Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Kenneth Bae (Pae Jun Ho) Saga [UPDATED]

Monday, November 4th, 2013

UPDATE 28 (2014-2-9): For a second time, North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a special American envoy to visit Pyongyang.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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US hip hop performers film video in DPRK

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): You can see the video here:

UPDATE 3 (2014-1-7): The Guardian offers additional information on the rap video trip here:

Pacman and Peso have granted the Guardian an exclusive preview of the video – as well as their first interview about an adventure in the world’s most despotic regime.

The genesis of their music video was a random encounter earlier this year with Ramsey Aburdene, a 25-year-old Washington-based investment banker who liked their music and became their manager. Aburdene had a friend who used to be in the military and specialises in getting people into Pyongyang, so they hatched the plan to shoot a rap video there.

No one involved in the trip could easily articulate why exactly North Korea was an appropriate backdrop for the music video. But they still managed to raise $10,400 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

Interviewed recently in Aburdene’s bedroom in a shared house in Mount Pleasant, Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, recounted their surreal, eye-opening experiences in North Korea.

They managed to film their rap video inside Pyongyang’s faltering metro, beside the demilitarized zone bordering South Korea, on a rice farm and in front of various North Korean monuments, not least the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, an ornate mausoleum for Kim Il-sung, the so-called founder and eternal president of the country, and his son, Kim Jong-il.

Before arriving in North Korea, the group took part in a tour through Asian countries including China, Hong Kong and Mongolia. But it almost began in disaster in Beijing, when the rap entourage, which included some of Aburdene’s university friends, decided to hire motorcycles.

Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, collided with a car near Tiananmen Square and, aware that he was not insured, fled. An angry crowd apprehended Pacman, whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I was like, man, we ain’t going to North Korea. I’m gonna get locked up in Beijing,” Pacman recalls. “This shit gonna be on the news.”

After some ad-hoc diplomacy and a visit to a car repair shop, the group was let free, but missed their flight to Hong Kong, arriving late for the next leg of the journey – hosted by their main financial backer.

James Passin, a 41-year-old hedge fund manager who has poured millions of dollars in Mongolia, and also has business interests in North Korea, donated $5,100 to their Kickstarter campaign.

Described in BusinessWeek as ‘The American Who Bought Mongolia’, Passin was keen to be involved in the project. “He actually wanted to be in the North Korea video, but then his advisors told him it was probably better not to be,” Aburdene said.

Instead, Passin invited the rapping tour to Hong Kong, where he happened to be hosting his investor conference – and birthday celebration – in the Grand Hyatt hotel. Later, Passin flew the group to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. It was Peso’s favourite stop on the whole tour, not least because of the generous hospitality of their host. “The moment we arrived we got chauffeur rides to the hotel,” he said. “I had lobster with some fries while I was sipping on Sprite,” said Pacman.

Returning briefly to Beijing, the group picked up some tailored silk suits in preparation for North Korea. But by then the situation in Pyongyang had changed.

It was the end of November, and Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, had been detained in North Korea. The State Department strongly discouraged American citizens against visiting North Korea, the first warning of its kind since Pyongyang began allowing tourists into the country in 1995.

Pacman and Peso were being compared to Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star who has developed unlikely friendship with Kim Jong-un. Unlike Rodman, who is currently in Pyongyang accompanied by a fleet of former basketball players, the DC rappers did not have the blessing of Kim Jong-un, or indeed anyone else from North Korean officialdom.

Instead, they had always planned to travel beneath the radar, shooting their video under the cover of a sightseeing tour. With the five-day trip just hours away, the entourage began to realise that an interview with the BBC was probably not the best way to maintain a low-profile. Shortly before boarding, they read a Gawker article mentioning how, despite the State Department advice, “a much-publicized trip by two DC rappers, Pacman and Peso, is going ahead as planned.”

“All the buzz we were getting, I thought we were gonna get hemmed up, captured,” said Pacman. His rapping partner agreed: “I was like: uh-oh. Are we gonna make it?” They put their worries behind them and flew to Pyongyang regardless.

When the aircraft doors opened, they walked out to the sound of snapping cameras. “As soon as I seen cameras, I started being myself,” said Peso. “I started flipping my jacket open, smoking my cigarette in front of the cameras, turn[ing] round to make sure they got the suit.”

Despite the the flurry of attention from Associated Press journalists at the airport, the rappers succeeded in going largely unnoticed in North Korea.

Each day, Pacman and Peso hopped on a tourist bus, which ferried them to approved locations across the country in the company of government-sanctioned tour guides. So as not to attract attention, they used a small, Canon camera to shoot video, filming segments surreptitiously whenever their minders were looking the other way. Microphones, headphones, or amplified music were out of the question. Instead, they improvised. “We were just spitting the voice that was in our head,” Peso said. “It was just work, work, work, non-stop.”

They were not helped by the sub-zero temperatures and snow. There was rarely heating in any of the buildings and the silk suits provided little comfort. “One of the North Koreans, he gave me his coat,” Pacman said. “I asked him if he wanted it back, and he was like, ‘Nah, just keep it for the rest of the night.’”

Memories such as that left both young men with a positive experience of North Korea. They still speak about their recollections in dreamy monologues. “The old ladies looked like they were carrying the heaviest things. The army people walking down the street had guns,” said Pacman. “You see a whole bunch of rice fields. People was riding bikes. The little kids was walking down the street by themselves, they must have been in first grade. But everybody waved.”

One month on, both Pacman and Peso say they still feel energised by their journey to North Korea. They look and sound more animated than before they departed, when the anxiety was showing on their faces. “No-one has made a music video in North Korea before. Or even thought about it,” Peso said proudly. Pacman said his rapping had improved since their return. “It sounds stronger, the words are coming faster, quicker,” he said.

Smiling, he remembers the elation he felt when they departed Pyongyang. “The first thing I thought was: we made it out,” he said. “We beat the odds.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-12-1): According to the Associated Press:

The two rappers said their trip shied away from politics.

“I mean we did not go there to be political. We just go down there to shoot our video and that about the reason why we went, not political,” said Pacman – whose real name is Anthony Bobb.

The duo from the Washington area spoke to reporters at an airport in Beijing upon their return from a five-day trip to North Korea.

“Nobody shot a video in North Korea, let alone thought of it. Nobody even thought of making a video in North Korea. You know what I’m saying?” said Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis.

More in The Guardian.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-8): According to the Guardian:

Pacman and Peso have never traveled much beyond the poor suburb of Washington DC where they live. But after a successful internet fundraising drive, the unsigned hip-hop duo will next Saturday embark on a trip, to shoot a video they hope will jumpstart their career, with an unlikely destination – North Korea.

After raising $10,400 from their  Kickstarter campaign, the pair will first fly to China and then on to Pyongyang, where they plan to film songs such as “God Bless Amerika” on a party bus.

Neither of them have flown on an airplane. They say they only recently discovered that North Korea was a foreign country.

Comparisons are inevitably being made with Dennis Rodman, the former basketball player whose visits to North Korea resulted in an unlikely friendship with the country’s dynastic leader, Kim Jong-un. But Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, unsigned artists in search of a record deal to lift them out of poverty, are on the cusp of a very different kind of trip.

The story of the rap duo’s adventure could only be forged in a place like Washington, a deeply divided city where separated communities only occasionally overlap. A few months ago, Pacman was walking through his neighbourhood, Congress Heights, when he came across a group of twentysomethings shooting a music video. He struck up a friendship with one of the group, a white, 24-year-old investment banker named Ramsey Aburdene, who has since been managing the pair in his spare time.

Aburdene, from DC’s affluent north-west quadrant, had an acquaintance who happened to be an expert on North Korea. Mike Bassett, 34, is a former Iraq war veteran who was lived for seven years in South Korea, four of them with the US army.

A self-described pacifist, Bassett has become a fixer for people interested in traveling to Pyongyang. A Master’s student at American University, he has coordinated several cultural exchanges and traveled extensively in the country since restrictions were eased in 2010.

He has arranged the two rappers’ flights and visas, and laid the necessary groundwork for their tour. Bassett insists North Korea is misunderstood in the eyes of the west, and says Pacman and Peso will be treated with courtesy. Still, he has felt it necessary to provide the young rappers with some cultural advice, and instructed them to amend some of their lyrics.

An entourage consisting of Pacman, Peso, Bassett and Aburdene, plus other friends, departs next Saturday. At their leaving party in Washington on Thursday, in a bar near Aburdene’s house, Peso and Pacman provided well-wishers with an introduction to their debut mixtape.

Once or twice, the crowd broke out into chants of “North Korea”. But no-one really seemed to know exactly why the pair were traveling to the autocratic state, least of all Pacman and Peso. “I’m a thrill-seeker, I don’t fear nothing,” said Pacman, a smiley, baby-faced teenager whose real name is Anthony Bobb. “I like an action movie. I can’t sit and watch a drama flick – it takes too long.”

Pacman said people keep telling him not to go; his aunt tried to talk him out of the trip and his mum told to him to watch his back. “Me personally, I don’t pay too much to politics, so I can’t say what is right. Then again, who is to say what is right and what is wrong?”

His serious-looking partner Peso, from Landover, said: “I’m excited – the only thing I’m not excited about is the plane.” He added: “We’re changing the game. Nobody has shot a video in North Korea like we’re about to do.”

Asked if he was worried for his safety, Peso, whose real name is Dontray Ennis, replied: “You don’t think this is a dangerous place to be living at right now? There’s your answer, then.”

The idea that Pacman and Peso are just as likely to be subject to arbitrary detention, arrest and mistreatment in the streets around their home as Pyongyang has become a theme in the promotion surrounding their trip. It was the thrust of a piece profiling the pair in the Washington Post, which helped them easily surpass their fundraising goal of $6,000. The 4,000-word feature gave the pair huge exposure in the city, not least because the reporter interviewing them, Monica Hesse, was stopped and searched by police in the process.

“We’re not trying to be political heroes or anything like that,” said Aburdene. “We understand there is terrible stuff going on in North Korea, but there is terrible stuff going on here that people aren’t straight up about.”

Both Pacman and Peso have spent time in jail for minor offences. There is no doubt their day-to-day lives are not comparable to that of of the predominantly white community that is fast gentrifying America’s capital.

Aburdene said that he trusts Bassett when it comes to protecting the party’s safety in North Korea. He is not worried they will be detained, but is concerned their footage might get confiscated and said he realised they may need to tread carefully. “Even if it’s not a standard, crazy, party-like thing, I’ll enjoy the anthropological side,” he said.

But beneath the bravado, there appears to be at least a hint of anxiety on the part of the two young rappers.

At one point during a pre-show interview, Peso seemed only half-joking when he talked about the pair maybe being killed in North Korea. “If we don’t die, it will probably be a big life-changer,” he said.

He looked a little uncertain, before adding: “Can I ask you a question? What do you think is going to happen when we go over there?

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-18): US hip hop performers to film video in DPRK. According to the Washington Post:

A few weeks ago, a Kickstarter project was posted on the Internet featuring two young men who went by the names of Pacman and Peso. The duo and their producer were using the crowdsourcing site to raise money for a creative endeavor; they wanted to make a music video. A rap music video. They wanted to do it on a karaoke party bus. They needed only $6,000, a fairly modest sum, considering that this estimate also included lodging and two overseas flights. The video, you see, was going to be filmed in Pyongyang.

North Korea.

Rappers Pacman, 19, and Peso, 20, are raising $6,000 to make a music video. They want to do it on a karaoke party bus in Pyongyang, North Korea. Here, they spend time in the District and Maryland, making music and spending time with family and friends.

“This trip will be a fantastic opportunity for Pacman and Peso to meet young, dynamic people and significantly broaden their horizons,” read the proposal, which was posted Aug. 30, “in addition to jump starting their musical careers.” The title was straightforward and surreal: “Pacman & Peso Make a Music Video in North Korea.”

So, yes, it sounds weird. Two African American youths from Southeast D.C. and Prince George’s County have paired with a white part-time producer from Northwest D.C., and they all want to go to North Korea because they see it as their best shot at a better future. Call Christopher Guest. Call Dave Chappelle. Someone is pulling your chain.

Unless, of course, it’s real. Unless it’s complicated. Unless it’s a whimsical windmill-tilt of a heartbreak.

“My goal was to rap,” says Peso, 20, whose real name is Dontray Ennis. If it wasn’t that, it was football. “But other than that, it was either doing wrong in the streets, or getting locked up.”

“This is my only option now,” he says of North Korea. “If it was to work.”

Read more here.

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Rodman makes second trip to DPRK

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-12-1): Macleans has more information on how Rodman arranged his second trip to the DPRK:

Sometime last spring, Dennis Rodman, the unpredictable, flamboyant NBA hall of famer, found he had a problem: How was he going to get back into North Korea?

As it happened, Rodman had a standing invitation from that hermetic country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un—a man Rodman has described as “my friend” ever since his first trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) last March. But, the DPRK is not an easy holiday destination, and Kim hadn’t offered to send a personal jet.

Rodman’s first trip had been worry-free—it was arranged by the in-your-face media company Vice, which used Rodman’s allure as a former Chicago Bull (the ruling Kim dynasty has an enduring fascination with the team) to gain entry to the country and shoot an HBO documentary. But the Vice crew’s anti-Kim agenda had left North Korean officials, and Rodman himself, nonplussed. This time, Rodman wanted to go unencumbered by cameras and press people. So what to do?

“They tried to go to a travel agent, I guess, but obviously it doesn’t work that way,” says Joseph Terwilliger, a geneticist at the Columbia University Medical Center, who got involved in Rodman’s quest after successfully bidding on a basketball game with him at a charity auction. The pair shot hoops, but mainly they talked North Korea.

Terwilliger told Rodman he knew exactly who could help: Michael Spavor, a Canadian he’d first met at the bar of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang some years ago, and who has developed a reputation for being one of those rare things—a foreigner whom the North Koreans have come to trust, and who can get things done in that country.

Spavor, 38, is not what you’d expect from an emissary to North Korea. An affable, mild-mannered type who grew up in a Calgary suburb, he first became intrigued by North Korea during a short stay in Seoul in the late 1990s, when, flipping through the Lonely Planet travel guide, he stumbled across the section on the DPRK—“just a little sliver in the back,” he recalls. “It was the most interesting part of the whole book.”

He went on to live in Pyongyang for six months in 2005, working as a teacher at a school affiliated with a Vancouver-based NGO. He’s been in and out of the DPRK ever since, developing key contacts in the regime along the way. Spavor speaks the North Korean dialect—a more formal variant of the southern—so fluently that he fools people on the phone, and he ran a school specializing in DPRK Korean in Yanji, the city in a largely Korean corner of northeast China where he now lives.

Not your typical line of work, and occasionally it raises eyebrows. Passing through the U.S. a few weeks ago, his unusual travel itinerary raised red flags with a customs official. Spavor asked if the officer had heard about Rodman’s trip to North Korea in early September. Sure, he had. “I organized it,” Spavor told him. “It was a blast.”

It was, in some ways, a bro vacation. Rodman’s entourage included; Christopher Volo, a mixed-martial-arts fighter, and Terwilliger, the Columbia prof, who also happens to be a pro tuba player. Terwilliger had become fascinated by the DPRK as a kid listening to shortwave radio from Pyongyang; he’d been on North Korea’s propaganda mailing list for years and found the material he received “interesting.” Together, the men sang, drank, ate and laughed with Marshall Kim, as he likes to be known, at his seaside retreat, a “seven-star” home-away-from-home that Rodman later compared to Ibiza.

“In the media, Marshall Kim Jung Un is portrayed as serious,” Spavor told Maclean’s in an interview. “But we were able to see a more charismatic, friendly side to him. He has a good sense of humour.”

Spavor carries official pictures, taken by a state photographer, of the encounter on his iPhone, and though he’s wary of whom he shows them to—Spavor is fastidiously careful in regards to everything DPRK-related—it’s clear from the shots that this was a casual affair enjoyed by Rodman, his entourage, and by Kim, who is thought to be around 30.

“Dennis and Marshall Kim talked, and Michael and I tried to translate as much as we could,” explains Terwilliger.

Then he corrects himself.

“I mean, Michael translated as much as he could to Korean,” he says. “I was more translating Dennis to English.”

The two Rodman visits to North Korea have received their share of ridicule—North Korea, after all, is a pariah state, with a troubling human rights record and a history of threatening its enemies, including the U.S., with nuclear destruction. But, Spavor, who has led many similar, though lower-profile, cultural-exchange tours there—students and faculty from Cambridge, Harvard and McGill have seen North Korea from the inside, thanks to his ministrations—saw Rodman’s visits as “a chance for international relationship-building, in this case, through the medium of sport.”

Asked if such an endeavour makes him an apologist for what many consider a pretty nasty regime, Spavor won’t be drawn in. “I’m really in no position to comment on political and human rights issues,” he says. “Those issues are better discussed between governments.”

During his time living in Pyongyang, Spavor was able to observe “regular, everyday life”—people going to work, young couples walking hand-in-hand, vibrant markets. “I met a lot of really beautiful people—so sweet,” he says. “It was contrary to what I’d heard, that they were cold. You hear about this mysterious, unfriendly place.”

He credits his good contacts in North Korea with his capacity to interact with the North Koreans on their own terms—a rapport he picked up while eating, drinking and singing with them during his brief time living there. “I really learned how to party with North Koreans—to party and enjoy myself in their environment,” he says. “I have a rare and odd skill that enables me to connect the DPRK to other people.” Spavor celebrated his birthday in North Korea in November, feasting on North Korean birthday cake, which he says was delicious.

It was his relationship with the North Korean regime that helped Spavor spirit Rodman through Beijing, where the basketball legend sought to keep a low profile, and onto a flight with Air Koryo, the North Korean airline. “You know, it’s not easy hiding a six-foot-seven black guy with tongue piercings and tattoos in China,” says Terwilliger.

Indeed, Spavor has carved out a reputation as a street-smart, savvy conduit, someone the North Koreans know is capable of discretion.

“If you sent a traditionally diplomatically minded person, it would be very difficult for such a person to deal with North Korea,” says Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and a leading authority on North Korea. “Michael has a great deal of common sense, and he’s a very normal guy, but also very smart. He understands the society and he’s not afraid to experiment and do things that are unusual.” Hence, Spavor’s willingness to engage with the North Koreans on the basketball court.

Spavor’s unusual relationship with the North Koreans is driving plans, bankrolled by the colourful Irish bookmaking company Paddy Power, to mount a basketball exchange between the U.S. and the DPRK in January, when between 10 and 12 former NBA players—Spavor won’t name names—are due to arrive in Pyongyang to help coach North Korea’s national basketball team.

And it is Spavor, as a Canadian, whom officials in North Korea’s ministry of sport approached with the idea of setting up a hockey exchange between North Korea and Canada. The project is still in its early stages, but Spavor says there is interest from the NHL. He envisions NHL players and coaches arriving next autumn or winter to help train the country’s national team. As it turns out, the North Koreans do play hockey, in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division III category, which also includes such lesser hockey nations as South Africa, Ireland and Greece. He’s also looking into organizing another sports exchange between North Korea and Canada—this one centred on skiing (the DPRK is poised to open its first ski resort, at the Masik Pass, on the country’s east coast).

The DPRK is borrowing from American culture in other ways, too. Spavor carries with him the Samjiyon, a North Korean-made tablet computer loaded with North Korean books, and with the republic’s answer to Angry Birds, a computer game called Gomuchong—rubber gun—that looks remarkably similar to the one-time iPhone sensation. Another stab at a cultural exchange? Perhaps. It may also be piracy.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-8): Just as Kenji Fujimoto taught us the name of Kim Jong-un, Rodman has revealed to the world the name of Kim Jong-un’s daughter. According to The Guardian:

Dennis Rodman has already described Kim as an “awesome guy”. On Sunday, he told the Guardian the leader was also a “good dad” to his baby daughter, whom he named as Ju-ae.

“The Marshal Kim and I had a relaxing time by the sea with his family,” Rodman said of his recent visit to the world’s most isolated country. “We shared many meals and drinks where we discussed our plans to play a historic friendship basketball game between North Korea and the US as well as ways to develop their basketball team.”

“I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms Ri [Sol-Ju, Kim's wife] as well. He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family. Kim told me, ‘I’ll see you in December.’”

Rodman plans to organise a basketball game between American and Korean teams.

“Kim is a great guy, he loves basketball, and he’s interested in building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges,” Rodman said. “I know in time Americans will see I’m just trying to help us all get along and see eye to eye through basketball and with my friendship with Kim I know this will happen.” Further details on the basketball match are expected on Monday.

If the Rodman in Pyongyang story wasn’t unusual enough, there is an extra twist – it is being sponsored by an Irish bookmaking firm, which cheerfully admits it has no experience of international diplomacy.

Paddy Power used Rodman for a promotional stunt involving bets about the new pope, after which the eponymous son of the founder of the firm went for “pizza and a few glasses of wine” with the ex-NBA star in Rome. Rodman then explained his “basketball diplomacy” idea.

Despite thinking it was “all a bit bonkers”, Power decided to get involved. He said: “If you’d told me about this 12 months ago I’d have got the men in white coats to take you away. It’s an unusual idea to say the least.”

Power stressed that the project did not mean that the company or Rodman “endorse or support” one of the world’s most repressive regimes, which has an appalling human rights record.

The company consulted a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group thinktank, which argues that this is not entirely a stunt.

“Someone might say that Dennis Rodman provides political legitimacy to the regime, or it can be treated as a propaganda coup,” said ICG’s Daniel Pinkston, who has been an expert on North Korea for 30 years. “I think that’s greatly exaggerated. If you have a former president of the United States, that factor might be much greater. But someone like Dennis Rodman can’t do that. He can’t lift sanctions – he doesn’t have that power or authority.”

“The risks and costs are very, very low, and what you’re creating is a channel for the exchange of ideas. It’s a very small channel, but it’s there.”

He said the interaction between Kim and Rodman sent out a signal to the world – and to North Koreans. “Here’s someone who’s one of the most nonconformist individuals you can think of. And here’s the leader, embracing him. That is an implicit signal – it’s OK to be different.”

The New York Times also reports:

On Monday, Mr. Rodman said Mr. Kim gave him the right to write a book about him.

Mr. Rodman said he would put together a team of 12 former N.B.A. stars to travel to Pyongyang in January for one week. He said he hoped to recruit people like his former Chicago Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone. They will play a North Korean team on Jan. 8 and another game two days later, he said. Mr. Kim promised a stadium and 95,000 fans.

Mr. Rodman said he planned to travel to Pyongyang in December to help select and prepare a North Korean team. A second set of games between the teams will be played in June in Europe, according to an agreement between the North Korean minister of sports and Mr. Rodman that was read during the news conference on Monday.

Mr. Rodman said he accepted Mr. Kim’s request for him to train the North’s Olympic basketball team.

UPDATE 1 (2013-9-7): Reuters reports that Dennis Rodman has left without Kenneth Bae.

Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman returned on Saturday from his second visit to North Korea this year where he again met the reclusive country’s leader Kim Jong-un, but did not come back with jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae.

“That’s not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae. Ask Obama about that. Ask Hillary Clinton,” he told a throng of reporters. “I don’t give a shit.”

Rodman showed reporters in Beijing pictures of him meeting Kim, and said he had given Kim a gift of his Bad Boy vodka, which “he loved”.

“He is my friend for life. I don’t care what you guys think about him. I don’t give a shit about what people around the world think about him,” he added.

Rodman’s latest trip was sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-7): Back in February Dennis Rodman made headlines by visiting the DPRK with the Harlem Globetrotters for a trip arranged by the new Vice show on HBO.

On September 3, Rodman returned to the DPRK for his second trip.

Here is coverage in Rodong Sinmun:

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un met ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman and his party on a visit to the DPRK.
He warmly greeted them and had a cordial talk with them.

Warmly welcoming Dennis Rodman visiting the DPRK again as a friend in a good season, Kim Jong Un told him that he might visit the DPRK any time and spend pleasant days, having a rest.

Saying he feels very grateful to Kim Jong Un for sparing a precious time to meet him and his party despite his tight schedule, Dennis Rodman said this is an expression of good faith towards the Americans.

He said that he was fortunate to revisit the DPRK as he has friendly relations with broad-minded Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman evinced his will to contribute to boosting diverse sports and cultural exchange with the DPRK.

He presented Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju with a gift he prepared with the deepest respect for them.

Kim Jong Un, together with him and his party, watched a basketball match between the April 25 Team and the Amnokgang Team.

Kim Jong Un hosted a dinner for Dennis Rodman and his party.

Expressing his heartfelt thanks to Kim Jong Un for spending a lot of time for him and his party and according them the warmest hospitality, Dennis Rodman said he would remember this visit as an unforgettable beautiful memory all his life.

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US exports to DPRK reach US$5.1m in Q2 2013

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

U.S. exports to North Korea amounted to slightly over US$5 million in the first half of this year, with most of them shipped in June when Pyongyang shifted to a charm offensive, data showed Thursday.

According to the data by the U.S. Department of Commerce, American exports to the communist country totaled $5.1 million in the January-June period, down 25 percent from a year earlier. There were no first-half U.S. imports from North Korea.

U.S. exports to North Korea stood at a mere $1 million in the first five months of the year, but the figure soared to $4 million in June alone, according to the data.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February and had made bellicose threats against the U.S. and South Korea. The unruly nation, however, had appeared to change its course in June by offering talks with them.

Most of the U.S. exports to the North were relief goods, according to media reports.

Citing a department official, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the U.S. exported meat worth $80,000 and $11,000 of fabric in June, with the remainder being free aid such as food and medicine.

The Voice of America (VOA) also said some 95.5 percent of the total exports between the two in the January-June period constitutes free assistance provided by U.S. private institutions.

The U.S. maintains a partial embargo against North Korea, banning its companies, their foreign branches and its people from making any type of commercial transactions, including exports, imports and investments.

Read the full story:
U.S. exports to N. Korea reach US$5.1 mln in H1: data
Yonhap (via Global Post)
2013-8-8

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Intel seeks trademark protection in DPRK

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is apparently no exception for efforts by U.S. firms to take every pre-emptive measure to protect their intellectual property rights worldwide.

American tech giant Intel Corp. is trying to lay the legal groundwork for possible business in the communist nation some day.

Intel confirmed Tuesday it has submitted an application for a “Specific License” in North Korea to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The company delivered the request through its law firm, Novak Druce Quigg LLP, in August 2012.

But Intel made clear that it has no plans yet to do business in North Korea, subject to tough U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and long-range missile programs. In 2011, President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting U.S. firms from doing business there.

“Intel has no intent of doing business in North Korea,” Chuck Mulloy, a corporate spokesman, told Yonhap News Agency by phone. “It is (just) about IT protection.”

The company routinely files protection papers of its trademark worldwide, regardless of whether it does business in a certain nation, he added.

The U.S. Treasury refused to discuss a specific firm’s move.

“On background, please note that we will not comment on specific companies but we do have a favorable licensing policy for protecting intellectual property,” a Treasury official said.

Read the full story here:
Intel seeking trademark protection in N. Korea
Yonhap
2013-8-6

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American Korean War vets touring DPRK

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

UPDATE 4 (2013-7-29): The Americans were unable to make it to the Chosin Reservoir. According to the AP:

A decorated Korean War veteran from Massachusetts left North Korea on Monday without fulfilling his mission: to travel the Chosin Reservoir battleground where he was hoping to locate the remains of a friend who was the U.S. Navy’s first black aviator.

On Sunday, Senior Col. Pak Gi Yong assured Hudner that the Korean People’s Army was committed to helping him find the spot in the area where he and Brown went down. He said last week that the army sent an advance team to Jangjin but that flooding had washed away roads to the site, making travel to the region treacherous.

Hudner, of Concord, Massachusetts, said he was disappointed but hoped to return later in the year to finally fulfill his promise to Brown.

“I have a feeling of great hope as a result of our mingling and meeting the officials here in (North) Korea,” he said before departing. “I feel we’ve accomplished a lot because of the appearance of mutual hope between us and the North Koreans.”

UPDATE 3 (2013-7-25): Two American Korean war vets attended the opening of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of KPA. Kim Jong-un was also in attendance:

2013-6-1-KPA cemetery

 

According to VOA:

Marshal Kim Jong Un cut a red ribbon to inaugurate what is officially known as the Fatherland Liberation War Martyrs Cemetery. Soldiers in dress uniforms briefly goose stepped at the event, kicking off days of commemoration of what the country considers the 1953 victory over U.S.-led United Nations forces on the Korean Peninsula.

At the cemetery’s inauguration were two highly decorated U.S. veterans of that war. Medal of Honor winner Thomas Hudner, who was a Navy pilot, was invited as part of his visit to the country during which he hoped to gain access to the Chosin Reservoir battle site where his wingman, Jesse Brown, crash-landed. Hudner, who is 88, says the ceremony at the cemetery was an emotional experience as he remembered his fallen comrades

“Well it’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans – not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” he said. “And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this. So it is great to be here.”

Hudner added he regards these types of memorials as a tribute to all of the war’s combatants, regardless of which side they were on. The American veteran, who crash-landed his plane in an unsuccessful effort to rescue Brown, intends to return here in September to precisely locate the remains of his fellow pilot. His hopes to reach the site this week were thwarted by severe flooding in the country.

UPDATE 2 (2013-7-22): Pictured below,  Ryongyon-ri in Kujang County (acrocc from the 39th Weapons Factory):

ryongyon-ri

According to VOA:

North Korean military officers have informed VOA News that the partial remains of what appear to be several U.S. soldiers from the Korean War were discovered after severe flooding around July 10.

Villagers are said to have spotted several pairs of American military shoes that led to the human bones at Ryongyeon-ri, Kujang County, in North Pyongan province. Travel from the capital Pyongyang to the area has been restricted because the main and alternate highways have been partly destroyed.

Travelers can see an approximately 50-meter section of one direction of the primary road fully destroyed, the pavement having crumpled away and fallen dozens of meters. At another point, part of the pavement on a bridge has buckled.

Among those traveling on the hazardous road on Monday evening was American, Thomas Hudner, 88, from Concord, Massachusetts. Hudner is back in North Korea for the first time in 63 years. He crashed landed his Navy plane on a slope in the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950, in an unsuccessful attempt to save his wingman Jesse Brown who had crash landed his Corsair F4U jet after apparently being hit by ground fire during a fierce Korean War battle.

Hudner hopes to return to the site to try to find Brown’s body, but the current flooding in the country is likely to prevent him from reaching the site. Hudner is on a private mission to North Korea. U.S. military search and recovery teams have not entered the country in seven years. Since then, tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have increased.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea Flooding Hampers Search for Downed US Pilot
VOA
Steve Herman
2013-7-22

UPDATE 1 (2013-7-22): Flooding  is hampering the search, but Mr. Hudner became the first American to visit the KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment.

KPA-exhibiont-of arms-2013-7-29

Pictured above: The KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment

According to VOA:

Flooding may dash the hopes of Thomas Hudner and accompanying Americans of getting to the Chosin Reservoir this week.

They have come to North Korea to try to find and retrieve the body of U.S. Navy pilot Jesse Brown.

Hudner, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Brown, in the meantime has become the first American through the doors of the recently opened Korean People’s Army Museum of Weapons and Equipment.

The 88 year old Hudner, along with 83 year old Dick Bonelli, a Marine who fought on the ground at the 1950 Chosin Reservoir battle against Chinese troops, were welcomed at the museum by North Korean military officers.

Senior Colonel Jeon HakCheol expressed full confidence in the quality of North Korea’s military equipment to bring about a victory in a war. Tanks on display were painted with the phrase ‘Let’s annihilate the U.S. imperial aggressors, the blood enemy of the Korean people.’

Also on display are scale models of American tanks, ships and aircraft.

VOA News asked the colonel for his assessment of the Abrams tanks of the U.S. army deployed in South Korea. He said their weaponry is excellent and their mobility wonderful, but the rough Korean terrain makes it impossible to use the Abrams for warfare here.

The museum’s gift shop offers for sale small plastic models of several U.S. aircraft. The B-2 bomber sells for $90, and American currency is accepted.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-7-20): According to Voice of America:

A U.S. Navy pilot from the Korean War arrived in North Korea on a commercial flight Saturday to search for the remains of the fellow aviator he unsuccessfully tried to rescue 63 years ago – an act for which he was awarded America’s highest military honor.

Thomas Hudner, who is 88, is part of a private American search team given permission by North Korean authorities to look for the remains of his friend, U.S. Navy Ensign Jesse Brown, and their F4 Corsairs at Hagaru-ri at the foot of the Chosin reservoir.

“Jesse Brown is entitled to every bit of help he can get even though it’s well after death,” Hudner told VOA.

The unprecedented mission in the country, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States, hopes to shed light on a poignant story from combat aviation history.

“When this opportunity came up [to go back to North Korea], at first, I was very skeptical,” he said. “It’s almost unbelievable and I’m delighted that so many people would take an interest in it.”

Risky crash landing in enemy territory

Jesse Brown was the first African-American to be trained by the U.S. Navy as an aviator. On his 20th combat mission in the Korean War, he crash landed his plane on a near vertical snow-covered slope on December 4, 1950.

Brown and Hudner were each flying as part of a mission providing air support for 8,000 Marines badly outnumbered by Communist Chinese soldiers in sub-freezing weather.

From his own plane, Lt. Hudner realized Brown had survived the impact and was alive in the crumpled jet.

Hudner decided to crash land his plane some 100 meters away from Brown. A Marine helicopter, at Hudner’s request, dropped an ax so that he could try to free Brown from the crumpled metal cockpit.

Hudner did not succeed. He was persuaded by Marines to be lifted to safety before nightfall and took with him Brown’s dying words: “Tell Daisy I love her.”

Thomas Hudner was initially reprimanded for deliberately destroying his multi-million dollar aircraft in what some superior officers considered a foolhardy act. But the military later had a change of heart.

President Harry Truman ultimately chose to acclaim Hudner as a hero and award him the first Medal of Honor since World War Two for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life.”

Read the full story here:
US Aviator Returns to N. Korea in Search of Fellow Pilot’s Remains
Voice of America
Steve Herman
2013-7-20

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159 former North Koreans living in USA

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

The number of North Korean escapees who are living in the United States is tallied at 159, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

The U.S. began accepting North Korean refugees after adopting the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004. Their number rose from nine in the 2006 fiscal year to 37 in 2008 and 22 last year, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said in a report, monitored in Seoul.

The report, written with data provided by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. State Department, said that from last October to the end of 2012, 13 North Koreans had obtained refugee status and were allowed into the country.

It did not give information on the number for this year.

The report said that the number of North Korean escapees allowed into the U.S. is very small, compared with more than 1.42 million other Asians who have been accepted by Washington.

One reason for the small number of North Korean refugees in the U.S. is because relatively few of them have sought asylum in the U.S., it said, adding that a long waiting time also turns them away to South Korea and other countries.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean refugees in U.S. total 159: report
Yonhap (via Global Post)
2013-7-13

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DPRK population estimated at 24.7 million

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

It appears the US Central Intelligence Agency has updated its “World Fact Book” data on North Korea (right after the Bank of Korea published their data on the North Korean economy).

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

North Korea has a population of 24.72 million as of this month, a media report based on data provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) showed Saturday.

The numbers released by Radio Free Asia named the communist country as the 49th most populous country in the world among 239 states checked.

It showed that 43.8 percent of the North’s total population was between 25 to 54 years of age, with those under 14 making up 21.7 percent. The CIA report added that those between the age of 15 to 24 accounted for 16 percent of the all people in the country with those over 65 making up 9.5 percent.

The report said the North’s population grew 0.53 percent on-year and that the rate of increase is generally slower than the other countries it checked. It added the country’s birth rate was below average, although the life expectancy of a North Korean reached 69.5 years, up from 69.2 years in 2012. The average life expectancy of a North Korean man stood at 65.6 years, while corresponding numbers for women hit 73.5 years.

Compared to the average life expectancy of people living in South Korea, which stands at 79.5 this year, a North Korean can expect to live 10 years less than a person living in the South.

The findings by the intelligence agency, meanwhile, counted 300,000 more people than figures provided by the Bank of Korea that estimated the North’s population at 24.42 million.

Pyongyang’s official census released last December showed the population standing at 24.05 million as of 2008.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK:

North Korea’s total population as of this month was 24,720,000, according to the CIA, which publishes regular country studies. The figure ranks the North Korean population 49th out of a global total of 239 states. In December last year, the “2012 Chosun Central Yearbook” cited a population of 24,052,000, a figure that it said was correct as of 2008.

43.8% of the current total population falls into the 25-54 age group, the CIA report notes. The 0-14 age group contains 21.7% of the total, while the 15-24 demographic incorporates 16%. According to the CIA, the North Korean population has risen 0.53% over the last year. This population growth rate ranks North Korea at 148th overall, and its relatively low birth rate puts it at 137th.

The life expectancy of a North Korean citizen grew 0.3 years to 69.5 years over the last year, up from last year’s 69.2 years, indicating a trend of steady upward growth. The life expectancy for North Korean males is now 65.6 years, and females 73.5 years. Compared with 2010, the life expectancy of a male has risen by four years, and six for a female. In comparison, a South Korean male born in 2011 could be expected to live for 77 years, and a female 84 years.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea population estimated at 24.7 mln: report
Yonhap (via Global Post)
2013-7-13

North Korean Population and Life Expectancy Rising
Daily NK
Park Seong Guk
2013-7-15

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US sanctions DPRK Daedong Credit Bank

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Here is the press release from the Treasury Department:

Treasury Sanctions Bank, Front Company, and Official Linked to North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs

6/27/2013
Action Targets North Korea’s Use of Deceptive Financial Practices
to Support its Weapons Programs

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury took another step in our ongoing efforts to disrupt North Korean financial networks supporting the regime’s illicit ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and proliferation activities. Daedong Credit Bank (DCB), together with DCB Finance Limited—a DCB front company—and DCB’s representative Kim Chol Sam were designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382, which targets proliferators of WMD and their supporters. The financial operations carried out by DCB, DCB Finance Limited, and Kim Chol Sam are responsible for managing millions of dollars of transactions in support of the North Korean regime’s destabilizing activities.

The Treasury Department also designated Son Mun San, the External Affairs Bureau Chief of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy (GBAE) under E.O. 13882 for his work directing North Korea’s nuclear-related research efforts. The GBAE, which was previously designated by the U.S. and the UN, is responsible for North Korea’s nuclear program, which includes the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center and its five megawatt plutonium production research reactor, as well as its fuel fabrication and reprocessing facilities.

“Although the recent spate of provocations has waned, North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program continues apace, supported by North Korean financial institutions like Daedong Credit Bank. We are committed to increasing the sanctions pressure on North Korea until it complies with its international obligations,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “We urge financial institutions around the world to be wary of dealing with Daedong Credit Bank and the other designated entities in order to maintain the transparency and legitimacy of the international financial system.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and proliferation activities violate UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), and 2094 (2013); destabilize the region; and undermine the global nonproliferation regime. Today’s designations build upon other recent U.S. efforts to target DPRK proliferation activities, including the March 2013 designation of North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank, the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB).

Daedong Credit Bank has engaged in the same type of activity that was at issue in the FTB designation, most notably providing financial services to the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), Pyongyang’s premier arms dealer as well as KOMID’s main financial arm, the Tanchon Commercial Bank (TCB), both of which have been previously designated by the U.S. for the central role they play supporting North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missiles programs. KOMID and TCB were also designated by the United Nations. UNSCR 2094 requires the imposition of targeted financial sanctions on entities that work for or on behalf of, or at the direction of, UN-designated North Korean entities. Since at least 2007, Daedong Credit Bank (DCB) has facilitated hundreds of financial transactions worth millions of dollars on behalf of KOMID and TCB. In some cases, DCB has knowingly facilitated transactions by using deceptive financial practices.

DCB Finance Limited and Kim Chol Sam

Since at least 2006, Daedong Credit Bank has used its front company, DCB Finance Limited, to carry out international financial transactions as a means to avoid scrutiny by financial institutions avoiding business with North Korea. DCB Finance Limited is registered in the British Virgin Islands and also operates out of China.

Kim Chol Sam is a representative for Daedong Credit Bank who has also been involved in managing transactions on behalf of DCB Finance Limited. As a Dalian, China-based representative of DCB, it is suspected Kim Chol Sam has facilitated transactions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and likely managed millions of dollars in North-Korean related accounts.

Son Mun San

Since at least 2010, Son Mun San has served as the External Affairs Bureau Chief of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy (GBAE).

GBAE is responsible for North Korea’s nuclear program, which includes the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center and its five megawatt plutonium production research reactor, as well as its fuel fabrication and reprocessing facilities. GBAE was designated by the United Nations Security Council in July 2009 and was also designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in September 2009.

U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the entities and individuals listed today, and any assets they may have subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen.

Identifying information:

Entity Name: Daedong Credit Bank
AKA: DCB
AKA: Taedong Credit Bank
Address: Suite 401, Potonggang Hotel, Ansan-Dong, Pyongchon District, Pyongyang, DPRK
Alt. Address: Ansan-dong, Botonggang Hotel, Pongchon, Pyongyang, DPRK
SWIFT: DCBK KPPY

Entity: DCB Finance Limited
Address: Akara Building, 24 de Castro Street, Wickhams Cay I, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
Alt. Address: Dalian, China

Name:Kim Chol Sam
Date of Birth: March 11, 1971
Nationality: Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea
Role: Treasurer, Daedong Credit Bank

Name: Son Mun San
Date of Birth: January 23, 1951
Role: External Affairs Bureau Chief, General Bureau of Atomic Energy

According to Reuters:

The U.S. Treasury said Daedong Credit Bank has been providing financial services to the Korea Mining Developing Trading Corp, or KOMID, which it said was Pyongyang’s premier arms dealer, and the Tanchon Commercial Bank, or TCB, its main financial arm.

“Since at least 2007, Daedong Credit Bank has facilitated hundreds of financial transactions worth millions of dollars on behalf of KOMID and TCB,” the Treasury said. “In some cases, (it) had knowingly facilitated transactions by using deceptive financial practices.”

The Treasury said it was also sanctioning a Daedong front company called DCB Financial Limited, that company’s representative, Kim Chol Sam, and Son Mun San, the external affairs bureau chief of North Korea’s Bureau of Atomic Energy.

It said the front company had carried out international financial transactions as a way to avoid scrutiny by institutions trying to avoid doing business with North Korea.

The action generally prohibits U.S. citizens from engaging in any transactions with the entities or persons targeted, and freezes any assets they might have in the United States.

The fresh set of sanctions follows a decision by the United States in March to target North Korean’s Foreign Trade Bank, its main foreign exchange institution, to try to choke off cash to the government in Pyongyang.

Banks in the European Union have been reluctant to do business with FTB in the wake of the U.S. sanctions, and China’s biggest foreign exchange bank, the Bank of China, closed FTB’s account.

Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen told reporters on a conference call that he expects banks outside the United States to continue to limit or terminate their dealings with the sanctioned banks. “Being exposed to a financial institution like Daedong Credit Bank exposes those financial institutions to real risk, in particular reputational risk,” he said.

Cohen said previous sanctions had increased the North Korean regime’s financial isolation and that these latest designations would ratchet the pressure up further.

Here is the Wall Street Journal’s coverage.

Additional information:

1. Previous posts on Daedong Credit Bank here.

2. The US recently sanctioned the DPRK’s Foreign Trade Bank. Previous posts on the Foreign Trade Bank here.

3. Previous posts on KOMID here.

Read the full story here:
U.S. sanctions North Korea bank as it targets weapons program
Reuters
Paige Gance
2013-6-27

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Saving the cranes: Hope flies in North Korea

Friday, June 7th, 2013

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Hall Healy, chairman of the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation, has been engaged for years in the effort to protect the migratory cranes in North Korea and restore their habitats. Since 2008, the group has been raising money and coordinating efforts to help a farming community on the Anbyon Plain, roughly 60 miles north of the DMZ.

Through helping the Anbyon farmers, Healy said they are also helping the cranes. When there’s more food for the farmers, there’s also more rice left over in the fields for the cranes, Healy said. The birds also benefit from a pond that was recently built and stocked with fish.

“You have to work with the people,” Healy said. “And if the people have needs, and they always do, you have to help them first.”

Founded in 1973, the International Crane Foundation works in countries around the world to protect the 15 species of cranes in existence.

The North Korea project — which focuses on the red-crowned and white-naped cranes — has special meaning for Healy, who’s been closely involved since its inception. He’s traveled to the DMZ more than a dozen times, and to the Anbyon Plain twice — most recently in November 2011. He plans to return in the fall.

Anbyon was targeted as a priority area, out of concern that a large wetlands area south of the DMZ, near Seoul, could be developed soon, Healy said. If that development occurs, Anbyon would give cranes a reliable haven.

Over the past five years, the foundation has raised about $200,000, including in-kind services, for machinery, fertilizer, training and building supplies, Healy said. Partnering with other groups — including the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, North Korea, the Anbyon farming cooperative, BirdLife International and the Germany-based Hanns Seidel Foundation — it has turned that relatively small amount of money into significant results, Healy said.

So far, it’s worked out well for the farmers. The primary crop in Anbyon is rice, Healy said, but the farmers are also now planting fruit trees and raising livestock. Organic fertilizer, new machinery and sustainable farming techniques have improved the crop yield and the health of the soil, he said.

On the crane side, it’s still a work in progress. Last winter, cranes circled but did not land in Anbyon. But they landed the two years previous, Healy said, and better results are expected this year.

Wildlife conservation that directly benefits people is becoming a more popular approach, said Jeff Walk, an ornithologist and director of science for the Nature Conservancy in Illinois. And cranes are an excellent focus, he said, because people are naturally drawn to them.

“It’s a good thing. You need that hook with people,” Walk said. “We call them ‘an umbrella species.’ You work to protect them and a whole other community benefits, too.”

Compared with working in other countries, Healy said communication with the North Korean farmers has been limited and indirect. Through the United Nations mission in New York, the International Crane Foundation communicates with the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, instead of directly with the farming cooperative.

Healy worked previously as president of the DMZ Forum, a New York-based group focused on ecological preservation in the DMZ.

Seung-ho Lee, current president of the DMZ Forum, said conservation work in North Korea is inherently “a trust-building process” with people who have been largely cut off from the Western world. The Anbyon project is effective because it yields results without ideology or politics, he said.

“It’s a very useful approach,” Lee said. “To give them a sense of volunteerism and work, but to also give them a real product.”

Previous post on the International Crane Foundation here.

Read the full story here:
Saving the cranes: Hope flies in North Korea
Chicago Tribune
Gregory Trotter
2013-6-7

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