Archive for March, 2007

Singing for Korean unification

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Greg Constantine

In a basement office in Seoul, South Korea, Ms Kim stepped onto the stage and smiled to the audience.

She wore a light pink ballroom gown and lace gloves, and looked as glamorous as a 1950s Broadway star.

As the music began, a burst of feedback stormed out of the speakers.

But Ms Kim maintained her focus and never broke her smile.

She is a member of T’ongil Ye Sul Dan, a performing arts group made up of North Korean defectors.

The group consists of four singers, an accordionist, a playwright, a dancer, a classically trained pianist and an award-winning impersonator.

“Our goal is to help diminish the cultural gap between North and South Koreans,” said group member Choi Hee-soon.

“We need to educate people on the realities and the culture of North Korea, and promote cultural unification,” she said.

The group performs North and South Korean classics such as What is the Life?, Arirang, Touching Times and My Hometown.

 We want to share North Korean culture

Choi Hee-Soon, group member 

“In North Korea, there is no individual expression,” said Ms Choi, who studied music in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang before defecting to China.

“There is no such thing as private words or emotion. In North Korea, songs are shouted not sung. In South Korea, music is moving and touching. In North Korea we did not sing by ourselves for the pleasure of singing. We sang only for others,” she said.

“If I were to play in North Korea,” said Kim E-ok, the accordionist in the group, “it would be only to sing and to celebrate the birthdays of (former and current leaders ) Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il or for collectively-held events.”

“We would never be able to play at such a performance as this. But now we need to transcend the impression South Koreans have of us,” he said.

Since the Korean War in 1950, North and South have shared a dislocated Korean peninsula, while travelling on opposing political and social paths.

While South Korea has opened up to the world’s economies and diverse cultures, North Korea has closed itself off, leaving many South Koreans ignorant of contemporary North Korean culture.

This is largely due to the few opportunities citizens of North and South have for personal or cultural exchange.

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, fewer than 1,300 North and South Koreans have taken part in inter-Korean exchanges related to culture and art since 1989.

But with an increasing number of defectors entering South Korea each year – 1,140 arrived in 2002 – and with the will of individuals such as the members of T’ongil Ye Sul Dan, North Korean culture has more exposure.

“You will be tired before you reach one mile/ Walking over the peak at Arirang”, sang Ms Kim at T’ongil Ye Sul Dan’s performance.

The Arirang folk song has become an anthem for people who dream of unifying and reviving, not just a culture, but an entire people.

Hanging next to the stage was a banner bearing the symbol of the T’ongil Ye Sul Dan group. It combined a globe with a picture of a united Korean peninsula.

Straddling the Chinese border in the north of the peninsula rests Paekdu Mountain and Cheonji Lake, The Lake of Heaven.

More than 500 miles away, in the south of Korea, rests a lake on Halla Mountain on the island of Jeju.

“The purpose of T’ongil Ye Sul Dan,” said Ms Choi, “is to educate South Koreans so they are prepared for the time when the waters from the north and the waters from the south travel freely from one mountain to the other. We want to share North Korean culture.”


EU adopts UN sanctions against North Korea

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

EU Business
The European Union adopted sanctions against North Korea Tuesday, putting it in line with a UN Security Council resolution passed after the Stalinist state announced a nuclear test.

The sanctions include a ban on the sale or export of all materials that could be used in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, or in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.

The EU also froze the assets abroad of some North Korean officials and banned exports to the country of luxury goods like caviar, truffles, high-quality wines and perfumes, and pure bred horses.

The bloc backed in November UN resolution 1718 but the application of sanctions required a formal EU decision, which was held up by a row between Britain and Spain over how Gibraltar would implement the measures.

The resolution was passed after Pyongyang announced on October 9 that it had carried out its first nuclear weapons test, triggering world-wide outrage.


Successes Made in Physical Prospecting

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007


The Central Physical Prospecting Group under the State Bureau of Natural Resources Development is successfully carrying on the survey of underground resources by advanced physical prospecting methods, thus greatly contributing to the economic progress of the country and the land construction. Recently, the prospecting group has introduced the advanced methods in the geological survey and developed modern facilities to explore a new phase for surveying the underground resources. 

The prospecting group, founded in January Juche 46 (1957), has already registered great achievements in the survey of underground resources and the land development. 

Over the last five decades, it has powerfully propelled the development of the national economy with its successful survey of valuable raw materials and fuel resources and greatly contributed to the geological development and the land development in the country with scientific geological survey and the confirmation of the geological foundation. 

It has found out many geological layers and systematized their formation periods and geological composition in a well-arranged way.

They, on the basis of their success, have discovered the law on the distribution of valuable minerals and surveyed and registered scores kinds of minerals, several hundreds of mineral deposits, thousands of mineral bodies and outcrops, and a thousand and several hundreds of heavy mineral streams and metal diffusion zones.

They have achieved many successes not only in the prospecting of abundant iron ore, coal resources and the new graphite deposits but also in the confirmation of the amounts for nonferrous metals, rare metallic mineral resources, nonmetallic mineral resources and magnesite mineral resources. 

The survey of groundwater, hot springs, subterranean heat and the foundations of many construction projects including the Kumsong dam and the Samsu Power Station dam are associated with the efforts of the Central Physical Prospecting Group.


Protocol on DPRK-Russia Cooperation Signed

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007


A protocol of the fourth meeting of the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy and Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia was signed in Moscow on Mar. 23. It was signed by Rim Kyong Man, minister of Foreign Trade who is chairman of the DPRK side to the committee, and Konstantin Pulikovski, director of the Supervision Bureau of Ecology, Engineering and Atomic Energy who is chairman of the Russian side to the committee.


Bank Buyer Threatens N. Korea Cash Move

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Washington Post
William Foreman

A British investor who is buying a North Korean bank said Tuesday he is trying to block the transfer of money it holds in a Macau bank in a move that might complicate a deal with the North to shut down its nuclear programs.

North Korea refused last week to return to nuclear disarmament talks until about $25 million of its funds frozen at a Macau bank is transferred to the Bank of China.

The transfer was supposed to occur last week, but was delayed for reasons that have not been fully explained.

The British investor, Colin McAskill, told The Associated Press he “would take whatever steps necessary” to stop the unauthorized transfer of $7 million of the funds held in Macau’s Banco Delta Asia. He said he has written twice to the territory’s bank regulator, the Macau Monetary Authority, without receiving a reply.

McAskill has agreed to buy North Korea’s Daedong Credit Bank, which is majority foreign-owned, and is representing it in discussions with Macau authorities.

He denied a report that he threatened legal action but said that is an option.

Asked whether the money came from legitimate ventures, McAskill said in an e-mail, “I have answered this question many times and been widely quoted as saying, Yes it is.”

The $25 million was frozen in September 2005 after the U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea launder money and handle counterfeit U.S. currency.

The move enraged the North Koreans, who boycotted the nuclear talks for more than a year. They recently returned to the negotiations after the U.S. agreed to settle the banking issue. The funds were to be transferred to a North Korean-owned account at the Bank of China to be used for humanitarian purposes in North Korea.

McAskill said Daedong wants to be allowed to move the money to a temporary account at another Macau bank and later move it one of Daedong’s correspondent banks.

The U.S. has decided to cut off Banco Delta Asia from the American financial system, and McAskill said Daedong wants to move its money before that ban takes effect in mid-April, making it difficult to transfer money out of U.S. dollar accounts.

On Monday, a senior Treasury Department official held talks with Chinese officials to try untangle the dispute over North Korea’s frozen funds.

Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, met officials from China’s Foreign Ministry to discuss the money held at Banco Delta Asia, said Glaser’s spokeswoman, Molly Millerwise.

Glaser’s meeting was “positive and cordial,” with officials focused on “solutions to the implementation matters and our common interest in addressing this issue as quickly as possible,” Millerwise said in an e-mail.

A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said Glaser met with officials from the People’s Bank of China and the China Banking Regulatory Commission, but it gave no details.

The U.S. agreed to let the money be transferred to a North Korean account at the Bank of China in Beijing, but the release was delayed by the Chinese bank’s concerns about accepting money that had been linked to counterfeiting and money-laundering.


North-South Peace to Attract More American Travelers

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Korea Times
Kim Rahn

Peaceful resolution of the North and South Korea situation will bring more American travelers to Korea, said Walter Keats, president of Asia Pacific Travel.

Keats, founder of the American travel agency, came to Korea to participate in the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) International Destination Expo that began in Cheju on Sunday.

Korea is not a familiar travel destination to Americans, partly because they do not know much about the country but also because they think the divided country is unsafe, said the head of the one-on-one tourism operator in an interview with The Korea Times.

“The problem is that right now in the back of everybody’s mind, there’s North Korea, there’s a war. Million soldiers along the line, missiles and a nuclear test _ these are bad things for tourism. The sooner the North and South situation can be resolved peacefully, the more interesting stuff there will be for all kinds of people,’’ Keats said.

The 61-year-old travel expert with a 30-year career has visited South Korea about 20 times and North Korea, three times. His company arranges trips to North Korea, mainly Mt. Kumgang and even Pyongyang when Arirang performances are presented, but not many Americans know they can visit the Stalinist state, he said.

Asia Pacific Travel plans a trip in May first to Beijing to get visas for North Korea, to Pyongyang for an Arirang performance, and back to Beijing to head for Seoul. Travelers will then visit North Korea’s Mt. Kumgang from the South Korean border, and will travel around South Korea.

“We can’t visit Mt. Kumgang from the North. What we are trying to do is to have people go to North Korea and come across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) by land to South Korea. That will be a good tour, a real tour of Korea,’’ Keats said.

The company provides custom itineraries, using its knowledge and experience to make a tour just for each customer.

“Our main customers are 50-75 years old people, who are experienced travelers. Most Americans start traveling domestic cities, and then they go to Canada, Mexico, and then Europe. When they grow more experience and confidence that they can go anywhere, they are ready to go to Asia,’’ the tourism veteran said.

He said Korean tourism’s advantage is the compact size of the country. By driving for seven to 10 days, tourists can have a really good trip in Korea, Keats said.

The president added that the Cheju promotion will be more effective to Americans in Korea and other Asian countries rather than to Americans in the United States.


Author sees North Korea as reluctant to reform

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Paul Eckert

The diplomatic deal that promises to bring North Korea aid in exchange for scrapping its nuclear weapon programs might allow the government to resist meaningful economic changes, an expert on the secretive communist country’s economy said on Friday.

Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute, a Washington economic think tank, said research for his new book on North Korea’s deadly 1990s famine showed Pyongyang was “at best, ambivalent” about changing policies that led to that disaster.

“The great hope is that reassurances in terms of external security will give the North Korean regime the political room to engage in greater political and economic liberalization at home,” the economist told Reuters in an interview.

But the diplomacy playing out in Beijing could have the opposite effect, said Noland, co-author of “Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid and Reform” with Stephen Haggard of the University of California, San Diego.

“It could well be that a nuclear deal that resulted in greater amounts of aid would actually allow the North Korean government to intensify activities that are essentially reestablishing economic and political control over the population,” he said.

Negotiators from North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia were in Beijing this week, seeking to begin implementing a Feb. 13 deal that would give the North aid and security assurances in return for shutting down a nuclear reactor and preparing other disarmament steps.

Noland’s 368-page study of the famine that killed an estimated 1 million North Koreans in the late 1990s shows how the rigid central planners of Pyongyang were forced to allow markets to feed people and to give farmers some limited freedoms, but then pulled back when the disaster eased.

“When things look better … the North Korean government tries to pull back on this process of marketization and reform,” Noland said.

“One of the saddest things is that as food aid began arriving in North Korea, the regime systematically cut the amount of food it bought on commercial terms,” he said.

The author of three books on North Korea decries what he says are “truly reckless” food policies since the end of the famine. Pyongyang has banned trading in grain on markets that people rely upon for food, confiscated grain in rural areas and reneged on policy promises to farmers, he said.

“In a variety of ways, it seems to want to put the genie back in the bottle,” he said.


North Korea facing 1 milion tonne food shortage-WFP

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Lindsay Beck

North Korea has admitted for the first time to food shortages of a million tonnes, the World Food Programme said on Monday, adding that in the absence of better donor support, millions are vulnerable to hunger.

In the past that food gap — which represents about 20 percent of North Korea’s needs — was met by a combination of bilateral aid, WFP support, loans and commercial interests, but those sources are all drying up, the WFP said.

“This is a very significant development that they themselves are confirming they have a gap of 1 million tonnes,” WFP Asia director Tony Banbury told Reuters.

The figure, which is in line with U.N. estimates, was given in a meeting with the vice-minister of agriculture, Banbury said in an interview from North Korea, where he met officials at the Agriculture Ministry and Foreign Ministry and spent three days in the field.

“There is a real food security problem in the country that is now not being met either by domestic production or external sources.”

North Korea suffered a famine in the mid-1990s that killed as many as 2.5 million people, and has since suffered chronic food shortages.

The WFP began working there in the aftermath of the famine and grew into its biggest humanitarian agency, but was forced to radically scale back its programme last year after the government said it no longer wanted handouts.

Under its new programme, the U.N. agency aims to reach about 1.9 million people, but Banbury said a lack of donor support meant it was only reaching 700,000 of a total population of about 23 million.

North Korea, which tested its first nuclear device last year and is at the centre of diplomatic efforts to dismantle its atomic programme, has made incremental improvements in the nutritional status of children, but that could be reversed.

“There is a real risk that we’re going to see backtracking on the improvements, and people who are just on the edge and vulnerable could find themselves in a very difficult situation from a food and nutritional standpoint,” Banbury said.

Despite the close government watch maintained throughout the visit, Banbury said that for the first time WFP officials were granted a spontaneous request to see government warehouses that store WFP-donated food.

“On the one hand, it was very innocuous — it was just a warehouse with sacks of food in it. On the other hand, it was symbolically, quite important and welcome,” he said.

There were also moments of frankness from officials in the country known for its reclusiveness during Banbury’s visits to a paediatric hospital, a boarding school and orphanages in the west of the country.

“In every institution we visited there were malnourished children, according to the officials there themselves, not just our observations,” Banbury said.

Some of the children were severely malnourished, he said.

“It was my impression that the person on the street — the woman riding the bicycle, the kid walking along the side of the street — was thin and hungry and needed more food than they were getting.”


Fake North dollars used to cash UN check in ‘95

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Lee Sang-il

North Korean bank allegedly gave counterfeit U.S. $100 notes to a foreigner working for the United Nations Development Program when he cashed a check at a bank in Pyongyang in 1995, a diplomatic source in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo.

A spokesman for the UN agency confirmed the suspicion, adding that the bills will be handed over to the U.S. Treasury Department for verification.

In 1995, the UNDP’s Pyongyang office issued a check to an Egyptian consultant for his services on a North Korea project.

The consultant claimed that he cashed the check at the Foreign Trade Bank in Pyongyang and that the bank gave him 35 $100 bills.

After returning home, the consultant attempted to exchange the bills for Egyptian currency, but the bills were rejected as fakes, the source said.

The Egyptian sent the bills back to the UNDP office in Pyongyang, and the UN officials confronted the Foreign Trade Bank and asked for real money, the source said. The request was turned down, and the UN agency has been holding the bogus bills for 12 years.

The revelation of the incident highlights charges by the American government that North Korea has been passing so-called “supernotes” ― fake $100 bills ― for many years. Washington’s claim that Banco Delta Asia in Macao was a conduit for the release of the notes was one reason for the freezing of $25 million in North Korean funds in September 2005.

That money is now due to be released as a precondition for progress in the six-party talks. The U.S. has cut the suspect bank’s access to the American financial system.

In an e-mail interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, David Morrison, spokesman for the United Nations Development Program, said the agency is in the process of giving the notes to the Treasury Department. Mr. Morrison said he was not aware of any other incidents.

Mr. Morrison added that the Egyptian consultant has not provided further evidence that the bills were passed by the Pyongyang bank. He also said that UNDP had used Banco Delta Asia to send money to the North to finance projects from January 2000 to December 2002. He said they chose the bank for its convenient financial services.

Asked if North Korea asked the agency to use Banco Delta Asia, Mr. Morrison said it was an independent decision. He said the UN body stopped transactions with the Macao bank when the settlement currency was changed from dollars to euros.

UNDP opened its office in Pyongyang in 1980 and has carried out public hygiene, agricultural, energy and environmental projects.


Marching Parade Training For Jong Il’s Pleasure

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Dail y NK
Park Choel Yong

Even in Pyongyang, entering into a top university is like picking a star from the sky. Not only must you be an A+ student, your family record must be clean.

Growing up in an ordinary family, I was luckily accepted into my preferred university based on my abilities. On receiving my results, I thought that I could achieve anything in the world. However, my sweet dream did not last long. Soon after beginning my tertiary studies, I felt as if I had gotten a big splash on the face. The reason being, marching parade training.

Three days into the semester, I was selected to participate in the marching parade, where the saying, tertiary students once “normal people become stupid” referring to post-training for the marching parade, became a reality. When people think of a marching parade, they think of school parades in South Korea. However, the marching parade in North Korea resembles a years worth of rigorous military training.

In North Korea, participants of the marching parade include students, workers, the military and average citizens who are trained for celebratory events such as Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s birthday, the anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Army and the Worker’s Party. The audience? Kim Jong Il. For the mere pleasure of one man, Kim Jong Il, hundreds and thousands of people must spend every day of the year working their bodies until exhaustion.

There is one criteria in which university students are selected for the marching parade and that is height. Students gather and their height examined. Compared to others, I was not short. I was also a freshman and so was instantly selected to participate in the marching parade. Occasionally I had seen the marching parade on television but was completely unaware of the intense and arduous training that awaited me.

Our university was assigned to one battalion. There are 12 lines in each battalion and 25 people in each line. The tallest person stands at the head of the line with the shortest at the end.

Elite officials excluded from training

A commander is responsible for each battalion, followed by the political commander and civilian commander. Next is the captain and political captain followed by the line leader, group leader and secretary. Each line is divided into 3 groups with the group leader in charge. This exclusive role normally goes to students in their 3rd, 4th year. Other students in the battalion who are not assigned to such jobs are mostly freshmen.

On the first day of training, many of the students gathered around laughing and talking, “Do you think the Great Leader will really come to see our parade?” However, the following day, a handful of people began to drop out.

At the time, we thought that these people had legitimate reasons for being unable to partake in the training. Only to soon discover that those people had been closely affiliated with elite officials who gave a common excuse that they were physically ill. Ultimately, the selection process which entailed measuring height ended with a group of freshmen and poor students living in the dorms from the country.

Each battalion is represented by one university. Students who are selected for the marching parade attend lectures in the morning and then training in the afternoon. After spending an afternoon training on a dirt field amidst dirt, your mouth practically becomes a small clusters of dirt itself by evening.

The first stage of training is warm-up and stretching. Every day, we had to replicate positions made by professional performers and showcase our days training. If we were unable to succeed in doing this, training continued.

During the first month, we trained on the university fields, but in the second month, we began training at the Juche Statue Education Square and here is where students began to show symptoms of arthritis. Unable to restrain myself from lack of sleep during class, I was frequently scolded by the lecturer and the number of patients increased. Regardless of how ill one was, strict punishment awaited those who missed training.

Wanting to smash the street lamp at Juche Statue

Every day, training began at 2PM and usually finished around 7PM. Once training was over, battalion commanders came and gave lectures. People who are late to training, people who participate in training disrespectfully and people pointed out throughout the training are severely criticized. Once the lecture is over, smaller, tutorials begin.

Naturally, tutorials aren’t any better. The tutor or divisional commander closes the lecture by stressing the importance of being on time and participating sincerely in the training. The lectures normally last an hour and half, but this does not mean that the day’s training is over.

The students criticized in the lectures must undergo re-training. There has never been a time where the street lamp at the Juche Statue has been more spiteful. The thought that training would end if only the lighting was lost would not escape my mind. Whether or not someone was looking we did not care. We only wanted to smash the street lamp.

When training is finished, exhausted students are finally dismissed and another 30~1 hour walk back to the dorms awaits them. There are no buses at that hour and so students do not have an option but to walk home. As for dinner, meals have long been served at the dormitories.