Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Wellspring assistance in drilling water wells

Friday, March 14th, 2014

According to Wellspring’s website:

Wellspring has had the privilege to partner with several Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) in our work in North Korea. Partnering with other groups allows Wellspring to work efficiently and effectively by focusing on our specialty – drilling water wells in North Korea. We have provided wells for our partners in several areas of the country and desire to work with new partners who are currently working in North Korea.

According to Yonhap:

Private agencies in the United States have provided North Korea with aid to help its people have access to clean water and medicine, media reports said Friday.

According to the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA), Wellspring, a non-governmental organization in the U.S., sent a large truck to the North earlier this week to support its groundwater development project.

The aid was provided at the request of the North’s underground water development research institute, and the lorry was purchased in China, according to the RFA.

Under the vision of “Bringing living water to the people of North Korea,” James Linton, who leads the organization, has visited the communist country every year since 2007 to provide training, equipment, and expertise in the field and has drilled some 200 wells across the country.

The Connecticut-based private agency AmeriCares also recently sent medicine, medical devices and food for children worth $370,000, according to the Voice of America.

They are expected to arrive in the North next month to be delivered to hospitals and local clinics in Pyongyang and North Hwanghae, it added.

North Korea has regularly suffered from acute food and medical shortages caused mainly by isolation and natural disasters.

Read the full story here:
U.S. NGOs offer humanitarian aid to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-3-14

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DPRK envoy to UN replaced

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea’s United Nations (U.N.) Ambassador Sin Son-ho will reportedly be replaced by Ja Song-nam, a former North Korean ambassador to Britain.

“Sin will return home after being the North’s permanent representative to the U.N. for five years and six months,” a diplomatic source was quoted as saying by local dailies.

He added that Ja, who is familiar with U.S. representatives, is a leading candidate for the position.

Ja, who also worked for the North Korean mission to the U.N., was involved in the family reunions for Korean-Americans and other issues with the United States.

However, the swap is seen as a regular exchange of personnel, given that Sin has represented the Stalinist country since 2008.

Meanwhile, the new ambassador is raising expectations that the so-called “New York Channel” could be re-activated.

It has facilitated talks between Pyongyang and Washington on several occasions, but since Jang Il-hoon replaced Han Song-ryol as the deputy ambassador in July last year, the North’s U.S. diplomatic channel has seen its role diminishing.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s UN envoy to be replaced
Korea Times
Kang Seung-woo
2014-2-12

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North Korea at night (2014-1-30)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

NASA has released another iconic photo of the Korean peninsula taken at night:

NASA-2014-1-30

Image date: 2014-1-30

Here is the source. Here is video.

Here is a NASA photo from 2012-9-24.

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World Vision to donate US$1m in assistance

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

 A U.S. private relief agency plans to provide aid worth US$1 million to North Korea this year to help support North Korean children and other vulnerable people, a news report said Thursday.

World Vision Inc. also plans to provide clean water to more than 8,000 North Koreans in provincial areas while providing nutritional assistance to children under the age of six, according to the report by the Washington-based Radio Free Asia.

The Christian organization plans to expand its humanitarian project in other rural areas, the report said.

Read the full story here:
U.S. relief agency to give aid worth US$1 mln to N. Korea
Yonhap
2014-1-16

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Dennis Rodman’s fourth trip to North Korea

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

UPDATE 9 (2014-1-18): Joseph Terwilliger gives an interview here.

UPDATE 8 (2014-1-18): The AP reports that Rodman has checked into rehab:

Dennis Rodman has checked into an undisclosed alcohol rehabilitation center to treat his long-time struggle with alcoholism, his agent says.

Darren Prince declined on Saturday to say which facility will treat Rodman and how long he will be there. Rodman recently returned to the United States from his latest trip to North Korea.

He later apologized for comments he made in North Korea about a detained American missionary, saying he had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized an exhibition game there. He also sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of the friendly game.

“What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned,” Prince said. “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination `super human’ political figure and `fixer’ got the better of him.

“He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused.”

UPDATE 7 (2014-1-14): The apologies, via the Associated Press:

Former basketball star Dennis Rodman apologized on Monday for not being able to help an American missionary detained in North Korea while he played there to celebrate the birthday of his friend and leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything,” Rodman told media on his arrival at Beijing airport from a weeklong trip. “It’s not my fault. I’m sorry. I just want to do some good stuff, that’s all I want to do.”

He said he would return to North Korea next month, but gave no details.


Acknowledging the controversy surrounding the trip, one of the players, Charles D. Smith, said Rodman “opened the door and he did some missteps along the way.”

In an interview in Beijing, Smith said Rodman’s singing of “Happy Birthday” to Kim before the exhibition game at a Pyongyang stadium was something that he alone had decided to do. “I think that it might not have been the right thing to do, but he did it … if it was done in private it would be different, but when it’s done in the open like that, people are going to have opinions.”

During the trip, Rodman was also slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, the missionary in poor health who has been detained for more than a year for “anti-state crimes.” Rodman apologized last week for comments he made in a CNN interview implying Bae was at fault, saying he had been drinking and was upset because some of his teammates were under pressure to leave.

Smith said the controversy surrounding Bae was a “bad situation” that “overshadowed some of the things that we were doing.”

“Dennis is not a member of the State Department, he is not a member of the U.N.,” Smith said. “For them to put the flag in his hands and say go and negotiate and talk about it, he probably would have made it worse, you know.”

He said North Korean officials had invited the team back “at any given time.”

On Monday, Rodman reiterated that his trip was one of goodwill.

“This is not a bad deal,” he said. “I want to show people that no matter what’s going on in the world, for one day, just one day, no politics, not all that stuff.

“I’m sorry for all the people and what’s going on, I’m sorry,” he continued. “I’m not the president, I’m not an ambassador, I’m just an individual that wants to show the world the fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day.”

Rodman and Kim struck up a friendship when the basketball-player-turned-celebrity first traveled to the secretive state last year.

UPDATE 6 (2014-1-9): KCTV footage of the visit has been made public. The fist video shows Rodman’s delegation meeting with Kim Jong-un, presenting him with customized vodka bottles, singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un, then offers game highlights.

The second video shows the game itself.

UPDATE 5 (2014-1-8): Dennis Rodman sings “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un. Here is Simon Cockerell talking about the game via Skype.

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): According to the Daily NK, the DPRK is using the Rodman game to treat Chinese investors.

A source in China informed Daily NK on the 8th, “Some Chinese traders who have given a great deal to projects in Pyongyang, including the construction of department stores, shops and restaurants, have been invited to go and celebrate Kim Jong Eun’s birthday. All accommodation, food and travel while in the country is being covered by the Chosun side, and all other expenses are to be borne by the invitee.”

“Chosun [North Korea] has only invited a select group, and there will only be two or three officials from the Chinese side, so the total number of people won’t have exceeded 30. Their schedules for today are to attend the friendly basketball game and then inspect Pyongyang [Munsu] Water Park. Later there will be a tour of Kaesong and Panmunjom, and I hear that a number of banquets have been prepared,” the source went on.

By hosting the group in this way, Kim Jong Eun is following in the footsteps of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, both of whom invited foreign business people and dignitaries to partake of their birthday celebrations. The only difference is the small number of invitees, the lack of publicity outside the country thus far, and the fact that today is not actually a North Korean public holiday.

“Kim Jong Eun has not done much in terms of showing himself off as yet,” the source posited, “and since he has a great many things to worry about at home right now, such as the execution of Jang Song Taek, he cannot host a large spectacle for this birthday this year. Nevertheless, it does appear that they want to convey their gratitude to foreign investors, so he’s invited them to help him celebrate.”

Furthermore, “These invitations have been extended because there is a sense of urgency about attracting investment for special economic zones and other projects that call for capital. After creating a genial atmosphere via the tourist activities, they will actively work to encourage the invitees to invest in things like the construction of water parks in each major city.”

Meanwhile, a second source has revealed that the North Korean authorities have also summoned a select group of provincial cadres to Pyongyang for the birthday celebrations. The source from North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK, “Some provincial cadres have gone up to Pyongyang for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Eun’s) birthday celebrations on January 8th. This has not been officially reported to the people, and cadres are the only ones being quietly called up.”

UPDATE 3 (2014-1-7): Dennis Rodman completely lost it during this live interview on CNN. Here is Andray Abrahamian’s response.

UPDATE 2 (2014-1-7): A traveler visiting the DPRK to see the Dennis Rodman game has introduced Bitcoin to the DPRK. Here is an instagram photo of the first Bitcoin transaction in the DPRK.

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-6): Apparently Paddy Power is still funding this trip despite publicly bowing out during Rodman’s last visit. According to the Irish Times:

Just before Christmas, Paddy Power withdrew sponsorship of Rodman’s event, saying this was as a result of general condemnation of Pyongyang. This followed the rare public purge of leader Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was executed last month.

The company said it “took a back seat” after those events but would still “honour all of its contractual obligations”.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-1-4): Rodman has made three trips to the DPRK. Here are links to the first, second and third trips. In a gesture towards his fourth trip he has named a slate of basketball players that will be joining him for an exhibition match in honor of Kim Jong-un’s birthday.

According to Sports Illustrated:

Dennis Rodman has named a team of former NBA players to participate in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Rodman leads a team that includes former NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, and Vin Baker. Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith are on the team, as well. They will play against a top North Korean Senior National team on Jan. 8, marking Kim Jong Un’s birthday.

and…

Rodman calls the game his version of “basketball diplomacy.”

“My previous travels have allowed me to feel the enthusiasm and warmth of fans,” Rodman said. “The positive memories and smiles on the faces of the children and families are a testament to the great efforts we have put into fulfilling our mission wherever we go voiding any politics. We are all looking forward to arriving in Pyongyang, meeting the citizens, visiting various charities and using the opportunity to develop new relationships that result in our annual return.”

Here is some more infor on the players.

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US OFAC expands sanctions list

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

It is believed that representatives from Excellence Mineral Manufacturing Co., Ltd and Soe Min Htaeik Co. recently met with North Korean authorities to facilitate the import of military supplies for use in North Korea’s state-run weapons program.
A third company, Asia Metal Company Limited, is thought to have constructed factory facilities for use by the Myanmar Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI).  It is estimated that around thirty North Korean nationals are currently employed on the site.
Lt. Col. Kyaw Nyunt Oo of the DDI was the only individual added to the list.

Information on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN) can be found here.

Here is a link to the SDN List Sorted by OFAC Sanctions Program (Search for DPRK)

Here is a link to the SDN List Sorted by Country (Search for Korea, North)

Read the full story here:
NK Weapons Suppliers Added to Sanctions List
Daily NK
Jin Dong Hyeok
2013-12-19

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Dennis Rodman’s third trip to DPRK

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

UPDATE 2 (2013-12-26): A couple of the individuals involved in getting Rodman into the DPRK for his second trip (post-Vice) have written an op-ed explaining their motivation. According to the article:

Sometimes private citizens can ease tensions between governments when public officials cannot.

Since we met NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman in May, we have been helping to coordinate his visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and organize an international basketball tournament sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Seeing as our government has branded the DPRK a “critical” national security threat, we find it reflects badly on Foggy Bottom that the three Americans best acquainted with its supreme leader are a retired NBA star, a mixed martial arts fighter and a tuba-playing human geneticist.

Mr. Rodman constantly reminds those around him to “just do one thing: Do your job.” Now it seems he is picking up some of the slack for the U.S. State Department.

Despite decades-old antagonisms, it was ultimately not confrontation but détente between the capitalist and communist blocs that brought the threat of global nuclear war to an end. Perhaps the most memorable episode of this process was President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China and the period of Ping-Pong Diplomacy that laid the groundwork for it; USA/PRC relations were theretofore nonexistent. As Klaus Mehnert put it, the country “had been closed off so completely that there seemed to be about as many astronauts going to the moon as there were foreign observers getting into China.”

In 1967, presidential candidate Richard Nixon expressed his hope for détente with Peking, writing, “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” On Christmas 1970, People’s Daily ran a front-page story with a photograph of Chairman Mao Tsetung and American journalist Edgar Snow standing side by side atop the Tien An Men rostrum; at the top of the page, the day’s Mao quote: “All the peoples of the world, including the American people, are our friends.” While Washington dismissed this gesture given Snow’s sympathy for Mao, in retrospect it seems it was intended as a subtle olive branch.

With spring came a chance meeting between American and Chinese ping-pong players concluding with an exchange of gifts. This simple act of humanity touched off a string of cultural and, later, diplomatic interactions.

Days later, the American team was invited to Peking. President Nixon took the opportunity to announce an easing of sanctions and his hope for normalized bilateral relations and “the ending of the isolation of Mainland China from the world community.”

Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Peking that summer paved the way for “the Week that Changed the World.” Although Nixon and Mao certainly did not see eye to eye, their shared view that diplomacy is preferable to both isolation and war made normal relations between Washington and Peking possible.

The value of cultural exchanges consists in their power to erode misconceptions. For instance, Dr. Terwilliger spent a month this summer in Pyongyang teaching human evolutionary genetics to a class of very talented Korean undergraduates.

Aside from teaching scientific critical thinking, he took care to present his students with the best side of the American people, to demonstrate that we are a generous and friendly people rather than the “brigandish aggressors” of the familiar caricature. He was both surprised and encouraged by their interest in Mr. Rodman’s February visit.

They noted that hearing Mr. Rodman say nice things about their country made them rethink their stereotypes about Americans, for they had now seen one embracing their leader. Many had even read Mr. Rodman’s autobiography and remarked that they admired his frankness in describing the difficulties he faced in his early life.

Such reactions can only bode well. Hostility is inevitable when the common man on each side sees highlighted only the worst aspects of the other. Mutual understanding is where rapprochement starts.

While the first few timid steps may proceed slowly as trust is built, the example of Ping-Pong Diplomacy demonstrates that if the momentum is sustained it can offer governments new options with which to pursue peace and may even be developed into a full gallop (what the Koreans call “Chollima speed”) toward rapprochement. At the very least, track-two diplomacy can present unique opportunities for engagement between private citizens whose governments remain at odds.

Mr. Rodman would be the first to recognize that he is neither a politician nor a diplomat — and yet, that is precisely what makes him such a promising agent of reconciliation. As a cultural icon, Mr. Rodman has the power to project a relatable human face in a way a government functionary simply cannot: by doing down-to-earth things all people can enjoy.

Our government has repeatedly missed the basket, but at least this time Mr. Rodman is there to pick up the rebound. As he has said, “[Kim Jong Un] loves basketball. … Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there.”

An associate professor at Columbia University in New York City, Joseph D. Terwilliger was a member of Dennis Rodman’s September and December delegations to Pyongyang. John Doldo IV, a Watertown native who has also spent time in North Korea, has been working behind the scenes helping to coordinate many aspects of the project. Both authors worked on a strictly voluntary basis in order to avoid any financial conflict of interest.

UPDATE 1 (2013-12-24): According to NK News, the Irish gambling company Paddy Power has decided to end its sponsorship of Rodman’s trips to the DPRK. According to the article:

Irish betting company Paddy Power has ended its partnership with Dennis Rodman and his “basketball diplomacy” initiative.

“We have been reviewing the partnership on an ongoing basis, and with the benefit of hindsight, we probably got this one wrong,” company spokesman Paddy Power (and son of Paddy Power’s founder, Paddy Power) tells NK News.

“Circumstances have changed quite a lot in North Korea; there has been worldwide scrutiny of the North Korean regime, probably more in the past month than in the past couple of years.

“There has been almost total condemnation of North Korea worldwide, and we’re really responding to that.”

Though they won’t be involved, Rodman’s plan to bring 11 other former NBA players to Pyongyang is still a go, according to Power.

“We have spoken to Rodman’s people,” he says. “The event is apparently still happening, but we just won’t be a part of it.”

“Dennis is very appreciative of Paddy Power’s support up to this point for this historic game of basketball diplomacy taking place on Jan. 8th,” Rodman’s agent Darren Prince told the Associated Press.

Here is an article on the history of Rodman and Paddy Power.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-21): Dennis Rodman has made his third trip to the DPRK. Trip one post here. Trip two post here.

The organizer, Michael Spavor, has been tweeting the trip here. Based on his pics, here is the appx itinerary:

1. Arrive at night and drive to hotel (motorcade). 2013-12-19

2. Meeting with sports minister. Poto with sports minister. Meeting room. 2012-12-20

3. Dennis Rodman “leads” training for DPRK team. Game scheduled against an American team in January. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5. 2012-12-20. Here is AP video of the training. Rodman is smoking a cigar.

4. Travel to Koryo Hotel for lunch. 2012-12-20

5. Travel to Korea Federation for the Protection of the Disabled. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3. 2012-12-21

6. Travel to the Recuperation Center and pools at the newly renovated Munsu Water Park. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5, Pic 6, Pic 7, Pic 7, Pic 8, Pic 9. 2012-12-21

7. Travel to Mirim Riding Club. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5, Pic 6. 2012-12-21

Rodman and the group left the DPRK without meeting Kim Jong-un, however, I suspect that he will get together in the upcoming fourth trip slated to take place in January.

Journalists have asked Rodman about current events (Jang song-thaek, Kenneth Bae and human rights) in the DPRK, and he has responded. According to the Telegraph:

“It has nothing to do with me. I mean, whatever his uncle has done, and whoever’s done anything in North Korea, I have no control over that,” Rodman said in Beijing. “I mean, these things have been going on for years and years and years.

“I’m just going over there to do a basketball game and have some fun,” he said.

Ahead of the trip, Seoul-based North Korean human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk said in an open letter in the Washington Post that Rodman should talk to Kim about human rights abuses in North Korea.

Rodman said it was not his place to talk about such issues.

“People have been saying these things here and there. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not a politician. I’m not an ambassador,” he said.

“I’m just going over there to try and do something really cool for a lot of people, play some games and try to get the Korean kids to play,” he said.

“Everything else I have nothing to do with. If it happens that he wants to talk about it then great. If it doesn’t happen I just can’t bring it up because I don’t (want) him to think that I’m over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as being his friend and all of a sudden I’m talking about politics. That’s not going to be that way,” Rodman said.

Rodman is expected to provide North Korea’s national basketball team with four days of training during the trip.

Here is a video interview with Rodman at the Koryo Hotel. Here is much of what he said in the video printed in an article.

He also intends to return to Pyongyang in January with a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to hold basketball games on Kim’s birthday.

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Merrill Newman saga (UPDATED)

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

UPDATE 9 (2013-12-9): Newman has issued a statement (Nelson Report):

Statement from Merrill Newman dated December 9, 2013

Over the past two days, I’ve been able to reunite with my wonderful family, rest, and try to recover from the difficult ordeal that began when I was prevented from leaving North Korea on October 26th. I can’t begin to tell you how good it is to be home, to be free, and to begin to resume my normal home life.

Let me repeat my thanks to the U.S. State Department for the amazing job they did in getting me out of North Korea and bringing me home safely. I want to thank Vice President Biden, who called me in Beijing to wish me well and even offered to give me a lift back to the United States on his plane. Thanks also to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for their great work, especially their visit to me and their help in ensuring that I had the medicine I needed.

Let me also express deep appreciation to friends, family, members of the First Congregational Church, wonderful people of faith and from all walks of life, residents and staff of our home at Channing House, and Members of Congress for their prayers, vigils, hard work, and moral support on my behalf. I want to single out Evans Revere for his extraordinary help.

It wasn’t until I got home on Saturday that I realized what a story I had become in the press here. During my detention I had no access to any outside news, and wondered whether anyone was even aware of my situation. I am sorry I caused so many people so many heartaches back home.

Looking at the television and newspaper reports, I’ve seen a lot of speculation about why I was detained. I’ve given considerable thought to this and have come to the conclusion that I just didn’t understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner.

I’m a Korean War veteran and I’m very proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbor resentment about those partisans from the Mt Kuwol area and what other anti-Communist guerrillas did in North Korea before and during the war.

The shooting stopped sixty years ago, and the North Koreans have allowed other American veterans of the war to visit. Moreover, I did not hide my own military service from the tour company that organized my trip. Therefore, I did not think this history would be a problem. Indeed, in my application for a tourist visa, I specifically requested permission to visit the Mt. Kuwol area. That request was approved and was on the official itinerary when I arrived, although after I got to Pyongyang, I was told that the bridge had been washed out by a flood and it would not be possible to do so.

Before they told me this, I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mt. Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were. The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister. It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized. With the benefit of hindsight I should have been more sensitive to that.

I’ve also seen a lot of reports about the “confession” I made in North Korea. Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily. Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me “confess” to. To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the “confession” in a way that emphasized the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for me to say. I hope that came across to all who saw the video.

Getting the “confession” and my “apology” were important to the North Koreans. Although the North Koreans treated me well during my detention (they looked after my health and fed me well), I was constantly under guard in my hotel and my interrogator made it clear that if I did not cooperate I could be sentenced to jail for espionage for 15 years. In fact, the North Korean interrogator repeatedly made the following statement to me: “If you do not tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will not be able to return to your home country. If you do tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will be able to return to your home country — someday.” Under these circumstances, I read the document with the language they insisted on because it seemed to be the only way I might get home.

In the coming days, as I recover my strength I plan to share more details about my experience in North Korea. I know there is a lot of interest in this and I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can. We also ask that you not forget that another American, Kenneth Bae is being held in the DPRK and we hope that he, too, will be allowed to rejoin his family. For now, let me finish by saying again how great it is to be back home, safe, and with my loved ones.

UPDATE 8 (2013-12-7): Newman back home. According to the Washington Post:

An elderly U.S. veteran of the Korean War arrived home Saturday after being released by North Korea, where he had traveled as a tourist and was held for six weeks as a prisoner.

“I’m delighted to be home,” Merrill Newman said at the San Francisco airport, where he was reunited with his wife and son, the Associated Press reported. “It’s been a great homecoming. I’m tired, but ready to be with my family.”

Vice President Biden, laying a wreath at a war memorial in Seoul, said he had spoken briefly with Newman by phone.

“There is a piece of good news. The DPRK today released someone they should never have had in the first place: Mr. Newman,” Biden said.

“I’m told we tried to get in contact with him [but] he’s on his way or in China right now. I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there’s a direct flight to San Francisco, his home. I don’t blame him. I’d be on that flight too. It’s a positive thing they’ve done.”

Biden said the United States would continue to demand the release of another American, Kenneth Bae, who has been held for more than a year. Including Newman, North Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009, six of whom have been released.

“At least there’s one ray of sunshine today. Mr. Newman will be reunited with his family,” he said.

UPDATE 7 (2013-12-7): KCNA reports that Mr. Newman has been deported.

U.S. Citizen Deported from DPRK

Pyongyang, December 7 (KCNA) — As already reported, a relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) detained and investigated U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who entered the DPRK under the guise of a tourist to confirm the whereabouts of the spies and terrorists who had been trained and dispatched by him, an intelligence officer, during the last Korean War.

According to the investigation, Newman entered the DPRK with a wrong understanding of it and perpetrated a hostile act against it.

Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint.

UPDATE 6 (2013-12-1): Yonhap reports that Swedish diplomats have been allowed to meet with Mr. Newman.

News wire services such as AFP and CNN said a consul met Merrill Newman at a hotel in Pyongyang and delivered medication sent by his family.

The Scandinavian country’s mission in Pyongyang acts as the “protecting power” for Americans in North Korea, and its diplomats provide consular services.

The media outlets said Newman was in good health and reported he was being treated well by the North Koreans.

UPDATE 5 (2013-11-30): KCNA has published Mr. Newman’s “apology”:

Apology of U.S. Citizen for His Hostile Acts in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The following is an apology U.S. citizen Merrill Newman presented to a relevant institution after his detention in the DPRK:

I am Merrill Newman living in California, USA.

During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.

As I gave 300 people with barbarity gone to the South who had ill feelings toward the DPRK from Chodo military education and guerilla training they later did attack against the DPRK although the armistice was signed.

I also gave 200 soldiers under my command in Mt. Kuwol the task to harass the rear base such as collecting information on the movement and the arm equipment in KPA, attacking and destruction on the communication system, the rice storage, railroad and munitions train by dispatching the several elements to Hwanghae Province Area.

According to my order they collected information of the KPA and attacked the communication system and killed 3 innocent operators, delayed the munitions supply using explosives obtained from attacking the mine and they attacked the KPA and harassing operations of the rear base 10 times in the Hwanghae Province Area.

They killed about 50 soldiers in the process of the operation. In the process of following tasks given by me I believe they would kill more innocent people.

As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.

Although 60 years have gone by, I came to DPRK on the excuse of the tour as a member of 33 Tour Group from U.S. on October 17, 2013.

Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war. Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendents because it was too hard for me to do myself.

If I had the opportunity to visit Kuwol Mt. I was going to pray for the souls of dead soldiers. If I saw surviving soldiers in Mt. Kuwol, I was going to connect them with the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association which I had already connected with, anti-Communist strategic plot organization.

All the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association escaped from the DPRK to South Korea. So I asked the guide to help me to look for their families and relatives living in DPRK and I gave the document written with their address and e-mail address to the guide in the Yanggakdo Hotel.

I also brought the e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK on this trip and criticizing DPRK.

Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again.

I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me.

Please forgive me.

I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK Government and the Korean People again.

On this trip I can understand that in US and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK.

If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.

Merrill Newman

Nov 9, 2013

Here is the video.

According to the New York Times:

In the apology, Mr. Newman said he was an adviser for the Kuwol Unit of the United Nations Korea Sixth Partisan Regiment, which served with the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.

A person familiar with Mr. Newman’s military record and his current situation in captivity in North Korea said that Mr. Newman served as an adviser in that unit in 1953 before the armistice. The unit operated behind the lines in North Korea, but Mr. Newman conducted his duties as an adviser on Chodo, an island off the west coast of what is now North Korea, the person said. In the beginning of the video, Mr. Newman mentioned Chodo as the place where he was stationed. The person speaking about Mr. Newman’s situation declined to be identified because of the delicacy of the case.

According to American military documents declassified in 1990, the United Nations partisan warfare mission organized in 1951 eventually mobilized about 23,000 guerrillas to fight against North Korea, overseen by about 200 American advisers.

Read more in Time.

UPDATE 4 (2013-11-30): KCNA publishes article acknowledging detention of Mr. Newman.

KCNA Report on Arrest of U.S. Citizen for Hostile Acts in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Saturday:

A relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently put in custody U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who committed hostile acts against the DPRK after entering the country under the guise of a tourist.

After entering the DPRK as a member of tourists’ group in October he perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of tour.

He also committed such crime as trying to look for spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK in the area of Mt. Kuwol during the last Fatherland Liberation War as well as their families and descendants and connect them with the “Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association,” an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of south Korea.

According to the results of the investigation, he was active as adviser of “Kuwol Unit” of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Command of the U.S. Forces in the Far East since early in 1953. He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians.

The investigation clearly proved Newman’s hostile acts against the DPRK and they were backed by evidence. He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them.

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-23): According to NK News,  Merill traveled with Juche Travel Services. According to the article:

The agency, which only learned that it was involved in Newman’s case on Thursday, said that it currently had no information as to why the 85 year old Korean War veteran had been removed from a flight leaving Pyongyang on October 26.

“Mr. Newman had in place all necessary and valid travel documents to take his tour. We have no information concerning what has occurred to result in the current situation,” Thompson said in a statement emailed to NK News.

“Mr. Newman travelled with one other gentleman to the DPRK on a private tour booked via Juche Travel Services between 17th and 26th October 2013.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-21): Everything we know about Merrill Newman (Washington Post):

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old American who lives in California, has been detained in North Korea since Oct. 26, multiple news reports now confirm. Several hundred Americans are thought to visit North Korea every year as tourists, typically safely. Newman’s arrest is highly unusual and remains shrouded in mystery. Here is the publicly available information on Newman so far, taken from accounts in NKNews.org, the San Jose Mercury News, New York Times and Associated Press [link broken].

The nine facts listed here only deepen the mystery; there is a total absence of any hint of a reason why he would have been arrested.

1. Newman was visiting North Korea on a nine-day tourist visa, traveling with a friend from his retirement community named Bob Hamrdla and two tour guides. Such guides also function as government minders.

2. He was arrested while sitting on an airplane at Pyongyang’s international airport, waiting to depart the country. A single uniformed officer boarded the plane and walked Newman off.

3. Authorities have held him for more than three weeks, but North Korean state media have not mentioned the case.

4. A Korean War veteran, Newman with his wife lives in a Palo Alto retirement community called Channing House. He is Caucasian, which is significant given that North Korea has tended in the past to arrest only Westerners of Korean or other Asian descent. Korean War veterans sometimes travel to North Korea, usually without incident. A group went in July to repatriate the remains of an American who’d died there during the war. They say the trip went fine.

5. Newman does not appear to be overtly political or to have a known record of human rights activism or religious evangelizing, the two practices that have gotten Americans detained by North Korean authorities. He is a retired technology executive with a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He’d reportedly taken Korean-language lessons to prepare for the trip.

6. It’s not clear which travel agency he was traveling with. A growing number of Beijing-based agencies have been cropping up that take Americans into North Korea.

7. Newman’s son said his father had a “difficult” discussion with his government minders about the Korean War. While political statements are obviously frowned upon by North Korea, the country has been hosting thousands of Western tourists for years. Newman would be far from the first Western visitor to raise sensitive political issues with his minders.

8. His son says he has a heart condition and a bad back. North Korea expert David Straub told NKNews.org, “The basic fact of the matter is that this gentleman is 84-85 yrs old, an elderly man, presumably not a threat in any way to North Korea, so this is, even by North Korean standards, an extraordinary thing.”

9. The State Department issued a blanket warning Monday against all travel to North Korea, the first of this level of severity since Americans began traveling there in 1995. A State Department spokesperson emphasized that the official warning cites a “chronic” threat to Americans of arbitrary detention. Two other Americans have been arrested in recent years, both of Korean descent and accused of conducting illegal Christian missionary work.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-20): The New York Times provides a name and some additional information:

The veteran, Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, Calif., was taken from an Air Koryo flight on which he was to leave the country on Oct. 26, his son, Jeff Newman, the chief financial officer of a real estate company, said in a telephone interview from California.

“He was on a nine-day tour with a friend and two tour guides. He went through the normal visa process,” the younger Mr. Newman said. “Everything was going very well. They day before they were due to leave he had a meeting with his tour guide and without his companion.”

At that meeting, where at least one other North Korean aside from the tour guide was present, the Korean War was discussed, his son said. “That was the only hiccup,” he said. Mr. Newman’s traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, who is not a Korean War veteran and lives in the same retirement village as Mr. Newman, assumed there must have been some misunderstanding from that meeting, Jeff Newman said.

 There has been no word of the whereabouts of Mr. Newman, who has a heart condition and a bad back, since he was escorted from the plane, his son said.

“All we would like is for whatever misunderstanding to be put aside and, on a humanitarian basis, he be able to leave the country and come home and be with his two grandchildren,” Mr. Newman said in the interview.

Mr. Newman’s detention has not been reported in the North Korean state-run news media.

In reaction to Mr. Newman’s detention, the State Department further tightened the United States travel warning to North Korea, making it clear that travel to North Korea was highly dangerous for American citizens who were likely left vulnerable to arbitrary arrest.

The updated warning, released on Tuesday, noted that “U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.”

Mr. Newman, a retired technology executive, served as an infantry officer during the Korean War, and later earned a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He lives at Channing House, a retirement community, with his wife, his son added.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-20): Reuters reports that the DPRK may have detained another American tourist. According to the article:

North Korea may have detained an elderly U.S. man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Kyodo News Service said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the Pyongyang regime to 15 years of hard labour.

The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

North Korea claims the man, who apparently is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, Kyodo quoted the diplomatic source as saying.

Nolan Barkhouse, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said: “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time.”

I have been archiving information on Kenneth Bae here.

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North Korean meth ring uncovered

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-24): NPR offers more details:

In Pyongyang, a spokesman for North Korean’s foreign ministry responded last week with a sharply worded statement saying the country strictly forbids drug manufacturing drug smuggling. It called the case “another politically motivated puerile charade” spread by “the Western reptile media.”

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-21): Yonhap reports the men plead not-guilty. According to the article:

The five men all entered not-guilty pleas in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday [2013-11-20]. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail and the possibility of life in prison.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-20): The New York Times offers additional details:

Five men have been charged with conspiracy to import 100 kilograms of nearly pure North Korean-produced methamphetamine into the United States, and federal officials said the case illustrates the emergence of North Korea as a player in the global drug trade.

The men were part of a sprawling international drug trafficking ring led by a former American soldier, Joseph Manuel Hunter, who has separately been charged with conspiring to murder a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and with importing cocaine into the United States, federal officials said.

“These guys worked for and with Joseph Hunter in a transnational criminal organization that involved drugs, weapons, chemicals, murder and a close involvement with rogue nations,” said a senior federal law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The five men — including British, Chinese and Philippine nationals — were arrested in Phuket, Thailand, in September and were extradited to the United States on Tuesday night. They appeared in federal court in New York on Wednesday.

In January, the group agreed to provide 100 kilos of meth to a man they thought was a narcotics trafficker but was, in fact, a confidential source who was working with the DEA.

One of the defendants, Ye Tiong Tan Lim, 53, from China, bragged that his Hong Kong-based criminal group was the only organization that was able to produce meth in North Korea because of a crackdown there on the drug trade, according to a criminal indictment filed in federal court.

Lim told the DEA source that the North Korean government “already burned all the labs. Only our labs are not closed. . . . To show Americans that they are not selling it anymore, they burned it,” Lim said.

The meth was first sent to the Philippines, and the men agreed to deliver the narcotics in Thailand, where they were told it would be shipped to the United States by boat.

One of the defendants said that his organization had stockpiled one ton of North Korean methamphetamine in the Philippines because “we already anticipated this thing would happen. . . . [whereby] we cannot bring out our goods right now.”

The group arranged for a “dry run” and sent a shipping container of tea leaves from the Philippines to Thailand to test the delivery channel that would later be used to ship the meth.

The drugs were later seized by law enforcement officials in Thailand and in the Philippines. The North Korean meth tested at more than 99 percent pure, DEA officials said.

“Like many international criminal networks, these drug traffickers have no respect for borders and no regard for either the rule of law or who they harm as a result of their criminal endeavors,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said.

The five men could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and the possibility of life in prison.

“Methamphetamine is a dangerous, potentially deadly drug, whatever its origin,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “If it ends up in our neighborhoods, the threat it poses to public health is grave whether it is produced in New York, elsewhere in the U.S., or in North Korea.”

Hunter, 48, the alleged leader of the ring, was arrested in September in Thailand and sent to the United States.

Nicknamed “Rambo,” Hunter had served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. When he left the service in 2004, he began a new life as a contract killer, according to senior law enforcement officials. In May, Hunter and two other former U.S. soldiers allegedly planned to kill a DEA agent and one of the agency’s informants for $800,000.

“My guys will handle it,” Hunter wrote in a May 30 e-mail when asked if he could execute the killings, according to an indictment. The drug traffickers who said they wanted to hire Hunter were part of an undercover sting operation.

Four other men have been arrested in the case, including another former U.S. Army sergeant, as well as German and Polish nationals.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-20): According to CNN:

U.S. drug agents in Thailand took custody of five men wanted in the United States on allegations of being part of a drug ring that sought to traffic in North Korean methamphetamine and other drugs, CNN has learned.

The men, who have British, Filipino, Taiwanese and Slovak citizenship, were being flown to New York to face charges, according to a source.

Thai authorities announced the arrests after the men were turned over to U.S. authorities. A U.S. law enforcement official said the charges would be made public soon.

The men are part of a broader investigation that federal prosecutors made public in September, filing charges against a group of former U.S. and European ex-military men in a murder-for-hire and drug-importation plot.

The Drug Enforcement Administration concocted a sting operation and arrested Joseph Hunter, a former U.S. Army sniper trainer nicknamed Rambo, and four others in the sting case.

The five more recently arrested were expelled by Thai authorities and put on a DEA plane to New York.

Additional details of the charges couldn’t be learned because they remain under seal.

Drug trafficking from North Korea has occurred for decades with at least 50 documented incidents. In previous years, North Korea had been linked to shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, according to the CIA World Factbook.

In 2003, a North Korean ship, Pong Su which was carrying nearly 300 pounds of heroin, was seized along the eastern coast of Australia after a four-day chase.

There isn’t enough information to determine whether the North Korean government is currently involved in drug trafficking, according to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the U.S. State Department

“There have been no confirmed reports of large-scale drug trafficking involving DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) state entities since 2004,” it stated. “This suggests that state-sponsored drug trafficking may have ceased or been sharply reduced, or that the DPRK regime has become more adept at concealing state-sponsored trafficking of illicit drugs.”

Information on the case against Joseph Hunter can be found here and here.

Read the full story here:
5 men extradited to U.S. in North Korean meth case
CNN
Evan Perez
2013-11-20

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Kenneth Bae (Pae Jun Ho) Saga [UPDATED]

Monday, November 4th, 2013

UPDATE 23 (2014-11-16): Clapper details his trip to the DPRK (Washington Post, New York Times, The Atlantic).

UPDATE 22 (2014-11-9): 38 North has more on Clapper’s mission here.

UPDATE 21 (2014-11-8): Kenneth Bae has been released. According to the New York Times:

Mr. Bae and Mr. Miller’s plane touched down Saturday night, backlit by a nearly full moon dimmed by fast-moving clouds. Mr. Bae emerged first, and was swarmed by about a dozen relatives and friends. He paused for hugs then continued inside, out of sight of the row of news cameras lined up about 100 yards away. After a few minutes, Mr. Miller came out, greeted by a smaller welcoming committee.

At a news conference, Mr. Bae thanked the Obama administration, officials in North Korea and everyone who prayed for him and his family while he was detained. “I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and lifting me up at the same time that I was not forgetting the people of North Korea,” he said.

Speaking of his ordeal, he said, “I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I lost a lot of weight, in a good way.” Some people in the room chuckled. “I’m standing strong because of you,” he added.

Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE 31 (2014-9-1): CNN has gained access to Kenneth Bae, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller. More from CNN here. Video interview of Bae here.

Here is coverage in Reuters.

UPDATE 30 (2014-8-13): Kenneth Bae has been sent back to prison. According to the Voice of America:

American missionary Kenneth Bae has been transferred to a North Korean labor camp from a hospital, despite U.S. concerns that his health is worsening.

In an email sent to VOA’s Korean Service, a U.S. State Department official said Bae was transferred to a labor camp immediately after being discharged from his hospital on July 30.

“We remain gravely concerned about Bae’s health, and we continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the email said.

The State Department official also asked for Bae to be moved back to the hospital in the interim.

The statement comes after Bae received a visit at the labor camp this week by officials from the Swedish embassy, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang.*

The consular visit to Bae is the 12th such meeting since his arrest in November 2012 and the first in almost four months.

North Korea sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor in April 2013 for “hostile acts” against the regime. The Christian missionary was arrested while leading a group of tourists in the northern city of Rason.

Bae was sent to a hospital a year ago and stayed there through this past January. When his health worsened due to hard labor, he was hospitalized at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital on March 29. The hospital was built in 1986 to treat foreigners in the country.

The Chosun Shinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper in Japan, interviewed him late last month. The 46-year-old told the newspaper he would be sent back to a labor camp in the near future despite a worsening heart condition.

*To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of the Swedes visiting Bae in prison. My sources inform me that these meetings generally take place in one fo the hotels in Pyongyang.

UPDATE 29 (2014-7-31): Kenneth Bae has done an interview (in Korean) for the Choson Sinbo. The interview took place at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in the Munsu-dong diplomatic compound.

UPDATE 28 (2014-2-9): For a second time, North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a special American envoy to visit Pyongyang.

According to the New York Times:

In blocking the trip by Ambassador Robert King, Washington’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, North Korea again appeared to blame the tensions it said were caused by military exercises that the United States and South Korea are scheduled to begin this month.

Also, Mr. Bae has given another interview to the Chosn Sinbo. You can see it here:

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Bae, speaking on Friday to a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan from his penal labor camp outside Pyongyang, said he had heard that Mr. King was to visit North Korea as early as this week to discuss his fate.

He told the newspaper, Choson Sinbo, that Pyongyang had extended an invitation to Mr. King. North Korea abruptly canceled a similar invitation for Mr. King in August, citing the military exercises as its reason.

The exercises are “transparent, regularly scheduled and defense-oriented,” Ms. Psaki said. “These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case. We again call on the D.P.R.K. to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release as a humanitarian gesture so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care.”

She said Washington maintained its longstanding offer to send Mr. King to North Korea. Separately, under a request from Mr. Bae’s family, the Rev. Jesse Jackson offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission to help win Mr. Bae’s release, she said.

A resident of Washington State, Mr. Bae was arrested after he entered North Korea through the northeastern city of Rason with a group of visitors in November 2012. Using a tourism business as a cover, he was trying to build a covert proselytizing operation in Rason, according to a videotaped sermon he gave at a St. Louis church in 2011.

Mr. Bae was convicted of plotting to “destroy our system through religious activities against our republic,” according to North Korea’s authoritarian government, which has been in a suspended state of war with the United States for more than 60 years.

He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Mr. Bae, who had been convalescing in a Pyongyang hospital since the summer with various health problems, was transferred back to the penal work farm about three weeks ago, according to his family and Choson Sinbo.

More in the Christian Science Monitor here.

UPDATE 27 (2014-1-20): Kenneth Bae has been brought out to make a public plea for help. According to the Associated Press:

Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he called a press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.

Wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang.

Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement.

“I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said.

Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.

He made an apology Monday and said he had committed anti-government acts.

Bae said a comment last month by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult.

“The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.

“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”

“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”

“Bae’s comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him,” Kim said.

You can see video of the interview here.

Here is what KCNA had to say:

American Criminal Interviewed

Pyongyang, January 20 (KCNA) — An American criminal, Kenneth Bae, was interviewed by local and foreign reporters at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital Monday at his request.

He said he called the press conference to clarify some facts.

Over the past 15 months he, through meeting with officials of the Swedish embassy and calls and correspondence with his family, he correctly informed the U.S. government and his family of his criminal acts and humanitarian measures taken by the DPRK government in his behalf, he said, adding:

But some media are spreading misinformation about me and launching smear campaign against the DPRK, driving me into a difficult situation.

For example, the U.S. vice-president, at a press conference over the release of another U.S. citizen, Mr. Newman, in December last year, claimed that I have been detained here for no reason.

Some time ago even my sister reportedly told reporters that I am not guilty. I think such facts enraged people here.

This is why I am in a puzzle.

Over the past five months I have been hospitalized, but now I am afraid I may be sent back to the labor camp. Worse still, I am afraid the pardon for me becomes more difficult.

To cite another example, I was told that some media reports alleged that the DPRK is a “human rights violator”, its human rights records are not good and that I have been treated unfairly.

What I would like to clarify here now is that there has been no human rights abuse and no unfair, severe act for me.

The DPRK government has done every possible thing for me from the humanitarian point of view. It allowed me to contact with the Swedish embassy and have correspondence and calls with my family. It also gave me an opportunity to meet my mother here and offered me a medical service at the hospital when my disease got worse.

I, availing myself of this opportunity, call on the U.S. government, media and my family to stop link any smear campaign against the DPRK and false materials with me, making my situation worse.

I hope that I will be pardoned by the DPRK and go back to my family. I request the U.S. government, media and my family to pay deep concern and make all efforts to this end.

Bae gave answers to questions raised by reporters.

UPDATE 26 (2013-11-4): Kenneth Bae marks one year in captivity. According to the Wall Street Journla’s Korea Real Time:

Kenneth Bae marked a dubious anniversary over the weekend: it has now been one year since the U.S. citizen and Christian missionary was arrested and detained in North Korea.

That makes Mr. Bae the first known U.S. citizen to be detained longer than a year since the Korean War, according to the National Committee on North Korea, which has tracked the fates of this small circle of detainees.

It also raises questions about why Mr. Bae remains inside the country, much longer than Pyongyang tends to hold its U.S. prisoners. (Even the crew of the USS Pueblo, the U.S. Navy vessel captured by the North in 1968, was released after about 11 months.

The National Committee on North Korea report on US prisoners in the DPRK can be found here.

UPDATE 25 (2013-10-15): Kenneth Bae’s mother visited him in the DPRK. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time:

The mother of Kenneth Bae, the U.S. citizen being detained in North Korea, finished a five-day visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday, but came away with little clarity on when her son might be freed.

In a statement released by the family, Myunghee Bae said that she was able to visit Mr. Bae three times during her stay, and that her son’s health had improved.

But she said the visit also made her “more anxious than ever to bring him home,” pleading with the U.S. authorities to “do everything in their power” to get her son out of North Korea.

While she was careful to thank the North Korean authorities for “generously” allowing her to visit, Mrs. Bae said “it broke my heart to leave him behind,” adding that “the pain and anxiety continue to carve a deep scar on all of our hearts.”

North Korea watchers and those in the diplomatic community have struggled to explain the North’s apparent unwillingness to release Mr. Bae, who has already been detained in North Korea longer than any U.S. citizen in recent memory.

Here is the family’s statement.

UPDATE 24 (2013-9-7): Dennis Rodman made his second visit to the DPRK but returned without Kenneth Bae.

UPDATE 23 (2013-9-2): According to the Hankyoreh:

North Korea gave an official reason for the sudden Aug. 30 cancellation of a planned by visit by US State Department special envoy for North Korean human rights Robert King, saying the decision was made because the US “sent out B-52 strategic bombers on the Korean Peninsula.”

The move is being read as a sign of displeasure with Washington refusing to accept Pyongyang’s offer of direct dialogue and demanding “good faith” steps on denuclearization.

The Korean Central News Agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson denouncing the US’s actions in an Aug. 31 talk with the press.

“We had planned to accept the special envoy visit by the US from a humanitarian standpoint and hold serious discussions here on the American currently undergoing reeducation,” the spokesperson reportedly said, referring to US citizen Kenneth Bae, who is currently serving time at a North Korean reeducation camp.

“The US has continued sticking its B-52H strategic bombing in the skies over the Choson [Korean] Peninsula for nuclear bombing drills [during South Korea-US joint military exercises]. By doing this, they instantaneously destroyed a long-awaited climate in favor of humanitarian dialogue,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

But experts said that the B-52 was likely to have been only a pretext for the discussion, and that the real aim was to deliver a message of displeasure – or warning – after the US failed to respond in “good faith” to Pyongyang’s dialogue overtures.

Read more in The Guardian.

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 22 (2013-8-29): According to the Hankyoreh:

A US special envoy on North Korean human rights issues will visit Pyongyang on Aug. 30 to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American currently imprisoned in the country.

The visit by Robert King is the first official trip to North Korea by a senior US official since Kim Jong-un took power, and could mark a turning point in improving North Korea-US relations.

On Aug. 27, the US State Department issued a short, three-sentence press release about the visit but did not hold separate briefing on the issue. The release said that King would “request the DPRK [North Korea] pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment.”

King, who is currently in Japan after visiting China and South Korea, plans to board a military aircraft at a base near Tokyo for a two-day visit to Pyongyang. He is expected to return with Bae.

UPDATE 21 (2013-8-27): US envoy headed to Pyongyanng to discuss Kenneth Bae. According to the AP (via Washington Post):

A senior U.S. envoy will travel to North Korea this week to seek the release of an American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the authoritarian country, the State Department said Tuesday.

The visit by Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will be the first public trip to North Korea by an administration official in more than two years and could provide an opening for an improvement in relations severely strained by Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said King will request a pardon and amnesty for 45-year-old Kenneth Bae on humanitarian grounds. Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested in November and accused of committing “hostile acts” against North Korea. He suffers multiple health problems and was recently hospitalized.

..

King is traveling at the invitation of the North Korean government. He will fly to Pyongyang on Friday from Tokyo on a U.S. military plane, and fly out on Saturday.

“We remain deeply concerned about the health and welfare of Kenneth Bae, the American citizen currently detained in North Korea,” the White House said in a statement. “We urge the government of North Korea to grant special clemency to Mr. Bae immediately and allow him to return home with Ambassador King.”

When King last visited North Korea in May 2011 to assess the impoverished North’s food situation, he came home with Eddie Jun, the last American to be held then freed by Pyongyang. Jun, a Korean-American from California, was arrested for alleged unauthorized missionary work during several business trips to the country. He was released on humanitarian grounds.

Bae’s sister revealed earlier this month that he was moved from a labor camp to a hospital after losing more than 50 pounds. Terri Chung, of Edmonds, near Seattle, says her brother, a father-of-three, suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. He was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sister in 1985. For the past seven years Bae has been living in China, Chung says.

According to U.S. officials, Washington first made its offer to send King to North Korea several weeks ago, but Pyongyang only recently took them up on the offer. Pyongyang has yet to declare it will release Bae.

UPDATE 20 (2013-8-11): Kenneth Bae transferred to hospital. According to the Telegraph:

Bae’s sister Terri Chung said that her brother had until recently been held at a prison for foreigners and put to work ploughing and planting fields.

However, he is suffering from a range of health problems including an enlarged heart and chronic diabetes as well as back and leg pain, necessitating his transfer to a state hospital, she said.

Chung said she learned of her brother’s transfer from the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, who visited Bae on Friday. The ambassador, who has met with Bae a handful of times since his detention, has been his only foreign visitor, Chung said.

UPDATE 19 (2013-7-19): Kenneth Bae is writing letters home. According to the New York Times:

The family of Kenneth Bae, the American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, received letters from him in the mail for the first time this past week, telling them that his health is worse and asking them to press the United States government to help secure his release, Mr. Bae’s sister said Friday.

North Korea experts said the message of the handwritten letters — and their method of delivery, which could not have happened without North Korea’s approval — suggested that the authorities there were open to the idea of negotiations on Mr. Bae. That had seemed remote three months ago when he was found guilty of committing “hostile acts” against the government.

North Korea said Mr. Bae, 44, was a Christian missionary who had sought to build a clandestine proselytizing base in the country, where the Communist government regards missionary work as sedition.

The possible opening in Mr. Bae’s case came against a backdrop of other indications that North Korea, despite its harsh public language toward the United States, is pursuing multiple ways of pushing for direct contact after months of threats and new weapons tests. So far, the Obama administration has resisted the overtures.

Mr. Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said in a phone interview from her home in Edmonds, Wash., that Mr. Bae had been able to communicate a few times during his imprisonment, which began with his arrest in November, though those contacts were through intermediaries acting on behalf of Sweden’s ambassador in North Korea, who monitors American interests. Then weeks went by with no further word.

“This past week, we were surprised to receive a packet of letters from Kenneth through the U.S. Postal Service, bearing a Pyongyang postmark,” she said. “The packet contained four letters, dated June 13th, addressed to his wife, his mom, me and his supporters.”

She said that “all the letters contained the same message — Kenneth’s health is failing, and he asked us to seek help from our government to bring him home.”

Ms. Chung said her brother suffered from diabetes, an enlarged heart and back problems.

She declined to share the letters but said the family had conveyed their contents to officials at the State Department. Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman in Washington, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Bae was sentenced at a time of particularly high tensions between the United States and North Korea over the North’s nuclear weapons program under its young new leader, Kim Jong-un, further complicating any possible diplomatic efforts aimed at securing Mr. Bae’s release.

North Korea said that Mr. Bae had been working as a Christian missionary with the aim of overthrowing the North Korean government. In a video of an hourlong talk, given to a Korean church in the United States in 2011 and posted online, Mr. Bae detailed his activities inside North Korea.

The postmark on Mr. Bae’s mailed letters to his family suggested they were written at about the same time that the North Korean authorities had permitted a pro-North Korea group based in Tokyo, Choson Sinbo, to interview him in prison. A videotape of that interview, broadcast July 3 on CNN, showed Mr. Bae looking distressed and thin, his head shaved, dressed in a stained blue jumpsuit with his prison number, 103. His message was similar to those in the letters: an appeal for the United States government to help secure his release.

“Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” Mr. Bae said in that interview. “And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon.”

In what appeared to be an effort to show the outside world that the North Korean penal authorities had been treating him well, Mr. Bae was seen seated in a comfortable cell with a radiator and a window. The video also zoomed in on what was described as his daily work schedule, posted in Korean and English, showing he was given three meals and had four rest breaks in between field labor. No other inmates were seen at the prison, and its precise location was unclear.

Diplomats who have dealt with North Korea said the unspoken message in both the video and the letters was that the North Korean authorities wanted to see more publicity about Mr. Bae as part of their broader effort to seek direct contact with the United States government.

UPDATE 18 (2013-7-3): The DPRK has released video footage of Kenneth Bae and an interview. See CNN and NK News.

UPDATE 18 (2013-5-15): Kenneth Bae has been transferred to  a prison. According to KCNA:

American Citizen Begins His Life at “Special Prison”

Pyongyang, May 15 (KCNA) — Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, started his life at a “special prison” on Tuesday.

Pae was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for his anti-DPRK crime, an attempt to topple the DPRK, at the trial held on April 30, according to Section 60 (an attempt at state subversion) of the DPRK Criminal Law.

UPDATE 17 (2013-5-13): Kenneth Bae called his family in the US.

UPDATE 16 (2013-5-9): According to KCNA:

DPRK Supreme Court Spokesman Exposes Crimes of American Pae Jun Ho

Pyongyang, May 9 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Supreme Court of the DPRK gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Thursday as regards the assertion made by the U.S. government and media about the alleged unreasonable legal action taken against American Pae Jun Ho who committed crimes against the DPRK, claiming that he was not tried in a transparent manner and it was trying to use this issue as a political bargaining chip:

Pae set up plot-breeding bases in different places of China for the purpose of toppling the DPRK government from 2006 to October 2012 out of distrust and enmity toward the DPRK. He committed such hostile acts as egging citizens of the DPRK overseas and foreigners on to perpetrate hostile acts to bring down its government while conducting a malignant smear campaign against it. He was caught red handed and prosecuted while entering Rason City of the DPRK, bringing with him anti-DPRK literature on Nov. 3 last year.

Pae visited different churches of the U.S. and south Korea to preach the necessity and urgency to bring down the DPRK government. He was dispatched to China as a missionary of the Youth With A Mission in April, 2006. After setting up plot-breeding bases disguised with diverse signboards in different parts of China for the past six years, avoiding the eyes of its security organs, he brought together more than 1 500 citizens of the DPRK, China and foreigners before whom he gave anti-DPRK lectures. He invited even south Korean pastors hell-bent on the moves to escalate confrontation with compatriots to give lectures for malignantly slandering the Juche idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the socialist system in the DPRK and instigating them to the acts to bring down its government.

He planned the so-called “Jericho operation” to bring down the DPRK through his anti-DPRK religious activities from December 2010 to March 2012. In order to carry out the plan he infiltrated at least 250 students who had been educated at the plot-breeding bases operated by him into Rason City under the guise of tourists. He failed to set up an anti-DPRK base at Rajin Hotel in Rason City.

He collected and produced several anti-DPRK videos to make the false propaganda sound plausible and showed them many people in a bid to egg them onto activities to bring down the DPRK government. He bribed Song Je Suk and other citizens of the DPRK on foreign tours in an effort to get them involved in activities to topple the DPRK government. He dared commit such hideous crime as hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.

The DPRK Supreme Court held a trial of Pae at its court behind closed doors on Apr. 30, 2013 at his request in accordance with Section 270 of the DPRK Criminal Procedure Law.

As he refused pleading, the court did not allow the presence of a counsel, pursuant to Section 275 of the above-said law.

In the course of hearing Pae admitted all his crimes and they were clearly proved in an objective manner by evidence and testimonies made by witnesses.

The court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in consideration of candid confession of his crimes though they are liable to face death penalty or life imprisonment for an attempt at state subversion according to Section 60 of the DPRK Criminal Code.

Pae will be fully guaranteed the right as a prisoner according to the DPRK law while in jail.

UPDATE 15 (2013-5-7): Dennis Rodman calls for the release of Kenneth Bae 

UPDATE 14 (2013-5-6): Kenneth Bae was a missionary to China

UPDATE 13 (2013-5-2): Kenneth Bae sentenced to 15 years. Here is coverage in the BBC. Here is the KCNA statement:

American Citizen Punished in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 2 (KCNA) — A trial of Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, took place held at the Supreme Court of the DPRK on April 30. He was arrested while committing hostile acts against the DPRK after entering Rason City as a tourist on Nov. 3 last year.

The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime.

UPDATE 12 (2013-4-27): KCNA reports on Kenneth Bae:

American Citizen to Be Tried

Pyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) — The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun Ho closed. He entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 last year for the purpose of tour and was arrested for committing crimes against the DPRK.

In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence.

He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment.

UPDATE 11 (2013-1-28): In the Korea Herald, Namkung refers to serious charges leveled against Mr. Bae:

“My understanding is that he has been accused of serious crimes including plotting to overthrow the regime and assassinating the leadership,” Namkung said in an email interview.

“Richardson’s hope was to see the detainee, Kenneth Bae, and if possible, bring him home. However, North Korea was not cooperative in this regard.”

UPDATE 10 (2013-1-18): The US Department of State has made a comment on the DPRK-Bae situation (Yonhap):

For weeks, North Korea has refused to allow the United States government to contact a Korean-American man detained in the communist nation, the State Department said Friday.

“As we said about three or four weeks ago, we had contact through our Swedish protecting power. We have not been able to have another contact since then. We continue to ask,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

She was responding to a question on Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator who was arrested by North Korea’s security authorities in early November.

UPDATE 9 (2013-1-11): Retuers reports that Richardson delivered a letter for Bae:

Richardson was unable meet with Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained in North Korea late last year, but he said he was able to give a letter from Bae’s son to authorities.

“I delivered the letter to North Korean officials,” Richardson told Reuters on Friday. “They said they would provide that to him.”

UPDATE 8 (2013-1-10): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation has left the DPRK:

Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Flies Back

Pyongyang, January 10 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, left here on Thursday.

No reports of any meetings were reported while the delegation visited the DPRK.

The delegation did hold a press conference at Beijing Capital Airport.  Bloomberg reports:

“As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world,” Schmidt told reporters today at the Beijing airport after the visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. “The government has to do something — they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It is time now for them to start or they will remain behind.”

Schmidt said that North Korea’s existing mobile-phone network, operated in a joint venture with Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE, could be retooled to offer Internet access. There are about 1 million phones on the network, Schmidt said.

“It would be very easy for them to turn that on,” Schmidt said.

Here is the statement by Gov. Richardson (Wall Street Journal):

Mr. Richardson said he told North Korea’s top vice minister for nuclear negotiations that Pyongyang should temper its nuclear-development efforts. “We need dialogue on the peninsula, not confrontation,” he told reporters. He also said he pushed Pyongyang for a moratorium on ballistic-missile tests, and that officials responded by insisting that the recent satellite launch was for peaceful reasons.

“I must say I personally disagree,” he said.

Mr. Richardson also said he pressed North Korean officials about an American who is being detained there, and was encouraged by their statements that judicial proceedings will begin soon and that the detainee’s health is good. It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Richardson’s delegation met with the detainee, 44-year-old Kenneth Bae, held since late last year on unspecified charges.

More summary coverage in the Guardian.

The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time and North Korea Tech reported on the delegation’s coverage in the North Korean media.

UPDATE 7 (2013-1-9): The Richardson delegation visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. There are no photos or videos of this trip. No doubt Gov. Richardson would be nervous about pictures of him paying homage to the memories of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

UPDATE 6 (2013-1-9): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation is touring Pyongyang:

Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Tours Pyongyang

Pyongyang, January 9 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, Wednesday visited the Grand People’s Study House here.

The guests went round several reading rooms and lecture rooms, being briefed on the fact that people and students acquire knowledge about modern science and technology and improve their cultural attainments at the study house.

They also visited the E-library of Kim Il Sung University, Korean Computer Center, etc.

The visit to Kim Il-sung University was featured on the 1-8 evening news. See it here.

The visit to the Grand Peoples Study house was featured on the 1-9 evening news. See it here.

The Associated Press reported some interesting information on Internet use:

Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.

“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.

Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”

Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.

While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.

Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.

But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.
At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.

But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.

“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.

UPDATE 5 (2013-1-7): Even though this delegation is run by Bill Richardson for “humanitarian” purposes, KCNA is emphasizing the business angle.  Here is the KCNA report of the delegation’s arrival:

Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Arrives

Pyongyang, January 7 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, arrived here on Monday by air.

Here is KCNA video that has been ripped and uploaded to You Tube:

UPDATE 4 (2012-1-5): Wired published a statement from Richardson’s office which details who is in the delegation:

Governor Bill Richardson will travel to North Korea next week on a private humanitarian mission. The delegation will consist of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Dr. KA Namkung, Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen; as well as some staff members.

Since no media is accompanying the delegation, Gov. Richardson will have a press availability at the Beijing Airport on Thursday, January 10th.

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-3): According to Reuters, the US Department of State has criticized the Richardson delegation to the DPRK. According to the article:

The State Department said on Thursday the time was not right for Google Inc Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former diplomat Bill Richardson to visit North Korea, which drew international criticism for a rocket launch last month.

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Schmidt and Richardson would be traveling as private citizens, not representatives of the U.S. government.

“Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful,” Nuland told reporters, citing North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket in December. “They are well aware of our views.”

“We are obviously aware of the trip that has been announced,” [Nuland] said, later correcting herself to say that the department was aware of media reports about the trip.

“They are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity,” she said. “They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us. They are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.”

On Wednesday, Google did not respond directly to a question about whether Schmidt was going to North Korea, although a spokeswoman’s response suggested a visit would not be for company business.

UPDATE 2 (2013-1-2): According to the Associated Press, Bill Richardson is reportedly headed to the DPRK.  Though the article does not mention it, he will likely be working for the release of Mr. Bae. The news of Mr. Richardson’s visit is overshadowed by his travel companion, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. According to the article:

Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, according to two people familiar with the group’s plans who asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.

The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.

UPDATE 1 (2012-12-21): The DPRK announces it has arrested another American. According to KCNA:

American Arrested in DPRK for Committing Crime

Pyongyang, December 21 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Friday:

American citizen Pae Jun Ho who entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 for the purpose of tour committed a crime against the DPRK. He was put into custody by a relevant institution.

In the process of investigation evidence proving that he committed a crime against the DPRK was revealed. He admitted his crime.

Consular officials of the Swedish embassy, which look after interests of the U.S. in the DPRK, visited him Friday.

Legal actions are being taken against Pae in line with the criminal procedure law of the DPRK.

The New York Times covers the announcement here.

Original Post (2012-12-13): The DPRK is allegedly holding another American citizen. According to the New York Times:

A 44-year-old American citizen has been held in North Korea for a month, a human rights activist in Seoul said Thursday, addressing unconfirmed reports that had circulated in the South Korean news media for several days.

The American, Kenneth Bae, runs a travel company that specializes in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. He had visited the North several times without incident before being detained in early November, according to the activist, Do Hee-youn, who heads the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. Mr. Do said he had learned of Mr. Bae’s detention through a mutual friend in China.

South Korean news reports on Thursday said that Mr. Bae, a naturalized United States citizen born in South Korea, was detained after escorting five European tourists into North Korea through the city of Rajin on Nov. 3. The Europeans were allowed to leave the country, the reports said. North Korea operates a free-trade zone in Rajin, which is near the Russian border, but it has had difficulty attracting foreign investors.

Mr. Do said he had few details about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Bae’s reported arrest. The South Korean daily newspaper Kookmin Ilbo cited an unnamed source as saying that Mr. Bae was detained after North Korean security officials found a computer hard disk in his possession that they believed contained delicate information about the country. Mr. Bae was later transferred to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for further investigation, according to that report.

Mr. Do said that Mr. Bae was interested in helping orphans who beg for food in North Korean markets. “The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” he said.

NK News has some additional information on Mr. Pae [Bae]. You can see it here.

This will make the sixth known case in recent years.  First there was Evan Hunziker (1996). After several years came the Euna Lee and Laura Ling saga (2009). Then there was Robert Park and Aijalon Mahli Gomes (2010). 2011 saw the case of “Eddie” Yong Su Jun.

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