Archive for May, 2007

NKorea food crisis complicated by politics: WFP

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Philippe Agret

After being ravaged by famine in the 1990s, North Korea again faces serious food shortages, with a UN official based here saying that politics are making things worse.

On the road from the capital Pyongyang to Kaesong in the south, every hill lot is developed for agriculture, with all farm work done by hand.

But only 17 percent of the land in North Korea is arable, one of the lowest ratios in the world, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

“North Korea is suffering a chronic food shortage due to structural problems and limited food imports and food aid,” said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP’s representative in the communist state.

He lamented the international community’s lack of commitment to North Korea amid the deadlock in six-nation talks on disarming Pyongyang, and what some consider to be “hidden sanctions” linking a large part of aid to politics.

“There is no evidence that holding back food or humanitarian aid destined to civilian populations would have an impact on the government or its behaviour,” he said.

North Korea’s worst period came from 1995 to 1999 when drought, flooding and the disappearance of Soviet aid led to a famine that killed between 800,000 and two million people, according to independent estimates.

The scars of the famine still run deep, with a 2004 United Nations study finding that 37 percent of North Korean children suffered chronic malnutrition.

Some experts use the term “7, 8, 9, 10” — as an adult, a seven-year-old born during the famine will be eight kilograms (18 pounds) lighter, stand nine inches (23 centimeters) shorter and live 10 years less than a South Korean of the same age.

The groups most at risk are young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

After a record harvest in 2005, 2006 was “very difficult” due to heavy floods in the summer and a dramatic drop in food aid and food imports; 2007 could also be dire, de Margerie warned.

Amid the international furore over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests last year, China reduced its aid by half and        South Korea temporarily halted shipments.

Seoul has since resumed fertiliser aid and promised to provide 400,000 tons of rice to North Korea starting in late May.

But the food aid is linked to political conditions, such as Pyongyang shutting its nuclear reactor in line with a multilateral disarmament deal reached in February.

The impoverished country faces a shortfall of one million tons of food this year, or 20 percent of its needs, according to the WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Up to one third of North Korea’s 23 million people may need assistance ahead of the next harvest, warns the WFP.

So is there a danger of another famine?

“No, not yet,” said de Margerie. “But if the trend continues, pockets of severe malnutrition could develop.”

In Pyongyang, not everyone is pessimistic as there is a lack of reliable agricultural data. Some observers say the problems lie in the distribution system and access to food, rather than in actual production.

North Korea’s leaders — whose ruling motto is “juche,” or self-reliance — say they have made food security their priority, but Pyongyang has nonetheless relied on foreign help.

The WFP has collected two billion dollars in 10 years, supplying four million tons of food between 1995 and 2005 that assisted one-third of North Korea in its biggest operation at the time.

Since 2001, multilateral aid from the WFP has been gradually replaced by assistance from China and South Korea. While bilateral aid goes to the government and may be distributed to the elite, the WFP says it closely monitors its aid so that it reaches those most in need.

This year, donor countries have promised only 12,000 tons of food.

The WFP has received only 20 percent of the financing for its programme up to March 2008, assisting three percent of the population, or 600,000 people, instead of the initial objective of reaching nearly two million North Koreans.

De Margerie says he hopes the international community will set aside political concerns to focus on the human tragedy unfolding in North Korea.

“You only see negative images of North Korea. But it has a human face,” he stressed.

“An eight-month-old child or pregnant woman does not engage in politics. It’s the most vulnerable in the civilian population who pay the price.”


International Day of Biodiversity Observed in DPRK

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007


May 22 is the International Day of Biodiversity.

The global ecosystem has been seriously destroyed, rapidly decreasing the bio-resources needed for the life of the people. The actuality has risen as an urgent problem to protect the biodiversity in recent years.

According to the data released by the World Conservation Union, biological species which have been extinguished total over 1,000 and those on the brink of extermination far exceed 10,000.

The DPRK is abundant in biodiversity compared with the size of its territory. Under the correct nature preservation policy of the government, the work for protecting ecological diversity have been undertaken as an affair of the state and all people from long ago.

Lots of nature reserves including the Mt. Oga nature reserve, natural parks including Mt. Myohyang and Mt. Kumgang, reserves for native animals, plants and birds and their habitation, reserves for natural products and reserves for natural resources have been set to protect ecological diversity.

The Paektusan biosphere reserve has been preserved and managed amid the special concern of the Korean people from long ago. It was registered as an international biosphere reserve in April Juche 78 (1989).

The biological resources have been protected and increased by various methods including recovery of ecosystem and enhancement of biological function outside the reserves.

The production units such as forestry, agriculture and fishing industry are protecting the biodiversity through development and application of new science and technologies and, at the same time, are taking measures to ensure their sustainable utilization.

The relevant units including the Ministry of Land and Environment Conservation and the DPRK Natural Conservation Union have worked out strategies and action programs for biodiversity and are directing primary efforts to protecting and propagating indigenous species, those in a crisis and rare ones.

The state is pushing ahead with the protection of biodiversity through the institution of laws and regulations and the establishment of administrative and technical management systems. And it does not stint investment to the development of management technologies for analyzing, removing or minimizing the threat to the biodiversity.

And the state is turning the protection of biodiversity into the work of popular masses through the education and propaganda.

It is also taking positive measures for strengthening the international exchange and cooperation as an important part of the international efforts to ease the ecological crisis.


Paektusan Biosphere Reserve, Unique Ecosystem

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007


The Paektusan biosphere reserve in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea covers a vast area from Mt. Paektu to the southeast direction.

Mt. Paektu, starting point of the Great Paektu Range, is a celebrated mountain with precious wealth in the scenic and ecological, historical and cultural aspects.

Mt. Paektu, volcanic creature, 2,750 meters above the sea level, the vast land around it and Lake Chon, a large crater lake, which is the fountainhead of rivers and streams, go well with each other, presenting a beautiful landscape.

Mt. Paektu covered with a thick pumice stone layer, which looks like a mountain capped with snow all the year round, the clean and blue water of the Lake Chon, the boundless forests covering the vast land, the Lake Samji among the forests, water-falls with their fountainhead in the Lake Chon, wild flowers on the highland and the unique ecosystem on the boundary line of the forests–all these constitute a natural landscape that can be seen only in the Paektusan biosphere reserve.

Animals such as Korean tiger, deer and musk deer, trees of various species including larch, Abies nephrolipis and birch, wild vegetables, medicinal herbs, aromatic and flower plants form a forest ecological system in the reserve.

Chonji char accustomed to the Lake Chon attracts special attention of experts.

Mt. Paektu and its surrounding area, which are of great significance in preservation of biodiversity, were registered as an international biosphere reserve in April Juche 78 (1989).

The DPRK government set the area as a natural reserve in 1959 and as a special reserve of revolutionary battle sites in 1985.


FACTBOX: South Korea’s industrial park in the North

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Reuters (Hat tip to DPRK Studies)

The park is located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong about 70 km (45 miles) – (Reuters) – The Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea is set to grow by leaps and bounds in the next few years despite political problems in the wake of the communist state’s nuclear test last year, a South Korean executive said.

Here are some key facts about the Kaesong Industrial District:


The park is located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong about 70 km (45 miles) northwest of Seoul. A brand new highway runs through the Demilitarized Zone border taking workers from the South and finished products from the North.

Kaesong is the first cooperative manufacturing venture where South Korean firms use North Korean labour. It is run by Hyundai Asan, part of the Hyundai group, along with Korea Land Corp.


As of May 21, more than 14,000 North Koreans were employed at 23 South Korean factories producing items such as textiles, watches and cosmetic cases.

The minimum monthly wage is $50 for each employee as well as $7.50 for social insurance. The wages are paid to the North Korean state and not directly to workers.


In May 2006 Jay Lefkowitz, the top U.S. official for human rights in North Korea, raised concerns about possible worker exploitation at the complex. Lefkowitz said the well-intentioned project may simply end up providing funds that prop up the North Korean regime. South Korea rejects the criticism as biased.


South Korea and the United States agreed to set up a joint committee to study allowing Kaesong products duty-free status in the U.S. market under a free trade deal struck in April. South Korea says future projects in the North will be entitled to the same privilege. Washington is less enthusiastic.


South Korea’s vision for the Kaesong project, which began in June 2003 with first batch of goods shipped to South Korea in 2004, includes more than half a million North Koreans employed by 2,000 firms and with hotels, golf courses and a “peace park”.


Swiss authorities question U.S. counterfeiting charges against North Korea

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

McClatchy Newspapers
Kevin Hall

Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the Bush administration’s assertions that North Korea is manufacturing fake American $100 bills.

President Bush has accused North Korea of making and circulating the false bills, so perfect they’re called supernotes, and in late 2005 the U.S. Treasury took measures to block that country’s access to international banking. North Korea subsequently halted negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program, a process that remains in limbo because of the dispute.

The Swiss federal criminal police, in a report released Monday, expresses serious doubt that North Korea is capable of manufacturing the fake bills, which it said were superior to real ones.

The Swiss report includes color enlargements that show the differences between genuine bills and counterfeit supernotes. The supernotes are identical to U.S. banknotes except for added distinguishing marks, which can be detected only with a magnifying glass. In addition, under ultraviolet or infrared light, stripes appear or the serial numbers disappear on the supernotes.

The Bundeskriminalpolizei didn’t hazard a guess as to who’s been manufacturing the supernotes, but said experts agreed that the counterfeits weren’t the work of an individual but of a government or governmental organization.

The U.S. Secret Service, the lead federal agency in combating counterfeiters, declined to provide details or respond to the Swiss report. But spokesman Eric Zahren said the agency stood by its allegations against Pyongyang.

“Our investigation has identified definitive connections between these highly deceptive counterfeit notes and the North Koreans,” Zahren said. “Our investigation has revealed that the supernotes continue to be produced and distributed by sources operating out of North Korea.”

The Swiss report says the Secret Service has refused to provide any information about its investigations. It notes that if the United States produced concrete evidence to back up its allegations, “it would have a basis for going to war.” Under international law, counterfeiting another country’s currency is considered a cause for war.

But if the U.S. has a reason to go to war, against whom?

The Swiss police noted that before charging North Korea with counterfeiting, U.S. officials had mentioned Iran, Syria and East Germany as possible manufacturers. North Korea’s capacity for printing banknotes is extremely limited, because its banknote printing press dates from the 1970s. Its own currency is of “such poor quality that one automatically wonders whether this country would even be in a position to manufacture the high-quality `supernotes,’ ” the report says.

For years, analysts have wondered why the supernotes – which are detectable only with sophisticated, expensive technology – appear to have been produced in quantities less than it would cost to acquire the sophisticated machinery needed to make them. The paper and ink used to make U.S. currency are made through exclusive contract and aren’t available on the open marketplace. The machinery involved is highly regulated.

In theory, if North Korea were producing the notes, it could print $50 million worth of them within a few hours – as much as has been seized in nearly two decades, the report said.

“What defies logic is the limited, or even controlled, amount of `exclusive’ fakes that have appeared over the years. The organization could easily circulate tenfold that amount without raising suspicions,” says the Swiss police report, which also says Switzerland has seized 5 percent of all known supernotes.

Moreover, it noted that the manufacturer of the supernotes had issued 19 different versions, an “enormous effort” that only a criminal organization or state could undertake. The updates closely tracked the changes in U.S. currency issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

The fact that the Swiss are questioning the veracity of the U.S. allegations against North Korea carries special weight in the insular world of banknote printing.

“The producers of the most sophisticated products used in banknote printing are Swiss or at least of Swiss origin. That goes for the (specialty) inks and that goes for the machines,” said Klaus Bender, a German foreign correspondent and the author of “Moneymakers: The Secret World of Banknote Printing.”

“Can the North Koreans do it, are they doing it? The answer is couched in diplomatic language, (but) the answer is clearly no,” Bender said.


“According to the US Secret Service, $50 million worth of `super-fakes’ were confiscated worldwide over the past 16 years, only a small portion of them within the United States. Measured against the US annual counterfeit damage of $200 million, the damage from $50 million worth of `super-fakes’ is not that significant. The Federal Reserve Bank produces genuine $100 dollar bills mainly for the foreign market. On their return to the U.S., the issuing bank after examination can easily distinguish the `supernotes’ from originals using banknote testing equipment, due to altered infrared characteristics. For this reason, the United States over the years has hardly suffered economic damage due to the `super dollar.’

“A (banknote) printing press like the one in North Korea can produce $50 million worth of bills in a few hours. Using its printing presses dating back to the 1970’s, North Korea is today printing its own currency in such poor quality that one automatically wonders whether this country would even be in a position to manufacture the high-quality `supernotes.’ The enormous effort put into the making of the 19 different `super-fakes’ that we know of is unusual. Only a (criminal) governmental organization can afford such an effort. What defies logic is the limited or even controlled amount of `exclusive’ fakes that have appeared over the years. The organization could easily circulate tenfold that amount without raising suspicions.”


Teaching with the ‘enemy’

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

The Japan Times (Hat tip to the Marmot)
Jason Williams

In February this year over 300 people attended the performing arts festival at a junior high school in Okayama. It was much the same as any other arts festival at any other junior high school in Japan; the students sang, danced, played music and performed skits for an audience made up of family and friends.

There was, however, one major difference — the program wasn’t Japanese. It was Korean. Korean in song, Korean in dance and Korean in language.

The festival was at the Okayama Korean Primary and Middle School, a school for Korean residents of Japan run by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryun, which has close ties to North Korea.

As a teacher and “insider” at a Korean school in Japan, I would like to share some of my experiences and observations to demonstrate how these schools are at the same time similar to and uniquely different from other schools here.

When I mention to others that I teach at a Korean school, I can usually expect one of three reactions. First, most people, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, are surprised to learn that such schools exist. In fact, Chongryun operates about 70 schools throughout Japan, from kindergarten to university, and in 2006 the organization celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of its schools.

Second are those who have at least heard of the schools but say that they know very little about them.

The third, and most damaging, reaction is rooted in the misconception that the schools are similar to the way that North Korea is portrayed in the Japanese media. I am often asked if the school is militaristic or if the students and teachers are brainwashed, communist fanatics who hate Japan and America. I have even been asked if the school has spies or if I feel safe being at the school. I can’t help thinking, “Why don’t you just come see for yourself?”

The school I teach at is located near Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture. The school building, as I approached it for the first time nine years ago, looked like others I had seen in Japan but a bit smaller and older. When I arrived at the school, I was met with the usual pointing, giggling and staring from students that most foreigners experience when they go to a local school.

The first difference I noticed was the clothes of the female students and teachers. They were all wearing the traditional Korean “chima chogori.”

“The chima chogori is a symbol of our natural culture, national pride and history. To wear it is to recognize ourselves as Korean,” explains Pak Kum Suk, a former English teacher at the school.

I also noticed was that the Korean language was ubiquitous in the school. Writing on chalkboards and bulletin boards, announcements and conversations were all in Korean.

Knowing almost nothing about the Korean community in Japan at that time, I assumed that the students and teachers were from Korea and were living in Japan because of work, study or some other reason. Later on I learned about the history of ethnic Korean residents of Japan, known as “zainichi” Koreans in Japanese, and that all of the students and teachers were actually born and grew up in Japan.

Other than the uniforms and language, is there a lot that distinguishes this school from other elementary and junior-high schools in Japan?

Well, yes and no. Like most schools, the students study a basic curriculum that includes math, science, history, Japanese and English. Unlike other schools, the classes, except for English and Japanese, are all taught in Korean. Korean is not just the language of communication at the school; it is the language of instruction as well.

“The original purpose of the schools founded by the first generation of Koreans in Japan was to teach their children Korean language,” says Pak.

This does not mean that students are unable to speak Japanese. On the contrary, the combination of Korean-language immersion in school and the Japanese-language world outside the school mean that the children tend to be naturally bilingual.

“When I say I’m Korean,” says the school’s English teacher, Kang Yun Hwi, “some Japanese ask me why I can speak Japanese so well. I have to explain that I was born in Japan.”

The school also has clubs for students to participate in. In addition to soccer and volleyball there are Korean dance and music clubs. Such activities play an important role in helping students develop a sense of ethnic identity. Events at the school include sports festivals, parents’ day, field trips and graduation ceremonies. These are similar to the ones I have seen at Japanese schools, but with an emphasis on Korean language and culture.

The students are typical middle-schoolers. The boys talk about sports and computer games, the girls about singers and idols. Both worry about high-school entrance exams.

“When I was a junior high school student, my classmates and I talked about popular musicians like Hikaru Utada, Namie Amuro and Mr. Children. We also took “purikura” (photo booth snaps) whenever we went out,” recalls Kim Woo Ki, a recent graduate of Chongryun-operated Korea University.

The unconventional thing about the school is that staff and students make an open effort to maintain their ethnic identity and cultural heritage. Once when the students were making the Korean food “chijimi,” I mentioned that it is Korean “okonomiyaki” only to be lightheartedly corrected — okonomiyaki is Japanese chijimi.

In the teachers’ room there are pictures of the late North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung and his son, current leader Kim Jong Il, which surprised me the first time I saw them. However, they are the only ones I have seen in the school.

“From the beginning, North Korea has given a lot of funding, educational aid like musical instruments, and concern to the schools,” explains Pak.

Conversations I have with teachers tend to focus on current events and culture rather than politics. The one time a political topic did come up was after the admission of the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea. I taught at the school just after this news broke and the staff all expressed seemingly honest shock and sincere remorse and regret. They seemed to be just as surprised as everyone else I knew. Nobody denied the facts of these incidents as many Japanese people I have talked to believe.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., teachers and students expressed shock and worry, asked if my family and friends were OK and offered me, an American, their condolences.

I have seen no flags, military drills, marches or propaganda at the school. The only open, perhaps hopeful, political statement I see are maps of the Korean Peninsula that have no border separating North and South.

“The relationship between the North and South is better than most Japanese people think,” argues Pak.

I have noticed that everyone refers to themselves, their clothes, language and customs as “Korean” — not “North” or “South,” just “Korean.”

“The term ‘pro-Pyongyang’ (for Chongryun) is not completely appropriate,” says Pak. “Everyone in Chongryun and all people who send their children to our schools do not necessarily support the North. Some people simply place an importance on Korean ethnicity and identity, support our curriculum, and emphasize ties among community members.”

The school is very open to people who would like to visit and has welcomed my mother, wife (Japanese), and friends and coworkers from Australia, Canada, America and Japan. I have seen exchanges with Japanese schools and visits by community groups.

“We would like to have friendship with whoever wants to sincerely know about us and not people who are interested in gossip,” Pak says.

Even though I have mentioned that many people are unaware of the existence of the Korean schools, certain people, unfortunately, are. Beginning with the admission of the abduction of Japanese nationals, acts of aggression toward Chongryun schools and their students have increased. The number of recorded incidents nationwide since October of last year has already exceeded 150 and includes attacks on students, damage to the schools, and threatening telephone calls and mail.

“We have had our windows broken and (rightwing) sound buses drive around the school,” explains Pak.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of media interest in these schools, many people are unaware of these incidents.

I hope that in this article I have not idealized the school I teach at or my experiences there. Also, I am not trying to justify or support any of the political policies of North Korea. My intent is to help people understand what the Chongryun schools and their students are actually like and to encourage others to visit the schools and discover more first-hand.

I do not want people to develop misconceptions based on political affairs between North Korea and Japan. The Chongryun schools are not about politics. They are about older generations helping younger generations learn their traditional culture and appreciate their ethnic identity.

Whenever I go to the school, I can’t help thinking how much easier it would be if the students to went to Japanese schools. The building would be bigger, there would be more facilities and more classmates to get to know.

But at what cost? The loss of language, history, culture and ethnic identity is a heavy price to pay. The desire and ability of the teachers, students and parents to preserve and promote their heritage is certainly to be admired and, I hope, respected by others in Japan.


Venturing into North Korea

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

CNN (Hat tip to D”S”B)
Adam Levine

Hiking on North Korea’s Mount Kumgang gives you the uneasy feeling that despite the majesty of the natural scenery, even nature cannot escape politics in one of the most closed-off countries in the world.

The four-hour walk to Kuryong Falls is the centerpiece of the Mount Kumgang resort in southeastern North Korea. The trail winds along a river with glistening pools of water and picturesque scenery all around.

But you never escape the country’s dictatorship — there is the propaganda carved into the mountainside and rocks by the North Koreans, and the Chinese before them. There are also the North Korean employees working as vendors and rescue workers on the trail. They are always in pairs, and always seem to be watching you.

Kumgang is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans, for whom the mountain holds spiritual allure, and it is one of the few places in North Korea that Americans can travel relatively easily.

Hyundai Asan, an offshoot of the Korean car company, built the resort. It paid the North Korean government US$1 billion for 50 years of exclusive rights to the region and other business interests in North Korea. It spent an additional US$400 million to build the five-hotel resort, which opened in 1998.

More than 1.5 million visitors have made the trip to Kumgang. Most visitors are South Koreans; less than 8,000 visitors are from 48 other countries. Hyundai Asan spokesman Dan Byun says a majority of the 8,000 are South Korean ex-patriots.

Despite the western style hotel accommodations, American money changing hands and duty free shop selling Johnny Walker and Marlboro cigarettes, you don’t forget that you are in North Korea.

Just getting there involves busing through the demilitarized zone, where we are constantly told “no pictures, no pictures” by our guide and informed that aside from the road we are on, the entire area is filled with land mines.

After going through North Korean immigration we are herded back on a bus and reminded again that we cannot take pictures until we get inside the resort.

The 4.5-mile trip moves through southern North Korea, which the guide says is all a military base. Soldiers appear ominously standing at attention along the road. Each carries a red flag, which, we are told, will be raised if any soldier sees one of us taking a picture. Tanks and what appear to be anti-aircraft weapons are hidden in bunkers in the hills overlooking the roads.

The actual resort area looks no different than any typical tourist destination with a welcome center, hotels, bus parking and retail stores. North Korean folk songs blare from overhead speakers in the parking lot. But surrounding it all is a fence to separate tourists from the North Korean village of On Jung Li.

A two-night, three-day tour can cost as much as US$490. There are five hotels to choose from including a beach-side hotel and floating hotel and one that used to be the vacation home of Kim Il Sung’s wife.

There are 11 restaurants, including a branch of a North Korean noodle restaurant that is an exact replica of its counterpart in Pyongyang. An 18-hole golf course is opening in the fall and there is a Korean acrobatics show that performs each night at the theater.

The government has gone to extremes to accommodate the resort, even tearing down a village and moving it and its inhabitants to make way for the welcome center and shop.

The company defends its $1 billion payment to the North Korean government as economic revitalization. Hyundai Asan built a railway and border station to allow trains to travel from Seoul, South Korea, into North Korea. After refusing to let the trains through for a long time, the North Korean government finally allowed the first train to cross the border last week.

Hyundai is also building a reunification center to allow families from both sides of the border to hold reunions when allowed.

Some North Koreans work at the resort as waiters, vendors, rescue teams and maintenance. Most wear a pin of their president on their lapel.

Most refused to be photographed, cryptically saying “no pictures while I am working.” All but a few will refuse to talk to you. The ones that did talk to us offer some glimpse into their thinking.

One rescue worker told us that the only reason President Bush has not invaded North Korea is because Bush is afraid of Kim Jung Il. A vendor told us that she likes Americans, but hates the American government.

The resort is surrounded by a fence, through which you can see villagers planting in the fields and walking down the roads. They are forbidden to come to the resort or talk to the tourists. Not that they appear to be trying.

Ashley Moore, from Oklahoma, remembers North Koreans ducking behind trees and plants.

“We weren’t allowed to speak to any of them,” Moore said.

Moore, and her boyfriend Zac Gambill took a trip to Mount Kumgang when they lived in South Korea last year.

She and Gambill went from being a bit frightened to be in North Korea to surprise about the unabashed consumerism at the resort.

“Seeing the commercialism at the resort was a real shock,” Moore said. But she never felt totally at ease.

“We got a sense of the North Korean government’s determination to convey a favorable image to the outside world and a small sense of what it feels like to be constantly under surveillance,” Moore observed.


Due to China’s protest, North Korea’s drug production facility partly closed

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Well-informed sources say Heungnam manufacturer’s production facility shuts down.

Several well-known sources relayed on the 20th that as North Korean drugs flow into China in large amounts, it strongly protested to North Korea and requested that the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer in Hamheung be shut down.

Following suit, the North Korean government authorities was known to destroy the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer used in producing bingdu (the alias for “ice” classified in the category of Philopon in North Korea).

The well-informed source said, “China’s judicial authorities are strongly coping with the situation by imposing three years of penal servitude to those who sell 10g of Bingdu (so called “Ice” in North Korea) or a penalty of 20,000 yuan. When North Korea demonstrated a lax response, China expressed strong discontent.”

In North Korea, the Nanam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer in Chungjin, North Hamkyung is famous as a representative drug manufacturing company. The source evaluated that Hamheung, which has recently risen as a drug production base, had weak means of living which produced the highest number of deaths during the 90s’ mass starvation and the stimulant “Ice” was misused due to the lack of medical products.

$3,000 per kilogram…dealt for $10,000 at the border

An internal source said, “During the March of Suffering, a part of citizens who even sold raw materials and factory equipment earned big money by selling drugs. Since then, everyone has followed the trend. The people in Hamheung started handling drugs with great ambition due to the fact that at the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer, the prime cost for a kilogram is $3,000 dollars and the profit exceeds $5,000.”

The source said, “In the past, people touched drugs hoping to make a big fortune with a single swoop, but everyone is thinking about making money by selling drugs nowadays. Inevitably, the number of civilians who have become ‘ice’ addicts has significantly increased.”

Ice can be produced for $3,000 per kilogram and sold on site for $7-8,000 and at the border region where smuggling is possible, it can be sold for up to $10,000.

Another source said, “Civilians have fallen to the bedazzlement of making a jackpot with drugs, so they have gone to the border region carrying drugs and seeking dealers. However, fakes that have been manufactured ingeniously are also making a wave.”

In North Korea, as drug sales have been unyielding, it was known that teenagers who are touching “ice” are not only seriously in Hamheung but in all regions. They are not showing immediate signs of addiction, but they can be presumed as “high-risk” people for addiction.

North Korean businessman Mr. Kim, who is engaging is trade between North Korea and China, wore a sorry expression and said, “Nowadays, children who are not yet fully grown use ‘ice.’ Not too long ago, my friend’s 12-year old son was found while secretly using his father’s ‘ice.’ After severely beating him, the father asked, “Do you like ‘ice’ so much? The son responded, ‘it is a cure-all.’”

In the mid-1990s, due to deteriorated medical facilities and a shortage of medical goods, citizens started to depend on folk remedies. Civilians who started using ‘ice’ in lieu of cold medicines started using it as emergency medicine even for the flu and strokes.

Mr. Kim said, “Ice has a stimulant quality, so it is used to as a stimulant and a stress-releaser. Even children have come to regard it as a panacea and think that a little suck of ice will instantly get rid of pain and make one refreshed.”

Narcotic squads hardly have any strength

The North Korean authorities issued a narcotics degree in March of last year to prevent drug abuse. It has even issued the threat of putting to death related parties of drug deals. However, businesses that have earned money through drugs feed bribes to inspection organs, so sources said that these institutions cannot exert any strength.

One domestic source said, “Recently, a Central Party inspection group was organized in Shinuiju and came forward to regulate drugs, but authorities such as the National Security Agency, the National Security Office, and others have become implicated. However, exposing them in increasing measures makes punishment difficult, because complicit individuals can come forward in hordes.”

Drug sellers in the border region have divided left-over profits from handing over to China with participating National Security officers. The source said, “If a drug dealer is arrested, if back-money is given, even the ring-leader will be immediately released.”

The source also said that upper-class drug inspection groups can instantly become conspirators due to the high amount of money to be handed over to their superiors.


Inter-Korean railroad faces huge obstacles

Monday, May 21st, 2007

According to the Joong Ang Daily (2007-5-21):

It must have been the most expensive train ride in history. A ticket to cross the border between the two Koreas, a 90-minute journey over 30 kilometers, cost more than 2.7 billion won ($2.9 million) per person last week.

On Thursday, 200 South Koreans boarded two trains on the reconnected Gyeongui and Donghae lines on the west and east sides of the peninsula to chug across the Demilitarized Zone in a show of potential unity. The cost to South Korea, so far, has been 545.4 billion won to reconnect the sections of the cross-border railway severed by the Korean War.

While there are no concrete plans for further runs, the South Korean government has dreams of an inter-Korean rail network that would help the peninsula, cut freight shipment costs dramatically and link Korea by rail to the vast markets of China and the natural resources of Russia.

But to get there from here, the money spent so far on the test run is a pittance. Assuming that the enormous political obstacles to dealing with the North could be overcome, experts say it could cost as much as $10 billion to overhaul the slow, obsolete and backward rail infrastructure of North Korea.

That has not stopped some officials from insisting it can happen. On May 14, Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung announced a three-step plan for an inter-Korean railroad.

The first step would be to use a section of the Gyeongui Line, connecting Seoul and Shinuiju in the North, to serve the Kaesong Industrial Complex project. Transporting goods in and out of Kaesong and allowing North Korean workers to commute to the inter-Korean industrial complex by train is part of the plan.

The next step would be expanding use of the Gyeongui Line up to Kaesong for South Koreans, so that commuters to the complex and South Korean tourists visiting Kaesong could ride the train.

And finally, the South wants to operate trains on a regular basis between Seoul and Pyongyang.

“As of now, providing transportation for goods and commuters to Kaesong and allowing Mount Kumgang tourists to travel by train are current demands,” Lee said at the briefing. The Donghae Line, running between Yangyang and Anbyon in the North, will be used for the Mount Kumgang trip.

“More than 10 billion won worth of goods is produced in Kaesong,” Lee said. “More than 13,000 North Koreans are working there and commuting has become a serious issue.”

Lee has even more ambitious dreams ― the building of a rail line to connect Korea with Europe. “The reconnected inter-Korean railroad will be connected to Russia, one of the largest reserves of natural resources in the world, and China, to provide new economic opportunities,” Lee said. “We need a serious discussion on this with the North.”

Lee, however, admitted that there are enormous obstacles. Gaining the cooperation of the North’s hard-line military, which has been reluctant to open the border to train crossings, and modernization of the outdated North Korean rail infrastructure are among them.

Continuing his drumbeat for the project, after the test run, Lee said South Korea will gladly pay for updating the North’s railroad network ― and cost is no object. “No matter how much it will cost, it is an investment for our economy,” Lee said Friday. “The research is ongoing to estimate the cost, so it is hard to make the number public.”

Estimates vary widely about the cost of modernizing the North’s railroads. Lim Jae-gyeong, a researcher at the Korea Transport Institute, estimated that upgrading the North’s sagging rail networks, for both the Gyeongui and Donghae lines, would cost from 6.5 trillion won to 8 trillion won.

Kim Gyeong-jung, the team leader for inter-Korean railroad networks at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, cited a Russian report that estimated it would cost up to $3.5 billion “to modernize the railroads in the North and connect them with the Trans-Siberian Railroad.”

Ahn Byung-min of the Korea Transport Institute put the figure at $10 billion for the project, also citing previous Russian reports.

Russia is enthusiastic about the prospects, though, and it conducted three surveys of the North’s railroad infrastructure between 2001 and 2003. The project may accelerate when the two Koreas and Russia begin railroad talks next month.

“We are pushing to hold talks with Kim Yong-sam, the North’s railroad minister, and Vladimir Yakunin, president of the state-run Russian Railways company, at the end of next month in Pyongyang,” said Lee Chul, head of the Korea Railroad Corporation. “The South and Russia have already agreed and the North responded positively.”

The meeting will focus on linking a trans-Korean railway with the trans-Siberia railway. By linking to the Russian lines, Vladivostok could be reached directly by rail from Busan. Researchers say the connection would enable freight to be shipped from Busan to Moscow by rail in just eight days. The transportation cost would be half of the current rate for sea shipments, which is about $600 for a 20-foot container.

The immediate challenge is the infrastructure. Rail is the backbone of North Korea’s transportation system, Ahn said. About 60 percent of passenger traffic and 90 percent of freight is carried by train. With two main rail lines running on the east and west sides of the country, Ahn said, the North Koreans have tried unsuccessfully to connect the systems since the 1970s.

“As of late 2005, the North had about 5,248 kilometers of rail, but 98 percent of them are single-track lines,” Ahn said, meaning that the traffic that can be carried is limited to one train at a time. “Most of the other infrastructure, such as bridges, tunnels, stations and communication systems, is also extremely outdated.”

The trains also run at very slow speeds, between 30 and 60 kilometers an hour. “The speed has not changed much since 1956,” Ahn said. “From Pyongyang to Shinuiju, the distance is 223.6 kilometers. By express, it would take about five hours and five minutes, so the average speed is about 40 kilometers per hour,” Ahn said. “But the regular trains take more than 11 hours.” He noted that there are also no set timetables and service is erratic and sometimes dangerous.

Ahn, who has visited North Korea several times to examine the fraying rail network, provided some extreme examples of how the North tries to cope. “Russia and China often provide food aid to the North via trains,” Ahn said. “When train cars from the two countries arrive, the North, under bilateral treaties, must send back the trains within six months. Rarely are the actual train cars returned, instead China and Russia often receive older train cars ready to retire from service.”

About 2,000 train cars sent from China and Russia have thus been marked as “made in North Korea” and put to use, Ahn said.

“North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung once said the operation of a railroad is like the circulation of blood in the human body,” Ahn said, “Based on that expression, you could say that North Korea’s rail network is a patient suffering from a serious circulatory disease.”

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean railroad faces huge obstacles
Joong Ang Daily
Ser Myo-ja


N. Korean leader makes reshuffle of top military officials

Monday, May 21st, 2007


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il recently made a reshuffle of his top military officials that may solidify his already firm grip on the country’s military, intelligence officials said Monday.

Ri Myong-su, former operations director of the North’s Korean People’s Army (KPA), has been named a resident member of the National Defense Commission (NDC), the highest decision-making body under the communist nation’s constitution that was revised in 1997 to reflect its military first, or “songun,” policy, an official said while speaking anonymously.

Ri was replaced by Kim Myong-guk, who had served in the post from 1994-1997, while Jong Thae-gun, an Army lieutenant general, has been named the propaganda director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau, according to the sources.

The reshuffle first appeared to be a routine rearrangement of personnel, but the sources said it may have been aimed at expanding the role and power of the already powerful NDC.

“The NDC seems to have become, at least externally, the North’s highest decision-making body as a number of top military officials have recently been appointed to (new) permanent posts of the defense commission,” a source said.

“We believe the NDC may become an actual organization in the near future with hundreds of resident staff like the other top decision-making bodies” such as the Workers’ Party, the official added.

Headed by the North’s reclusive leader, the defense commission has been the most powerful organization in the country where the military comes before everything.

But it has mostly been regarded as a faction of a group, namely the KPA, as most of its members concurrently served in other posts of the army, according to the sources.

Kim Yong-chun, the former Chief of General Staff of the KPA, was named the first deputy chairman of the NDC in April.

The sources said it is too early to determine why the commission’s permanent staff has been increased, but they said it may be linked to Pyongyang’s ruling system after Kim Jong-il.

The 65-year-old Kim has yet to name his successor, raising questions worldwide whether the reclusive leader is considering a collective ruling system after his death.

Kim was named as successor to his father, the founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung, at the age of 32 in 1974.

He has three sons from two marriages, but his oldest son, Jong-nam, 35, has apparently fallen out of favor following a 2001 incident in which the junior Kim was thrown out of Japan after trying to enter the country with a forged passport.

His two other sons, Jong-chul and Jong-un, both in their early 20s, have not held any official posts.

N. Korea enhances Kim’s defense commission
Korea Herald

Jin Dae-woong

North Korea is beefing up the National Defense Commission, a top military decision-making body directly controlled by Kim Jong-il, Seoul intelligence sources said.

Pyongyang recently conducted a major reshuffle of its top military leadership, including the repositioning of Kim’s closest confidants to the committee, they said on condition of anonymity.

Chaired by Kim, the committee is an organization independent of the Cabinet and the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. It is next only to the communist country’s president, a post permanently held by the late founder and Kim’s father Kim Il-sung since his death in 1994.

The sources said that Gen. Ri Myong-su, former operation director of the Korean People’s Army, has been appointed as a standing member of the NDC. Gen. Kim Myong-kuk has been named to replace Ri as the top operations commander.

The reshuffle followed the appointment of Vice-Marshal Kim Yong-chun, former chief of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army, as vice chairman of the NDC during last month’s general session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the nation’s parliament.

The personnel reconfiguration, which also affected key posts in the North Korean armed forces, is seen as part of Pyongyang’s move to further enhance the NDC, a powerful state body, under North Korea’s military-first policy.

The generals have been regarded as the most influential figures in the military as they frequently accompany Kim during his field unit inspections.

The commission has the power to direct all activities of the armed forces and national defense projects, establish and disband central defense institutions, appoint and dismiss senior military officers, confer military titles and grant titles for top commanders. It also can declare a state of war and issue mobilization orders in an emergency.

The National Defense Commission, presently chaired by Kim Jong-il, consists of the first deputy chairman, two deputy chairmen and six commission members. All members are selected for a five-year term.

The reshuffles are the latest known change to the commission. Gen. Hyon Chol-hae, former vice director of the KPA General Political Bureau, moved to the post of NDC vice director in 2003.

Experts noted that the figures are taking full-time posts in the NDC and relinquishing their posts in the People’s Army.

Other current members concurrently hold posts at both organizations, sources said.

Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, the first vice-chairman of the NDC, also assumes the position of director of the KPA General Political Bureau. Vice Marshal Kim Il-chol concurrently serves as a member of the NDC and minister of the People’s Armed Forces.

“As high-ranking military officers have moved to the NDC as full-time members, the NDC may be preparing to take follow up measures to expand its role and function in the future,” the sources said.

The NDC has been known as a consultative body of top military leaders without extensive subordinate organizations comparable to the ruling party and the Cabinet.

The intelligence sources said the NDC may have more manpower and organization under its wing.

“The NDC began equipping itself with organizational apparatuses with the 2003 transfer of Hyon Chol-hae from the KPA position to the post of NDC,” another source said.

In addition, the NDC has continued recruiting personnel such as Kim Yang-gon, councilor of the NDC, from other government departments, to strengthen the NDC’s policy functions, sources said.

“It is in line with North Korea’s long-term move to concentrate the country’s decision-making power on Kim Jong-il and his close subordinates,” said Nam Sung-wook, North Korean studies professor at Korea University. “It is mainly aimed at preventing possible regime dissolution amid rising international pressures over its nuclear weapons program. Kim is also seen directly intervening in a resolution of the nuclear issue.”

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk Univsersity, also agreed that the enhancement of the NDC will lead to the centralization of power in North Korea, reducing the role of the Korea Workers’ Party.

“Through the organizational reform, the North’s regime seeks to further streamline decision-making procedures to more effectively tackle an array of issues,” Kim said.

The North Korean studies expert said it is an answer of North Korean leadership to continuing economic hardship. The leadership has given over a comparatively extensive amount of power to the Cabinet for dealing with economic stagnation.

Kim also said it could be interpreted as preparation for the post-Kim Jong-il system.

“After his death, a collective leadership led by core subordinates of Kim Jong-il is expected to emerge, so, the move could be one related to future changes,” he said.