Archive for December, 2009

Kaesong border communication upgraded

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

According to the Associated Press:

Military officials from the two Koreas communicated through new fiber-optic cables to help facilitate the travel of 330 South Koreans heading to an industrial complex in the North on Wednesday, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

South Korea has sent fiber-optic cables and other equipment to the North to help its communist neighbour modernize its military hot lines with the South, she said.

The new hot lines replaced outdated copper cable hot lines that will remain as spare lines, said Lee, the spokeswoman.

The new hot lines will serve as a key mode of communication for border crossings for people travelling to and from the joint industrial complex at the North Korean border town of Kaesong, she added.

I assume the upgrade to fiber optic means that the bureaucracy of border crossing has been computerized.  Rather than reading information across the phone line border officials can now send it electronically (including photos) to speed up processing on the North Korean side of the border.

Read the full story here:
Divided Koreas open new, updated military hot lines to facilitate border crossings
Associated Press (via Winnipeg Free Press)


DPRK workers in UAE

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Around 30,000 foreign laborers live in the camps on Reem Island. They come from all over the world, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. The North Korean laborers live in a part of the camp 400 m from the entrance. “Money was pretty good about three to four years ago, but now it’s tough to find work,” said one North Korean worker.

Around 1,300 North Koreans work in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, according to sources. Altogether around 6,000 North Koreans work in the Middle East, 3,100 of them in Kuwait. Some 800 work in the UAE and Qatar, with another 300 in Oman and 250 in Yemen. North Korea has been sending workers to construction sites in the Middle East so they can earn hard currency to send back to their impoverished country.

The movement resembles the exodus of South Koreans who came to the Middle East in the 1970s and ’80s to work at construction sites, but the main difference is that the North Korean government takes away the money its workers earn there. When asked about their wages, one North Korean worker said, “A lot of us have many years of experience working overseas as carpenters or welders and make between $150 and $200 a month, which is about the same as the Pakistanis make.” But those wages are what the workers keep after they have made their “loyalty” payments to the North Korean government.

One source in Abu Dhabi said, “North Korean workers make between $300 and $500 a month, but the North Korean government confiscates $150 and even $250 as loyalty payments, leading to a lot of conflict.” North Korean labor export companies skim off an excessive amount of money from salaries. The level of discontent recently prompted the North Korean government to dispatch security agents who trawl construction sites on weekends to provide ideological “cleansing” sessions to workers.

Since the construction industry in the Middle East fell into a slump due to the global financial crisis, North Korean workers have been resorting to other means to make money. The most common method is bootlegging in Abu Dhabi, where alcohol is banned. But that is a criminal offense that carries to two to three months in prison and deportation. “The North Korean companies that sent the workers abroad are aware of the bootlegging but are turning a blind eye as long as the laborers pay portions of the profits,” one local source said.

Some North Koreans leave the construction sites and work as handymen or build fountains for private homes. In August, a North Korean worker was deported after wandering into the home of a high-ranking police officer. “There was an incident early this year where a North Korean agent brought home a worker who was caught making critical comments about the North,” a local source said.

Additional Information:

1. Here is a link to the full story excerpted above.

2. Here is the approximate location of the North Korean workers’ camp in the UAE.

3. According to IFES:  North Korea established ambassador-level diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates on September 18, [2007]. A joint statement said the two countries aim to “enhance understanding and boost the links of friendship and cooperation between their two peoples.” Ties with such an oil-rich nation on friendly terms with Washington could be significant as the North moves to dismantle nuclear facilities.

4. This story highlights a strange DPRK-UAE-Unification Church connection.

4. Here is a link to a similar story about North Korean loggers working in Russia.

5. North Korean workers were recently deported from the Czech Republic.


RoK offers $22 million in aid to DPRK

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

According to the AFP:

South Korea said Monday it would provide 26 billion won (22.2 million dollars) for humanitarian projects in North Korea, the second donation this month to its communist neighbour amid easing relations.

The unification ministry said it would donate 15.2 billion won to the World Health Organization’s programme for malnourished children and 4.7 billion won to the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF.

Spokesman Chun Hae-Sung said some six billion won has been allocated for a variety of other projects run by private groups.

“We decided to assist North Korean infants and children through private and international organisations, after considering the urgent situation in North Korea,” he told a briefing.

On December 18 the South shipped swine flu medication worth 15 million dollars to the North.

It was the first direct aid to Pyongyang from Seoul’s conservative government since it took office in February 2008.

Relations between the two Koreas have been interesting recently.   Official assistance from the South Korean government is at a near-term low, and the South Korean government spent little of the funds it appropriated for inter-Korean projects this year (See: here, here, and here).  South Korea has also tightened import rules for a number of North Korean goods (to protect local businesses), halted the export of luxury goods to the DPRK, and blacklisted DPRK businesses sanctioned by the UNSC. In addition, 2009 saw turmoil in the Kaesong Industrial Zone and a (predictable) naval clash along the NLL.

“Economic relations,” however, seem to have turned the corner recently.  Despite several months of decline, inter-Korean trade increased in the past two months.


DPRK sold arms to Congolese insurgents

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Christian Dietrich, a member of the UN Security Council committee investigating Congo, told VOA that the North Korean ship Birobong arrived in the port of Boma, Congo on Jan. 21, where it unloaded some 3,400 tons of weapons, 100 times the amount seized in Thailand earlier this month.

Dietrich said the committee was told the weapons were “modern” but was unable to find out any details. Assuming all the weapons were AK rifles, the weight would be equivalent to about 800,000 of them, he added.

North Korea in May also sent military instructors to train Congolese government soldiers for about four weeks, around the time the North conducted its second nuclear test.

Dietrich said there are indications that North Korea was the source of state-of-the-art weapons carried by insurgents in eastern Congo. In some cases, Congolese government soldiers have sold their arms to neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, he said.

Under UN Resolution 1807, adopted in 2008, the UN must be informed in advance of all arms transactions with and military training for Congo, but North Korea did not. The UNSC committee is a watchdog that oversees implementation of the UN resolution.

Additional information:

1. Here is a link to the story about the arms intercepted in Thailand (Including updates).

2. The DPRK has long been involved in African political, economic, military, and cultural affairs.  When I read this story I immediately thought of Zimbabwe’s 5 Brigade which was trained by the North Koreans.  Here are a few stories which are related to the DPRK and Zimbabwe.

3.  The North Koreans also constructed the statue of Laurent Kabila in Kinshasa. The statue is located here.


New DPRK art exhibit in Beijing

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

According to CNN:

The Beijing-based Jinghesheng Investment Company has partnered with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea’s formal name, to exhibit — and sell — 60 oil paintings and 30 traditional Korean ink paintings.

“They were all carefully selected by the DPRK’s Ministry of Culture,” said exhibit director Li Xuemei. Although North Korean artworks may be available in some galleries in China and other countries, said Li, “you don’t really know where they came from, but ours are surely authentic artworks from DPRK.”

Inside a hall, the gallery showcases works of twenty North Korean artists affiliated with museums and art academies in Pyongyang. Li said the gallery receives as many as 100 visitors a day on the weekend and about 60 on weekdays.

The pieces depict landscapes and modern life. Many were painted by seasoned Pyongyang artists who hold honorific titles as “People’s Artists” and “Merit Artists.”

One oil painting, a socialist realist piece entitled “Huge Waves in the East Sea,” is three meters high and ten meters long and covers an entire wall of the gallery. Four artists collaborated on the painting using a wide scope of greens and blues to create textured and turbulent waves crashing into taupe gray rocks against a backdrop of blue sky.

The collection also includes watercolors, elegant portraits of Korean women in modern and traditional dress and wildlife.

Li said the artwork is only sold to elite customers, typically Chinese entrepreneurs in affluent cities like Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Dalian. She said 30 percent of the works on display have already been sold, but she declines to quote any prices.

“Many people chose to collect this art because North Korea is a country still closed to the outside world, although it is seeking to open up in the future,” Li said. “This makes North Korean artworks a good investment. Some artists have already passed away, making their work more unique and valuable.”

While the arts’ value may increase over time, their North Korean artists will not see any cash returns.

“In North Korea,” Li said, “art is not private property and the value made from the sales will go directly to the state.”

One artist and three North Korean government officials flew into Beijing to attend the opening of the show but stayed away from the media and declined to be interviewed.

While contemporary North Korean art is typically laden with a heavy message, the artworks showcased in the 798 art district leaves out traces of politics or propaganda. New collections of North Korean art will rotate through the gallery until in the coming months.

“We’ll show artworks on rotation,” Li said. “We’ll show different styles in the next collection.”

Additional Information:

1. The gallery is located in Beijing’s 798 district located here.

2. Pictures of the gallery and art can be seen here.

3. Nick Bonner has his collection on display in Beijing as well.  His new web page is hereHis old web page is here. Mr. Bonner recently showed some North Korean art in Australia.

4. Felix Abt offers pieces by artists at Pyongyang’s Paekho Art Studio here.

5. David Heather sells North Korean art here and here from the Mansudae Art Studio.

6. A separate web page claims to be the official site of the Mansudae Studio here.

7. The Mansudae Art Studio is located here.

8. Here is another page claiming to sell North Korean art.  It seems to be based in Germany.

9. Here are a couple of books on North Korean art: Art Under Control in North Korea, North Korean Posters

10. Here is a book review of North Korean Posters which offers additional information.


UNDP to resume DPRK operations in February 2010

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

According to Yonhap:

The U.N. development agency plans to restart its operations in North Korea in February after a two-year hiatus, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman at the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), told Voice of America that the remodeling of its Pyongyang office was completed in September and works are underway to install furniture and other equipment as well as to connect the Internet.

The office will become “fully operational” by the end of February, he said.

Currently, Jerome Sauvage, head of the UNDP’s Pyongyang office, and two other foreign staffers stay there, with two others due to arrive in Pyongyang in February, according to the spokesman. The UNDP has already recruited 13 North Korean employees, he added.

The UNDP launched development projects in the North in 1981 — including agricultural development, human resource development and economic reform programs. But it withdrew from Pyongyang in early 2007 after suspicions arose over the reclusive communist regime’s misappropriation of development funds.

On her visit to Seoul last month, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said that her agency will reopen the office “with a small program — around $2.5 million a year and a very small number of employees.”

The UNDP, meanwhile, shut down its office in Seoul earlier this month as South Korea has transformed itself from a recipient of international assistance to donor.

Read the full article here:
UNDP to resume operations in N. Korea in February


US Treasury Department issues advisory on DPRK’s Kumgang Bank

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

According to the US Treasury Department’s Press Release (h/t One Free Korea):

FinCEN Updated Advisory:
North Korea Government Agencies’ and Front Companies’ Involvement in
Illicit Financial Activities

VIENNA, Va. – The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today added an additional North Korean bank to its June 18 guidance to financial institutions regarding the involvement by Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“North Korea”) government agencies and front companies in illicit activities. Based on new publicly available information, Kumgang Bank has been added to the list of North Korean banks. This update amends the FinCEN issuance of FIN-2009-A002, on June 18, 2009.

As further described in the guidance, the U.N. Security Council has called for enhanced monitoring of financial transactions, to prevent the financing of North Korea’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and other weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”)-related programs or activities. The Security Council’s action, combined with the potential that North Korea will attempt to evade these financial measures, illustrates the increased risk that North Korea and North Korean entities, as well as individuals acting on their behalf, pose to the international financial system and financial institutions worldwide.

FIN-2009-A002 can be read here.

Links to previous posts on sanctioned DPRK organizations (US and UN) can be found here.


DPRK claims food output at 5 million tons

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea in late October informed the UN its food output this year was 5.01 million tons, it emerged on Tuesday. The yield included 2.34 million tons of rice, 1.7 million tons of corn, 560,000 tons of potatoes, 240,000 tons of wheat and barley and 150,000 tons of beans.

The figure represents an increase of 330,000 tons over the 4.68 million tons the North claimed last year. The original estimate was about 4 million tons.

North Korea’s rice harvest increased this year thanks to little harm from floods and droughts, according to North Korea sources. Corn output was poor due to cold-weather damage in the border region with China and Kangwon Province. “Kim Jong-il appears to have carried out the shock currency reform out of confidence that the food situation next year won’t be worse than expected,” speculated a source.

If it is not in urgent need of food aid, the North can afford to be tougher in its dealings with the South and the U.S. for the time being. But there is a chance that the North exaggerated the food output in a bid to demonstrate the success of a “150-day struggle” and a “100-day struggle” where people were swept off urban streets and forced into labor on the collective farms.

With 5.01 million tons of staples, the North would face little problem in feeding its population of 24 million for a year. Its late leader Kim Il-sung once said, “Daily food consumption is about 10,000 tons. If we had 5 million tons of grains a year, we would be able not only to dole out food rations but feed the people with sugar and candy.”

But the food shortage in the North arises not only from a chronic quantitative shortfall but also from uneven distribution and supply. The authorities place priority in food supply on the party and the military. The burgeoning merchant class can also manage. But the old, the weak and the urban poor, estimated at 10 to 20 percent of the population, are marginalized. “Organizations aiding North Korea also need to improve monitoring of distribution,” said a South Korean government official.

Meanwhile, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said the grain output North Korea informed it of in mid-November was 3.53 million tons. A source said this was because potatoes and beans, which are included in ordinary grain yield estimates, were omitted. “The aim may be to get the maximum possible food aid from the international community,” the source speculated.

Previous posts citing DPRK agriculture statistics can be found here.

Previous posts about the DPRK’s agriculture policies and outcomes can be found here.

Previous posts about the DPRK’s food situation can be found here.

Read the full article here:
N.Korea’s Claims Food Output of 5 Million Tons
Choson Ilbo


Farmers Receive First Cash Since 2004

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho

The North Korean authorities apparently started paying farmers as of the 16th, starting with Migok Collective Farm in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province.

In North Korea, the amount of work each farmer does is calculated and expressed in a numerical value, which is called “labor grade (노력공수).” After the harvest has been gathered, the state’s requirement is handed over, and then farmers are distributed food according to their labor grade, while surplus cash is also supposed to be distributed dependent upon a farmer’s labor grade and the profits of the farm as a whole.

Around the time of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure in 2002, cash was distributed in this way, but between 2005 and 2008 there was nothing.

For office and factory workers, payment began on the 17th at approximately the level of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure.

A source from South Pyongan Province reported to The Daily NK on the 23rd, “From the 16th, they started delivering cash to those farms which fulfilled the state’s grain production plan. For other farms, which could not accomplish the state’s plan, the authorities gave a subsidy.”

Since some collective farms have received an unusual amount of cash, it has become the talk of the town. In the case of the Migok Collective Farm in Sariwon, an average of 150,000 won per farmer was paid in cash.

Kim Jong Il conducted an onsite inspection of Migok Collective Farm in October, and it is considered a model case because it exceeded its state production target. Hence the unusually generous payments.

Farmers working for the Ryongyeon Collective Farm, which also achieved the state’s plan, got around 100,000 won each.

Despite this apparent state generosity, the source pointed out, “This cash distribution covered only those farms which accomplished state production targets. Since this year’s farming went sour, there are less than ten farms that achieved their targets across the whole country.”

Collective farms which failed to achieve the state’s goals got just 5,000 won per worker.

“This cash distribution seems to be just a one-off measure to straighten out the confusion after the redenomination and to soothe farmers,” the source also asserted.

Regardless, the cash will slow the entry of food into the markets, the source pointed out, saying, “This cash distribution and subsidies will make food circulation difficult in the short term.”

“When farmers do not hold any cash in their hands, their grain flows into the markets. For the time being farmers will not sell rice and food in the market because they have enough pocket money. It causes rising food prices.”

Additionally, the North Korean authorities still have not announced state prices since the redenomination, and they continue to heavily regulate the market. Therefore, food traders are watching the market situation without selling any food.

The logical market principle, that when harvested grain circulates in the market food prices go down, may therefore not hold true this year, and vulnerable classes’ will become more food insecure as a result.

However, the authorities are trying to assure farmers that there will be continuous measures to give them further benefits.

According to the source, “more benefits for farmers” implies a revised grain procurement policy.

He explained, “Until now, the authorities purchased rice for 20 won per kilogram from the farm and sold it for 45 won to the people. However, from now on, the procurement price will be 44 won and supply price to workers and the people will be 18-20 won.“