American Korean War vets touring DPRK

July 25th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013-6-1-KPA cemetery


According to VOA:

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

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

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

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

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


According to VOA:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here:
N. Korea Flooding Hampers Search for Downed US Pilot
Steve Herman

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

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

Pictured above: The KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment

According to VOA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risky crash landing in enemy territory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Google Earth provides glimpse into North Korea’s latest military parade preparation

July 24th, 2013


Read the full story here.


NPR’s Planet Money request North Korea docs under FOIA

July 23rd, 2013

From NPR’s Planet Money:

U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.

Several months ago, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request. It worked! We recently got a stack of heavily redacted letters.

On today’s show: we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.

We posted all of the letters here. (Note: It’s a PDF file, and it may take a while to load.)

Listen to the segment here.

Disclaimer: I was interviewed in the segment


North Koreans with diplomatic passports held for smuggling in Mongolia

July 23rd, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

North Koreans carrying diplomatic passports were caught smuggling medicine by Mongolian customs officials, a report said Tuesday.

The UB Post monitored in Seoul said two people caught were on an international train running between Beijing and Ulan Bator. It gave no names, but said inspectors discovered large amounts of products in their baggage, including a thousand boxes of injection medicine, 12 boxes of bear spleen products and 20 bottles of alcoholic beverages.

The English language newspaper said those implicated in the illegal transport could not be identified as being incumbent North Korean diplomats.

The cash-strapped North has used its diplomats in the past to smuggle goods. From 2009 onwards, three cases have been reported with the last scandal involving a diplomat stationed in Pakistan, who was caught trying to sell alcohol.

A diplomatic observer said if the two people who are currently being questioned by Mongolian police are real diplomats it could sour relations between Pyongyang and Ulan Bator.

Read the full story here:
North Koreans with diplomatic passports held for smuggling in Mongolia


DPRK defectors arriving in the ROK: 2013

July 21st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The annual number of North Korean defectors seeking refuge in South Korea, which had been dropping since 2009, took an upturn in the first half of this year, government data showed Sunday.

A total of 717 defectors came to live in South Korea in the first half, slightly up from 710 a year ago, according to a tally by the Ministry of Unification.

North Korea defectors arriving in the South had increased annually to reach 2,929 in 2009, after topping 1,000 for the first time in 2001. But the sum has since dropped drastically with last year’s figure half the level of 2011’s 2,706.

But it was not until the second quarter of this year that the number took an upturn, according to the ministry.

“The number of defectors entering South Korea typically declines during winter season and rises again when weather gets warmer,” a ministry official said.

Here is additional coverage in the Daily NK:

According to figures released by the Ministry of Unification in Seoul on the 21st, 717 defectors entered South Korea in the first half of this year, compared with 710 in the same period last year. However, only 320 of the total number entered in the first quarter, marking a 10% decline year on year. This fact highlights the relative intensity of the second quarter increase.

Among defectors arriving in the first half of this year, 551, or 77%, were women. Last year’s figure for the same period stood at 73%.

Approximately 159 former North Koreans are in the USA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean defectors in S. Korea on the rise


Kwanliso No. 16 imagery update

July 19th, 2013

I have previously noted changes to Camp 14 (Kaechon) and Camp 25 (Chongjin). Here we have a look at Camp No. 16, the interior of which to date has not been comprehensively mapped for any publication (Joshua has some info on the perimeter here).

Kwanliso No. 16 lies within the borders of Orang and Myonggan (formerly Hwasong) counties.


The entrance to the prison camp lies just 8km from the outskirts of the town of Myonggan  (formerly Hwasong).

2013-7-camp 16-entrance

First let’s look at new residential construction in the camp.

Area 1 coordinates: 41.317569°, 129.336758°



Between 2011-6-19 and 2013-2-12 the number of housing units in this area increased 18% from 43 to 51. The new buildings appear to be similar to the incumbent buildings, which were constructed before 2004-6-12 (the earliest available commercial imagery). It is impossible to determine from satellite imagery how many individuals live in each building, but the approximate dimensions of each building are 16m x 7m.

Area 2 coordinates 41.313945°, 129.345299°



In this area, 14 housing units were torn down and replaced by 11 housing units sometime between 2008-6-10 and 2010-6-12. These newer housing units seem slightly larger, but it is unclear how they are distinguished from those they replaced.

Nearby, six housing units were added between 2010-6-12 and 2011-6-19.



Just 700m southeast of here, construction on another 17 housing units were completed sometime between 2008-6-10 and 2010-6-12.


New Facilities:

Area 1:  41.305616°, 129.420913°

There is also some  new non-residential construction inside the camp’s perimeter the purpose of which remains unknown to me.



I suspect that this is a fishery and agricultural site, but I am not sure at this point. Construction started sometime between 2010-8-14 and 2013-3-21.

Area 2:  41.309849°, 129.347631°

This is a new building for a purpose that remains unknown.  The building was constructed between 2010-6-12 and and 2011-6-19:



The perimeter is 75m x 42m.

Area 2:   41.315346°, 129.342687°

A building appears to be under construction at this site. As of February 2012, not much progress has been made.


Area 3:  41.259485°, 129.373353°

This coal mine has been growing consistently between 2008 and 2013. It is unclear what happens to the coal.



Foreign Exchange

Unfortunately satellite imagery also reveals that the camp likely earns hard currency by exporting timber, which it has been doing since at least 2004:



I do not know where the timber goes once it leaves Camp 16. Those with deeper pockets than me can purchase satellite imagery of the trucks hauling it away or try to obtain information from the handful of North Korean defectors that may know the answer.


UN offers DPRK flood relief

July 18th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The United Nations has decided to provide North Korea with US$6 million in emergency aid by the end of this year, a report said Thursday, in a bid to relieve fund shortages at U.N. agencies operating in the isolated country.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the Washington-based Voice of America that U.N. bodies operating in the North will receive this aid through a pool of reserve funding known as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

The CERF was established in 2006 to provide quick assistance to countries in severe humanitarian crises. Funded by donations from governments, the private sector, foundations and individuals, it already allocated $7 million to North Korea this January in an attempt to boost humanitarian efforts in neglected countries.

Under the new plan, the six U.N. agencies operating in North Korea will negotiate with the resident coordinator of the U.N. Development Programme in Pyongyang to come up with a detailed list of expenditures, the report said.

The announcement comes after five out of the 14 food processing factories in the impoverished country were reportedly shut down in June due to grain shortages, hurting ongoing efforts to nourish people in the communist country.

As of May, OCHA said it had received just over 17 percent of the $147 million needed to operate U.N. agencies in the North this year. In 2012, it allocated a total of $12.92 million from its CERF funding to North Korea.

Read the full story here:
U.N. to send US$6 mln in emergency aid to N. Korea


2013 DPRK aid update

July 17th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

The Washington-based Voice of America said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has set aside US$1.07 million this year for repairing 14 schools and kindergartens in the communist country, in addition to buying textbooks and school supplies for 350,000 North Korean children.

“Our school is 33 years old and has not had any large-scale renovations,” Ri Kyong-hui, a school principal in North Hwanghae Province, was quoted as saying. “Thanks to the new windows (supplied by UNICEF), our classrooms are 5 degrees warmer in the winter, which the students really appreciate.”

North Korea was slapped with tougher U.N. sanctions earlier this year for conducting a satellite launch in December and a nuclear test in February, stoking concerns that the move may affect relief efforts there.

Danish humanitarian group Mission East, however, said the health of 750 children at three orphanages in North Hwanghae Province has significantly improved following its food assistance program that began last summer.

Earlier this month, the German branch of the international Catholic relief group Caritas said it has vaccinated 430,000 North Korean children against Japanese encephalitis, with the French government weighing in with its own $500,000 aid this year.

Some humanitarian groups, however, reported roadblocks in carrying out relief efforts in the isolated country.

The World Food Program told Radio Free Asia earlier this week that a lack of donation has pushed it to scale down its food aid to North Korea by 85 percent. The U.N. food agency has halted operations in June at five of its 14 food factories in the North due to grain shortages.

Read the full story here:
Int’l community continues aid to N. Korea despite sanctions
Yonhap (via Global Post)


159 former North Koreans living in USA

July 13th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DPRK population estimated at 24.7 million

July 13th, 2013

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

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is coverage in the Daily NK:

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

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

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

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

North Korean Population and Life Expectancy Rising
Daily NK
Park Seong Guk