Tag Archives: North Korea

South Korea: Anti-North Korea Protest in Paju

Kim Jong-Un Misses Another Major Event Amid Exchange of Gunfire at Land Border

Pictured above: South Korean activists prepare balloons for carrying propaganda leaflets that condemn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Photo courtesy of Lee Young-Ho/Sipa USA and AP)

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — For the first time in three years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t appear at a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party on Friday, further increasing speculation that something is amiss with the authoritarian leader who hasn’t been seen publicly in more than a month.

North Korea’s propaganda machine conveyed the no-show to the world in its typical murky and indirect fashion — a state media dispatch that excluded Kim’s name from a list of senior government, military and party officials who paid their respects at an event marking the party’s 69th anniversary.

Indications that Kim remains firmly in power were evident, however. His name appeared on a flower basket placed before statues of his father and grandfather, both of whom also ruled North Korea, and an earlier dispatch said the might of the party “is growing stronger under the seasoned guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un.”

State media haven’t shown Kim, who is thought to be 31, performing his customary public duties since he attended a concert Sept. 3. He had been walking with a limp and was more overweight than usual in images that were broadcast before that. An official documentary from late last month described him as dealing with “discomfort,” which led to international speculation that he may be ill.

A group of South Korean activists, meanwhile, marked Friday’s anniversary by releasing anti-North Korean propaganda balloons across the border. North Korea responded later with machine-gun fire, and several of the bullets fell south of the border near a military base and a residential area, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

He said South Korea then fired 40 rounds from machine guns. North Korea then opened fire with rifles, which South Korean soldiers responded to in kind, he said. There were no reports of damage or injuries, but the exchange of fire was a reminder of the bitter rivals’ animosity despite recent glimmers of trust building.

Much of what happens in North Korea’s inner circles is hidden from the eyes of outsiders and even average North Koreans. This leaves media in South Korea and elsewhere to speculate, sometimes wildly, about what’s really happening. Some reports say Kim could have gout, diabetes or other ailments, with much of the speculation based on that single reference in the documentary and unidentified sources speaking to South Korean media.

South Korean officials are playing down the speculation.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol told reporters Friday that Kim appears to be in charge of key affairs. Lim noted that a high-level North Korean delegation conveyed his greetings to South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a surprise visit to South Korea last week that had raised hopes for better ties between the countries. Lim said North Korea’s state media has continuously reported about Kim’s leadership.

North Korea has said nothing publicly about Kim’s absence. It is not his first break from the media spotlight — he wasn’t seen publicly for about three weeks in 2012, South Korean officials say — and a senior North Korean official on last week’s visit to the South told a South Korean official that Kim was fine.

Without the extended absence, Kim’s nonattendance Friday would not be all that unusual. Such anniversaries generally have more weight in landmark years. A high-profile celebration, for example, is expected for next year’s 70th anniversary of the ruling party.

Because North Korea has publicly acknowledging Kim’s “discomfort,” many analysts believe that he’s unlikely to be suffering from anything particularly serious. When his father, Kim Jong Il, suffered major health problems late in his life, state media said nothing. Kim Jong Il was believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and his death on Dec. 17, 2011, was not announced for two days.

But each day the younger Kim is absent only adds to the speculation. He missed a meeting of parliament late last month and a gathering this week marking his late father’s election as ruling party head. Kim also was not seen in North Korean media reports greeting the athletes who returned from the Asian Games in the South, although they received a lavish reception and heavy media coverage.

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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Publicly Acknowledges Existence Of Labor Camps for the First Time

by STEVE HAN

North Korea publicly acknowledged the existence of its labor camps for the first time, apparently in response to a highly critical U.N. human rights report, but dismissed all accusations of human rights violations in its camps.

North Korean foreign ministry official Choe Myong-nam made a rare appearance in an open meeting at the U.N. on Tuesday before a room full of diplomats and journalists to emphasize that there are “no prison, things like that” anywhere in the reclusive country, according to the Associated Press.

“Both in law and practice, we do have reform through labor detention camps – no, detention centers – where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings,” said Choe, who represents the North Korean Association for Human Rights Studies.

“Labor detention camps” are internment sites where the North Korean regime holds political activists, many of whom commit the “anti-state crime” against the country. Released in February, the U.N. report cited testimonies from North Korean exiles, who confirmed that “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence” are among common occurrences at the camps.

“While the North Korean human rights record remains abysmal, it is very important that senior North Korean officials are now speaking about human rights, and expressing even pro forma interest in dialogue,” Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said in an email.

“The North Korean strategic approach to human rights issues used to be to simply ignore reports by international NGOs, government agencies or U.N. bodies. Human rights used to just go away, out-competed by nukes, missiles, and military provocations.”

Although Scarlatoiu called North Korea’s public admission of its labor camps “a modest step in the right direction,” he emphasized that Choe’s statement does not acknowledge the bleak conditions of the camps, which is estimated to hold 120,000 people.

Photo courtesy of Daily Mail U.K.

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Two Koreas Exchange Fire at Sea Border After Agreeing to Resume High-Level Talks

by REERA YOO

North and South Korean navy patrol boats exchanged fire at the western maritime border on Tuesday, just three days after top officials from both nations agreed to resume high-level talks this year, reported the New York Times.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the two nations exchanged fire at around 9:50 a.m. near Yeonpyeong Island after a North Korean patrol boat breached the Northern Limit line (NLL). The South Korean patrol boat fired around 94 machine-gun rounds while the North Korean vessel shot dozens of rounds in return.

“To force the vessel to retreat, our side issued warning messages and fired five warning shots. But the North Korean vessel fired back rather than backing down, which caused us to fire again. Then the ship made a retreat,” JCS told Yonhap.

No injuries or damage were reported.

This is not the first time the two countries have exchanged fire at the disputed sea border. In 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpeong Island and killed four South Koreans, and just two weeks earlier, South Korea fired warning shots after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the sea border.

On Saturday, North Korea’s senior officials made a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. The North Korean delegation was led by Hwang Pyong-so, who is considered to be the second-most powerful man behind Kim Jong-un. Both sides agreed to resume high-level dialogue about cross-border issues and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War between the end of October and early November.

Photo courtesy of Song Kyeong-seok/EPA and Telegraph U.K.

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South and North Korea Agree to Resume High-Level Talks

by REERA YOO

South Korean officials made a small breakthrough on Saturday when top-ranking officials of the North Korean delegation dropped in for a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, reported the New York Times.

The North Koreans were led by Hwang Pyong-so, the highest-ranking officer of the Korean People’s Army who is considered by outside analysts as North Korea’s second-most powerful man. Hwang and his delegation held talks over a closed-door lunch with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and national security director Kim Kwan-jin.

During the meeting, both sides agreed to renew talks about cross-border issues and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War between the end of October and early November.

“While calling the upcoming talks a second round of dialogue, the North explained that it intended to hold more rounds of South-North talks in the future,” South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

This is the highest level delegation the two countries have had in five years. The last senior visit occurred in 2009 when senior Workers’ Party official Kim Ki-nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon met with former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, according to the Associated Press.

For the last few months, there’s been serious tensions between the two countries, especially after North Korea conducted test firings of about 100 projectiles this year. Since then, both sides have exchanged a steady stream of harsh criticisms between each other, with the North Korean state media calling South Korean President Park Geun-hye a prostitute.

Although there appears to be no major breakthroughs from the meeting due to time constraints, the weekend meeting was considered a “small but meaningful step” for inter-Korean relations, according to a senior official from the South’s Unification Ministry.

The surprise visit comes amid ongoing speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health as the North Korean leader has not been seen by the public since Sept. 3. Ryoo told local media on Sunday that he had asked Kim Yang Gon, who is now a secretary of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, about rumors of Kim Jong-un’s ill health, and the secretary insisted that there was “no problem at all.”

However, no explanation was given for why Kim has disappeared from the public’s eye. In the meanwhile, there have been reports of the leader’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong acting as his regent in North Korea.

Photo courtesy of Yun Tae-hyun/Yonhap/Retuers

 

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North Korea Believed to Still Be Digging Tunnels to Seoul

by REERA YOO

South Korea recently discovered tunnels believed to be dug by North Koreans, according to Gen. Hahn Sung-chu.

Hahn, a former two-star general who is now a tunnel hunter, used dowsers to detect three tunnels inside a Seoul apartment building’s basement. These tunnels were 13 to 16 feet wide at a depth of up to 39 feet. A team attempted to drill holes to lower a camera, but before they could, they detected two underground explosives and had to stop the operation. Hahn told CNN he is sure that the tunnels are the work of North Koreans and that they are signs of “a kind of invasion.”

Three tunnels were found in the 1970s and one was found in 1990, but no other tunnels have been found since. Despite this, the South Korean Defense Ministry believes that there may be 20 tunnels in total and continues to search for them.

Although the Defense Ministry is still hunting for “invasion tunnels” near the border, it is convinced that none would reach further than 6 miles from the Demilitarized Zone due to the Imjin River and the large amount of groundwater in Korean soil.

“From North Korea to Seoul is a considerable distance,” said Kim Min-seok, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman. “And the soil structure contains a lot of granite, so it’s not an easy dig like it was digging tunnels in Vietnam, for example.”

On the contrary, an anonymous former intelligence official from North Korea told CNN that a tunnel to Seoul, no matter how far-fetched it may sound, is possible. The defector claimed that North Koreans would remove soil and stones during nighttime to avoid detection and would dig in a vertical manner that allows the water to drain back to the North.

“I was told the tunnels are not directly connected to the streets of Seoul because of the risk of being detected. The tunnels are connected to the sewers linked to the relevant organizations,” the defector said.

He added that although the tunnel digging operations peaked in the 1980s, he believes that the North Korean capital would still protect the several tunnels it created over the decades.

In recent years, tunnel hunting has become a mere token effort by the South Korean government, which is now more concerned about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Featured photo via CNN

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SKorea Beats NKorea With Last Kick and Claims Asian Games Gold Medal

by STEVE HAN

South Korean under-23 men’s soccer team scored a dramatic last-minute goal in the gold medal game of the Asian Games’ soccer tournament for a 1-0 win over North Korea, marking the craziest finish to a final of the quadrennial event that has been held since 1951.

The two Koreas remained scoreless in the 90-minute regulation and in the 30 minutes of extra time. On a corner kick during the added one-minute time before the potential penalty shoot-out, rightback Rim Chang-woo blasted a strong shot past several opposing players after forward Lee Yong-jae’s shot was blocked by an arm of Ri Yong-jik, one of North Korea’s many defenders who swarmed their goal to desperately stop what was bound to be the last kick of the game.

North Korea’s head coach Yun Jong-su and his coaching staff were livid as they argued to the referee that South Korea’s goal should be disallowed since Ri’s hand ball offense came before Rim’s game-winning shot and that a penalty kick must be given instead. However, referee Abdullah Dor Mohammad Balideh explained that he simply used the advantage clause, a unique rule in soccer which allows the referee to not to call an obvious foul if stopping the play causes greater harm to the team that would have been fouled.

After the game, South Korea’s head coach Lee Gwang-jong credited his players, whose compulsory two-year military service is now exempted with the win, for South Korea’s first Asian Games’ gold medal in men’s soccer in 28 years.

“We played a really fun game against North Korea,” Lee said. “The hard work for our first gold medal in 28 years was all done by the players. They really played hard for it.”

Yun, who led North Korea to its first Asian Games final in men’s soccer since 1978, praised his players for playing through fatigue for two games in just three days, both of which went to extra time. However, he contended that the loss is unjust due to “questionable” refereeing.

“I thank my players,” Yun said. “But I said this even before the game. In our previous game versus Iraq, one of our key players was sent off [and became ineligible to play in the final]. Today, the linesman raised the flag [just before South Korea's goal] and confused our players. Refereeing has to be fair. It shouldn’t accommodate the home team. I ask you reporters whether today’s refereeing was fair.”

Going into the tournament, host team South Korea’s 20-man roster was considered as one of the weakest group of players it has fielded at the Asian Games. Son Heung-min, South Korean soccer’s star forward, was forced to pull out of the team after his German club Bayer Leverkusen insisted that it cannot afford to lose the 22-year-old for three weeks during the German Bundesliga season.

Yun Il-lok, one of the brightest young prospects in Korea’s domestic K-League, was expected to fill the void for Son, but he was also ruled out of the tournament after just two games with a torn knee ligament. Another star forward Kim Shin-wook was called up as one of the three overage players before he picked up an injury of his own in the second game and remained sidelined throughout the tournament until the last 12 minutes of the gold medal game.

Despite the absence of its key offensive players, South Korea clawed its way to winning the gold medal by playing stingy defense that didn’t concede a single goal in all seven of the team’s games.

But the real gem of the tournament for South Korea may just be the goalscorer Rim, whose menacing runs up and down the right wing gave the team’s lethargic offense a much needed spark. The 22-year-old lateral defender, who is currently playing in Korea’s second division team Daejon Citizen, opened the scoring for South Korea in this tournament by heading home the go-ahead goal in the first game against Malaysia and against North Korea. He notched the last goal that gave him and his team the gold medal.

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Kim Jong-Un’s 27-Year-Old Sister In Charge Of North Korea

by STEVE HAN

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong is reportedly in control of the hermit country in place of her brother whose illness has prevented him from making public appearances for almost a month, according to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), a South Korea-based think tank.

Kim Yo-jong, the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il, was unveiled as a “senior official” in March as she was seen alongside her brother at the Supreme People’s Assembly. She had reportedly taken over the role of her aunt Kim Kyong-hui, the wife of Jang Song-thaek, a former senior government official who was executed in December for allegedly committing “anti-party acts.”

Although Hwang Byong-so, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, was believed to have assumed the status as North Korea’s No. 2 man behind Kim Jong-un, NKIS reported that it is Kim Yo-jong who is the communist regime’s second-in-command while Hwang is a mere “shadow.”

On Sept. 6, Kim Yo-jung led a meeting for the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, during which the North Korean regime has reportedly decided on four main topics. Those topics include:

1. Give special and extended medical treatment to Kim Jong-un until his health is fully restored.
2. All high level officials and party members must continue to follow Kim Jong-un’s previous orders.
3. The army should be on wartime-like alert while Kim Jong-un is out of commission.
4. Important government and other administrative matters must be reported to Kim Yo-jong.

Kim Jong-un last made his public appearance in early September when he was limping with visible discomfort in his right leg. North Korea’s state-run media reported that he is undergoing medical treatment from both domestic and foreign medical teams, but his prolonged absence is fueling rumors over his health issues.

While South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that Kim Jong-un is suffering from gout, U.K.’s Daily Mirror bizarrely said that it’s in fact his addiction Swiss cheese that contributed to his deteriorating health. Recently, Free North Korea Radio reported that Kim is recovering from a successful ankle surgery.

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SKorea And NKorea To Square Off In Asian Games Soccer Final

by STEVE HAN

South Korea edged out its rival Japan and weathered the storm against dark horse Thailand, reaching the men’s soccer finals at the Asian Games for the first time in 28 years.

Awaiting the South Koreans in the finals is their arch-rival: North Korea.

The two Koreas defeated Thailand and Iraq, respectively, to reach the finals for the first time in decades. Just hours after North Korea’s dramatic 1-0 win over Iraq in overtime, South Korea cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory against Thailand to set up the “all Korea final,” which will take place at Incheon’s Munhak Stadium on Thursday.

The North Korean soccer team has served two devastating losses to South Korea in recent weeks. Its under-16 boys came from behind to beat South Korea 2-1 in the final match of the 2014 Under-16 Asian Championships. On Monday, its women’s national team also eliminated South Korea in the semifinals of the Asian Games.

South Korea is desperately relying on the recovery of its injured players for the upcoming 2014 Asian Games soccer final. The 6-foot-5 forward Kim Shin-wook sprained his ankle in the second game of the tournament and missed four straight games since then. Leftback Kim Jin-su, who plays professionally for Hoffenheim of Germany, also left the semifinal game in the second half, experiencing discomfort in his left.

Meanwhile, the challenge for North Korea is regaining fitness after the extra 30 minutes of overtime they faced in the semifinal against Iraq in just two days. Known for their tireless work ethic and speed on the attack, North Korea’s key player is forward Pak Kwang-ryong, who plays professionally for Swiss soccer’s powerhouse FC Basel.