Archive for April, 2010

KPA Reconnaissance Bureau (Unit 586) located

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

UPDATE:  The Reconnaissance Bureau was recently reorganized.  Joeseph Bermudez has all the information on the reorganization.  Check it out here.

ORIGINAL POST: Kim Jong-il recently visited the Reconnaissance General Bureau (formerly Reconnaissance Bureau) which is assigned the military cover designation of 586 and is frequently known as 586th Army Unit.  The bueau was recently accused of ordering the assassination of Hwang Jang-yop (A claim the DPRK denies).  NK Leadership Watch has full video  of the visit, but here are some photos:



Today a  reader contacted me claiming to have located this facility on Google Earth.  I believe this person is correct. Here is the satellite image:


Click on the image for a larger version.  The coordinates are:  39° 6’28.45″N, 125°43’53.86″E.  You can see it in Wikimapia here.

The Korea Herald has more.

My congratulations to the reader for finding this one.


April 2010 DPRK Business Monthly

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Paul White has published the latest version of DPRK Business Monthly.

You can download the PDF here.

In this issue, Mr. White discusses:

Russian Firm to Connect Rajin with Transiberian Line
Two More Hydro Dams for Yalu River
Foundation Spurs Academic Exchanges with NK
NK-China Trade Tops US$300 Million
Indian Steelmaker in P’yang Talks
“Europe May Drop Ban on Air Koryo”
NK to Seize 5 ROK Kumgang Properties
Why the Sunshine Policy Made Sense
“NK Fish Exports to ROK Uninterrupted”
“North Korea Needs Practical IT Training”
Buddhists Seek Niche in DPRK Contacts
P’yang: “Black Propaganda” Aims to Check Investment
“NK to Make Own Mobile Phones”
NK Invents New Bearing Material
Computers Speed Iron Ore Transport
“NK to Allow Foreign-owned Factories”
Koryo Tours


More on Kim Jong-il’s court economy

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s youngest son and the heir apparent Kim Jong-un is already said to be busy amassing his own slush fund. Despite North Korea’s dire economic difficulties, Kim Jong-il himself is said to have stashed away between US$200-300 million every year to finance his lavish lifestyle and maintain the party elite’s loyalty to him.

With the money, North Korea would be able to import between 400,000 to 600,000 tons of rice, which would be enough to cover half the country’s food shortage of 1 million tons of rice per year.

Key departments within the Workers Party are pressuring agencies under their control to offer “loyalty funds” for the successor, a source familiar with North Korean affairs said. “A separate company has been established under the leadership of Kim Jong-un to secretly amass foreign currency.”

The source said Kim senior uses his slush fund to finance his expensive tastes, build monuments in his own honor and buy gifts for his loyal aides. Faced with increasing difficulties bolstering his slush funds under international sanctions, the Kim is said to have issued an ultimatum to his top officials in February, saying from now on he would judge their loyalty based on the amount they contribute to the fund.

The North is estimated to have imported more than $100 million worth of high-quality liquor, cars and other luxury goods in 2008. And also on the list are pet dogs, which the Kim family are said to adore. Kim buys dozens of German shepherds, Shih Tzus and other breeds from France and Switzerland every year. He also buys dog food, shampoo and other pet products as well as medical equipment for the dogs and has foreign veterinarians check their health.

Before nation founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday on April 15 this year, Kim imported around 200 high-end cars from China at a cost of some $5 million. A North Korean source said secret funds are also used to finance nuclear missile development and other state projects Kim Jong-il orders personally.

It is difficult to estimate the total amount of Kim’s slush fund. Experts can only guess that Kim has stashed huge sums of money in Swiss or Luxembourg bank accounts, as did other dictators like former president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos and ex-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The international press estimates Kim’s slush fund to be worth around $4 billion.

Kim started amassing his slush fund as soon as he was picked as the next leader of North Korea in 1974 to be able to buy the loyalty of top officials. A special department within North Korea’s Workers’ Party called Room 39 which manages Kim’s slush fund by collecting the loyalty funds, exporting local staples including pine mushrooms and operating stores in hotels. A large portion of the $100 million to $200 million North Korea makes each year from exporting weapons, producing counterfeit dollars, smuggling fake cigarettes and selling drugs are also put into Kim’s slush fund.

A North Korean source said a lot of the cash profits generated by the joint tourism business with South Korea end up inside Kim’s personal slush fund too, judging by the fact that Daesong Bank and Zokwang Trading, which do business with the South, are both controlled by Room 39.

Early this year, Kim appointed his high school friend Jon Il-chun to head Room 39. Jon was made the chief of a state development bank North Korea opened recently to lure foreign investment. A South Korean government official said there are suspicions that Kim is diverting some of the profits of the state development bank into his own slush fund as well.

Read the full story here:
How N.Korea’s Ruling Family Swells Its Private Coffers
Choson Ilbo


DPRK naval bases near Baengnyong Island

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

The South Korean naval ship Cheonan sank just south west of Baengnyong Island…


Click image for larger version.

Many now suspect that the DPRK was involved in the sinking.  The DPRK has rejected any involvement.

There are a number of DPRK naval facilities in the area.  Here are some satellite images of them:

Cho Island (Chodo)


Click the image for a larger version.  Coorinates: 38°30’15.42″N, 124°52’0.42″E. You can see it in Wikimapia here.

Sagon-ri Naval Base (probable)


Click image for larger version.  Coordinates: 37°49’20.55″N, 125°20’38.49″E. You can see it in Wikimapia here.

Ryongho Island: Dock and underground port


Click image for larger version.  Coordinates: 37°48’23.85″N, 125°21’3.36″E. You can see it in Wikimapia here.

Sunwi Island: Underground port


Click image for larger version.  Coordinates: 37°46’11.29″N, 125°20’3.26″E.  You can see it on Wikimapia here.

Haeju Naval Base


Click image for larger version.  Coordinates: 38° 0’0.89″N, 125°43’4.35″E.  You can see it on Wikimapia here.

Pipagot Naval Facility


Click for a larger version. Coordinates: 38°35’40.17″N, 124°58’38.49″E. You can see it on Wikimapia here.

Unnamed Naval Facility


Click image for larger version.  Coordinates: 37°54’32.24″N, 125°14’32.43″E. You can see it in Wikimapia here.

These were picked up by the South Korean media.


A request to Laura Ling and Euna Lee…

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Dear Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee,

I am very interested in mapping the locations you were held in the DPRK and the central court where you were tried.  If you are able to do so, please add this geographic information to your upcoming Current TV special, or feel free to drop me a message letting me know where these places are (or even your best guess).

I have been mapping North Korea on Google Earth for several years.  You can download an older version of the project on this web page.

Here is a satellite image of the building where you were brought to meet President Clinton.




NDC takes over Kumgang tours

Monday, April 26th, 2010

According to the Donga Ilbo:

North Korea seeks to directly handle tours to the Mount Kumgang area after forcing South Korea out of the venture, said a source on North Korean affairs yesterday.

Korea Taepung International Investment Group, an agency under the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, has reportedly recruited Chinese companies to help operate the tour since January this year.

The source said, “Negotiations have significantly progressed in certain aspects,” adding, “I understand the North Korean leadership is considering directly operating the Mount Kumgang tour by getting Taepung or an agency under the National Defense Commission to hire multiple Chinese companies as agencies after forcing the Hyundai Group out of Mount Kumgang and Kaesong.”

Another informed source said, “Since Taepung is an agency that holds overall authority over attracting investment for the North’s national development, the group is believed to be advising and supervising efforts to resume the Mount Kumgang tour as well.”

On this, a South Korean government source said, “Even if the North severs ties with Hyundai Asan Corp., complicated legal action will continue over the North’s violation of the contract,” adding, “No Chinese company will seek to serve as a comprehensive business operator, so the new plan appears to be the most practical alternative for North Korea.”

If Taepung or an agency under the defense commission starts to operate the tour directly, the tour program will likely be operated under a completely different system.

The tour’s South Korean operator, Hyundai Asan, has wielded comprehensive and monopolistic rights to the venture, but North Korea appears to have taken over as the operator, with multiple foreign companies taking part.

An agency under the North’s defense commission or military will likely step forward to operate the tour in lieu of Pyongyang’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee under the ruling Workers’ Party or the Landmark General Development Bureau under the North Korean Cabinet.

And according to Yonhap:

Dozens of South Korean business officials will visit North Korea this week to comply with Pyongyang’s demand that they be present when the communist state freezes their assets at a joint mountain resort, officials said Monday, amid fears of further confiscation.

North Korea already confiscated five South Korean government-run facilities, including a family reunion center and a fire station, at its Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast last week.

The move reflected Pyongyang’s anger over Seoul’s refusal to resume cross-border tours that were halted in 2008 after the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist by a North Korean guard near the resort.

North Korea insists it has done everything to explain the shooting and guarantee safety for future South Korean visitors. South Korea doubts the genuineness of the gestures, demanding an on-site probe participated in by its officials and tangible safety measures.

The tours earned millions of U.S. dollars for the sanctions-hit North Korean regime before they were suspended. The North Korean demand for their resumption comes as the isolated state struggles to curb its economic troubles that deepened under U.N. sanctions imposed for its two nuclear tests, the latest in May last year.

An official at Hyundai Asan, the chief South Korean operator of the now-suspended tours, said 40 people from 31 companies, including his own, applied for permits to visit North Korea on Tuesday.

The North last week demanded “real estate proprietors and agents” attend the implementation of its plan to freeze their assets, which include hotels, a golf course and a variety of shops.

Officials at the Unification Ministry in Seoul said they plan to grant the permits.

“It is our basic stance that we respect the decisions of the companies,” spokesman Chun Hae-sung said.

Dozens of South Korean firms possess 360 billion won (US$320 million) worth of real estate in the mountain tourist zone.

During a meeting with Hyundai Asan officials stationed at the resort Monday morning, North Korea did not specify which companies should attend the freeze this week, a ministry official here said.

“The North Korean authorities remained ambiguous,” the official said, declining to be identified. “That will leave the door open for anyone wanting to visit North Korea this week.”

South Koreans fear Pyongyang may be taking steps to confiscate more South Korean assets. The North seized the Seoul government-run facilities 10 days after freezing them and expelling personnel.

South Korea has pledged retaliatory measures without being specific. A senior Unification Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Monday the measures would be announced by early May.

South Korea also warned North Korea will be to blame for any further deterioration of relations between the divided states.

The Korea Herald speculates on how the South Korean government might retaliate:

The government is reportedly considering limiting the volume of agricultural and marine products from North Korea or tightening regulation of imports in other ways.

Certain North Korean items, such as sand, hard coal and mushrooms, already require the unification minister’s approval each time someone wants to bring them into the South. Seoul could expand the number of such items, making the import process more troublesome.

Currently, South Korean materials going into the joint industrial park in the North’s border town of Gaeseong and products rolled out from factories there account for more than 60 percent of inter-Korean trade.

Last month’s inter-Korean trade volume amounted to $202 million, 63 percent of which were goods going in and out of the Gaeseong park.

Since cross border tours to Mount Geumgang have been stalled, most of the remaining inter-Korean trade volume (35 percent) consists of agricultural and marine products.

Although the growth of inter-Korean trade has slowed under the Lee Myung-bak administration, South Korea is still the North’s second largest trading partner after China, according to the Unification Ministry.

Inter-Korean trade accounts for about 30 percent of the North’s trade with other countries, while China takes up about half.

The Seoul government could also further restrict nongovernmental aid to the North, which it has limited ever since Pyongyang launched a rocket in April last year.

It could also engage to the international community about the North’s “wrongful measures.”

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea to Directly Take Over Mt. Kumgang Tour
Donga Ilbo

S. Koreans to visit N. Korea as Pyongyang moves to freeze their assets
Sam Kim

Seoul may cut trade with N. Korea
Korea Herald
Kim So-hyun


WHO launches health initiative in DPRK

Monday, April 26th, 2010

UPDATE:  According to the Associated Press (Via Washinton Post):

North Korea formally launched a medical videoconference network Tuesday aimed at giving smaller, rural hospitals access to specialists in the capital Pyongyang with the help of the World Health Organization.

WHO has been providing cameras, computers and other equipment to North Korea to help the reclusive, impoverished country connect a main hospital in Pyongyang with medical facilities in 10 provinces. The system is designed to allow doctors to talk to each other to provide additional services to rural patients.

On Tuesday, North Korean health officials and visiting WHO Director-General Margaret Chan held the formal inaugural ceremony for the system at the Kim Man Yu hospital in Pyongyang, according to footage from broadcaster APTN.

“This is an excellent vision because it meets the needs of the government,” Chan said.

Chan, clad in a white gown, later tested the system by talking with provincial doctors via video link.

One unidentified doctor at Jagang province, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Pyongyang, told Chan he is satisfied with the system because it’s too far for his patients to visit specialists in the capital.

She arrived in Pyongyang on Monday, becoming the U.N. agency’s first chief to visit the communist country since 2001.

WHO opened its office in Pyongyang in 2001 and has coordinated the purchase of medical equipment and supplies for North Koreans. The world’s health body says on its Web site that it is currently focusing on strengthening the North’s health infrastructure.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Associated Press (via Taiwan News):

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan arrived in North Korea on Monday on a rare visit to the isolated country.

The U.N. body has said Chan will spend two days in the reclusive communist country _ the first chief to go since 2001 _ to tour health facilities and meet the country’s health minister.

The WHO has not provided details of Chan’s itinerary, but the Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch that Chan arrived in Pyongyang on Monday.

The dispatch said the government held a reception for Chan, who arrived the same day as Red Cross and Red Crescent officials. It was not clear if the visits were connected.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside assistance to feed much of its population since a famine believed to have killed as many as 2 million people in the 1990s.

Malnutrition, dysentery, and vitamin and iodine deficiency are believed to pose serious risks among children in the country, which also faces a shortfall of hospitals and lacks an efficient state health care system.

Read the full stories here:
WHO chief arrives in North Korea on rare visit
Associate Press (Taiwan Times)

NKorea launches telemedicine network with WHO help
Associated Press (via Washinton Post)
Kim Hyung-Jin


Waste management in the DPRK

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

UPDATE: Lots of additional helpful information in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

ORIGINAL POST: It is not glamorous, but it is interesting–and largely unexplored.

In all the time I have spent visiting or investigating the DPRK I have been curious about how they handle waste management and sanitation.  There is not much written on the subject (other than periodic reports that people collect their solid waste for fertilizer, or that school kids were sent out to collect it during the Arduous March), so I thought I would kick off a discussion about the topic and if any readers can point out more information, I would appreciate it.

Where does the garbage go?
On my second trip to the DPRK, I saw a garbage incinerator next to the Moranbong Middle School.


Click on the image above for a larger version.  The garbage incinerator is in the lower left corner. A satellite image showing its location is here. It is awkwardly placed next to the school and a children’s playground, and it is probably for use by residents of the nearby apartment block.  Maybe this is under the control of the building inminban.  After seeing it, however, I assumed that residents of Pyongyang simply burned their trash in similar facilities all across the city—but I never saw another incinerator in Pyongyang or any other city I visited. Later I was told by some defectors that garbage was collected (for some anyway–I don’t have any details) and that garbage is buried in actual landfills.  Since the DPRK is a poor country, we can expect the level of garbage to be lower than in neighboring countries, but in all the thousands of hours I have spent looking at North Korea on Google Earth, I never saw an easily identifiable landfill…until March of this year.  Below is both the largest (and only) landfill I have identified in the DPRK:


The coordinates are  37°57’12.80″N, 125°21’36.11″E in Ongjin (South West).  It is approximately 33 meters in diameter at its widest point.  There is no telling what is in there or how well it is sealed off from the local water table.  If any former residents of Ongjin happen to see this post and can fill in the details, please let me know.

One highly-qualified reader asserts that there is no way this could be a landfill, but has no idea what it could be.  If anyone else has a hypothesis about this location, please let me know.

Sewage Investments:
I have also been cataloging sewage and water treatment facilities across the DPRK.  Not surprisingly, there are few to be found.  The largest facility, however seems to be under construction north of Pyongyang.  It has been under construction since approximately August 2005 and it is still not complete.  It is located at  39° 7’6.80″N, 125°46’20.87″E, and here are some photos of its development:




Thanks to a tip from Michael we can also see the crumbling of the Phyongchon District (Pyongyang) sewage plant:



Kuwait was reported to be lending the DPRK $21m to update its water and sewage facilities. The indispensable Stalin Search engine has more on Kuwait and the DPRK.

So if anyone knows of any papers, etc. on sanitation in the DPRK, please let me know.


Seoul denounced seizing of ROK assets at Kumgang

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

South Korea denounced North Korea’s decision Friday to seize five South Korean facilities at a mountain resort on its soil and warned that Pyongyang will be held responsible for the deterioration of inter-Korean relations.

“It is an illegal and unreasonable measure that undermines the very foundation of the South-North relations,” a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement after Pyongyang said it will seize the South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang.

“The North has proven itself to be an unfit partner for normal business and transactions,” it said.

North Korea also said other non-state South Korean assets at Mount Kumgang will be frozen, and that all employees from the South at the resort will be expelled. The measures were seen as aimed at pressuring Seoul to resume the suspended mountain tour program that had been a source of foreign currency for Pyongyang.

Seoul said it will take “strong measures” against the North. It did not elaborate.

“We cannot accept the (North’s) measures, as they are in violation of contracts between North Korea and our businesses, agreements between the governments and of international laws. It is an unjust step that undermines the very foundation of South-North relations,” a ministry official told reporters.

The North’s move came at the end of a two-day inspection by North Korean military officials of the mountain resort, where dozens of South Korean businesses and private investors own various facilities that are part of the suspended tourism program.

The five facilities to be seized include a family reunion center, funded and owned by Seoul’s National Red Cross, as well as a fire station and a duty free shop. They also include a cultural center and a hot spring resort, both owned by Seoul’s Korea Tourism Organization.

Pyongyang froze the assets, worth some 124 billion won (US$112 million), on April 13 after an on-site inspection by its officials late last month. The latest inspection ended Friday.

“First, we will confiscate all five assets of the South Korean authorities that have already been frozen in compensation for our loss due to the long suspension of the tour,” an unidentified spokesman for the General Guidance Bureau for the Development of Scenic Spots said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The once lucrative tourism program for the impoverished North was suspended in July 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard near a restricted area. Nearly 2 million South Koreans had visited the mountain resort since the tours began in 1998.

“The confiscated real estate will be put into the possession of the DPRK or handed over to new businessmen according to legal procedures,” the statement said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North said early last month that it will restart the tourism program with a new business partner unless Seoul agreed to resume the tours before the end of April.

“The situation has reached such an extreme phase that it is at the crossroads of a war or peace, much less thinking of the resumption of the tour. It is quite natural that we can no longer show generosity and tolerance to the south side under this situation,” the statement said.

Friday’s measure also included freezing of all assets owned by over 30 South Korean businesses and private investors.

Hyundai Asan, the main South Korean developer of the joint mountain resort, urged the North to withdraw its decision and the governments of the two Koreas to resolve the issue through dialogue.

“The road to Mount Kumgang must not be severed as the tours greatly helped promote cooperation and reconciliation between the South and the North and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the business group said in a statement.

“We also urge our government to actively seek a solution to the current situation, as the joint economic cooperation project of the South and the North, as well as properties of businesses that invested in Mount Kumgang, now sit on the verge of a breakdown,” the statement said.

Read the full story here:
Seoul denounces N. Korea’s seizure of assets at Mount Kumgang
Byun Duk-kun


Chinese tourist train makes first DPRK tour

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

According to the Press Trust of India:

A Chinese tourist train entered North Korea for the first time today, carrying more than 400 passengers including a group of Finnish students, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

The train embarked on the four-day tour from the Chinese province of Liaoning under a new arrangement with North Korea expected to attract tens of thousands of tourists, the agency reported from the provincial capital Shenyang.

The first train is mostly carrying tourists from China but also includes foreigners living in China, notably the Finns, resident in Guangzhou.

The tour comes amid heightened tensions between reclusive North Korea and South Korea, as Seoul has appeared increasingly suspicious that the North was behind the sinking of one of its naval ships last month.

It also follows reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il plans to visit China soon.

Read the full story here:
Chinese tourist train makes first North Korea tour
Press Trust of India