Tag Archives: North Korea

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‘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.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during her New Year news conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul

President Park Offers to Meet Kim Jong-un Without Pre-Conditions

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that she is open to holding a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without any pre-conditions, reports Reuters.

“My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” Park said in her televised New Year’s Day speech.

Park’s appeal comes after Kim announced that he was open to resuming high-level talks if South Korea was sincere about improved inter-Korean relations and proper conditions were met.

“If the atmosphere and environment is there, there is no reason not to hold a high-level summit [with South Korea],” Kim said in his address broadcasted by the state media.

However, North Korea has been sending mixed signals. 

South Korea has repeatedly proposed opening dialogue with Pyongyang ever since the North Korean senior delegates made their surprise visit to the Asian Games in Incheon last year.

Despite this, the reclusive country rejected the South Korean parliament’s call on Friday for the resumption of stalled talks on various issues, including the North’s human rights and reconciliation projects. Pyongyang has also recently ignored Seoul’s call for inter-Korean negotiations.

On Saturday, North Korea offered to temporarily halt nuclear tests if the U.S. suspended its annual military drills held jointly with South Korea, but Washington immediately rejected the proposal after calling it a veiled threat.

While Park has insisted that there are no pre-conditions to holding a summit meeting with Kim, she has emphasized that North Korea should show “sincerity” in its decision to resume talks by taking steps towards denuclearization.

“North Korea should stop hesitating anymore and accept calls for dialogue,”

Inter-Korean Family Reunions

Park also stressed arranging a reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in time for Lunar New Year’s Day, which falls on Feb. 19 this year.

“The issue of family reunions is one that cannot be delayed anymore, given the age of those in the separated families,” Park said, according to Yonhap.

The last inter-Korean family reunion was held in February 2014 with 83 elderly South Koreans and 88 North Koreans in attendance, according to the New York Times. About 70,000 South Koreans, more than half of them aged 80 or older, are on the government’s waiting list for the chance to reunite with their families from the North. While South Korean participants are chosen through lottery, it is unclear how the North chooses their candidates for these rarely held reunions.

The Interview and U.S. Sanctions

Park admitted on Monday that she has yet to see the controversial Seth Rogen comedy The Interview, which depicts the fictional assassination of Kim Jong-un, reports the AFP.

The FBI formally accused North Korea of hacking Sony Pictures. Since then, the U.S. has imposed sanctions that target North Korea’s top government officials and its defense industry. Pyongyang has condemned these sanctions and repeatedly denied any responsibility for the cyberattack–though it called the crime a “righteous deed.”

According to Yonhap, Park described the U.S. sanctions as “appropriate” and argued that North Korea should stop provoking the international community.

Korean American Author Deported 

During her New Year’s speech, Park also defended her government’s decision to deport Korean American author, Shin Eun-mi, who was accused of making positive comments about North Korea in several lectures and online posts.

Shin was deported back to the States on Saturday after authorities claimed that she had violated South Korea’s National Security Law, which has often been criticize for being an infringement to freedom of speech.

Park, however, defended its use on Monday, saying that the law was necessary to “ensure security” as South Korea “remains in a standoff with the North.”


Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jung Yeon-Je/Pool. 

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Korean American Author to Be Deported for Praising North Korea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

A Korean American author may be deported to the U.S. for allegedly making pro-North Korea comments, reports the Associated Press.

Local conservative groups have accused Shin Eun-mi, 54, of sympathizing with Pyongyang and propagandizing the regime’s ideals alongside her co-host during a talk show tour. According to TIME, Shin reportedly said during a November lecture that many North Korean defectors living in South Korea told her that they wished to return home and that North Koreans hope for change under the new leadership of Kim Jong-un. She also praised the cleanliness of the Hermit Kingdom’s rivers and the taste of North Korean beer.

During another lecture in December, an 18-year-old high school student threw a homemade bomb at her, injuring three people.

Shin had planned to return to Los Angeles on Dec. 12, but was barred from leaving the country after she refused to appear for police questioning, according to Yonhap. Since then, the Seoul police have questioned the author and requested prosecutors to formally indict her. Prosecutors, however, called the Korean Immigration Service on Thursday to deport Shin for violating South Korea’s National Security Law. Once deported, she will be banned from entering South Korea for five years.

Shin told reporters on Wednesday that she had no intention of praising the North Korean government and denied breaching the anti-Pyonyang security law. She also said her memoir, Korean-American Ajumma Goes to North Korea, is purely a travelogue and does not include any pro-North remarks.

While conservative groups have supported the prosecutors’ decision to deport Shin, others have criticized the country’s security law and called it an infringement to the freedom of speech.

“The decision to deport her is a clear violation of human rights,” the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial on Friday. “The government is taking the lead in trampling on human rights.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors are also considering seeking an arrest warrant for Shin’s talk show co-host, Hwang Sun, for the same charges. According to the Korea Herald, Hwang is the former deputy spokeswoman of the now-defunct Democratic Labor Party and is famous for giving birth to her second child in Pyongyang back in 2005.


Featured photo courtesy of Yonhap