A U.S. private relief agency plans to provide aid worth US$1 million to North Korea this year to help support North Korean children and other vulnerable people, a news report said Thursday.
World Vision Inc. also plans to provide clean water to more than 8,000 North Koreans in provincial areas while providing nutritional assistance to children under the age of six, according to the report by the Washington-based Radio Free Asia.
The Christian organization plans to expand its humanitarian project in other rural areas, the report said.
Read the full story here:
U.S. relief agency to give aid worth US$1 mln to N. Korea Yonhap
UPDATE 8 (2014-1-18): The AP reports that Rodman has checked into rehab:
Dennis Rodman has checked into an undisclosed alcohol rehabilitation center to treat his long-time struggle with alcoholism, his agent says.
Darren Prince declined on Saturday to say which facility will treat Rodman and how long he will be there. Rodman recently returned to the United States from his latest trip to North Korea.
He later apologized for comments he made in North Korea about a detained American missionary, saying he had been drinking and was under pressure as he organized an exhibition game there. He also sang “Happy Birthday” to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the start of the friendly game.
“What was potentially a historic and monumental event turned into a nightmare for everyone concerned,” Prince said. “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination `super human’ political figure and `fixer’ got the better of him.
“He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused.”
Former basketball star Dennis Rodman apologized on Monday for not being able to help an American missionary detained in North Korea while he played there to celebrate the birthday of his friend and leader Kim Jong Un.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything,” Rodman told media on his arrival at Beijing airport from a weeklong trip. “It’s not my fault. I’m sorry. I just want to do some good stuff, that’s all I want to do.”
He said he would return to North Korea next month, but gave no details.
Acknowledging the controversy surrounding the trip, one of the players, Charles D. Smith, said Rodman “opened the door and he did some missteps along the way.”
In an interview in Beijing, Smith said Rodman’s singing of “Happy Birthday” to Kim before the exhibition game at a Pyongyang stadium was something that he alone had decided to do. “I think that it might not have been the right thing to do, but he did it … if it was done in private it would be different, but when it’s done in the open like that, people are going to have opinions.”
During the trip, Rodman was also slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, the missionary in poor health who has been detained for more than a year for “anti-state crimes.” Rodman apologized last week for comments he made in a CNN interview implying Bae was at fault, saying he had been drinking and was upset because some of his teammates were under pressure to leave.
Smith said the controversy surrounding Bae was a “bad situation” that “overshadowed some of the things that we were doing.”
“Dennis is not a member of the State Department, he is not a member of the U.N.,” Smith said. “For them to put the flag in his hands and say go and negotiate and talk about it, he probably would have made it worse, you know.”
He said North Korean officials had invited the team back “at any given time.”
On Monday, Rodman reiterated that his trip was one of goodwill.
“This is not a bad deal,” he said. “I want to show people that no matter what’s going on in the world, for one day, just one day, no politics, not all that stuff.
“I’m sorry for all the people and what’s going on, I’m sorry,” he continued. “I’m not the president, I’m not an ambassador, I’m just an individual that wants to show the world the fact that we can actually get along and be happy for one day.”
Rodman and Kim struck up a friendship when the basketball-player-turned-celebrity first traveled to the secretive state last year.
UPDATE 6 (2014-1-9): KCTV footage of the visit has been made public. The fist video shows Rodman’s delegation meeting with Kim Jong-un, presenting him with customized vodka bottles, singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un, then offers game highlights.
UPDATE 4 (2014-1-8): According to the Daily NK, the DPRK is using the Rodman game to treat Chinese investors.
A source in China informed Daily NK on the 8th, “Some Chinese traders who have given a great deal to projects in Pyongyang, including the construction of department stores, shops and restaurants, have been invited to go and celebrate Kim Jong Eun’s birthday. All accommodation, food and travel while in the country is being covered by the Chosun side, and all other expenses are to be borne by the invitee.”
“Chosun [North Korea] has only invited a select group, and there will only be two or three officials from the Chinese side, so the total number of people won’t have exceeded 30. Their schedules for today are to attend the friendly basketball game and then inspect Pyongyang [Munsu] Water Park. Later there will be a tour of Kaesong and Panmunjom, and I hear that a number of banquets have been prepared,” the source went on.
By hosting the group in this way, Kim Jong Eun is following in the footsteps of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, both of whom invited foreign business people and dignitaries to partake of their birthday celebrations. The only difference is the small number of invitees, the lack of publicity outside the country thus far, and the fact that today is not actually a North Korean public holiday.
“Kim Jong Eun has not done much in terms of showing himself off as yet,” the source posited, “and since he has a great many things to worry about at home right now, such as the execution of Jang Song Taek, he cannot host a large spectacle for this birthday this year. Nevertheless, it does appear that they want to convey their gratitude to foreign investors, so he’s invited them to help him celebrate.”
Furthermore, “These invitations have been extended because there is a sense of urgency about attracting investment for special economic zones and other projects that call for capital. After creating a genial atmosphere via the tourist activities, they will actively work to encourage the invitees to invest in things like the construction of water parks in each major city.”
Meanwhile, a second source has revealed that the North Korean authorities have also summoned a select group of provincial cadres to Pyongyang for the birthday celebrations. The source from North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK, “Some provincial cadres have gone up to Pyongyang for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Eun’s) birthday celebrations on January 8th. This has not been officially reported to the people, and cadres are the only ones being quietly called up.”
UPDATE 1 (2014-1-6): Apparently Paddy Power is still funding this trip despite publicly bowing out during Rodman’s last visit. According to the Irish Times:
Just before Christmas, Paddy Power withdrew sponsorship of Rodman’s event, saying this was as a result of general condemnation of Pyongyang. This followed the rare public purge of leader Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was executed last month.
The company said it “took a back seat” after those events but would still “honour all of its contractual obligations”.
ORIGINAL POST (2014-1-4): Rodman has made three trips to the DPRK. Here are links to the first, second and third trips. In a gesture towards his fourth trip he has named a slate of basketball players that will be joining him for an exhibition match in honor of Kim Jong-un’s birthday.
Dennis Rodman has named a team of former NBA players to participate in an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Rodman leads a team that includes former NBA All-Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson, and Vin Baker. Craig Hodges, Doug Christie and Charles D. Smith are on the team, as well. They will play against a top North Korean Senior National team on Jan. 8, marking Kim Jong Un’s birthday.
Rodman calls the game his version of “basketball diplomacy.”
“My previous travels have allowed me to feel the enthusiasm and warmth of fans,” Rodman said. “The positive memories and smiles on the faces of the children and families are a testament to the great efforts we have put into fulfilling our mission wherever we go voiding any politics. We are all looking forward to arriving in Pyongyang, meeting the citizens, visiting various charities and using the opportunity to develop new relationships that result in our annual return.”
It is believed that representatives from Excellence Mineral Manufacturing Co., Ltd and Soe Min Htaeik Co. recently met with North Korean authorities to facilitate the import of military supplies for use in North Korea’s state-run weapons program.
A third company, Asia Metal Company Limited, is thought to have constructed factory facilities for use by the Myanmar Directorate of Defense Industries (DDI). It is estimated that around thirty North Korean nationals are currently employed on the site.
Lt. Col. Kyaw Nyunt Oo of the DDI was the only individual added to the list.
UPDATE 2 (2013-12-26): A couple of the individuals involved in getting Rodman into the DPRK for his second trip (post-Vice) have written an op-ed explaining their motivation. According to the article:
Sometimes private citizens can ease tensions between governments when public officials cannot.
Since we met NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman in May, we have been helping to coordinate his visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and organize an international basketball tournament sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Seeing as our government has branded the DPRK a “critical” national security threat, we find it reflects badly on Foggy Bottom that the three Americans best acquainted with its supreme leader are a retired NBA star, a mixed martial arts fighter and a tuba-playing human geneticist.
Mr. Rodman constantly reminds those around him to “just do one thing: Do your job.” Now it seems he is picking up some of the slack for the U.S. State Department.
Despite decades-old antagonisms, it was ultimately not confrontation but détente between the capitalist and communist blocs that brought the threat of global nuclear war to an end. Perhaps the most memorable episode of this process was President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China and the period of Ping-Pong Diplomacy that laid the groundwork for it; USA/PRC relations were theretofore nonexistent. As Klaus Mehnert put it, the country “had been closed off so completely that there seemed to be about as many astronauts going to the moon as there were foreign observers getting into China.”
In 1967, presidential candidate Richard Nixon expressed his hope for détente with Peking, writing, “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” On Christmas 1970, People’s Daily ran a front-page story with a photograph of Chairman Mao Tsetung and American journalist Edgar Snow standing side by side atop the Tien An Men rostrum; at the top of the page, the day’s Mao quote: “All the peoples of the world, including the American people, are our friends.” While Washington dismissed this gesture given Snow’s sympathy for Mao, in retrospect it seems it was intended as a subtle olive branch.
With spring came a chance meeting between American and Chinese ping-pong players concluding with an exchange of gifts. This simple act of humanity touched off a string of cultural and, later, diplomatic interactions.
Days later, the American team was invited to Peking. President Nixon took the opportunity to announce an easing of sanctions and his hope for normalized bilateral relations and “the ending of the isolation of Mainland China from the world community.”
Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Peking that summer paved the way for “the Week that Changed the World.” Although Nixon and Mao certainly did not see eye to eye, their shared view that diplomacy is preferable to both isolation and war made normal relations between Washington and Peking possible.
The value of cultural exchanges consists in their power to erode misconceptions. For instance, Dr. Terwilliger spent a month this summer in Pyongyang teaching human evolutionary genetics to a class of very talented Korean undergraduates.
Aside from teaching scientific critical thinking, he took care to present his students with the best side of the American people, to demonstrate that we are a generous and friendly people rather than the “brigandish aggressors” of the familiar caricature. He was both surprised and encouraged by their interest in Mr. Rodman’s February visit.
They noted that hearing Mr. Rodman say nice things about their country made them rethink their stereotypes about Americans, for they had now seen one embracing their leader. Many had even read Mr. Rodman’s autobiography and remarked that they admired his frankness in describing the difficulties he faced in his early life.
Such reactions can only bode well. Hostility is inevitable when the common man on each side sees highlighted only the worst aspects of the other. Mutual understanding is where rapprochement starts.
While the first few timid steps may proceed slowly as trust is built, the example of Ping-Pong Diplomacy demonstrates that if the momentum is sustained it can offer governments new options with which to pursue peace and may even be developed into a full gallop (what the Koreans call “Chollima speed”) toward rapprochement. At the very least, track-two diplomacy can present unique opportunities for engagement between private citizens whose governments remain at odds.
Mr. Rodman would be the first to recognize that he is neither a politician nor a diplomat — and yet, that is precisely what makes him such a promising agent of reconciliation. As a cultural icon, Mr. Rodman has the power to project a relatable human face in a way a government functionary simply cannot: by doing down-to-earth things all people can enjoy.
Our government has repeatedly missed the basket, but at least this time Mr. Rodman is there to pick up the rebound. As he has said, “[Kim Jong Un] loves basketball. … Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there.”
An associate professor at Columbia University in New York City, Joseph D. Terwilliger was a member of Dennis Rodman’s September and December delegations to Pyongyang. John Doldo IV, a Watertown native who has also spent time in North Korea, has been working behind the scenes helping to coordinate many aspects of the project. Both authors worked on a strictly voluntary basis in order to avoid any financial conflict of interest.
UPDATE 1 (2013-12-24): According to NK News, the Irish gambling company Paddy Power has decided to end its sponsorship of Rodman’s trips to the DPRK. According to the article:
Irish betting company Paddy Power has ended its partnership with Dennis Rodman and his “basketball diplomacy” initiative.
“We have been reviewing the partnership on an ongoing basis, and with the benefit of hindsight, we probably got this one wrong,” company spokesman Paddy Power (and son of Paddy Power’s founder, Paddy Power) tells NK News.
“Circumstances have changed quite a lot in North Korea; there has been worldwide scrutiny of the North Korean regime, probably more in the past month than in the past couple of years.
“There has been almost total condemnation of North Korea worldwide, and we’re really responding to that.”
Though they won’t be involved, Rodman’s plan to bring 11 other former NBA players to Pyongyang is still a go, according to Power.
“We have spoken to Rodman’s people,” he says. “The event is apparently still happening, but we just won’t be a part of it.”
“Dennis is very appreciative of Paddy Power’s support up to this point for this historic game of basketball diplomacy taking place on Jan. 8th,” Rodman’s agent Darren Prince told the Associated Press.
“It has nothing to do with me. I mean, whatever his uncle has done, and whoever’s done anything in North Korea, I have no control over that,” Rodman said in Beijing. “I mean, these things have been going on for years and years and years.
“I’m just going over there to do a basketball game and have some fun,” he said.
Rodman said it was not his place to talk about such issues.
“People have been saying these things here and there. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not a politician. I’m not an ambassador,” he said.
“I’m just going over there to try and do something really cool for a lot of people, play some games and try to get the Korean kids to play,” he said.
“Everything else I have nothing to do with. If it happens that he wants to talk about it then great. If it doesn’t happen I just can’t bring it up because I don’t (want) him to think that I’m over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as being his friend and all of a sudden I’m talking about politics. That’s not going to be that way,” Rodman said.
Rodman is expected to provide North Korea’s national basketball team with four days of training during the trip.
UPDATE 9 (2013-12-9): Newman has issued a statement (Nelson Report):
Statement from Merrill Newman dated December 9, 2013
Over the past two days, I’ve been able to reunite with my wonderful family, rest, and try to recover from the difficult ordeal that began when I was prevented from leaving North Korea on October 26th. I can’t begin to tell you how good it is to be home, to be free, and to begin to resume my normal home life.
Let me repeat my thanks to the U.S. State Department for the amazing job they did in getting me out of North Korea and bringing me home safely. I want to thank Vice President Biden, who called me in Beijing to wish me well and even offered to give me a lift back to the United States on his plane. Thanks also to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for their great work, especially their visit to me and their help in ensuring that I had the medicine I needed.
Let me also express deep appreciation to friends, family, members of the First Congregational Church, wonderful people of faith and from all walks of life, residents and staff of our home at Channing House, and Members of Congress for their prayers, vigils, hard work, and moral support on my behalf. I want to single out Evans Revere for his extraordinary help.
It wasn’t until I got home on Saturday that I realized what a story I had become in the press here. During my detention I had no access to any outside news, and wondered whether anyone was even aware of my situation. I am sorry I caused so many people so many heartaches back home.
Looking at the television and newspaper reports, I’ve seen a lot of speculation about why I was detained. I’ve given considerable thought to this and have come to the conclusion that I just didn’t understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner.
I’m a Korean War veteran and I’m very proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbor resentment about those partisans from the Mt Kuwol area and what other anti-Communist guerrillas did in North Korea before and during the war.
The shooting stopped sixty years ago, and the North Koreans have allowed other American veterans of the war to visit. Moreover, I did not hide my own military service from the tour company that organized my trip. Therefore, I did not think this history would be a problem. Indeed, in my application for a tourist visa, I specifically requested permission to visit the Mt. Kuwol area. That request was approved and was on the official itinerary when I arrived, although after I got to Pyongyang, I was told that the bridge had been washed out by a flood and it would not be possible to do so.
Before they told me this, I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mt. Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were. The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister. It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized. With the benefit of hindsight I should have been more sensitive to that.
I’ve also seen a lot of reports about the “confession” I made in North Korea. Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily. Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me “confess” to. To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the “confession” in a way that emphasized the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for me to say. I hope that came across to all who saw the video.
Getting the “confession” and my “apology” were important to the North Koreans. Although the North Koreans treated me well during my detention (they looked after my health and fed me well), I was constantly under guard in my hotel and my interrogator made it clear that if I did not cooperate I could be sentenced to jail for espionage for 15 years. In fact, the North Korean interrogator repeatedly made the following statement to me: “If you do not tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will not be able to return to your home country. If you do tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will be able to return to your home country — someday.” Under these circumstances, I read the document with the language they insisted on because it seemed to be the only way I might get home.
In the coming days, as I recover my strength I plan to share more details about my experience in North Korea. I know there is a lot of interest in this and I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can. We also ask that you not forget that another American, Kenneth Bae is being held in the DPRK and we hope that he, too, will be allowed to rejoin his family. For now, let me finish by saying again how great it is to be back home, safe, and with my loved ones.
An elderly U.S. veteran of the Korean War arrived home Saturday after being released by North Korea, where he had traveled as a tourist and was held for six weeks as a prisoner.
“I’m delighted to be home,” Merrill Newman said at the San Francisco airport, where he was reunited with his wife and son, the Associated Press reported. “It’s been a great homecoming. I’m tired, but ready to be with my family.”
Vice President Biden, laying a wreath at a war memorial in Seoul, said he had spoken briefly with Newman by phone.
“There is a piece of good news. The DPRK today released someone they should never have had in the first place: Mr. Newman,” Biden said.
“I’m told we tried to get in contact with him [but] he’s on his way or in China right now. I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there’s a direct flight to San Francisco, his home. I don’t blame him. I’d be on that flight too. It’s a positive thing they’ve done.”
Biden said the United States would continue to demand the release of another American, Kenneth Bae, who has been held for more than a year. Including Newman, North Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009, six of whom have been released.
“At least there’s one ray of sunshine today. Mr. Newman will be reunited with his family,” he said.
UPDATE 7 (2013-12-7):KCNA reports that Mr. Newman has been deported.
U.S. Citizen Deported from DPRK
Pyongyang, December 7 (KCNA) — As already reported, a relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) detained and investigated U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who entered the DPRK under the guise of a tourist to confirm the whereabouts of the spies and terrorists who had been trained and dispatched by him, an intelligence officer, during the last Korean War.
According to the investigation, Newman entered the DPRK with a wrong understanding of it and perpetrated a hostile act against it.
Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint.
UPDATE 6 (2013-12-1):Yonhap reports that Swedish diplomats have been allowed to meet with Mr. Newman.
News wire services such as AFP and CNN said a consul met Merrill Newman at a hotel in Pyongyang and delivered medication sent by his family.
The Scandinavian country’s mission in Pyongyang acts as the “protecting power” for Americans in North Korea, and its diplomats provide consular services.
The media outlets said Newman was in good health and reported he was being treated well by the North Koreans.
Apology of U.S. Citizen for His Hostile Acts in DPRK
Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The following is an apology U.S. citizen Merrill Newman presented to a relevant institution after his detention in the DPRK:
I am Merrill Newman living in California, USA.
During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.
As I gave 300 people with barbarity gone to the South who had ill feelings toward the DPRK from Chodo military education and guerilla training they later did attack against the DPRK although the armistice was signed.
I also gave 200 soldiers under my command in Mt. Kuwol the task to harass the rear base such as collecting information on the movement and the arm equipment in KPA, attacking and destruction on the communication system, the rice storage, railroad and munitions train by dispatching the several elements to Hwanghae Province Area.
According to my order they collected information of the KPA and attacked the communication system and killed 3 innocent operators, delayed the munitions supply using explosives obtained from attacking the mine and they attacked the KPA and harassing operations of the rear base 10 times in the Hwanghae Province Area.
They killed about 50 soldiers in the process of the operation. In the process of following tasks given by me I believe they would kill more innocent people.
As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.
Although 60 years have gone by, I came to DPRK on the excuse of the tour as a member of 33 Tour Group from U.S. on October 17, 2013.
Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war. Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendents because it was too hard for me to do myself.
If I had the opportunity to visit Kuwol Mt. I was going to pray for the souls of dead soldiers. If I saw surviving soldiers in Mt. Kuwol, I was going to connect them with the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association which I had already connected with, anti-Communist strategic plot organization.
All the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association escaped from the DPRK to South Korea. So I asked the guide to help me to look for their families and relatives living in DPRK and I gave the document written with their address and e-mail address to the guide in the Yanggakdo Hotel.
I also brought the e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK on this trip and criticizing DPRK.
Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again.
I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me.
Please forgive me.
I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK Government and the Korean People again.
On this trip I can understand that in US and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK.
If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.
In the apology, Mr. Newman said he was an adviser for the Kuwol Unit of the United Nations Korea Sixth Partisan Regiment, which served with the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.
A person familiar with Mr. Newman’s military record and his current situation in captivity in North Korea said that Mr. Newman served as an adviser in that unit in 1953 before the armistice. The unit operated behind the lines in North Korea, but Mr. Newman conducted his duties as an adviser on Chodo, an island off the west coast of what is now North Korea, the person said. In the beginning of the video, Mr. Newman mentioned Chodo as the place where he was stationed. The person speaking about Mr. Newman’s situation declined to be identified because of the delicacy of the case.
According to American military documents declassified in 1990, the United Nations partisan warfare mission organized in 1951 eventually mobilized about 23,000 guerrillas to fight against North Korea, overseen by about 200 American advisers.
KCNA Report on Arrest of U.S. Citizen for Hostile Acts in DPRK
Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Saturday:
A relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently put in custody U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who committed hostile acts against the DPRK after entering the country under the guise of a tourist.
After entering the DPRK as a member of tourists’ group in October he perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of tour.
He also committed such crime as trying to look for spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK in the area of Mt. Kuwol during the last Fatherland Liberation War as well as their families and descendants and connect them with the “Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association,” an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of south Korea.
According to the results of the investigation, he was active as adviser of “Kuwol Unit” of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Command of the U.S. Forces in the Far East since early in 1953. He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians.
The investigation clearly proved Newman’s hostile acts against the DPRK and they were backed by evidence. He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them.
UPDATE 3 (2013-11-23): According to NK News, Merill traveled with Juche Travel Services. According to the article:
The agency, which only learned that it was involved in Newman’s case on Thursday, said that it currently had no information as to why the 85 year old Korean War veteran had been removed from a flight leaving Pyongyang on October 26.
“Mr. Newman had in place all necessary and valid travel documents to take his tour. We have no information concerning what has occurred to result in the current situation,” Thompson said in a statement emailed to NK News.
“Mr. Newman travelled with one other gentleman to the DPRK on a private tour booked via Juche Travel Services between 17th and 26th October 2013.”
UPDATE 2 (2013-11-21): Everything we know about Merrill Newman (Washington Post):
Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old American who lives in California, has been detained in North Korea since Oct. 26, multiple news reports now confirm. Several hundred Americans are thought to visit North Korea every year as tourists, typically safely. Newman’s arrest is highly unusual and remains shrouded in mystery. Here is the publicly available information on Newman so far, taken from accounts in NKNews.org, the San Jose Mercury News, New York Times and Associated Press [link broken].
The nine facts listed here only deepen the mystery; there is a total absence of any hint of a reason why he would have been arrested.
1. Newman was visiting North Korea on a nine-day tourist visa, traveling with a friend from his retirement community named Bob Hamrdla and two tour guides. Such guides also function as government minders.
2. He was arrested while sitting on an airplane at Pyongyang’s international airport, waiting to depart the country. A single uniformed officer boarded the plane and walked Newman off.
3. Authorities have held him for more than three weeks, but North Korean state media have not mentioned the case.
4. A Korean War veteran, Newman with his wife lives in a Palo Alto retirement community called Channing House. He is Caucasian, which is significant given that North Korea has tended in the past to arrest only Westerners of Korean or other Asian descent. Korean War veterans sometimes travel to North Korea, usually without incident. A group went in July to repatriate the remains of an American who’d died there during the war. They say the trip went fine.
5. Newman does not appear to be overtly political or to have a known record of human rights activism or religious evangelizing, the two practices that have gotten Americans detained by North Korean authorities. He is a retired technology executive with a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He’d reportedly taken Korean-language lessons to prepare for the trip.
6. It’s not clear which travel agency he was traveling with. A growing number of Beijing-based agencies have been cropping up that take Americans into North Korea.
7. Newman’s son said his father had a “difficult” discussion with his government minders about the Korean War. While political statements are obviously frowned upon by North Korea, the country has been hosting thousands of Western tourists for years. Newman would be far from the first Western visitor to raise sensitive political issues with his minders.
8. His son says he has a heart condition and a bad back. North Korea expert David Straub told NKNews.org, “The basic fact of the matter is that this gentleman is 84-85 yrs old, an elderly man, presumably not a threat in any way to North Korea, so this is, even by North Korean standards, an extraordinary thing.”
9. The State Department issued a blanket warning Monday against all travel to North Korea, the first of this level of severity since Americans began traveling there in 1995. A State Department spokesperson emphasized that the official warning cites a “chronic” threat to Americans of arbitrary detention. Two other Americans have been arrested in recent years, both of Korean descent and accused of conducting illegal Christian missionary work.
UPDATE 1 (2013-11-20): The New York Times provides a name and some additional information:
The veteran, Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, Calif., was taken from an Air Koryo flight on which he was to leave the country on Oct. 26, his son, Jeff Newman, the chief financial officer of a real estate company, said in a telephone interview from California.
“He was on a nine-day tour with a friend and two tour guides. He went through the normal visa process,” the younger Mr. Newman said. “Everything was going very well. They day before they were due to leave he had a meeting with his tour guide and without his companion.”
At that meeting, where at least one other North Korean aside from the tour guide was present, the Korean War was discussed, his son said. “That was the only hiccup,” he said. Mr. Newman’s traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, who is not a Korean War veteran and lives in the same retirement village as Mr. Newman, assumed there must have been some misunderstanding from that meeting, Jeff Newman said.
There has been no word of the whereabouts of Mr. Newman, who has a heart condition and a bad back, since he was escorted from the plane, his son said.
“All we would like is for whatever misunderstanding to be put aside and, on a humanitarian basis, he be able to leave the country and come home and be with his two grandchildren,” Mr. Newman said in the interview.
Mr. Newman’s detention has not been reported in the North Korean state-run news media.
In reaction to Mr. Newman’s detention, the State Department further tightened the United States travel warning to North Korea, making it clear that travel to North Korea was highly dangerous for American citizens who were likely left vulnerable to arbitrary arrest.
The updated warning, released on Tuesday, noted that “U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.”
Mr. Newman, a retired technology executive, served as an infantry officer during the Korean War, and later earned a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He lives at Channing House, a retirement community, with his wife, his son added.
ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-20):Reuters reports that the DPRK may have detained another American tourist. According to the article:
North Korea may have detained an elderly U.S. man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Kyodo News Service said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.
Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the Pyongyang regime to 15 years of hard labour.
The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.
North Korea claims the man, who apparently is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, Kyodo quoted the diplomatic source as saying.
Nolan Barkhouse, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said: “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time.”
In Pyongyang, a spokesman for North Korean’s foreign ministry responded last week with a sharply worded statement saying the country strictly forbids drug manufacturing drug smuggling. It called the case “another politically motivated puerile charade” spread by “the Western reptile media.”
UPDATE 2 (2013-11-21):Yonhap reports the men plead not-guilty. According to the article:
The five men all entered not-guilty pleas in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday [2013-11-20]. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in jail and the possibility of life in prison.
Five men have been charged with conspiracy to import 100 kilograms of nearly pure North Korean-produced methamphetamine into the United States, and federal officials said the case illustrates the emergence of North Korea as a player in the global drug trade.
The men were part of a sprawling international drug trafficking ring led by a former American soldier, Joseph Manuel Hunter, who has separately been charged with conspiring to murder a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and with importing cocaine into the United States, federal officials said.
“These guys worked for and with Joseph Hunter in a transnational criminal organization that involved drugs, weapons, chemicals, murder and a close involvement with rogue nations,” said a senior federal law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The five men — including British, Chinese and Philippine nationals — were arrested in Phuket, Thailand, in September and were extradited to the United States on Tuesday night. They appeared in federal court in New York on Wednesday.
In January, the group agreed to provide 100 kilos of meth to a man they thought was a narcotics trafficker but was, in fact, a confidential source who was working with the DEA.
One of the defendants, Ye Tiong Tan Lim, 53, from China, bragged that his Hong Kong-based criminal group was the only organization that was able to produce meth in North Korea because of a crackdown there on the drug trade, according to a criminal indictment filed in federal court.
Lim told the DEA source that the North Korean government “already burned all the labs. Only our labs are not closed. . . . To show Americans that they are not selling it anymore, they burned it,” Lim said.
The meth was first sent to the Philippines, and the men agreed to deliver the narcotics in Thailand, where they were told it would be shipped to the United States by boat.
One of the defendants said that his organization had stockpiled one ton of North Korean methamphetamine in the Philippines because “we already anticipated this thing would happen. . . . [whereby] we cannot bring out our goods right now.”
The group arranged for a “dry run” and sent a shipping container of tea leaves from the Philippines to Thailand to test the delivery channel that would later be used to ship the meth.
The drugs were later seized by law enforcement officials in Thailand and in the Philippines. The North Korean meth tested at more than 99 percent pure, DEA officials said.
“Like many international criminal networks, these drug traffickers have no respect for borders and no regard for either the rule of law or who they harm as a result of their criminal endeavors,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said.
The five men could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and the possibility of life in prison.
“Methamphetamine is a dangerous, potentially deadly drug, whatever its origin,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “If it ends up in our neighborhoods, the threat it poses to public health is grave whether it is produced in New York, elsewhere in the U.S., or in North Korea.”
Hunter, 48, the alleged leader of the ring, was arrested in September in Thailand and sent to the United States.
Nicknamed “Rambo,” Hunter had served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. When he left the service in 2004, he began a new life as a contract killer, according to senior law enforcement officials. In May, Hunter and two other former U.S. soldiers allegedly planned to kill a DEA agent and one of the agency’s informants for $800,000.
“My guys will handle it,” Hunter wrote in a May 30 e-mail when asked if he could execute the killings, according to an indictment. The drug traffickers who said they wanted to hire Hunter were part of an undercover sting operation.
Four other men have been arrested in the case, including another former U.S. Army sergeant, as well as German and Polish nationals.
U.S. drug agents in Thailand took custody of five men wanted in the United States on allegations of being part of a drug ring that sought to traffic in North Korean methamphetamine and other drugs, CNN has learned.
The men, who have British, Filipino, Taiwanese and Slovak citizenship, were being flown to New York to face charges, according to a source.
Thai authorities announced the arrests after the men were turned over to U.S. authorities. A U.S. law enforcement official said the charges would be made public soon.
The men are part of a broader investigation that federal prosecutors made public in September, filing charges against a group of former U.S. and European ex-military men in a murder-for-hire and drug-importation plot.
The Drug Enforcement Administration concocted a sting operation and arrested Joseph Hunter, a former U.S. Army sniper trainer nicknamed Rambo, and four others in the sting case.
The five more recently arrested were expelled by Thai authorities and put on a DEA plane to New York.
Additional details of the charges couldn’t be learned because they remain under seal.
Drug trafficking from North Korea has occurred for decades with at least 50 documented incidents. In previous years, North Korea had been linked to shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, according to the CIA World Factbook.
In 2003, a North Korean ship, Pong Su which was carrying nearly 300 pounds of heroin, was seized along the eastern coast of Australia after a four-day chase.
There isn’t enough information to determine whether the North Korean government is currently involved in drug trafficking, according to the 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the U.S. State Department
“There have been no confirmed reports of large-scale drug trafficking involving DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) state entities since 2004,” it stated. “This suggests that state-sponsored drug trafficking may have ceased or been sharply reduced, or that the DPRK regime has become more adept at concealing state-sponsored trafficking of illicit drugs.”
Information on the case against Joseph Hunter can be found here and here.
Read the full story here:
5 men extradited to U.S. in North Korean meth case CNN
UPDATE 30 (2014-8-13): Kenneth Bae has been sent back to prison. According to the Voice of America:
American missionary Kenneth Bae has been transferred to a North Korean labor camp from a hospital, despite U.S. concerns that his health is worsening.
In an email sent to VOA’s Korean Service, a U.S. State Department official said Bae was transferred to a labor camp immediately after being discharged from his hospital on July 30.
“We remain gravely concerned about Bae’s health, and we continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the email said.
The State Department official also asked for Bae to be moved back to the hospital in the interim.
The statement comes after Bae received a visit at the labor camp this week by officials from the Swedish embassy, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang.*
The consular visit to Bae is the 12th such meeting since his arrest in November 2012 and the first in almost four months.
North Korea sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor in April 2013 for “hostile acts” against the regime. The Christian missionary was arrested while leading a group of tourists in the northern city of Rason.
Bae was sent to a hospital a year ago and stayed there through this past January. When his health worsened due to hard labor, he was hospitalized at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital on March 29. The hospital was built in 1986 to treat foreigners in the country.
The Chosun Shinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper in Japan, interviewed him late last month. The 46-year-old told the newspaper he would be sent back to a labor camp in the near future despite a worsening heart condition.
*To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of the Swedes visiting Bae in prison. My sources inform me that these meetings generally take place in one fo the hotels in Pyongyang.
UPDATE 29 (2014-7-31): Kenneth Bae has done an interview (in Korean) for the Choson Sinbo. The interview took place at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in the Munsu-dong diplomatic compound.
UPDATE 28 (2014-2-9): For a second time, North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a special American envoy to visit Pyongyang.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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)