Archive for April, 2006

‘Time’ covers North Korean emigration

Sunday, April 30th, 2006

Time Magazine covers the touching story of several North Korean emigrants and the network of activists that assist in their transportation to South Korea.

The ringleader: Rev. Tim Peters, a soft-spoken evangelical Christian pastor from Benton Harbor, Michigan, who runs the Seoul-based charity Helping Hands Korea. More than any other Westerner, Peters has become the public face of a network of activists, many motivated by their Christian faith, who try against formidable odds to bring North Koreans to Seoul.

Peters and others in the network do not shrink from the comparison to the Underground Railroad of the U.S. Civil War era that brought African-American slaves from the South to freedom in the North. They embrace the comparison.

North Korea and China—actively seek to put the Seoul Train, as it has been called, out of business. For the past two years, the Chinese have conducted a concerted “strike hard” operation to round up and repatriate North Koreans who are in China illegally. Beijing is determined to maintain stability in the rustbelt northeast of China. The government seeks to break up the networks that help refugees and shut down the safe houses that shelter them—lest too much success draw more. North Korean security agents inside China assist that effort. The result, says Peters, “is that the whole paradigm of our operations has been changed.” Refugees now avoid cities in the northeast of China, hiding instead in forest caves they have dug out for themselves.

TIME has learned that late last summer, Chinese authorities arrested an American who aids North Korean refugees inside China. He remains jailed in the northeastern city of Yanji, not far from the North Korean border. (The American in question is awaiting sentence and his family has asked TIME to withhold his name and details of his case.)

Last year, the South Korean government slashed in half the cash portion of the subsidy it used to pay refugees who make it to the South from 6 million won ($6,320) to 3 million ($3,160). The defectors often used the money they were given to help finance efforts to get their relatives out—typically by paying middlemen who are in the people-smuggling business for profit, but sometimes donating to Christian groups such as Helping Hands. The reduction in funds, coupled with the Chinese crackdown, has had an impact. The number of refugees making it out of China to South Korea fell to 1,217 last year, according to the South Korean government, down from a record 1,894 in 2004.

Though Bush called for $24 million a year to accept refugees from North Korea and broadcast news and information there, Congress has yet to appropriate any funding to carry out the policies.

Peters formed Helping Hands Korea in 1996, and within just two years, as refugees tried to escape the famine, the beginnings of the underground railroad took shape. “We were overwhelmed,” he says now. That’s when the organization’s mission became more focused: helping North Koreans in crisis, people who really needed help getting to freedom.”

Many women are “sold off” into marriage by one of the criminal gangs in the northeast of China that prey upon refugees. China’s one-child policy, and the intense cultural preference for sons rather than daughters, has left the country with a huge number of single men.

Refugees say that the most common way to get across the 1,400-km border between North Korea and China is to bribe a border guard on the Korean side. One North Korean woman, Park Myong Ja, who got to Seoul in 2004, told TIME it cost her just “100 [Chinese] yuan,” or $12.50 to cross into China. Kim, however, relied on a friend who lived near the border and watched each night the routes patrolled by the guards. “You knew where they were going to be—and where they weren’t going to be, and when,” Kim says. “My friend guided me.”

Some Korenas get fake Chinese identity cards. They can pay brokers 2,000 yuan ($250).

Peters raised $1,500 and hired four people for the operation to bring one North Korean through Laos to Cambodia, where she flew to Seoul.


Japanese government raises stakes on DPRK

Friday, April 28th, 2006

From the BBC: 

The Japanese government is stepping up pressure on the DPRK by introducing legislation to impose formal economic sanctions.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s to train its spies. Five have been allowed to return. Japan has demanded proof of what happened to the others. It is sceptical about North Korea’s insistence that they are dead. It also believes more of its citizens may still be held by the government there.

Pyongyang and Tokyo have no diplomatic ties, but there is some trade between the two countries. (Chongryun)

This new bill would require the government to impose sanctions on North Korea unless it gets the answers it wants.  The punishments would include a ban on the docking of North Korean ships at Japanese ports, and stopping private individuals in Japan from sending money to Pyongyang.

Two years ago Japan passed a law setting out a range of similar measures that could be imposed. The new legislation is designed to strengthen that policy.  Japan has up to now stopped short of imposing sanctions, preferring instead to pursue the matter through occasional talks, but there has been little progress.

Pyongyang has always said any imposition of economic sanctions would be regarded as an act of war.




DPRK/ROK graphite mine opens

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Korea Times

South Korea’s state-run resources development corporation on Thursday announced the opening of a joint graphite mine in North Korea.

The 50-50 joint venture between the Korea Resources Corp.(KORES) and a North Korean firm can produce 3,000 tons of graphite per year.

Of that, South Korea will import 1,830 tons every year for the next 15 years. This amount is equivalent to 20 percent of the South’s domestic demand.

The corporation has invested $10.2 million into the mine in Chongchon, South Hwanghae Province. It is estimated to hold 6.25 million tons of graphite.

Graphite from the mine can be used in batteries, brake-lining for cars and flame-proof or heat-resistant materials. The first batch of graphite is to arrive in South Korea in the second half of the year.

The joint development pact was signed in March 2003 with a formal deal signed four months later. South Korea transferred mining materials and other equipment to the mine in early 2004 and development got underway shortly afterwards.



How Much Fuel Does the DPRK Have?

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

From Yonhap:

According to an analysis by Peter Hayes, professor at Nautilus Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, North Korea would need to double its imports and production to sustain combat.  “Based on our estimates of fuel use during exercises, fuel use by DPRK military for 30 days of full-time combat would be up to 200,000 tonnes,” the study said.

The fuel use figure is based on a wartime scenario in which 50 percent of ground force equipment would be inoperable by the end of 30 days, aircraft cease operations in 24 hours, and 90 percent of naval forces cease operation in five days.

The study predicted it would take four more months to restock military fuels given North Korea’s current supply rate, either by bringing in fuel stored in rear areas or from refining new fuel and then moving it into combat zones.

Even if all the available refineries operate at 100 percent capacity and all supplies are diverted solely to the military, it would still take two months or longer to restock, Hayes said.

North Korea’s military accounted for 8 percent of the country’s total energy demand in 2000, up from 4.2 percent in 1990. In terms of the types of energy used by the military, 66 percent was coal, 37 percent was oil products, and 8 percent was electricity.

In 1990, the military used 17.1 percent of the country’s total refined oil products, 3.9 percent of the coal and 8.1 percent of the electricity.

The study reaffirms the North’s economy is stagnating from an energy shortage, compounded by a drop in oil imports, a decline in coal exports, the flooding of key coal mines and damage to major hydro facilities.

There should be international assistance to stimulate and sustain North Korea’s energy sector and rehabilitate its decaying power grid, estimated to cost between US$5.5 billion and $7.5 billion, according to the study.

Progress can also be made by reducing vast waste of supplied energy, caused by equipment dating as far back as the 1940s and less than 50-percent-efficient coal-fired boilers, Hayes said.


Nautilus Claims Sinuiju Project Underway

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

According to the Nautilus Institute’s web site [Link broken since posing]:

“Under the direction of central authorities, foreign currency management groups are rapidly being moved into Sinuiju, while ordinary residents are being relocated to other regions only to be replaced by residents of Pyongyang and other areas who are in the process of moving in.”

The Sinuiju Special Administrative Region (SAR) project lost momentum in September 2002 when its first governor-to-be, Chinese-born Dutch businessman Yang Bin, was arrested in China. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s visit to China at the beginning of this year, however, appears to have triggered a turnaround. With Kim’s China trip focused on the revision of economic policies, the rejuvenation of Sinuiju SAR development plans came into the spotlight.

Most South Korean press have run pieces, based on the stories of North Korean defectors and Chinese residents in Dandoong and other border areas, alluding to the fact that there is change in the air around Sinuiju. A North Korean businessman in Dandoong was quoted as saying, “No official word has come down from central [authorities], but they are busy preparing the Sinuiju SAR,” while rumors are spreading among area residents that “Sinuiju is the next Hong Kong.”

The most reluctant promoters are the People’s Committee and regional administrative organs. As orders come down, some administrators are required to immediately pack and relocate to southern Sinuiju, an underdeveloped area not even comparable to Sinuiju proper. Authorities had chosen the site as far back as 1986, and while development was fully promoted, only factories were built up. Housing, roads, and other indirect social capital facilities are still lacking. While regional authorities may have decided to build up southern Sinuiju, it will take another ten years of hard work to do so.

On the other hand, the outlook for city authorities is considerably brighter. This is because in the future, they will have the opportunity to rise up though organizations run by special administrative businesses. Up until now, instructions have come through the Regional People’s Committee, security bureau and defense authorities, but even though they own the facilities, they can still receive orders directly from the central government. Because of this, regional officials are still influenced by the temperament of local and central party politics while being faced with increasing pressure from city authorities to transfer power to them. While some factories — like the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Sinuiju Shoe Factory, Sinuiju Synthetic Fiber Plant, and other large factories — are preparing for foreign capital support and cooperative ventures, most administrators appear to be pushing for keeping the status quo.

There are still many concerns. As the SAR is being set up, central officials are being dispatched to fill roles as factory officials; central officials without any personal interest. A similar sort of dispatch of central officials took place in the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone in the past.

Most small- and medium-sized enterprises and regional factories are beginning to transform into trading companies. There are currently around one hundred fifty such trading offices in Sinuiju. In the future, if Sinuiju is officially designated as a SAR, it appears that a great many more trade offices will appear.

Other news from Sinuiju insiders is that the People’s Committee, People’s Security Force, National Security and Defense Bureau and other central government departments that have received Kim Jong Il’s permission to trade have already opened offices in Sinuiju, employing people in the area and busily seeking out people with connections in China in order to find trading partners.

It appears by looking at the relocation currently underway that the goal is to move residents within the same timeframe that was required for the first round of relocations in 2002, when residents were moved to Chunma, Kwaksan, Dongrim and other areas around the outskirts of Sinuiju. There are problems here as well, as the government wants to relocate residents from Pyongyang and other regions to Sinuiju. At issue is the fact that while the number of residents who can move in needs to equal the number relocated out of the area, some North Koreans have already used connections with the central and regional party affiliates in order to move to the region.

In addition, the housing market is active, with housing prices in central downtown areas having already skyrocketed. While officially owned by the state, dwellings are unofficially “sold” through the use of “modification fees”: apartments run from 25 to 30 million won (8 to 10 thousand USD), while two-three story condominiums in “Chinatown” in the Namsang district run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

However, complications have arisen. Many residents being moved out have decided to get rid of their houses, but this has proved more difficult than expected. Some have put up their house for sale but have been unable to find a buyer. There are also those who were caught in the midst of sales through “real estate offices” when a crackdown by authorities resulted in their expulsion. A source stated that the administrative authority of the city security bureau in charge of relocating residents is undermanned and takes different measures to direct different groups of residents, while pressing for the expulsion of what it deems as “lesser” or unemployed people.


Kaesong Complex Continues to Grow

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

According to Yonhap:

The number of North Korean workers at a South Korean-run industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong rose 22 percent every month over the past one and a half years, the South’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday.  Production increased 36 percent every month due largely to a rise in the number of South Korean factories operating in the complex, according to the ministry.

As of Friday, a total of 6,859 North Korean workers, including 1,047 construction workers, were registered at the complex.

“Some North Korean workers even took annual leaves after their work period was more than one year old. So far, about 120 workers used their annual leaves,” said Go Gyeong-bin, the director general of the Kaesong industrial complex project office at the ministry.

In November 2004, several South Korean companies hired 255 North Korean workers when they moved into the complex at its opening.

The complex, still in its pilot stage, is now home to 11 South Korean companies that produce garments, kitchenware and shoes.

Go said four of them, such as apparel maker Shinwon Co. and socks manufacturer Sunghwa, sent a total of 53 North Korean workers to China for technical training.

“Since the first product was made in December 2004, the total output has amounted to US$27.46 million, which means a monthly average rise of 36 percent. In particular, production exceeded $5 million in March, a 40 percent rise from February,” he said.

The Kaesong industrial complex, located just north of the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas, 60 kilometers, or a one-hour drive from Seoul, is the flagship project for inter-Korean cooperation, combining South Korean capital and expertise with the North’s cheap land and labor.

The North Koreans work with about 300 South Koreans in Kaesong.

South Korea hopes to promote the Kaesong complex as a role model for inter-Korean economic partnership, while officials in Washington express concern over its possible negative impact on the multilateral efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.


Counterfitting of [Your Product Here] Case Continues to Build

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

The US Secret Service, which is part of the Treasury Department, has the responsibility to track down counterfit US currency, and becuase of a quirk of history, also protects the President of the USA.

According to Yonhap, the Secret Service has collected up to $50 million of “supernotes,” first discovered sixteen years ago and believed to come from North Korea….

But the latest trend shows the communist regime depends heavily on counterfeiting cigarettes for major income, smuggling at least one 40-foot container every month into the U.S., they said.

Testifying before the Senate in the first Congressional hearing on Pyongyang’s illicit financial activities, Michael Merritt, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service, gave statistics gathered from a global investigation.

There were more than 170 arrests involving more than 130 countries since the supernote was first detected in 1989 by a Central Bank cash handler in the Philippines, he said.

“Our investigation has revealed that the supernote continues to be produced and distributed from sources operating out of North Korea,” he said.

The amount seized, he acknowledged, is low compared to other types of counterfeit currency, such as over $380 million produced in Colombia.

But the high quality of the supernotes, not the quantity circulated, is the primary concern, he stressed.

“These sophisticated counterfeits range from older series $100 notes which bear the smaller portrait, to counterfeits of more recently redesigned ‘big head’ notes, to include the latest version of the 2003 series,” said Merritt.

“These new versions show corrections or improvements in the flaws which are used by banking and law enforcement to detect them,” he said.

“A major source of income to the regime and its leadership, we believe, is the counterfeiting of cigarettes,” he said.

“From 2002 through September 2005, DPRK-sourced counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes were identified in 1,300 incidents in the United States,” he said.

“Recently filed federal indictments allege that for several years criminal gangs have arranged for one 40-foot container of DPRK-sourced counterfeit cigarettes per month to enter the United States for illicit sale over several years,” Prahar said.

The U.S. government is seeking $5 million in criminal forfeitures in several of these indictments, according to the official.

I was told on my last visit to the DPRK that Marlboro Reds were popular in the DPRK and many astute smokers could taste the difference between the American and European versions–and prefered the American product


If the Glove Doesn’t Fit…?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

According to Yonhap, the US State Department has reported to the US Senate (who controls its funding) that it does not have “sufficient information to designate North Korean individuals or organizations under the Kingpin Act, a legislation that denies foreign drug traffickers access to American financial institutions.”

According to the Article:

Peter Prahar, a director at the [State] [D]epartment’s bureau for international narcotics and law enforcement, told a Senate hearing that the U.S. does not yet have sufficient information to designate North Korean individuals or organizations under the Kingpin Act, a legislation that denies foreign drug traffickers access to American financial institutions.

He said indictments are unlikely at this point, since they require “a certain level of evidence that I don’t believe exists,” he said.

Asked if North Korea might be put on the major drug trafficker nation list, Prahar said it is something his department considers “on a regular basis.”  But he cited inability to confirm reports of massive opium cultivation in North Korea, or find evidence that the country’s drug transiting is impacting the U.S.

“But this is something…that we consider regularly within the Department of State, and if we have information that will substantiate that finding, that is a recommendation we are going to make,” Prahar said.

Kim Seong-min, a former North Korean director, claimed it is certain that Pyongyang continues to produce opium.  “Youngsters are used to collect extract from opium,” he told the hearing.  As much as 70 percent of three North Korean counties are set aside to cultivate poppy seeds, totaling some 30,000 hectares, he claimed.

Prahar also stressed alarm at North Korea’s counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals which is “still sketchy” so its magnitude cannot be measured.


Last one to leave, don’t forget to turn out the lights

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

North Korea is promoting energy efficient light bulbs!

From UPI:

North Korean television has aired a program highlighting the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs.  Earlier this month, Korean Central Television showed a six-minute segment titled “Compact Light and Our Life” as part of the “Science and Technology Commonsense” program.

During the show, the announcer spoke of the benefits of energy-saving bulbs and told the audience that “compact light saves a lot more energy compared with normal white glow lamp or fluorescent lamp … compact lamps last longer than white glow lamps or fluorescent lamps.”

In interviews for the program, Yu Yong-hi, chief member of the Ministry of Power and Coal Industries, and Kim Kwang-il, of the Power and Remote Control Institute, spoke highly of the benefits of energy-saving bulbs, and explained how to use them most efficiently and safely.

A video still read: “Electricity saving, about 80 per cent compared with 100watt white glow lamp, about 50 per cent compared with 40W fluorescent lamp.”

Encouraging North Koreans to use energy-saving light bulbs, the program ended with a testimonial to the contribution made by energy-saving bulbs to the cultural lives of the North Korean people.


Catholic aid

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

From the Korea Times:

A delegation from the South Korean Catholic Church left for Pyongyang early Wednesday to tour regions in the North it has provided with humanitarian assistance, the Archdiocese of Seoul said.

The 61-member delegation from the Seoul archdiocese, led by Monsignor Choi Chang-hwa, will take field trips in and around Pyongyang until Saturday, it said.

“This is the first time a Catholic delegation has traveled to North Korea on such a large scale, and with laymen included,” Ma Young-ju, an archdiocese’s public relations official said.

Pyongyang sent an Air Koryo plane to Incheon International Airport to pick up the delegation, Ma said.

The Seoul archdiocese has provided food and equipment worth 11 billion won ($11.6 million) since it started assisting in the midst of a deepening food shortage in the North in 1995.

It helps operate flour factories in Nampo and Shinchon on the North’s west coast and provides 1,200 tons of flour annually, according to the archdiocese.