Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

ROK Catholics resume DPRK food aid

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

According ot the Union of Catholic Asian News:

The Catholic Church in South Korea has sent rice aid to flood-hit areas of North Korea, the first aid since a South Korean naval ship was sunk reportedly by a North Korean torpedo.

The Korean Bishops’ Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People committees delivered 50 tons of rice worth 95 million won(US$85,000) on Oct. 22.

Uijeongbu diocese, the Korean Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Korean Catholic Farmers’ Movement also assisted with the shipment.

The rice was sent to the (North) Korean Roman Catholics Association, which organized distribution of the rice in the Kaesong (Gaeseong) district.

“This is the first rice support to North Korea since the Cheonan naval ship incident last March,” said Father Baptist John Kimm Hun-il, executive secretary of the Subcommittee for Aid to North Korea under the bishops’ committee for the reconciliation.

“The food condition of North Koreans is worsening and their government is unable to support them. We need to offer more help,” he added.

Following the sinking of the naval vessel, the South Korean government banned all economic exchanges with North Korea, except for the minimum humanitarian aid.

Read the full story here:
Bishops send food aid to flood-hit North Korea
Union of Catholic Asian News
John Choi
10/26/2010

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South Korean religious organizations donate flour to DPRK

Friday, August 27th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

A joint delegation of five major religious organizations in South Korea traveled to North Korea Friday to deliver food aid, the second civilian visit to the communist state since Seoul imposed a travel ban in May.

The nine-member delegation of the Catholic, Protestant, Cheondo, Buddhist and Won-Buddhist orders drove to the North from this western border town of Paju, Gyeonggi Province, accompanied by about a dozen trucks carrying 300 tons of flour.

The 250 million won (US$209,170) worth of aid was the second inter-Korean assistance since Seoul imposed a North Korea travel ban in May in protest of the sinking of a South Korean warship two months earlier. North Korea denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

Seoul allowed the first civilian visit on Aug. 17, in which an aid organization delivered 400 million won worth of anti-malaria aid to North Korea.

“The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is important, but the lives of the people on the Korean Peninsula take priority over any other issue,” the group said in a joint statement at a ceremony attended by some 150 people, ahead of its departure. “We religious communities from the left and the right are taking a step toward opening the door for reconciliation and peace in the inter-Korean relations.”

During its one-day visit, the delegation will deliver the flour to Kaesong, just north of the inter-Korean border, which will be distributed to inhabitants in the border town and counties in North Hwanghae Province.

Read the full story below:
S. Korea’s pan-religious delegation travels to N. Korea with flour aid
Yonhap
8/27/2010

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New Koguryo tombs discovered in Pyongyang

Monday, August 16th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Academics from North Korea and Japan have unearthed a large tumulus from the Koguryo period in Pyongyang, providing valuable material for studying the history of ancient East Asia, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said Saturday. About 4.5 km away from the downtown Pyongyang, the tomb was discovered during construction work in Tongsan-dong, the Lelang District of the Koguryo era and is presumed to have been created around the 5th century.

According to the news agency, the mural paintings in the tomb show a man in horn-shaped headgear on horseback, a procession of men holding flags on armored horses, and warriors with swords. The antechamber and main chamber at the back are connected with a narrow passage, while the bones of a man and two women have been found in the back chamber. The tomb has some unique features, including the antechamber’s arched ceilings with three layers of triangular props and the mound created by piling up alternate layers of lime, charcoal and red clay to cover the stone chambers beneath, the report said. The mound is 35 m in diameter and 8 m high.

Pyongyang plans to register the tomb with UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Japanese scholars said the tomb’s murals are comparable to those of Tokhung-ri Tomb in Nampo, South Pyongan Province, which is included in the Complex of Koguryo Tombs inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2004.

The team also found relics offering a glimpse of how sophisticated Koguryo culture was, such as gold and silver ornaments, tiger-shaped pottery, bronze coins and nails for coffins. The celadon candlestick is the first of its kind to be excavated in the North, the report added.

The team consists of researchers with the Archaeological Institute of the North’s Academy of Social Sciences and Japanese scholars sent by Kyoto news agency including Prof. Masahiro Saotome, an archaeologist at the University of Tokyo, and Shigeo Aoki, a Cyber University professor specializing in the preservation of historic remains. Saotome said the tomb “was unearthed in an area where experts believed there would be no Koguryo mural tombs.”

Ahn Hwi-joon, a Korean art historian and professor emeritus at Seoul National University, echoed him saying, “It is the first time that Koguryo tomb murals have been unearthed in the area once controlled by the Chinese Han Dynasty Commander of Lelang. They are especially valuable as they were executed in the late fourth to the fifth centuries, immediately after Koguryo incorporated Lelang.”

Read the full story here:
N.Korean-Japanese Team Finds Koguryo Tomb in Pyongyang
Choson Ilbo
8/16/2010

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CanKor on DPRK-Canadian assistance

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

According to CanKor Report #323, 2 June 2010:

North Korea began opening up to nongovernmental organizations in the 1990s, when severe food shortages forced it to seek outside aid. While both the famine of the mid-90s and the efforts to alleviate it got a good deal of press at the time, attention to this aspect of North Korea has fallen off in recent years as most press coverage now deals with the nuclear issues or questions of leadership succession. But while NGO activities may have dropped off over the last decade, a select few groups continue in their efforts to better the lives of ordinary North Koreans, despite all the limitations and difficulties they face in doing so.

CanKor has collected a partial list of nongovernmental organizations from the non-six-party talk countries currently engaged in humanitarian activities in North Korea. While some have been left out at their own request due to the politically sensitive nature of their work, we will endeavour to present regular updates on current or new projects in the DPRK. Readers are encouraged to write in and inform us of any activities we may report.

Featured Project:  Mennonite Central Committee

MCC has been engaged in the DPRK since the mid 1990s, the earlier years through the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) in partnership with other organizations to support the Food Aid Liaison Unit (FALU), and also together with other non-resident NGOs such as Caritas International, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and Foods Resource Bank/Church of the Brethren Global Foods Crisis Fund to support sustainable agriculture and provide humanitarian assistance. Between 1995 and 2006, approximately $15 million in food and other material resources was sent to the DPRK by MCC.

Since 2006 and the dissolving of FALU, MCC has worked in the DPRK through its MCC NE Asia office. MCC has continued to send food and material resources to orphanages, initially via First Steps, and eventually in direct relationship. Soymilk production equipment was also provided to assist orphanages and soymilk production facilities to increase production of their own nutritional needs. MCC also sends food and material resources to tuberculosis hospitals and rest homes through its partnership with Christian Friends of Korea. Greenhouses have also been provided to enable these facilities to raise more of their own food needs.

Here   is a story on MCC’s partnership with First Steps in sending soybeans to orphanages in the DPRK and

Here   is a story on MCC’s cooperation with Christian Friends of Korea in sending food and other material resources to TB facilities.

Beginning in 2009, MCC is partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture in the DPRK on a three- year food security project. Given the success of conservation agriculture in other climatically-similar districts around the world, including Asia and Canada, this project aims to build longer-term food security at three cooperative farms and surrounding areas by increasing the scale of conservation agriculture practiced on each farm.

This is being done through the provision of technical support, training, specialized equipment and inputs. The program will benefit 12,287 residents on the three project farms. The total budget for the 3-year project is U.S.$1 million, with approximately 75% of the funding provided through CFGB and the remainder through individual donations to MCC. Click here   for a news release about the conservation agriculture project. In the interest of further engagement, MCC has also hosted delegations from the DPRK in both the U.S. and Canada, most recently an agricultural delegation to Canada in the fall of 2008. MCC also looks for ways to advocate DPRK engagement with Canadian and American governments. MCC seeks to share its resources in the name of Christ with those in need, placing emphasis on people-to-people relationships.

CanKor has more on NGOs here.

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The DPRK’s missing bishops

Monday, May 10th, 2010

According to Asia News:

According to the Catholic geography, North Korea is divided into three dioceses – Pyongyang Hamhung and Chunchon – and a territorial abbey that of Tomwok directly subject to the Holy See. After the end of the civil war in Korea (which was de facto in 1953, but never expressly recognized by the two governments) and the resulting division of the peninsula in two, the Vatican gave over Apostolic administration of the diocese to bishops of the South.

Under the Pontifical Yearbook – the mighty Volume printed in the Vatican, which represents a sort of map of Catholic presence in the world – the bishops are still the same. Under “Pyongyang”, we read Mgr. Francis Hong Yong-ho, born in 1906 and now “missing” for Hamhung we find an empty space, Chunchon, however, has a territory that “borders” in the North. Here, then, the entitled bishop is Mgr. John Chang-yik (but the post “is vacant” according to local Catholics).

The situation of the bishops is a true reflection of the situation of the Church of North Korea. In the middle of last century 30% of the inhabitants of the capital Pyongyang were Catholics, compared to 1% of the rest of the country. During the Korean War (1950-1953) Communist troops penetrated the South and hunted missionaries, foreign religious, and Korean Christians. The North Korean regime intended to destroy every Christian presence. In the north all the monasteries and churches were destroyed, monks and priests were arrested and sentenced to death.

During the war, the apostolic delegate to Korea, Patrick James Byrne. Bishop and U.S. citizen was arrested, was sentenced to death but the sentence was not executed. He was deported to a concentration camp and died there, after years of hardship and deprivation. There has been no news of what happened to the Christians in the following years: we still do not know the fate of the 166 priests and religious who remained in the North after the war. When questioned about them, North Korean officials respond: “They are perfect strangers.”

Today the Church in the North is without clergy and without worship. According to official government figures, there are about 4,000 Catholic North Koreans, in addition to some 11,000 Protestants. But AsiaNews sources in the country claim that the “real” Catholics number no more than two hundred, mostly very elderly. Throughout the North there are only three places of worship approved for the Christian faith: two Protestant Churches and one Catholic Churc. This is the church of Changchung (pictured) in the capital Pyongyang, which for many analysts is only for “show” and controlled by the regime.

The Christian community is subjected to harsh repression by the authorities. A Christian is doubly unpopular: accused of disloyalty to the regime and suspected of ties with the West. The majority of the faithful have been forced to express their faith in secret. In a communist country, being “discovered” while attending a mass in an unauthorized location may result in imprisonment and, at worst, torture and even capital punishment. Even the mere fact of possessing a Bible is a crime that can carry the death penalty. On 16 June 2009, a 33 year old Christian, Ri Hyon-ok, was sentenced to death and executed “for putting Bibles into circulation.”

The figure of Mgr. Hong Yong-ho is emblematic of this situation. Ordained May 25, 1933, he was appointed vicar apostolic of Pyongyang and titular bishop of Auzia March 24, 1944 by Pope Pius XII. The following June 29, he was consecrated by Archbishop Bonifatius Sauer, co-consecrating Bishop Hayasaka Irenæus, Archbishop Paul Marie Kinama-ro.

On March 10, 1962 Pope John XXIII decided to elevate the vicariate of Pyongyang to diocese, also in protest against the policies of the North Korean regime, and appointed as its first bishop, Mgr. Hong, who has becomes a symbol of persecution against Catholics in North Korea and in general in the communist regimes. Although he is now well over one hundred, in the Vatican they say it “can not be excluded that he may still be a prisoner in some re-education camp”.

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Park – Gomes Saga

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

UPDATE 16: 10/27/2010 – Robert Park has spoken of long-term psychological problems stemming from his captivity in North Korea.  According to the Choson Ilbo:

The evangelical activist Robert Park, who was detained in North Korea for 43 days after crossing the border from China in December last year, has spoken for the first time on South Korean TV about the ordeal. “They have really thought about this. How can we kill these people, how can we starve these people, how can we enslave these people, how can we control these people,” the Korean American told KBS on Tuesday.

He pledged to devote the rest of his life to fighting for the demise of the North Korean regime and the human rights of North Koreans.

Park recalled how he crossed the Duman (or Tumen) River on Dec. 25 last year, and was immediately arrested and beaten. “The scars and wounds of the things that happened to me in North Korea are too intense,” he said. He added that to prevent him from divulging the details of his detention, the security forces carried out humiliating sexual torture. “As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I’ve thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship.”

He attempted a suicide immediately after he returned to the United States and had to be treated by a psychiatrist for seven months.

Park insisted that an apology he read on North Korean TV was dictated to him. Asked why he decided to enter the North illegally armed with nothing but a Bible, he said, “I hoped through my sacrifice, that people will come together and they will liberate North Korea.”

UPDATE 15: 8/30/2010 – Doubts raised over whether Gomes attempted suicide. According ot the Choson Ilbo:

The North’s official KCNA news agency on July 9 reported Gomes tried to kill himself “driven by his guilty conscience and by frustration with the U.S. government’s failure to free him.” It said he was being treated in hospital.

After the news, the U.S. administration quickly decided to send Carter to Pyongyang. In mid-August, a U.S. State Department medical team visited the North to check on the prisoner.

But in an interview with the New York Times last Saturday, Gomes’ uncle Michael Farrow denied he attempted suicide but had gone on hunger strike.

“I wouldn’t say that he was anywhere near sick at all,” the daily quoted Farrow as saying. “Naturally he probably had some discomfort of being away from home, but other than that he held up pretty good.” This suggests that Gomes was protesting against his detention.

Gomes arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston on the same plane as Carter on Friday and went home with his family without talking to the press.

UPDATE 14: 8/27/2010- Here is KCNA coverage of Cater’s visit to secure the release of Gomes:

Report on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to DPRK

Pyongyang, August 27 (KCNA) — Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the United States, and his party visited the DPRK from Aug. 25 to 27.

Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, met and had a talk with them.

He discussed with Carter the pending issues of mutual concern between the DPRK and the U.S.

Kim Yong Nam expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks.

In particular, he emphasized that it is the behest of President Kim Il Sung to denuclearize the peninsula.

Jimmy Carter made an apology to Kim Yong Nam for American Gomes’ illegal entry into the DPRK and gave him the assurance that such case will never happen again on behalf of the government and the ex-president of the U.S. He asked Kim Yong Nam to convey to General Secretary Kim Jong Il a message courteously requesting him to grant special pardon to Gomes to leniently forgive him and let him go home.

After receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, Kim Jong Il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes, an illegal entrant, pursuant to Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK.

Carter expressed deep thanks for this.

Earlier, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for Consular Affairs and his party visited Pyongyang from August 9 to 11 in connection with the case of Gomes and met officials of the Foreign Ministry and a relevant legal body of the DPRK.

The DPRK side took measures as an exception to ensure that they met Gomes three times and confirmed his condition. The U.S. side offered gratitude for these humanitarian measures.

The measure taken by the DPRK to set free the illegal entrant is a manifestation of its humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.

During the visit Carter and his party met and had an open-hearted discussion with the DPRK’s foreign minister and vice foreign minister for U.S. affairs on the DPRK-U.S. relations, the resumption of the six-party talks, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.

They also enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.

The Pyongyang visit paid by Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the U.S., provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries.

UPDATE 13: 8/25/2010 – Jimmy Carter has arrived in Pyongyang for the second time in his life.

UPDATE 12: Jimmy Carter is reportedly gearing up to go and get Mr. Gomes.

UPDATE 11: According to All Headline News:

The United States confirmed on Monday that a four-person team visited Pyongyang recently to meet with 30-year-old Aijalon Gomes, who has been held captive since January.

Asked to comment on the visit, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told journalists, “It was a four person team: one consular official, two doctors, and a translator. We requested permission to visit Mr. Gomes. That permission from the North Korean Government was granted. The basis of the trip was simply our ongoing concerns about Mr. Gomes’s health and welfare.”

“They (the team from the State Department, Washington) were in Pyongyang from August 9 through August 11. I believe they returned on August 12,” said Crowley, adding, “They visited him (Gomes) in a hospital.”

Crowley said that although the U.S. and Swedish officials on its behalf, “requested permission to bring Mr. Gomes home,” adding, “Unfortunately, he remains in North Korea.”

“We have had conversations directly with North Korea on this issue. We have encouraged them to release Mr. Gomes on humanitarian grounds and we will continue to have that direct conversation with North Korea as needed,” Crowley noted.

UPDATE 10: US in direct contact with DPRK re: Gomes (Daily NK)

UPDATE 9: (2010-7-19) Robert Park has apparently broken his silence to speak out for Gomes.  According to KOLD News 13 (Tucson, AZ):

For the first time since his release from North Korea, Tucsonan Robert Park is speaking out.

He’s speaking out now to send a message about Aijalon Gomes, a U.S. citizen who’s currently being held in North Korea.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Park said. “He’s a very good friend of mine.”

Gomes, a Boston resident, crossed into North Korea one month after Park did. Gomes has been sentenced to eight years in a North Korean labor camp. But North Korea has recently threatened to increase that punishment, by invoking the country’s “wartime law,” citing growing tensions with the U.S.

It’s still not clear exactly why Gomes entered North Korea, but based on limited communications with his friend, Park believes it’s because of him.

“He was very concerned about me,” said Park, who added that crossing into North Korea was uncharacteristic for Gomes. “He was so concerned that (I) was dead, so that’s why he took this risk and he just went in.”

Park says he’s now going on a hunger strike to raise awareness and urgency about Gomes’ situation.

“I’m on the third day of my hunger strike,” he said. “I plan to not consume any food until he is released, even if that means my death.”

Park is also urging Americans to contact lawmakers to intervene.

“If you would please contact your government leaders and plead with them, raise awareness with them concerning Aijalon Gomes’s case, and ask that they make a direct visit.”

UPDATE 8: KCNA reports Gomes attempted suicide:

American Prisoner Attempts Suicide
Pyongyang, July 9 (KCNA) — American Gomes serving a prison term in the DPRK recently attempted to take his own life, according to information available from a relevant organ.

Driven by his strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair at the U.S. government that has not taken any measure for his freedom, he attempted to commit suicide. He is now given first-aid treatment at a hospital.

The Swedish embassy here representing the U.S. interests acquainted itself with the condition of the patient at the hospital.

According to the New York Times:

In April, North Korea sentenced Mr. Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him the equivalent of $700,000 for entering the country illegally and for “hostile acts.”

North Korea recently threatened to increase the punishment for Mr. Gomes under the country’s “wartime law,” saying worsening tensions with the United States had created a warlike situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr. Gomes’s motivation for entering North Korea is unclear. He had been teaching English in South Korea before his arrest in the North. In late April, he was allowed to speak to his mother by telephone.

UPDATE 7: DPRK threatens to increase punishment of Gomes over the Cheonan situation.  Apparenlty there is no North Korean word for “Double Jeapordy“.  According to the BBC:

North Korea said it would use “wartime law” against the 30-year-old if the US continued its “hostile approach” over the sinking of a South Korean warship.

….

According to North Korea’s state news agency, US requests to free Gomes will not be accepted while the dispute over the sinking of the warship continues.

Instead the Korean Central News Agency says “there remains only the issue of what harsher punishment will be meted out to him”.

“If the US persists in its hostile approach, the latter will naturally be compelled to consider the issue of applying a wartime law to him,” state media reported.

Analysts say “wartime law” could mean a life sentence or the death penalty.

UPDATE 6: Gomes has phoned home.  According to the AP (4/30/2010):

An American imprisoned in North Korea was allowed to speak to his family by telephone Friday, state media said.

North Korea sentenced Aijalon Mahli Gomes to eight years of hard labor and fined him $700,000 in early April for entering the country illegally in January and for an unspecified “hostile act.”

Gomes, from Boston, was the fourth American detained by North Korea for illegal entry in less than a year. He had been teaching English in South Korea.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported that Gomes spoke with family on Friday. The call was allowed after Gomes asked “for a phone contact with his family for his health and other reasons,” the report said.

The brief dispatch from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang provided no further details on the call.

KCNA also said Gomes had contact in prison with a Swedish Embassy official to whom he handed a “written petition.” The report said that happened before the phone call but wasn’t specific.

The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, and Sweden handles U.S. interests in the North.

UPDATE 5: Gomes has been sentenced.  According to the BBC:

North Korea has sentenced a US citizen to eight years’ hard labour for illegally entering the country, state news agency KCNA has said.

The man, named as 30-year-old Aijalon Mahli Gomes, from Boston, admitted his wrongdoing in court, KCNA reported.

Gomes had worked as an English teacher in South Korea, and reportedly crossed the border from China on 25 January.

Swedish diplomats were allowed to attend the trial, as the US has no diplomatic presence in North Korea.

Gomes, described by colleagues as a devout Christian, was also fined 70 million won ($700,000; £460,000 at the official exchange rate). It is not clear why he entered North Korea.

Goodwill gesture?
Despite the jail sentence, analysts suggested Gomes could be freed before too long as Pyongyang tries to improve bilateral relations with the US.

“The North is not going to hold him for eight years,” Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University told the AFP news agency.

“It is likely to suspend the implementation of the sentence and expel him as a goodwill gesture toward the United States.”

Gomes was the fourth American citizen to be accused of entering the country in the past year. In February, North Korea freed Robert Park, who had entered the country from China by walking over a frozen river.

He had reportedly wanted to highlight human rights issues in North Korea, but was said before his release to have admitted his “mistake”.

Last year two US journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were also arrested by North Korea on the border with China.

They were sentenced to 12 years’ hard labour but freed in August after four months in captivity, as part of a diplomatic mission spearheaded by former US President Bill Clinton.

According to KCNA:

Central Court Gives American to 8 Years Hard Labor

Pyongyang, April 7 (KCNA) — A trial of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, male U.S. citizen, was held at a court of justice of the Central Court of the DPRK on Tuesday.

An examination was made of the hostile act committed against the Korean nation and the trespassing on the border of the DPRK against which an indictment was brought in and his guilt was confirmed according to the relevant articles of the criminal code of the DPRK at the trial. On this basis, the court sentenced him to eight years of hard labor and a fine of 70 million won.

The accused admitted all the facts which had been put under accusation.

The presence of representatives of the Swedish embassy here to witness the trial was allowed as an exception at the request of the Swedish side protecting the U.S. interests.

(more…)

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World Council of Churches visiting North Korea

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

UPDATE 2: Well apparently the World Council of Churches is in bed with the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  According to their most recent press release:

Nearly 140 leaders from the world’s churches, North and South Koreans among them, have called for the formation of an inter-Korean confederation even before complete reunification of Korea can take place. Agreement was reached at the close of a three-day meeting in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong where the Christian leaders expressed unrelenting hope for peace and reconciliation among Koreans, despite the stark realities of the ongoing division of the Korean peninsula.

The call for a confederation came in a communiqué developed by the group at the end of their international consultation on Korean reunification. The “Tsuen Wan Communiqué” says the confederation option would involve progressive steps such as peaceful co-existence and the furthering of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

The proposal for an inter-Korean confederation was presented to the group jointly by church leaders from North and South Korea on the final day of deliberations.

The “confederation system would respect both governments”, said the Rev. Kang Yong Sop, chairman of the Korea Christian Federation of North Korea, in a presentation to the group on Friday morning.

“North and South Korea must first recognize each other’s systems and engage in cooperation in any field possible, and institutionalize the results,” said Suh Bo Hyug, a member of the National Council of Churches in Korea’s reconciliation and reunification committee: “Only then will they move closer to reunification.”

The communiqué was the outcome of a consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula held 21 to 23 October 2009, sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

Of course the confederation plan was raised by Kim Il sung years ago and the DPRK is still pushing that vision as an intermediary step towards reunification.

And if there was any doubt remaining:

They also called for all sanctions against North Korea imposed by the United Nations Security Council to be lifted, for immediate bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, and for North and South Korea to implement fully the 15 June 2000 North-South Joint Declaration and the 4 October 2007 Declaration, both of which spelled out a number of goals and steps toward reunification.

UPDATE 1:  The WCC issued an interesting press release following their visit to the DPRK.  Here is an excerpt:

Visiting North Korea at the invitation of the Korean Christian Federation of North Korea, Kobia and the delegation visited three churches on Sunday 18 October.

In addition to visiting the Bong Soo Church the delegation also visited the Chilgol Church in the capital, Pyongyang, and a house church of 12 members in the town of Sunam which is near Pyongyang.

Continuing with the Corinthian example Kobia told the Bong Soo congregation that no church is more important than the other. “The body is whole when all the parts cooperate with each other,” he said. “Therefore in his letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul appeals to the community to recognize each other as being a very important part of the body.”

The Bong Soo Church was constructed in 1987 with funding from the North Korean government and the Presbyterian Church of Korea. The church is thoroughly modern with a full sound system, balcony and music text on a large screen in front of the church, a video camera system, a high-lofted ceiling and an area for a large choir.

Bibles and songbooks line the seating areas for the congregations. Within the church compound is a recently constructed theological seminary where 12 students are now enrolled to earn degrees in evangelism.

The Bong Soo worship service overflowed with music from the choir, soloists and several women’s groups, mostly singing traditional hymns. Asked if the abundance of music was especially for the WCC delegation, a congregation member said no, “this happens every week.”

The smaller congregation at the Chilgol Church, which the WCC delegation also visited, has been in existence since the late 1800s. The current building is relatively new, as the original building was destroyed in the Korean War by the U.S. bombing of Pyongyang.

A WCC delegation member asked the congregation about the noticeable absence of children in the churches. While acknowledging this is a challenge within North Korean society, they said the children are involved in a broad range of other activities and some will at a later age come to church. They said it was their job to teach their children at home about Christianity.

On Sunday afternoon the WCC delegation visited a house church of 12 members who meet in a home in the community of Sunam outside of Pyongyang. They said the house church movement within North Korea is growing.

The church meets on Sundays, sitting on the floor of the living room of a member’s home. One member brings an accordion to accompany the singing. The singing in the North Korean church tends to be extraordinarily rich and is a key part, along with prayer and teaching, of any worship service.

Read the full press release here.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the press release on their web page (written before departure):

The visit is at the invitation of and being organized by the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea and will take place 17 to 20 October.

“We will be meeting with the churches, government officials and learning about the life and witness of churches in North Korea,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the WCC Public Witness programme and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, who will be a member of the delegation travelling with Kobia. “We will be participating in the worship service at Bong Soo Church in Pyongyang, where the WCC general secretary will preach.”

The churches in North Korea are involved in social development and humanitarian aid assistance, and the members of WCC’s ecumenical fellowship have been supportive to the KCF for the past several years, said Chunakara.

The visit is taking place at a time when intense multilateral diplomatic efforts and negotiations are under way on issues related to denuclearization of North Korea and resumption of Six Party Talks, which were stalled for some time after North Korea withdrew from the talks.

Although North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made the announcement to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang last week during his three-day visit that North Korea would return to the Six Party Talks, it is also reported that Kim Jong-il said the return would be dependent on the progress of its planned bilateral talks with the US.

The WCC has been relating with the churches in North Korea for the past 25 years, with the first official visit having taken place in 1985. In the early 1980s the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs initiated a process aimed at peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula and bringing church leaders from North and South Korea together.

This is the second visit of a WCC general secretary in ten years. In 1999, then general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser visited North Korea.

After the visit to North Korea, the delegation will travel to Hong Kong to participate in an international consultation on peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula, which will be held from 21 to 23 October.

The WCC general secretary will be accompanied by WCC staff members Mathews George Chunakara, Christina Papazoglou, Mark Beach and Peter Williams, as well as the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Dr Prawate Khid-arn.

Critics of the DPRK have long argued that the primary purpose of Korean Christian Federation is to attract aid from foreign religious organizations. This is probably true to some extent, but the organization has been around since the 1940s so it is likely that by this point its mission within the political system is more complicated than to function only as an aid magnet.

Here are a few older posts about the KCF.

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DPRK-RoK trade increases in September

Monday, October 19th, 2009

According to Yonhap:

Inter-Korean trade grew for the first time in 13 months in September amid improving global economic conditions and eased cross-border tensions, customs data showed Monday.

According to data compiled by the Korea Customs Service, trade between South and North Korea amounted to US$173.17 million last month, up 2.6 percent from a year earlier when the global financial turbulence first began following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Also according to Yonhap however, the DPRK and RoK failed to agree on an aid-for-family reunions deal:

The two Koreas on Friday ended their day-long negotiations over further cross-border family reunions and other humanitarian issues without reaching any concrete agreement, with Pyongyang asking for resumption of aid by Seoul, officials said.

In the meeting arranged by Red Cross offices from both sides, South Korea proposed holding new rounds of reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War next month in both Seoul and Pyongyang, and again around February at the North’s Mount Kumgang resort.

But aid is not off the table.  According to the Korea Times today:

The government has been reviewing whether to subsidize non-government organizations through the inter-Korean cooperation fund in order to provide aid to North Korea, according to the Ministry of Unification, Monday.

“The government is mainly checking plans to offer health and medical care,” ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters. “But details have yet to be determined.”

Chun reiterated that Seoul is sticking to its existing stance that it will provide North Korea with humanitarian assistance regardless of the political climate.

According to government sources, the subsidy would total less than 1 billion won (about $853,000).

The plan, however, is not related to North Korea’s request for humanitarian aid made during the inter-Korean Red Cross talks last Friday, the sources said.

Seoul has also been reviewing whether to provide the reclusive state with government-level support such as food and fertilizer aid, according to ministry officials.

The inter-Korean cooperation fund has served as a lifeline for cross-border business projects, including the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Geumgang tourism program, which has been suspended.

It is also a main source of South Korea’s economic aid to the impoverished North.

The cash pot was introduced in 1990 in order to boost personal exchanges, economic cooperation and trust-building between the two Koreas.

In August, the ministry approved a plan to subsidize 10 civic groups with approximately 3.6 billion won ($3 million) from the fund for relief activities involving North Korean babies, pregnant women and other social minorities.

The government originally planned to distribute the money starting from April but North Korea’s provocations postponed the plan.

As reported before, the South Korean government has spent just 5% of the funds it budgeted for inter-Korean projects this year.

At the same time North Korea is soliciting aid from South Korean and Western religious origanizations.  See here, here, and here in just the last few days.

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Religionists “spam faxing” DPRK

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

UPDATE: A detail oriented reader has pointed out that there is no DPRK embassy in Helsinki.  It was closed, and DPRK-Finnish relations have been handled from the DPRK’s embassy in Stockholm. See the comments below for more. 

According to the Voice of the Martyrs web page:

An anonymous fax believed to have been sent from the North Korean embassy for Finland promises workers affiliated with The Voice of the Martyrs (USA) that “something very bad will happen to you” if VOM continues a special project to share the Gospel via weekly fax transmissions to government and business representatives of the restricted Asian nation.

During the past year VOM has made an effort to collect as many fax numbers as possible inside North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated nations. VOM sends weekly faxes containing Christian messages and Scripture passages on love and forgiveness to each of the fax numbers.

Apparently, the project has touched a nerve at the highest levels of North Korea’s repressive government.

“We know who you are,” begins a fax, written in Korean but without a signature. “We warn you that if you send this kind of dirty fax again something very bad will happen to you. Don’t do something you will regret.”

The threatening fax came to a VOM-affiliated office just days before two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were sentenced to 12 years hard labor for allegedly crossing the border into North Korea. It came just one day after the latest round of faxes sent by VOM to North Korean fax numbers.

“This fax is good news,” said Todd Nettleton, VOM’s director of Media Development and the author of a book on the history of Christianity in North Korea. “This means that the faxes are getting through, and they are being read. It is highly unlikely that this type of response would have been made from an embassy without some approval from Pyongyang.”

The Voice of the Martyrs exists to serve persecuted Christians living in restricted nations, and to help spread the gospel in those nations. The ministry has been active in North Korea for decades, including launching tens of thousands of “Scripture Balloons,” helium filled balloons that are printed with Scripture passages and other gospel messages.

The most recent fax sent to North Korean businesses and government offices included stories of Christians loving Communists — even the Communists who abused or tortured them. It was taken from the writings of Richard Wurmbrand, VOM’s founder who was held for 14 years in communist prisons in Romania.

“North Korea presents some great challenges, but the Good News of Jesus’ love cannot be stopped,” said Nettleton. “We simply have to find more creative ways to deliver that message, and The Voice of the Martyrs is committed to doing that.”

A PDF of the fax can be seen here.

Here is an English translation of the faxes the religious group is sending.

Coverage of the story in Chairstian Today.

Josh suggests some non-religious messages.

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North Korea on Google Earth v.18

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

North Korea Uncovered version 18 is available.  This Google Earth overlay maps North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks.

This project has now been downloaded over 140,000 times since launching in April 2007 and received much media attention last month following a Wall Street Journal article highlighting the work.

Note: Kimchaek City is now in high resolution for the first time.  Information on this city is pretty scarce.  Contributions welcome.

Additions to this version include: New image overlays in Nampo (infrastructure update), Haeju (infrastructure update, apricot trees), Kanggye (infrastructure update, wood processing factory), Kimchaek (infrastructure update). Also, river dredges (h/t Christopher Del Riesgo), the Handure Plain, Musudan update, Nuclear Test Site revamp (h/t Ogle Earth), The International School of Berne (Kim Jong un school), Ongjin Shallow Sea Farms, Monument to  “Horizon of the Handure Plain”, Unhung Youth Power Station, Hwangnyong Fortress Wall, Kim Ung so House, Tomb of Kim Ung so, Chungnyol Shrine, Onchon Public Library, Onchon Public bathhouse, Anbyon Youth Power Stations.

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