N. Korea warns Japan on pro-Pyongyang group crackdown

Sohn Suk-joo

North Korea warned Wednesday that Japan would “pay a dear price” if it continues to crack down on a pro-Pyongyang organization based there.

“If Japanese reactionaries keep clamping down on Chongryon in violation of our republic’s dignity and sovereignty, our anger at Japan will explode and they will have to pay a dear price for that,” said the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. Chongryon is the shorter Korean name for the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

The angry statement comes a week after a Japanese court sanctioned the seizure of the premises of Chongryon’s headquarters due to its failure to repay debts. Since the group was founded in 1955, it has acted as the representative organization of North Korea in Japan. The two nations have no diplomatic relations.

Later in the day, four chapter leaders of Chongryon issued a joint statement accusing the Japanese government of having made an “unprecedented political terrorist act” against the group, said the Choson Sinbo, a Korean-language newspaper published by Chongryon in Japan.

The pro-North Korean group teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, as Japan’s Resolution and Collection Corp. (RCC) is to start procedures to confiscate the organization’s building and compound. RCC claims that the debt was part of nonperforming loans extended by 16 now-defunct credit unions associated with the group.

The RCC, which took over the nonperforming loans from the credit unions, claimed that Chongryon must pay 62.7 billion yen (US$508 million) since the money was purportedly handed over to Chongryon in an arrangement with the credit associations.

North Korean authorities protested the decision since the premises were the most likely candidate for North Korea’s embassy in Japan when the two sides agree to normalize diplomatic ties. The talks have bogged down because of their dispute over the past and abduction issues.

North Korea and Japan have never established diplomatic relations since the North was founded in 1948. The major hurdle to their normalization negotiations was how much and in what terms Japan should pay for its colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

The court ruling comes as the embattled Chongryon has yet to ride out the shock after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il confessed in late 2002 that the communist country abducted 13 Japanese people to train spies in Japanese culture and language in the 1970s and 1980s.

Kim’s admission triggered a chain reaction of defections from the group. Now it claims about 80,000 members, although critics say about 30,000 are actively engaged in the group. The membership pales in comparison with 420,000 in the 1970s.

In an effort to prevent the premises from being seized, Chongryon tried in vain to sell the head office for 3.5 billion yen ($28.4 million) to an investment advisory company headed by Shigetake Ogata, a former chief of the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

But the court said the deal should be declared null and void because the ownership changed hands without an actual financial transaction.

“Chongryon chapter leaders and the Korean people are angry that Japan stigmatized Chongryon as a criminal organization by taking issue with the lawful business deal,” said the Choson Sinbo, which usually reflects the views of North Korea.


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