Tag Archives: North Korea

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North Korean Defector Drops ‘The Interview’ in Pyongyang

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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.



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.


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.


North Korea Fires 4 Short-Range Projectiles Into West Sea

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

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.


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.


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

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

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.



North Korea’s Elites Gorge on French Baguettes

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

North Korea’s privileged classes apparently have an insatiable appetite for French baguettes, according to Choson Sinbo, a pro-North newspaper based in Japan.

Last year, North Korea’s Kumkop General Foodstuff Factory for Sportspersons sent their pastry chefs to train in France as part of a goal to become a world-class food plant. Choson Sinbo reported that wholewheat baguettes have become incredibly popular in Pyongyang, where it is home to most of North Korea’s elite and educated class.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un paid a visit to the factory last January and told the state-run news agency KCNA that the company should develop and produce varieties of foodstuff, including chewing gum, which is “badly needed by the sportspersons” to recover from fatigue. He also said the newly developed foodstuff should “suit the constitution of Koreans.”

While Pyongyang’s upper class and bureaucrats are feasting on Paris baguettes, two-thirds of the country’s 24 million population struggle to find their next meal. In 2013, the United Nations said over a quarter of all North Korean children are stunted from chronic malnutrition.


Featured image via Reuters


Link Attack: Roy Choi in Watts; Dogs Rescued From Meat Farm; Custom Emoji Keyboard

Video: Roy Choi Wants the Next Food Revolution to Start in Watts

The first location will be in Watts at a site that used to be smoke shop and a barbershop. Choi says that his team wanted to open a location somewhere in South Los Angeles, and they ended up focusing on Watts because of the sense of community they found there. (LAist)

Dogs Rescued from South Korean Meat Farm Brought to San Francisco

Thirteen frightened young dogs and puppies arrived in San Francisco in a van Thursday, some trembling, tails between their legs, others with sad but hopeful eyes, and all of them unaware of how close they came to an agonizing, gruesome death. (SF Gate)


Memoji Keyboard Allows You To Emojify Yourself

Johnny Lin, an ex-Apple engineer, created a way for users to upload their own faces as emoji. Angry Asian Man Phil Yu tries it out.

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is Doing Shockingly Well in South Korea

Why is the movie such a huge hit in the South Korean film market? Cinema Blend speculates the reasons, from the visuals to the high fashion costume design to director Matthew Vaughn’s popularity in South Korea.

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23 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2015

Modern Korean Cinema lists the Korean films they’re most looking forward to this year.

Homebrew and House Parties: How North Koreans Have Fun

“Despite restrictions on money and free time, partying is integral to North Korean culture. But how does it compare to cutting loose in the South?” writes The Guardian.

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Korean Star Jung Ho Kang May Be Much Better Than Advertised

“In so many words, clubs just didn’t see many reasons to be optimistic about Kang,” writes Bleacher Report. “But as early as it is, one wonders how many are thinking differently these days.”

Searing Complaint Against Korean Church

The Contra Costa Korean Presbyterian Church is being sued for negligence in their hiring of a youth pastor, who the plaintiff claims repeatedly sexually molester her and her sister.

Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung Pledges to Solidify Status as Leading Bank

In his inauguration speech on March 18, Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung emphasized, “I will solidify our status as a leading bank.”

Cho said, “Through ceaseless innovation, we must create new opportunities and values and maintain the highest level of profitability and soundness.”

GM Canada Gets New General Counsel and Assistant GC, Peter Cho

It won’t be Cho’s first time behind the wheel of an automotive law department. He was most recently general counsel, corporate secretary and head of government relations at Volkswagen Group Canada, and has also has worked with Volkswagen Group China and Kia Canada.

Olympic Gateway

K-Town Landmarks Hope to Begin Summer Construction

The Olympic Gateway, a long-projected landmark for Los Angeles’ Koreatown, as well as the Madang project at Da Wool Jung, are expected to begin construction as soon as mid-May.

Korean Calligraphy Exhibition Open at Chicago Korean Cultural Center

On display are about 70 works by students of Kit-beol Village Calligrapher Lee Chul-woo. (Korea Times)

Four Korean American Officers Join Fairfax County Police Department After Graduating Academy

Arthur Cho, John Hong, Seung Meang and Shane Oh were among the 60 new police officers and deputies who graduated from the academy. This is the first time in the history of the department that an academy class had this many Korean-American graduates. (Centreville Independent)