UPDATE 1 (2015-4-8): Less than a week since expelling a German aid worker, the DPRK announces it deporting and American. According to the Wall Street Journal:
North Korea said Wednesday it has deported an American aid worker for “plot-breeding and propaganda” against the isolated state.
A report from Pyongyang’s state media named the aid worker as Sandra Suh. It said Ms. Suh has been a frequent visitor to the country since 1998 for humanitarian work but engaged in anti-North Korean “propaganda abroad with photos and videos … she secretly produced and directed.”
The Korean Central News Agency report said Ms. Suh has been deported.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said she couldn’t immediately comment on the report. Attempts to locate Ms. Suh weren’t immediately successful.
Foreign aid workers’ access to North Korea is extremely limited and the presence of U.S. citizens is rare. The regime has in the past shown reluctance to let foreign aid agencies work inside the state and has occasionally denied visa renewals when its economic performance made some gains.
The Los Angeles Times follows up (2015-4-8):
Suh is the founder of the Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization Wheat Mission Ministries.
Her daughter-in-law told the Los Angeles Times in a brief phone call that her family was thankful that it appeared Suh would be released, but declined to give details on Suh’s visits to North Korea out of concern about jeopardizing her return.
Eun-sook Suh said Sandra Suh was originally from the Pyongyang area and fled south during the Korean War. She initially returned to North Korea with the hope of finding long-lost family members.
“We’re just thankful that God seems to be helping her return,” she said.
Wheat Mission Ministries did not immediately return a request seeking comment, but its website states it was founded by Sandra Suh in 1989 “in response to the needs of the children and families of North Korea” and was formally established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2005. Suh, however, is not listed as a current staff member.
The Korean Central News Agency did not say when Suh was detained, nor was it clear whether she had already been deported. The agency said Suh had engaged in anti-North Korean “propaganda abroad with photos and videos” that she “secretly produced and directed, out of inveterate repugnancy” toward the secretive nation.
According to the group’s website, Wheat Mission sends medicine, medical equipment, food, building materials, clothes, shoes and blankets to North Korea. The organization is also involved in teaching North Korean healthcare professionals and building schools and orphanages. It says it is inspired “to share the love and humility of Christ.”
North Korea has detained and then released a number of Westerners in recent years who were missionaries or devout Christians, including Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae and Jeffrey Fowle, an Ohio man who traveled to North Korea on a tourist visa and intentionally left a Bible in a hotel room.
The country director of a German aid group, Welthungerhilfe, or World Hunger Aid, was recently expelled. The group said Pyongyang had asked the worker, Regina Feindt, to leave the country in February without saying why. Welthungerhilfe has worked in North Korea since 1997, spending tens of millions of dollars on projects to improve food, sanitation and water supply.
Here is coverage in UPI:
North Korea deported a Korean American aid worker and philanthropist on charges of espionage – after receiving $2 million in annual aid from her organization for 25 years.
Pyongyang’s state-controlled media outlet KCNA had blasted Sandra Suh on Wednesday, for partaking in a plot against the North Korean government, and for disseminating “propaganda” about the reclusive state, reported Yonhap.
Suh left North Korea and arrived in Beijing on Thursday, en route to the United States after the announcement.
Choe Jae-yeong, a pastor and an acquaintance of Suh, said Suh was a “doyenne of North Korea aid organizations in the Los Angeles area,” according to Radio Free Asia.
Choe said even in the darkest days of the Great Famine that killed more than two million North Koreans in the 1990s, Suh was at the forefront of providing aid to the needy. At the time, she operated a noodle factory in North Korea’s Hwanghae province and in Pyongyang, and supplied medical aid.
Suh even arranged a trip to North Korea for U.S.-based pastors in order to raise funds and awareness of the need for a hospital for the disabled in North Korea. At one point, she collected used carpets for North Korean orphanages.
The Korean American aid worker had relatives in North Korea and her philanthropic work enabled her to cultivate a friendship with the North Korean authorities.
North Korea’s KCNA claimed Suh had confessed to her crimes and “earnestly begged for pardon.”
The Guardian reported Suh is registered as a founder of Wheat Mission Ministries, established in 1989 to provide food aid and medical technology to North Korea.
North Korea has expelled the country director of one of the few foreign aid groups to operate in its territory.
Welthungerhilfe, whose name translates as World Hunger Aid, is one of Germany’s largest non-governmental aid organisations and has been working in North Korea since 1997, spending more than €60m on projects designed to improve food, sanitation and water supply.
It said North Korea had asked its country director Regina Feindt to leave the country in late February, without warning or saying why.
Feindt’s colleague Karl Fall, who had worked in the country for 12 years, left of his own volition the next month.
“Welthungerhilfe does not see anything in Mrs Feindt’s behaviour that would have justified an expulsion,” the aid group said.
It said Feindt left North Korea on 26 February and Fall left on 19 March. Feindt and Fall were not available to comment, Welthungerhilfe said.
The abrupt departures came as a surprise to members of the small foreign community in Pyongyang, according to a regular visitor to the North Korean capital who wished to remain anonymous, citing the sensitive nature of working there.
Welthungerhilfe would not comment on the events leading up to Feindt’s deportation. “We don’t know why this has happened,” said spokeswoman Simone Pott.
The NGO still has a skeleton presence in North Korea. It said its activities to improve water and sewage systems in cities were unaffected.
“At the moment we are in discussions with the North Korean authorities to secure a basis for continuing our development work in the country for the benefit of the people of North Korea,” the group said.