150 paintings of 70 North Korean contemporary artists, including international award-winning painters such as Lim Ryol, Gong Chong-kwon, Choe Ha-taek, Jong Hwa, Shin Cheol-woong and Kim Il-soo. All of the paintings are nonpolitical and focus mainly on landscapes, portraits, still lifes and animals. According to the Wall Street Journal, many artworks seem to be painted with foreign buyers in mind, with brush strokes similar to Impressionist paintings.

One painting, for example, shows a woman in a bright red bikini, a stark contrast to the military garb or conservative dresses women are often depicted wearing in photographs.

la-et-cm-south-korea-hidden-treasures-of-north-005Painting by Kim Yong-chol (Springtime Art Foundation)

Koen De Cuester, an expert on North Korean art at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Agence-France Presse that the painting was most likely “exclusively painted for the foreign market” and was probably not exhibited in North Korea.

“Just because a painting hails from North Korea, does not make it representative of North Korean art,” De Cuester said in a phone interview. “They produce a lot that caters explicitly to foreign tastes — or what they perceive foreign tastes to be — and the artistic merit of those works is questionable, no matter how well executed.”

Springtime Art Foundation’s art collector Frans Broersen, 63, and his partners have made several visits to North Korea since 2005 to buy paintings in bulk. Their collection has about 2,500 works, most of which came from Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio, where the country’s top artists mostly churn out propaganda artworks that glorify the ruling Kim family.

“We saw North Korea as a place to acquire some very high standard works at low prices, and we’re now hoping for a return on that investment,” Broersen said, according to the LA Times.

The foundation has already held exhibitions of North Korean art in Latvia and Lithuania, the latter drawing 50,000 visitors from more than 10 countries.

“Hidden Treasures” will remain open at KINTEX until March 6.


Images via Springtime Art Foundation/Wall Street Journal

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il  speaks

Kim Jong-il Demanded $10 Billion for Summit with South Korea

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

When former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung met with the late Kim Jong-il on North Korean soil in 2000, it was seen as a landmark event and a huge step towards possible reunification. Whatever optimism the meeting inspired, however, was quashed when it was revealed the South Korean administration secretly paid hundreds of millions of dollars to make the summit happen.

According to former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, Pyongyang set even steeper demands for a summit when Lee began his own term, which ran from 2008-2013. In his memoir The Times of the President, which is set to be published next week, Lee writes that Pyongyang demanded $10 billion in cash and half a million tons of food as part of a deal for Lee to meet Kim Jong-il.

“The document looked like some sort of standardized ‘summit bill’ with its list of assistance we had to provide and the schedule written up,” Lee writes, according to excerpts obtained by Reuters.

The “conditions for a summit” included 400,000 tons of rice, 100,000 tons of corn and 300,000 tons of fertilizer. The $10 billion would go towards setting up a development bank.

Lee flat out refused. “We shouldn’t be haggling for a summit,” he wrote.

Lee’s predecessor, President Roh Moo-hyun, traveled to Pyongyang in 2007 and met with Kim Jong-il as a follow up to the 2000 summit. However, the conservative Lee brought a more hardline approach when dealing with North Korea, and he left office without ever meeting Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un. Along with pushing the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Lee refused a meeting because Kim Jong-il denied any North Korean involvement in the 2010 torpedo attack on the Cheonan naval vessel.

Current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Park Geun-hye have both brought up the idea of a possible meeting this year, but they’re still working on it. On Friday, North Korea demanded that South Korea lift sanctions imposed by Lee’s government following the Cheonan sinking as a condition for getting talks started again.


Photo courtesy of Time

North Korea Reactor

North Korea May Be Restarting Nuke Plant: U.S. Institute

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea may be attempting to restart its main nuclear bomb fuel reactor after a five-month shutdown, a U.S. research institute said Thursday.

If true, the finding, which is based on recent commercial satellite imagery, will be an added worry for the United States and the North’s neighbors at a time of increasing animosity over recent U.S. sanctions against the North and Pyongyang’s fury about a U.N. push to punish its alleged human rights abuses.

Activity at the 5-megawatt Nyongbyon reactor is closely watched because North Korea is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, part of its efforts to build an arsenal of nuclear tipped missiles that could one day hit America’s mainland. Nyongbyon, which has produced plutonium used for past nuclear test explosions, restarted in 2013 after being shuttered under a 2007 disarmament agreement. It has been offline since August.

Possible signs in satellite imagery from Dec. 24 through Jan. 11 that the reactor is in the early stages of being restarted include hot water drainage from a pipe at a turbine building that indicates steam from the reactor and growing snow-melt on the roofs of the reactor and turbine buildings.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, however, said that since the recent observation period was only about two weeks, it’s too soon to reach a definitive conclusion about what’s happening and more monitoring is needed. The institute’s website, 38 North, published the findings.

Nyongybon can likely produce about one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year. A uranium enrichment facility there could also give it a second method to produce fissile material for bombs. It is not clear if North Korea has yet mastered the technology needed to make warheads small enough to be mounted on missiles, but each nuclear test presumably moves its scientists closer toward that goal.

North Korea has said it is willing to rejoin international nuclear disarmament talks last held in 2008, but Washington demands that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges.

The United States also rejected a recent North Korean offer to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its annual military drills with Seoul; Pyongyang claims those drills are invasion preparation. The U.S. called the linking of the military drills, which it says are defensive and routine, with a possible nuclear test “an implicit threat.”

Always rocky ties between Pyongyang and Washington dipped lower because of a recent Hollywood movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The U.S. blames the North for crippling hacking attacks on the movie’s producer, Sony, and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country, inviting an angry response from Pyongyang, which has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.


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

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Airbus Defense and Space, Spot Image, Pleiades – CNES via 38 North.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address

North Korea Demands Sanctions to Be Lifted for Family Reunions

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea urged South Korea on Friday to lift its sanctions as a condition for resuming dialogue on reunions of families separated during the Korean War, reports Reuters.

“If the South Korean government is sincerely interested in humanitarian issues, it should first remove the ban that was imposed for the purpose of confrontation,” the North Korean Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) told KCNA, the North’s state-run news agency.

This is the first official response from Pyongyang to South Korea’s weeks-long offer to hold high-level talks. Last week, South Korean President Park Geun-hye renewed the call for dialogue and stressed the importance to staging an inter-Korean family reunion for Lunar New Year’s Day, which falls on Feb. 19.

South Korea imposed the sanctions on the North after a torpedo attack on its navy ship, Cheonan, in 2010. The attack killed 46 South Korean sailors, and the sanctions froze trades and investment with the North. However, North Korea has denied responsibility for the attack.

“It is regrettable that North Korea has linked the purely humanitarian issue of separated families to the May 24 measure, which is completely irrelevant,” the South Korean Unification Ministry said of the sanctions, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, a South Korean activist group threatened to drop 100,000 DVD copies of The Interview if North Korea fails to respond to the South’s call for resuming dialogue.

Despite this, Lim Byeong-cheol, the South’s Unification Ministry spokesman, said there is no set deadline for Pyongyang to respond to family reunion talks.

“If enough time is secured for preparing a reunion, the reunion event could take place at any time,” Lim said.


Photo courtesy of Reuters/KCNA


Prominent North Korean Defector Retracts Key Parts of His Story

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

A prominent North Korean defector, who has become something of a star with his remarkably gruesome story of surviving captivity in a prison camp, is now retracting crucial facts from his reported life experiences.

Shin Dong-hyuk, believed to be 32, admitted that his life story, chronicled in the 2012 memoir Escaping Camp 14, is only partly true. He confessed that for most of his imprisonment, he was incarcerated in the less brutal Camp 18—not the infamous Camp 14. Shin added that he was tortured by the prison guards for trying to escape Camp 18 on two separate occasions, which contradicts his initial story of enduring brutal tortures in Camp 14 for no apparent reasons other than being a child of alleged criminals.

According to his written apology on his Facebook page, Shin may even drop his humanitarian efforts to abolish political prison camps due to this shocking revelation.

“To those who have supported me, trusted me and believed in me all this time, I am so very grateful and at the same time so very sorry,” Shin wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday. “We tell ourselves that it’s okay to not reveal every little detail, and that it might not matter if certain parts aren’t clarified. Nevertheless this particular past of mine that I so badly wanted to cover up can no longer be hidden, nor do I want it to be.”

Shin, who initially said he escaped Camp 14 by crawling over an electrocuted body of a fellow inmate over a fence, reportedly declined to further comment on how he managed to escape the prison camp after he was caught two times before, saying he is suffering “great mental stress,” according to the New York Times.

The latest confession from Shin is causing a public uproar as his persistent campaign against the North Korean regime has for years made a profound impact on the United Nations’ efforts to send the hermit country’s political leaders to an open trial at the International Criminal Court. Now, there are growing concerns on whether Shin’s coming out will halt UN’s efforts, which had been a long shot in the first place.

“Without saying he was from Camp 14, he [still] had remarkable stories to tell,” said Chung Kwang-il, a former inmate of a North Korean prison camp, according to the New York Times article. “I guess he somehow thought he needed a more dramatic story to attract attention.”

Another defector, who spoke to the New York Times on condition of anonymity, said that even the recent confessions from Shin are unreliable. “[Shin] is still lying,” the defector said. “You just cannot escape a North Korean prison camp twice, as he said he did, and is still alive and manages to escape a third time.”

Shin came under scrutiny in recent months after a female defector who escaped from Camp 18 accused him of lying. She and other defectors alleged that Shin and his family never lived in Camp 14 and questioned him to clarify on the details of the story in “Escaping Camp 14,” written by a former Washington Post reporter.

Suddenly finding himself under immense pressure, the embattled Shin revealed that he had tried escaping from Camp 18 twice, in 1999 and 2001, but that he was sent to Camp 14 after he was caught both times. He initially said that he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother in Camp 14 as a child, but such a stunning story may no longer be trusted as it has now been revealed that he spent his childhood in Camp 18.

Nevertheless, Michael Kirby, the Australian judge who led the United Nations investigations on North Korea’s violation of human rights with its secret prison camps, remained adamant that Shin’s confession will have no effect on the validity of the findings, noting that the “commission deals with very serious abuses of human rights that go back over 70 years.”

Penguin Books, which published “Escaping Camp 14″ in 2012, told the New York Times: “We are working with the author on an accurate understanding of the facts.”

Before the recent revelation, Shin was the only known survivor to have escaped Camp 14, known as the “total control camp” from which inmates endure three generations of punishment for anti-state crimes committed by themselves or their family members.


North Korean Airline’s Facebook Page Hacked by ISIS Supporters

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The Facebook page of North Korea’s state-run airline, Air Koryo, was hacked on Wednesday, seemingly by the same Islamic State (ISIS) group supporters that hacked the U.S. Central Command’s social media accounts earlier this week, according to Yonhap.

All of Air Koryo’s previous posts were deleted, and its Facebook timeline became flooded with images that showed support for the jihadists and mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. One photo featuring Kim crying at his father Kim Jong-il’s funeral was captioned “crying pig.”

Another post read, “North Korea, the communist thug nation, and the Chinese communist thugs will pay a price for their collaboration with the enemies of the mujahideen (Jihad).”

Air Koryo’s page banner was also changed to show the black and white ISIS flag, and its profile picture was replaced by a photo of a masked Islamist militant with the phrases “CyberCaliphate” and “I love you ISIS” in the background. Both images are same as the ones posted on the hacked Twitter and Youtube accounts of the U.S. military’s Central Command (Centcom).

The hacking group CyberCaliphate claimed on Monday that it had breached Centcom’s networks, and the group leaked private contact information of American soldiers as well as internal military documents online, forcing the military to shut down its Twitter account.





 Photos courtesy of Washington Post

According to the Washington Post, military officials determined, based on its initial assessment, that no classified information was leaked from the hijack and that none of the information came from its servers. Ironically, the hack occurred during Obama’s speech on cybersecurity.

Pentagon officials acknowledged that the Centcom’s hack was embarrassing, but emphasized that there is no security threat, downplaying the impact of the cybervandalism.

“We view this as little more than a prank,” said Army Co. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, of the incident. “It’s inconvenient, it’s an annoyance but in no way is any sensitive or classified information compromised.”


Featured photo courtesy of the Guardian.