Archive for May, 2008

More Czech tram cars headed to Pyongyang

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

UPDATE: Photos here (h/t Mateusz)

From Radio Prague (hat tip to David):

The Prague Transport Authority announced on Tuesday that the first of twenty reconditioned trams would be shipped to North Korea this week. The North Korean government are paying about 13 million crowns – that’s just over 800,000 U.S. dollars – for the second-hand trams, one of Prague’s most instantly recognisable symbols. But as Rob Cameron reports, they’re not the first Czech trams to be sent abroad, and not even the first to be sent to North Korea.

In the unlikely event you were to find yourself waiting for a tram at Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae station, you might well be surprised to see a Czech tram trundling along the rails towards you. But Czechs trams have long been a feature of life in the North Korean capital. The first – a fleet of new T4 trams – arrived in 1991, in time for Kim Il Sung’s 79th birthday. (The T4 is the chunky, rather boxlike model from the 1990s that runs on the number 3 line in Prague, for example.)

But the latest consignment heading for Pyongyang this week are reconditioned T3s, the older, iconic red and cream trams that date from the 1960s. The T3s were first produced by the CKD Tatra Smíchov factory in Prague (the T stands for Tatra). In all, a staggering 14,000 T3s were produced in Smichov and exported all over the Soviet bloc, as part of the Comecon system of allocating entire industries to individual communist countries.

Read the full article here:
Iconic red and cream Prague trams get new lease of life in Pyongyang
Radio Prague
Rob Cameron


Recruiting difficulties lead DPRK to discard consciption standards

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-5-29-1

It has come to light that North Korea has lowered, and in some cases abolished, medical requirements for new recruits conscripted in this year’s spring military draft. A source inside North Korea told the “Daily NK” on May 26th, “Originally, men had to be over 148cm tall and over 43 kg in order to enter the military, but this year conscripts under 148cm and less than 43kg are also required to enter military service provided they suffer from no diseases.” The medical requirements for military conscription in North Korea were lowered to 148cm height, 43kg weight, and 40/40 vision in 1994.

The source went on to say, “Originally, people with eyesight less than 40/40 could not enter the military, but this year even middle-school students with eyesight so bad they need to wear glasses are all being drafted,” and that since fall of last year, authorities from the military mobilization bureau in charge of carrying out medical checks have been working on orders that the only thing to prevent conscription is disease.

Adolescents being conscripted this year are those that were born between 1991~1993, the first generation from the period of North Korea’s devastating famine during the mid 1990s to be sent to the military. In addition, as the generation born at a time when the North’s birthrate was falling sharply, the population of the generation now facing conscription is considerably smaller than that of the older generations.

Daily NK’s source also added, “Because the number and health of the new conscripts is less than wanted, [authorities] pressed for enlistment of female students as well…Last March, a guideline was set that women not carrying out military service could not be promoted to executive positions.”

Beginning in spring of this year, parents of female students in middle schools in farming communities were summoned to “family conferences” at which they heard a political address telling them that “from now on, in order to become executives and develop socially, women also must go to the military, without exception.”

Rumors are spreading among North Korean middle-schoolers that “from now on, military service is being lengthened,” and, “Now women are also required to serve in the military.” The source added that there is also a sense of unease among commissioned soldiers, who do not know whether their time will be extended, as well.

In March of 2003, during the sixth session of the tenth Supreme People’s Committee, the ‘System of Military Service for All Citizens’ was adopted, requiring men to serve ten years in the military and women to serve in supporting roles for seven years. Those eligible for conscription are between the ages of 17 and 25, have completed middle school, and have no blemishes on their family tree.


DPRK looking to export GPS jammer

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

According to the Choson Ilbo:

South Korean intelligence authorities have reportedly learned that North Korea has developed a device capable of jamming the GPS signals used by state-of-the-art guided missiles and precision bombs, and has been attempting to export the device to Middle East countries including Iran and Syria.

A South Korean government source on Wednesday said they are keeping a close eye on the communist country as they understand that North Korea has developed a GPS jammer by copying a Russian device, and has been looking to export it to the Middle East.

The source added that North Korea has been promoting the GPS jammer to several Middle Eastern countries by offering a better price than the Russian device.

When the Iraq War began in 2003, the Iraqi Army caused a stir by using a Russian-made GPS jamming system to disrupt the U.S. military’s guided weapons systems. South Korean military authorities are racking their brains to work out a counter solution, worried that the device could cause similar disruptions for the South and its allies if war broke out.

One such weapon that could be affected is the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a GPS-based system that guides bombs used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The South Korean Army will have purchased 900 of them by 2012.

Long-range air-to-ground cruise missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, are also GPS-guided. The strength of GPS-based weapons systems is their accuracy in hitting targets despite bad weather or challenging terrain. Their weakness is that they can be jammed easily, by even a weak signal.

Read the full stories here:
N.Korea ‘Looking to Export GPS Jammer to Middle East’
Choson Ilbo


Soju in America update…

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

This site has covered the strange saga of Park il Woo (Steve Park), Korean entrepreneur and spy, who has been spearheading efforts to bring DPRK soju into the United States (History: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

This week, Joseph Goldstein, Staff Reporter of the New York Sun, picks up the story and fills us in on Mr. Park’s prosecution, conviction, and future plans. 

Here are the story’s bullet points:

1. Park was being paid by South Korean officials and providing them with updates about his business trips to North Korea.  He pleaded guilty to lying to lying to FBI agents about his relationship with these South Korean officials. (NKeconWatch: I am not sure if the charge was lying to the FBI or of being an unregistered foreign agent–or both).

2. William Pauley III, U.S. District Court in Manhattan, sentenced him 18 months’ probation, though the crime carries a maximum penalty of five years.  Shortly after pleading guilty, prosecutors for the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office agreed to lift a prohibition that barred him from contacting the South Korean officials for whom he was accused of spying.

3. Jennifer Rodgers (prosecutor’s office) gave her permission to allow Park to travel to North Korea “on business” for two weeks beginning May 30, according to court papers filed by Park’s attorney.  Court documents don’t mention the nature of the business that Park intends to conduct while in North Korea. But it is likely connected to Park’s long-standing efforts to import North Korean soju, a liquor made from corn and rice, into America.

And what lies ahead for Mr. Park…

Park’s import company, Korea PyongYang Trading U.S.A., is partnering with a New Jersey company, Tang’s Liquor Wholesale, to distribute the drink across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, according to Korean press reports.

Bottles of Pyongyang Soju are expected to retail for just more than $10. The drink is made in a factory North Korea’s capital and uses water pumped up from more than 500 feet underground, Yonhap reported.

Park told Yonhap that it was the first product North Korea actively sought to export to America. He said he would soon try to import North Korean beer as well, according to Yonhap.

So it looks like the DPRK is admitting a known South Korean spy into the country for the purposes of boosting exports… 

The whole story is worth reading here:
Bizarre Turn Seen in Case of Korea Spy
The New York Sun
Joseph Goldstein


Blame it on the weather…

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

As with the famine that struck the DPRK in the 1990’s, known as the “Arduous March,” the North Korean government is again blaming the weather for the food shortage. 

From Reuters:

North Korea’s farm sector will take a hit due to cold weather and low precipitation this planting season, its official media said on Wednesday, after experts had warned the destitute state could be heading toward famine.

“The current spring weather has a bad effect on agriculture in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea),” its official KCNA news agency reported.

“The abnormal weather has seriously affected the growth of maize crops on a vast acreage of fields, cultivation of rice-seedlings and the striking of roots of rice-seedlings in the west coastal areas, the granary,” KCNA reported. 

From the Associated Press (via the IHT):

North Korea’s average high temperature in May has been about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than in previous years, with temperatures in northern parts of the nation dipping below the freezing point, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

It is true that the weather is a factor, but these effects can be mitigated by better policy solutions.  Cracking down on local markets and chasing after entrepreneurs certainly does not help either.

According to Glyn Ford, member of the European Parliament:

[T]he Vice-Chair of the State Planning Comission said when I met him, “Agricultural reforms proved better than fertilizer at raising productivity.”

Read the full articles here:
Food-short N.Korea says farms hit by bad weather

North Korea says cold weather seriously affecting farming
Associated Press (via Herald Tribune)


Malaria crosses the DMZ

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

From Reuters:

North Korea has greatly reduced malaria infections at home but mosquitoes carrying the disease are crossing the heavily armed border and infecting hundreds each year in the South, a provincial governor said on Tuesday.

Kim Moon-soo, governor of Gyeonggi province which surrounds Seoul and shares a border with North Korea, visited the communist state this month to discuss food aid and ways to keep malaria in check.

Kim said there were about 60,000 civilian infections in North Korea in 2003 while in 2007 the number was reduced to an estimated 7,430.

In his province, 677 people were infected last year with malaria by mosquitoes that had crossed the no-man’s land Demilitarized Zone buffer dividing the two countries technically still at war.

The infection rate in the province, though, has fallen since 2001 when several thousand people were infected, according to South Korean government statistics.

South Korea has worked with the World Health Organization since 2001, when an estimated 300,000 civilians were infected in the North, to eradicate malaria on the peninsula.

Seoul said earlier this month it would provide aid valued at $1.8 million to combat malaria in the North.

Read the full article here:
North Korea fights off malaria as disease heads South
Jon Herskovitz


DPRK gets new golf course

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

UPDATE:  The Kumgangsan Golf Course is located here (Wikimapia), though it is still under construction in these dated images.

ORIGINAL POST: The DPRK’s golf facilities are all easily recognizable from Google Earth:  There is the 18 hole course half-way between Pyongyang and Nampo; there is a smaller 9-hole course next to the Yangakdo Hotel; there is a driving range in the Sosan sports district; and there is even a three hole course east of town just south of the Ponghwa Barrage on the Taedong River (This area could be the Ponghwa Executive Apartments mentioned in Kim il Song’s North Korea).

According to Yonhap, the DPRK has successfully expanded their number of golf holes by 60%–increasing them from 30 to 48:

The “Kumgang Ananti Golf and Spa Resort,” including a 18-hole golf course, will open to the public Wednesday after nearly four years of construction, Emerson Pacific Group, a Seoul-based leisure firm, said.

Built on about 1.7 million square meters of land, the resort also has a spa, a hotel and restaurants that provide nice sea and mountain views, according to Kim Min-jeong, a publicity official of the company.

The golf course has already drawn media attention over its 929-meter number three hole, the world’s longest.

The facility, however, will be operated on a membership-only basis for the time being, Kim said, adding that the company plans to open the facility to individual tourists around next year.

Emerson Pacific is waiting for Pyongyang to give the company permission to employ about 200 North Koreans, including 60 caddies, at the resort, the official said.

Read the full story here:
Golf course to open at North Korea’s Mt. Geumgang


DPRK to get copper from South

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008


South Korea will ship 1,000 tons of copper to North Korea this week in return for the disabling of its nuclear plants, officials said on Monday.

The shipment, worth 8.9 billion won ($8.5 million) will begin on Thursday, the unification ministry said.


South Korea has already made a shipment of 5,100 tons of steel plates to the North, apparently for use in patching up its decrepit power stations.

Read the full article here:
SKorea to ship copper to NKorea this week (Thompson Financial News)


Haggard, Weeks op-eds on DPRK food crisis

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Newsletter from Marcus Noland

Linked below are three op-eds written with Steph Haggard and Erik Weeks addressing the looming humanitarian crisis in North Korea which have appeared recently in Newsweek International, the Korean Herald, and OpenDemocracy, respectively:

“Asia’s Other Crisis” – Newsweek International
“Famine in North Korea? The Evidence” – Korean Herald
“North Korea: The Next Famine” – OpenDemocracy

 A longer policy brief addressing North Korea’s hunger issues can be accessed at:
“North Korea on the Precipice of Famine”
Finally, from the Shameless Commerce Division, Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid and Reform will soon be released in paperback.  In anticipation, Columbia University Press is trying to reduce its inventory of the hardcover edition, and through 31 May has put the book on sale for the extraordinarily low price of $7 (the discount appears once you add the book to your shopping cart).  Act quickly while supplies last!:
“Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform” – Columbia University Press

(NKeconWatch:  With an honest sales pitch like that, you should probably buy two copies)


DPRK defectors in the US

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

From Radio Free Asia

Under a new U.S. law, 53 North Korean refugees have now been admitted to the United States[.]

[A Korean-American minister active in North Korea since 1994, Phillip] Buck, said nine other North Koreans have obtained the same protection in Beijing and will soon immigrate to the United States as well.

Not too long ago, Chang, Haggard, and Noland released a study (here) on the desired destinations of North Koreans living under the radar in China. Among the most educated, the US was their number one choice.

The full article can be found below:
Sisters Fear for Defectors
Radio Free Asia
Wonhee Lee