Archive for January, 2008

North frees Canadian aid worker held 2 months

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Joong Ang Daily

A Canadian citizen detained for more than two months in North Korea has been released, the Canadian Embassy in Seoul said yesterday.

Kim Je-Yell was deported to China on Saturday and was met at the border by Canadian consular officials, said Shauna Hemingway, head of public affairs at the embassy.

“Canadian officials are facilitating his reunion with his family,” she said, without saying where he is now.

“We are grateful to North Korean authorities for providing us with consular access to Mr. Kim.”

She declined to give further details, saying Kim’s family had asked for privacy.

Kim, a Korean-born Canadian in his 50s, appeared to have fallen afoul of the state due to his religious connections, according to media reports.

He was detained in the remote northeast part of the country on Nov. 3, the Toronto Star reported last week.

The news had not been announced earlier pending diplomatic efforts to have him freed, the newspaper said. The Star cited the humanitarian group he worked for, Christian Aid, as saying Kim was held on charges related to “national security.”

Kim had been bringing in dental supplies and setting up clinics in northeastern North Korea for nearly a decade with official approval, the report said.

A Voice of America radio report said Kim had written in a statement during interrogation that he had criticized the North Korean regime and tried to establish a church in the North.

Canada’s ambassador to South Korea, Ted Lipman, visited Pyongyang last week in an apparent effort to secure his release.

The North’s constitution provides for freedom of religious belief. “However, in practice the government severely restricts religious freedom, including organized religious activity, except that which is supervised tightly by officially recognized groups linked to the government,” the U.S. State Department said in its 2007 report on religious freedom.

“Genuine religious freedom does not exist.”


Pyongyang launches a cultural wave

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Joong Ang Daily

While dragging its feet again on its pledge to denuclearize, North Korea is expanding its cultural outreach to the West.

The move is drawing a mixed response from North Korea watchers. Some hail it as a prelude to a long-awaited opening of the isolated nation, recalling China’s “ping-pong diplomacy” that served as a catalyst for a thaw in its relations with the United States in the 1970s.

Others, however, caution against expecting too much, citing the communist nation’s track record of using arts for propaganda.

Regardless, Pyongyang looks set to provide a rare chance for Europeans to see its elite orchestra perform.

The North’s State Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to hold performances in London and Middlesbrough in September in what would be its largest-ever shows abroad, according to Radio Free Asia. The concerts will be telecast live, added the U.S.-government funded station.

The orchestra is said to have been nurtured by the North’s all-powerful leader Kim Jong-il, reportedly a big fan of film, music and other arts.

In the North’s latest cultural diplomatic activity, five North Korean movies were screened over the weekend in San Diego, California during the first inter-Korean film festival organized by a university in the United States. North Korean authorities selected the films. Pyongyang’s No. 2 two diplomat in the North’s United Nations mission, Kim Myong-gil, attended the event after receiving U.S. government approval. Members of North Korea’s UN mission are required to stay within a small radius of New York and need Washington’s approval for trips outside the city.

The film festival came two weeks after a North Korean movie, titled “Schoolgirl’s Diary,” was screened in Paris. It marked the first-ever commercial distribution of a North Korean movie in the West.

One of the most awaited shows in coming weeks is a concert by the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang. During the performance, the orchestra will perform the U.S. and North Korean national anthems as well as classical music. The historic concert, backed by the U.S. State Department, will be broadcast live via satellite on Feb. 26.

“This journey is a manifestation of the power of music to unite people,” said Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s executive director, reiterating remarks he made last month.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s point man on Pyongyang, said earlier the performance bodes well for their bilateral relationship.

“We haven’t even had ping-pong diplomacy with these people,” he said. “It would signal that North Korea is beginning to come out of its shell, which everyone understands is a long-term process. It does represent a shift in how they view us.”

Hill expressed hope that the cultural exchange will help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Many experts here agree cultural diplomacy can be an effective way of dealing with the North. They view the North’s move as reflecting its cultural pride and determination to break its isolation. “It also appears to be aimed at diluting the North’s negative image as a repressive nation and silencing criticism from hard-line U.S. officials,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

But skepticism lingers with the nuclear crisis still unresolved.

“Even if the orchestra plays music from heaven, it will have nothing to do with most North Koreans outside of the venue,” said Joo Sung-ha, who defected from North Korea in 2001 and now works as a journalist in Seoul. “We need to think about for whom such one-time shows should continue.”


Koreas discuss improving cross-border train service

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Shim Sun-ah

On the first day of working-level talks in North Korea on Tuesday, the two Koreas discussed scaling back their first regular inter-Korean railway service to run in more than a half century, as the trains are often empty, South Korean officials said.

The two Koreas began the regular train service in December as a symbol of peace and rapprochement following the October summit between their leaders.

A 12-car train runs once a day on a 20-kilometer railway connecting South Korea with a North Korean train station near a joint industrial complex in Kaesong.



Zimbabwe’s 5 Brigade

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Last night I attended a presentation by The Honorable David Coltart of Zimbabwe, Shadow Justice Minister and Member of Parliament for Bulawayo South.   Aside from the sad story he told of the disastrous toll the policies of Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe are taking on the lives of Zimbabwe’s people, he mentioned the role that President Kim il Sung of North Korea played in facilitating Comrade Mugabe’s rise to power…

The full story can be found in the report  “Breaking the Silence.”

Starting on Page 45 of the report:

…in October of 1980, an agreement was signed between Prime Minister Mugabe and President Kim Il Sung, in which North Korea offered to train and arm a brigade for the newly independent Zimbabwe.

The First News of this agreement in the Zimbabwe media was almost a year later, in August 1981, when 106 Korean instructors arrived to begin training the brigade. Prime Minister Mugabe then announced that the Korean-trained brigade was to be known as the 5 Brigade.”

This squad was colloquially named ‘Gukurahundi’ which is Shona for “the rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains,” and it was separate from the normal Zimbabwe National Army. 

The 5 Brigade soldiers made it clear themselves that they should be regarded as above the law.[…] answerable to nobody but Mugabe.

In addition to Korean-made equipment,

5 Brigade had completely different communication procedures: their codes and radios were incompatible with other units. Their uniform was also different, its most distinctive feature by the time they became operational in 1983 being their red berets. […]The use of AK-47s, recognized by their distinctive bayonets and curved magazines,is another distinguishing feature. In addition, the 5 Brigade traveled in a large fleet of vehicles which were Korean in origin, although this fleet did not last long, falling to pieces on the rough Zimbabwean terrain.

The 5 Brigade’s brutal activities are outlined in the report, but essentially they were used to eliminate rival political parties that could threaten Mugabe’s (and ZANU-PFs) control of the state.

UPDATE: from the Marmot’s Hole:

“What is historically known is that six months after independence in October 1980, Mugabe signed an agreement with the brutal communist dictatorship of North Korea, for assistance in training a new army brigade to deal with internal dissidents. 5 Brigade (here and video of the North Koreans and Zimbabwean soldiers), as it came to be known, wore different uniforms, with distinctive red berets; it used different equipment, transport and weaponry. Codes and radios were incompatible with other units. It is likely that the same North Korean instructors that became known to the press some time later, had also been entrusted with the training of the Maltese government’s own Special Mobile Unit.”


North Korea to conduct first national census in 14 years

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Shim Sun-ah

North Korea will conduct its first national census in 14 years this fall with help from a U.N. agency, the Unification Ministry said Monday.

“South Korea signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Dec. 11 to finance part of the cost of the national census in North Korea,” the ministry said in a statement.

The project will be launched in October. A pilot census already began last year, according to the statement.

The project will cost around US$5.6 million, of which South Korea will provide $4 million, the ministry said, adding the remaining funds will come from the UNFPA’s own fund and donations from other countries. No complete census has taken place in North Korea since 1994 when the UNFPA helped the communist state conduct a national census. Pyongyang announced after the survey that its population was 21.21 million people as of 1993.

According to an almanac released Sunday by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s population increased gradually to 23.6 million in 2004 despite the chronic economic plight of the isolated communist state.

The World Factbook released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency last year put the North Korean population at 22.6 million in 2004.

“We decided to finance the census from the inter-Korean cooperation fund considering that the census will help us understand North Korea’s overall social situation and the lifestyle of the country’s people,” the statement said.

“The population data can also be used to establish comprehensive measures to deal with the North, including inter-Korean economic cooperation projects,” it added.


NK Military Has Little Influence on Major Policy Decisions

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

An expert on North Korea has recently disputed a widely circulated claim that North Korea’s hard line diplomacy is due to influence from the North Korean military.

Park Young Tack, an active duty officer at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) said, “The North Korean military usually influences the policy decisions that are related to military roles and functions only.” Park wrote this in his recent article published on January 15 in the 2007 winter edition of the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis entitled ‘The Increasing Standing of the North Korean Military and the Military’s Influence on Decision Making’.

Park said, “Unless Kim Jong Il asks the military for opinions, the military cannot take part in matters other than its own.”

It is widely believed at home and abroad that the North Korean military exerts huge influence on the country’s major policy decisions and therefore is responsible for driving the country to take a hard line.

U.S, envoy Christopher Hill said prior to his visit to Pyongyang last year that he would like to meet high-ranking military officials and persuade them to give up the country’s nuclear programs.

Park said, “It is mistaken to believe that the standing of the military is superior to that of the Party as was the case in the past, and that the military plays a key role in decision making regarding the country’s fate.”

“Many believe that the North Korean military is trying to get in the way of the inter-Korean dialogues. However, that is exactly how the Party wants the world to assess the current situation in North Korea. It is my judgment that the Party has been manipulating the situation so that the military appears to take on the role of the hard-liners,” Park said. Park stressed that the General Political Bureau of the People’s Army by itself cannot voice opposition to the nation’s current policy toward South Korea.

Park said that Secretary for Military Munitions Jun Byung Ho, United Front Department Director Kim Yang Gon, and First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk Ju have established and are operating a direct reporting system to Kim Jong Il. Secretary Jun is currently responsible for conducting the country’s nuclear tests, Director Kim for operations of the policy through the direct reporting system [to Kim Jong Il], and Minister Kang for foreign announcements.

“It seems that Kim Jong Il allows the military to exert influence on decision making to some extent as a reward for the military’s pledge to help build and defend the absolute dictatorship of Kim Jong Il,” Park said.

“The military circles take part in making policy decisions by offering specialized suggestions and by advocating the Kim Jong Il regime which adopted the ‘Military-First’ policy among the ruling elite, the leaders from the middle class and the lower class,” Park said. However, Park added that the military has limited influence over matters other than its own.

Park said that Kim Jong Il is also strengthening the military-friendly system to watch and hold in check the military, which can pose the biggest threat to his regime.

“When making decisions, Kim Jong Il calls the ruling elite individually for consultations and has them report to him directly,” Park said, adding, “In any case, Kim Jong Il is at the center of the decision making process and stands at the top of the decision making ladder.”

“Kim Jong Il is a policy developer who issues policy proposals more frequently than anyone in the country. Any policy proposed by Kim is considered a supreme order and becomes a law,” Park said. “If an individual at the lower levels of the state wants to make a policy proposal, he usually first contacts an authority in the relevant field who then tries to read Kim Jong Il’s mind on the policy to be proposed. Only after he receives convincing words from the authorities, the low-level cadre is able to submit his proposal. That way, he can escape censure that would result from making an unsuccessful policy proposal.”

Park said that those working at the lower level of the state authorities cooperate with each other even if they work in different departments. If there are any policy shortcomings, they try to solve them together and share the responsibilities. They also create a task force between departments for policy implementation.

Park said, “This kind of political operation has come into existence for the following reasons: First of all, Kim Jong Il prefers to have an inner-circle, minimize the number of personnel, and simplify office procedures. Second, people at the working level have to worry about censure waiting for them when their policy implementation efforts end in failure.”

“Kim Jong Il’s administration style shows that he relies on an informal channel of communication with the ruling elite.” Park said, “He keeps a tight reign on all power groups within the country including the military, and no power group dares to challenge Kim’s authority. Even if united, these groups can hardly exercise any significant influence over decision making.”


Air Koryo fleet expanding

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

TU-204-300 touches down at a North Korean airport
(Hat tip to Mateusz)

A TU-204-300 has touched down at a North Korean airport in what became Russia’s first successful deal to supply its most advanced long-range jet abroad. With its 500-8500 flying range, the plane is capable of swiftly transforming its fuselage on the ground. The plane has already been making shuttle non-stop flights inside and outside Russia. North Korean flag Carrier Air Koryo has ordered the TU-204-300.

TU-204-300 with PS-90A engines is a mid-range passenger a/c is intended to carry passengers, luggage and cargo on domestic and international trunk routes of 500 to 8500 km distance . The airliner was built on the basis of TU-204-100 a/c and represents the continuation of TU-204/214 a/c family. TU-204-300 a/c performed its maiden flight 18 August, 2003. The aircraft is produced in series at “:Aviastar-SP” Closed Stock Company in Ulianovsk. Opposite to TU-204-100 the TU-204-300 a/c has a shortened fuselage (by 6 m) and increased fuel reserve. Set of equipment was updated. Improved comfort level of the cabin helps the passengers to withstand long flights. Maximal payload is cut down to 18000 kg at increased flight range.

Click here to get specs on all the planes in Air Koryo’s fleet (h/t DPRK Studies)


Cancor Report #297: Knowledge Sharing with the DPRK

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

November 12, 2007

The latest edition of the CanKor Report has only one longer-than-usual item.  It is the preparatory document of a workshop recently held in Seoul, Korea, in which NGOs, academics, practitioners and diplomats from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America consulted about the prospects for international cooperation regarding education and training programmes that need to be undertaken with the DPRK if denuclearization proceeds according to the Six-Party timetable.  Experts in economic development believe that the next step in international engagement will have to be the building up of DPRK expertise and intellectual capacity to absorb the significant development assistance that may follow successful completion of the Six-Party process. In this working paper, loyal CanKor reader and former World Bank official Bradley Babson defines “knowledge sharing”, explains why the time is ripe for all sectors to become involved, outlines potential pitfalls, and suggests guiding principles for future engagement by the international community.


    Bradley O. Babson, CanKor original
       Why knowledge sharing?
       Strategic considerations
       DPRK internal challenges
       Nuclear politics
       Inter-Korean reconciliation
       China, Russia and Northeast Asia regional perspectives
       Operational challenges in the DPRK context
       An underlying tension
       Absorptive capacity
       International experience and best practices
       Conclusions and principles for future engagement



A little self-promotion…

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

North Korean Economy Watch has been named Most Specialised Niche Newcomer  by Aaron Schiff on his list of top 200 economics blogs.

See the full list here.

Thanks to all the readers out there. 


Travel to Kaesong Restricted to Prevent Awareness of South Korea

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Daily NK
Yang Jung A
A job in a factory at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is fast becoming the ideal job for North Korean citizens, and positive feelings toward the South are continuing to grow.

Good Friends reported on the 23rd that most North Koreans are aware that economic cooperation at Kaesong is thriving as South Korean enterprises supply advanced materials and management, and North Korea supplies labor.

“South Korean advisory managers supervise workers. If workers do not come to work on time in the morning or they do not work diligently, the managers simply say, ‘You don’t need to come here tomorrow’” reported one North Korean citizen through Good Friends.

The citizen added, “Workers try to complete their appointed tasks under all conditions, while monitoring the South Korean supervisors’ attitudes.”

As the Kaesong Complex grows, the internal customs procedures into Kaesong become more complicated.

Good Friends reported, “Kaesong was originally a strictly controlled zone because of its location just north of the 38th parallel. If a North Korean wanted to visit Kaesong, they had to register, undergo an investigation and get a pass. Now, If they try to go to Kaesong, the process is much more complicated.”

A cadre working at the Kaesong Complex said that this is because people have growing positive feelings toward South Korea. The authorities worry about the great gap between the North and the South and worry about growing public disillusionment.”

He added, “The only place people can talk about South Korea is at Kaesong. They have a yearning for South Korea, especially after they’ve encountered South Korean products.”