Tag Archives: North Korea

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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

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South Korean Man Indicted in Knife Attack on U.S. Envoy

Pictured above: Kim Ji-jong, the assailant who slashed U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert’s face, lies on the ground after the attack. (Photo courtesy of AP)

by KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday indicted a man who slashed the U.S. ambassador in Seoul last month on charges of attempted murder.

Kim Ki-jong, 55, was indicted Wednesday on charges of assaulting a foreign envoy and obstruction, according to an official at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, who did not want to be named, citing department rules.

South Korean law requires the trial to start within 14 days, and there is a possibility that it could start as early as next week, according to an official at the Seoul Central District Court, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules. He said it was too early to comment on the potential penalties Kim could face.

Prosecutors have also been investigating whether Kim violated a controversial law that bans praise or assistance for North Korea. The court official said it was possible prosecutors may add such charges against Kim during the trial.

Police say Kim attacked Ambassador Mark Lippert with a knife during a breakfast forum on March 5. He suffered deep gashes on his face and arm and was treated at a Seoul hospital for five days.

Police say Kim chose Lippert as a target to highlight his opposition to ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills. North Korea has angrily reacted to the drills, calling them an invasion rehearsal.

Anti-U.S. activists such as Kim have long blamed the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the South as a deterrent to the North for the continuing split of the Korean Peninsula.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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$50 Portable Media Player Helps North Koreans Bypass Censorship

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

A $50 Chinese-made portable media player is allowing many North Koreans to access and view foreign media despite the government’s tight censorship, signaling a shift in one of the world’s most isolated countries, reports Reuters.

notel, the North Korean mashup of “notebook” and “television,” can fetch for about 300 Chinese yuan ($48) on the black market. The device has built-in USB and SD card ports, a TV and a radio tuner and can also be charged with a car battery, which is an essential power source in an electricity-scarce North Korea. According to correspondents, up to half of all urban North Korean households possess a notel and use it to consume banned media—South Korean dramas, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs—that has been distributed through smuggled DVDs and USB memory sticks.

“The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them,” Sokeel Park of nonprofit Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) told Reuters. “If Pyongyang fails to successfully adapt to these trends, they could threaten the long-term survival of the regime itself.

North Korea legalized the notel last year, but its government still required customers to register their devices in order to keep tabs on those most likely to watch banned media. Despite this, it’s relatively easy for North Koreans to skirt censorship with the notel’s multi-function nature.

According to one defector who smuggled about 18,000 notel into the country last year, North Koreans can avoid detection by loading a North Korean DVD while simultaneously watching foreign media via USB stick, which can be pulled out and easily hidden. When authorities check to see whether or not the notel has been recently used, people can say they were watching state-produced films.

Park at LiNK added that the notel’s popularity is due to its ability to overcome North Korea’s two main barriers to foreign media consumption: surveillance and power outages.

“If you were to design the perfect device for North Koreans, it would be this,” Park said.

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North Korea Arrests 2 South Koreans for Spying

Pictured above: Kim Kuk-gi (left) and Choe Chun-gil were accused of spying on behalf of South Korea’s spy agency. (Photo courtesy of Kyodo)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

South Korea urged North Korea on Friday to immediately release two of its citizens who were detained in Pyongyang for alleged espionage, reports the Associated Press.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the two men were detained last year for collecting party, state and military secrets on behalf of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The two men identified themselves as Kim Kuk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55, and publicly apologized for their “anti-state” crimes during a news conference in Pyongyang.

On Friday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry confirmed that Kim and Choe were South Korean citizens but declined to the comment on their backgrounds. The NIS has also denied the North’s accusations of espionage, calling them “absolutely groundless.”

“We strongly demand North Korea to quickly release our citizens Kim Kuk-gi and Choe Chun-gil and repatriate them without hesitation,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, the unification ministry’s spokesman.

KCNA reported that Kim was detained last September in Pyongyang while Choe was arrested in December in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea.

During the news conference, Kim said he had been paid thousands of dollars and given encrypted cellphones to gather information on the late North Korean leader Kim Jon-il’s plans to visit China in 2009. The KCNA report added that Kim ran also an underground church in Dandong.

Meanwhile, Cho said he had smuggled USB memory sticks containing South Korean movies and other illegal foreign information into the North, according to the New York Times. He also said that he was instructed by his spy master to collect soil samples near Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear complex.

North Korea has repeatedly been accused of arresting several South Koreans and Korean Americans who either operated near the border or visited the country for humanitarian or missionary work. Last year, North Korea sentenced South Korean missionary Kim Jeong-wook to hard labor for life on charges of founding an underground church to undermine the ruling Kim family and spying for the South.

In February, a Korean Canadian pastor went missing during a humanitarian mission in the North. The pastor’s church in Toronto said the North Korean government had sent Canadian officials a confirmation of his detainment.

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