Archive for July, 2011

Garland fights extradition to US

Monday, July 18th, 2011

It has been a couple of years since we heard from Sean Garland, but the Irish Times reports that the alleged purveyor of alleged North Korean “supernotes” is fighting his exztradition to the US at Ireland’s high court.  According to the story:

A veteran republican handed over almost $250,000 in Russian hotels in an international plot to spread the notes across Europe, a court heard.

Authorities in the US have accused Sean Garland of being the ringleader of a massive forgery racket that distributed the top grade counterfeit $100 bills.

The former IRA leader is fighting his extradition to the US at the High Court in Dublin, which heard Garland met a co-conspirator twice in Moscow with the fake cash.

Garland, 77, also the ex-president of the Workers’ Party of Ireland, denies the allegations.

In an affidavit to the court, Brenda Johnson, assistant US attorney, said: “This case involved a long-standing and large-scale supernotes distribution network (the Garland organisation) based in the Republic of Ireland and headed by Sean Garland, a senior officer in the Irish Workers’ Party.”

The US Secret Service (USSS) discovered the ‘supernotes’ were sourced in the Democratic Republic of North Korea, she said, and were transported around the world by North Korean officials travelling under diplomatic cover.

They also allege Garland and six co-conspirators used couriers to transport supernotes and payments to avoid detection themselves.

The international probe, which also involved the UK’s National Crime Squad (NCS) – now the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) – and the interior ministry of Russia (MVD), found the high-grade counterfeit bills were in worldwide circulation from the late 1980s until at least July 2000.

Ms Johnson alleged one of Garland’s alleged co-conspirators, Hugh Todd, later told investigators he purchased more than $250,000 of supernotes from “the Garland organisation” which were redistributed into the world economy through currency exchanges across Europe.

He maintained he first met the Irishman in the Radisson Hotel in Moscow in April 1998, where Mr Garland emptied a leather bag packed with approximately 80,000 dollars of counterfeit US notes on to a bed for $30,000 in genuine notes.

Two months later, the pair met in the Savoy Hotel in Moscow, where between $160,000 and $180,000 of counterfeit US currency was handed over, it is claimed.

Records with Scandinavian Airlines prove Mr Garland was in Russia on both occasions, she added.
An undercover NCS officer infiltrated the group in 1999 and met with members in several pubs and hotels around Birmingham, where they discussed the counterfeit notes and how their boss ’Sean’ sourced them in Russia.

Ms Johnson’s affidavit states Garland knew the Federal Reserve notes were counterfeit, that he travelled circuitous routes and met with other conspirators to discuss the supernotes operation and engage in transactions.

“Some members who were apprehended in possession of or passing notes have admitted that Garland was the source and leader of an illegal supernote distribution organisation and that (Christopher) Corcoran was his direct contact, communicator and negotiator,” she said.

“Their statements are substantiated by documentary evidence, physical and electronic surveillance and other witness accounts.”

Garland, of Beldonstown, Brownstown, Navan, Co Meath, was a former IRA leader in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was a key figure in securing the official IRA ceasefire of May 1972.

He was initially arrested by the PSNI on foot of an extradition warrant by the US authorities in October 2005 at the Workers’ Party annual conference in Belfast. He fled to the South when released on bail.

He was later arrested outside the Workers’ Party in Dublin in January 2009 and released on strict bail conditions, which included surrendering the title deeds to his family home.

Barristers for Garland maintained the pensioner should not be extradited as the alleged offence happened in Ireland and was based on hearsay.

Michael Forde, senior counsel, argued his client had been accused of a complex, sophisticated trans-national conspiracy, but that the charge fell under Ireland’s own forgery or money-laundering laws.

“The rationale is very simple,” said Mr Forde. “If the offence was committed against Irish law, and a substantial part committed in the State, then the State should prosecute.”

His legal team also argued Garland’s fundamental rights have been infringed, that there had been a delay is making the second extradition order and that the extradition was connected with a political offence.

Mr Forde also claimed the application was hearsay based on hearsay and had not established a prima facie case.

“The question this court has to ask itself is there enough admissible evidence here to justify putting Mr Garland on trial,” he added.

The extradition hearing before Mr Justice John Edwards is listed for four days.

Stories related to the DPRK’s alleged counterfieting activites can be found here.

Read the full story here:
Ex-IRA man Garland ‘led fake dollars plot’, court told
Irish Examiner


Kim Jong il’s visit to KPA Unit 963

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): KPA Unit 963 (Escort Bureau/Guard Command) in Pyongyang.  See in Google Maps here.

On July 14th, KCNA reported that Kim Jong-il visited the command of KPA Unit 963.   According to the Daily NK:

Kim Jong Il has conducted an onsite inspection at No. 963 Base of the Chosun People’s Army, Chosun Central News Agency reported this morning. No. 963 Base is operated by Escort Command, the unit charged with overseeing the safety of the Kim family.

Taking in the base’s revolutionary history museum, Kim is said to have proclaimed, “This army base repelled the united imperialist factions including America, carrying out the noble mission and duty of the Fatherland Liberation War. The personnel from this base are keeping alive this proud tradition, and will surely be known in future too for the splendor of protecting the fatherland with one hundred wins in one hundred battles.”

Kim also expressed his great satisfaction at the work of the officers in command of the base, commending their readiness to carry out their duty on the battlefield with superior strategic and command abilities.

The report also went on to explain, “This base has inherited the bright tradition of defending the Suryeong with their lives pioneered in the forests of Mt. Baekdu and our revolutionary chronicles, has defended the Party and Suryeong and in the process turned out dozens of distinguished individuals, including 72 heroes of labor and 28 heroes of the Republic.

Kim was accompanied on the inspection by son Kim Jong Eun, Jang Sung Taek and another member of the Party Central Military Commission, Kim Kyung Ok.

According to Joseph Bermudez (The Armed Forces of North Korea):

The State Security Department and the Guard Command are the agencies most directly responsible for the security of Kim Chong-il and only he is reportedly exempt from their scrutiny. (p 199)

This compound recently acquired a new facility (probably the focus of the visit):

Additional information:
1. Here, here, and here is some additional information on the Escort Bureau (Guard Command).

2. Kim Jong-il’s military related visits this year: On February 2 Kim Jong-il visited KPA Unit 6556 and the Jongsong Combined Medical Institute of the Korean People’s ArmyOn March 16th he visited a factory under KPA Navy Unit 597. On May 4th he visited an undisclosed new KPA Sports Complex (This could possibly be at Kim Jong-il Political Military University which recently received a similar new facility).  Kim Jong-il also attended KPA cultural events on February 2, February 9, March 13, April 15, April 22, June 10, July 1, and July 2.

These are not his only military-related public appearances since he has also visited several factories suspected of being dual-use complexes, including the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex, Kanggye General Tractor Plant, Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, and the January 18 General Machinery Plant.


DPRK reports flood damage

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

UPDATE: Martyn Williams notes how the DPRK has been caught photo shopping news pictures which portray flood damage. They have done similar work before (and maybe here too).

What a great way to begin a business relationship!


Pictured above (Google Earth): Counties reported flooded by the DPRK

According to KCNA (July 16):

Heavy rains hit different parts of the DPRK from July 12 to 15, causing damage.

Hard hit were North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Hamgyong Province.

Rainfall registered more than 250 mm in all parts of South Hwanghae Province.

The downpour left at least 15,000 hectares of farmland inundated, taking the province as a whole. 10,000 hectares of them completely went under water and a lot of dwelling houses, public buildings and roads were destroyed.

More than 3,000 hectares of paddy and non-paddy fields were submerged or brought under silt in Chongdan County. Haeju City, Thaethan, Ongjin, Pyoksong, Jaeryong and Sinchon counties were also hit hard by torrential rain.

Several dykes were destroyed and at least 5,900 hectares of paddy and non-paddy fields were inundated or brought under silt in North Hwanghae Province.

Heavy rains caused damage to some parts of South Hamgyong Province.

Torrential rain hit Hamhung City on Thursday and Friday, leaving dwelling houses destroyed and causing casualties. It also left hundreds of hectares of farmland completely inundated and roads destroyed to bring traffic to suspension.

Steps are being taken to recover from the damage in the afflicted areas.


Kaesong wages set to increase (2011)

Friday, July 15th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-10): Wages of North Korean workers in Kaesong Industrial Complex set to rise 5% for the fifth consecutive year. According to the Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES):

The minimum wage for North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) has risen annually at a rate of 5 percent since 2007. The year 2011 stands to mark the fifth consecutive year that such an increase has occurred.

Recently, the steering committee for the KIC and South Korean and North Korean authorities reached an agreement to accept a 5 percent wage hike for North Korean workers at the complex. Accordingly, as of August 1, 2011, North Korean workers at the KIC should earn USD 63.814 rather than USD 60.775 in monthly wages. South Korean authorities, as an exchange for accepting the North Korean demand for a wage increase, requested that productivity be elevated via the adoption of a more efficient method of worker placement.

At the meeting, the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, representatives of companies in the complex, and the head of corporations were in attendance and reached an agreement to form a task force specifically for the improvement of productivity of workers. While the overall output of the KIC has increased, the output per worker has not improved, leading to the decision to establish the task force, with the goal of enhancing the competitiveness of the complex.

The minimum monthly income of USD 60.775, which kicked in last August, remained in effect until July 31 of this year. The Labor Law of the KIC caps the wage increase at 5 percent; a 5 percent increase to the minimum wage this year would elevate the minimum monthly wage for workers to USD 63.814.

At the meeting, North Korea mentioned international wage levels and made demands for a wage hike of more than the upper limit. However, most of the companies that operate in the KIC adamantly oppose such demands.

Despite the May 24 sanctions implemented by the South Korean government after the March 2010 sinking of the ROK navy corvette Cheonan, the growth of the KIC has continued. The trade volume has increased by 24.23 percent while the production output has increased by 26.1 percent compared to the same period last year.

Although the eight-year old Kaesong Industrial Complex boasts its competitiveness against other industrial complexes in China and Vietnam, it still has many challenges that must be resolved, including employment flexibility and incentive system.

From the institutional perspective, there are many tax benefits that Kaesong offers that industrial complexes in China and Vietnam do not. For example, the enterprise profit tax in Kaesong is at 14 percent. In contrast, China and Vietnam abolished the preferential treatment for foreign companies in 2008 and 2009, respectively; they currently apply a 25 percent of enterprise profit tax to both domestic and foreign companies. Even in terms of labor and wages, the KIC would appear to offer better quality of labor. In addition, the labor productivity of the KIC is comparable to 71 percent of South Korea, which is much higher than that of China’s Qingdao Industrial Complex (60 percent) and Vietnam’s Tanttueon Industrial Complex (40 percent).

Another advantage is the KIC’s favorable geographical proximity to South Korea, which helps reduce distribution costs and time. This advantage helps to reinforce the sales competiveness of the companies in the complex. In addition, the KIC has sufficient potential for expansion into markets in China, and domestic markets in South and North Korea.

On the other hand, Kaesong has relatively low flexibility of employment due to the principle of indirect recruitment. Difficulties in applying an incentive system are also a disadvantage of the KIC.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-7-15): Kaesong wages set to increase. According to Yonhap:

The minimum wage for workers at the inter-Korean industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong is likely to rise 5 percent this year, the same annual rate of increase since 2007, industry sources said Friday.

More than 46,000 North Koreans work at about 120 South Korean firms operating in the complex, despite the South’s suspension of all other economic ties with the North over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship last year. The local workers currently earn a minimum monthly income of US$60.775 following a 5 percent increase that took effect last August.

This year’s new minimum rate goes into effect next month after negotiations between the factory park’s management officials from the two sides. Under the park’s labor regulations, the minimum wage can increase only up to 5 percent from the previous year.

“The North Koreans are demanding an increase of more than the upper limit (of 5 percent), citing wage levels in other parts of the world,” said an official from one of the South Korean firms in Kaesong. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“In effect, this is equivalent to demanding a wage rise of 5 percent,” the official said, adding that the businesses operating in the joint industrial park had tentatively agreed to accept the demand. After the increase, the North Korean workers will earn $63.814 monthly.

Meanwhile, production at the industrial zone has continued to grow, according to recent data. The park’s output of clothes, utensils, watches and other goods rose 26.1 percent last year from 2009. Since its opening in 2004 under former liberal South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, the complex has served as a source of tens of millions of dollars for the cash-strapped North annually.

Read the full story here:
Minimum wage for N. Koreans in Kaesong likely to rise 5 pct


Kaesong zone continues to undermine official DPRK narratives

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): Two official marketplaces in Kaesong highlighted in yellow.  South Korean treats are popular in these markets.

According to the Daily NK:

Shin Ramen (a brand of instant noodles), Choco-pies and coffee mix, the snacks offered to Kaesong Industrial Complex workers, leak out and are now very popular in the jangmadang in Kaesong, according to sources.

The news was revealed by a South Korea government official and a staff member from an enterprise in the Kaesong Complex on the 15th.

North Korean workers often ask their employers for Shin Ramen uncooked and packed so that they can sell it in the jangmadang to augment their wages, according to the Ministry of Unification.

One staff member from a company stationed in the Kaesong Industrial Complex explained, “The time when the North Korean workers are given Shin Ramen, Choco-pies and coffee mix is the time they look forward to the most.”

“I am aware that North Korean workers take the several ramen given to them at snack times or when doing evening overtime back into North Korea,” he added. “They sell the ramen they take for roughly the same price as a kilo of rice. But it is not just Shin Ramen; Choco-pies are very popular with the North Korean workers, and they also use Shin Ramen soup as a seasoning at home.”

Kaesong Industrial Complex companies are known to get assistance from domestic companies, so pay less than market price for the Shin Ramen and other snacks that they offer to workers.

The company staff member said he saw the situation in a positive light, explaining,, “There have been almost no inter-Korean exchanges of late, so in this situation the Shin Ramen and Choco-pies and other things offered by enterprises provide a link between the North Korean people and South Korea. If the workers take the Korean-made products and sell them in the jangmadang then not just the workers but also the North Korean people get to know about South Korea.”

Unfortunately, meanwhile, although workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex receive a wage of approximately $100/month, they are not free to keep it. 30% is taken by the North Korean authorities in the form of a ‘Socialist Culture Policy Tax’, and other costs are extracted as well. Therefore, the take-home pay is around $30/month, although even this is not paid in cash but in the form of an exchange coupon.

A Ministry of Unification explained one part of that system, saying, “Most of the money and other things that come from the South go to the central North Korean authorities, but a proportion goes to Kaesong city authorities. That money which goes to Kaesong City is meant to be for the purpose of buying rice for distribution to the local people.”

There are now approximately 46,000 North Korean workers in the Kaesong Complex, and complex operations are, as such, a $4.6 million monthly subsidy for the North Korean authorities.

Despite the measures put in place by the South Korean government following last year’s Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island incidents, the number of workers earning money in Kaesong has continued to expand. According to the Ministry of Unification, at the end of February there were 46,420 workers, an 11% increase on one year previously. Earnings have also risen significantly in the same period.

Donald Kirk was the first (of whom I am aware) to write about the subversive nature of Choco Pies back in May 2009.

Read the full story here:
Shin Ramen Popular in Kaesong Jangmadang
Daily NK
Kim Yong-hun


Lankov pessimistic on the DPRKs SEZs

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth) is the electrified fence around the Rason special economic zone.

Lankov writes in the East Asia Forum:

SEZs are acceptable to the North Korean government because they are relatively easy to control. North Korean SEZs have been fenced off with barbed wire and all visitors have had their IDs carefully studied at checkpoints.

The North Korean government obviously hopes that small areas of controlled capitalism will generate enough income to make a difference — or at least to keep afloat the long-decaying economy.

Similar SEZs with China to those recently declared have been attempted before. At Raseon a major problem was its isolated location and underdeveloped transport infrastructure, even by meagre North Korean standards. At Sinuiju there were numerous problems. One was North Korea’s choice of the Chinese entrepreneur Yang Bin to lead the project as he wanted to transform the city into a gambling centre, a Macau of the North. This was not welcomed by the Chinese government. Also, it did not help that the North Koreans, following their modus operandi, did not bother to liaise with the Chinese beforehand.

The success of KIZ might seem encouraging, but it is actually a very special case. It is viable because the South Korean government is willing to go to great lengths to support it. It has subsidised industrial development and has provided adventurous developers and companies with generous subsidies and guarantees that made the entire undertaking possible. This willingness is driven by a multitude of political considerations. Frankly, it is doubtful whether the Chinese side would be equally interested in subsidising a similar undertaking by Chinese companies in Sinuiju.

What will happen to these two planned new SEZs? The fate of Raseon seems pretty certain. Available evidence indicates it is largely about transportation links. Chinese Manchuria is landlocked, so Chinese companies will save a small fortune on transportation costs if they are given access to a seaport on the Eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. If this is what happens in Raseon, it has a relatively bright future.

The future of the Hwanggumpyong SEZ is far less certain. Obviously Chinese businesses want to do there what their South Korean counterparts did in Kaesong, take advantage of low labour costs in North Korea. Even though Chinese labour is cheap, North Korean labour is much cheaper still, since US$15-20 a month would be seen by the average North Korean worker as a good wage. For the same labour, they would have to pay a Chinese worker between US$100 and US$150 a month.

But that said, the business reputation of North Korean managers leaves much to be desired. They are likely to intervene in operations − partially as a way to extort bribes, but largely because they will worry about excessive exposure of their population to dangerous Chinese influences. South Korean businesses in Kaesong accept such interference, but they are backed by the South Korean government. It remains to be seen whether the same situation will develop in a Chinese-led zone.

Previous posts on the Sinuiju (including Waudo and Hwangumphyong) can be fond here.

Previous posts on Rason (Rajin-Sonbong) can be found here.

Read the full story here:
North Korea-China special economic zones
East Asia Forum
Andrei Lankov


US Census forecast of DPRK population

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is expected to become larger and older in 40 years with its population growing at a slower pace, data showed Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Korea’s population is estimated to rise 10 percent by 2050 to 26.96 million from this year’s 24.45 million.

The census bureau also projected that South Korea’s population will decrease 11 percent from 48.75 million last year to 43.37 million in 2050.

North Korea’s population has been on a steady increase since 1995, when it totaled 22.11 million, and the trend is likely to continue into 2050, the bureau said.

The population growth rate, however, is forecast to dwindle from 0.5 percent this year to a negative growth of 0.1 percent in 40 years, the data showed.

The slower rate of population growth will bring down the North’s ranking worldwide in 2050 to 64th among 228 countries. It ranked 48th this year, according to the agency.

North Korea’s birthrate is forecast to drop to 1.7 in 2050 from 2.0 in 2011, while its life expectancy is estimated to increase to 78 in 2050 from this year’s 69, indicating North Korea will face an aging society.

The agency did not mention what exactly would attribute to such changes in the country’s demographics, but said on its Web site that the estimates were based on the census each country conducted while also taking into account political and social variables alongside specific factors such as natural disasters.

A separate U.N. report published last year found that North Korea’s population is to increase by 600,000 to 24.6 million in 2050.

Information on the DPRK’s last census can be found here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s population expected to rise to 27 mln by 2050


France to open Pyongyang office (Take 2)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

UPDATE 2 (2011-7-15): Adam Cathcard provides additional data in the comments.

UPDATE 1 (2011-7-12): Over a year after first making the announcement, France reiterates that it is opening an office in the DPRK.  According to the AFP:

France will open a cooperation bureau in North Korea, Le Monde newspaper said Tuesday, but underscored that Paris was not launching diplomatic relations with the reclusive Stalinist state.

A senior French diplomat is currently in Pyongyang where he “will present to the North Koreans” the future French representative, the daily said, identifying him as Olivier Vaysset, a diplomat who has worked in Singapore.

“The opening of this office does not signify that France is opening as such diplomatic relations with this totalitarian country,” it said but added that it could serve as a “diplomatic intermediary.”

The proposed office will handle cultural cooperation, it said.

The French embassy in Seoul declined comment on the report, saying any comment would have to come from Paris.

The then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in March last year his country would not establish diplomatic relations with the North but would open an office to support non-governmental groups.

“We are not going to open an embassy, certainly not,” Kouchner told a news conference in Tokyo. “Open an office, yes, in order to help the NGOs there.”

France is the only major European Union member that does not have diplomatic ties with the communist state.

Paris has argued that the human rights situation must improve and has cited concerns over nuclear proliferation.

French special envoy to Pyongyang, Jack Lang, visited the North in November 2009. He said afterwards that France had offered to forge permanent cultural links with North Korea but not full diplomatic ties.

The French move comes as ties between North and South Korea are at their lowest ebb after Seoul accused Pyongyang of torpedoing a warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors.

Original Post (2010-3-18): According to the AFP:

France will not open diplomatic relations with North Korea but plans to establish an office there to support non-governmental groups, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Thursday.

‘We are not going to open an embassy, certainly not,’ Kouchner said at a press conference in Tokyo. ‘Open an office, yes, in order to help the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) there.’

France is the only European Union country other than Latvia that does not have diplomatic ties with the communist state.

Paris has argued that the human rights situation in North Korea must improve and has cited concerns over nuclear proliferation.

In December the French special envoy to Pyongyang, Jack Lang, said France had offered to forge permanent cultural links with North Korea but not full diplomatic ties, hoping to pressure it on the nuclear issue.

‘Our proposal… is to open a permanent structure of cooperation with North Korea – humanitarian, cultural and linguistic cooperation,’ Lang told a hearing of members of the French parliament at the time.

Kouchner, asked to clarify the French position during his Japan visit, said that ‘we are not rewarding them at all in opening an office’ that would support French NGOs working in the isolated country.

Additional Information:

1. Kim Jong-il’s neice committed suicide in Paris.

2. The Kim family is fond of French doctors.

Read the full story here:
France rules out opening embassy in N.Korea
Associated Free Press


Are the DPRK’s universities closed?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

UPDATE 2 (2011-9-2): According to KBS:

The Voice of America (VOA) reported Friday that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has confirmed that North Korean universities were ordered to suspend studies.

In a report on North Korea covering the first half of 2011, the International Red Cross said that all universities in the Communist nation had been on leave since June to work on construction sites in regions including Pyongyang. The report said the enforced leave of absence will likely continue into April next year during the centennial celebration of the birth of late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

VOA said the report appears to have been confirmed by a North Korean authority, as it contained the contact number of a North Korean Red Cross official.

UPDATE 1 (2011-7-11): According to the Daily NK:

Large numbers of additional soldiers and students have been mobilized to try and address the slipping schedule for the construction of 100,000 homes in Pyongyang by 2012, with universities in the capital and some bigger local universities having received a ‘socialist construction mobilization order’ in mid-June.

A Pyongyang source, explaining the situation today, said, “I know that students from universities in Pyongyang like Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology have been sent to the construction of 100,000 houses. I hear that they will be at the construction site for at least two months or more.”

The mobilization could easily be extended depending on the status of the construction project, he further added.

Another source from North Hamkyung Province reported similar news on the 7th, saying, “Since July, juniors and seniors from No. 1 and 2 Colleges of Education in Chongjin have been mobilized for construction projects under the ‘socialist construction mobilization order,’” and confirming that the students have been sent to Pyongyang.

He went on, “I hear that the center (meaning Party central authorities) notified each university of the number of people required for the Pyongyang construction work. Accordingly, each university selected a certain number of students and sent them to Pyongyang.”

However, the order does not appear to amount to a full, nationwide shutdown of universities. For example, certainly some universities in Yangkang Province have evaded the mobilization order. One college student living in Hyesan, the provincial capital said, “There has been no ‘socialist construction mobilization order’ handed down. We are going on summer vacation in late July.”

Mobilized personnel are reportedly working primarily on construction in neighborhoods where major public works idolizing the Kim family are to be found.

The Pyongyang source reported, “Construction of houses in Changjeon Street, where the Suryeong’s statue is, started in early May. Soldiers have been mobilized to this construction site in large numbers; even some previously involved in construction in the Hyeongjesan district have been in that region for about a week.”

He added, “Equally, the Mansudae region (Kim Il Sung’s birth place) is another place where ‘construction must be completed even if it is not completed elsewhere’, so they have mobilized people from construction sites in other regions.”

According to sources, the pace of construction in those places where soldiers have been mobilized is markedly quicker than elsewhere, although interior construction remains problematic because it calls for special materials.

One source reported, “In Seopo and Hadang 2-dong, where there are soldiers, buildings have already been erected, so people can move in there in August. However, the interiors have not been completed, so people don’t actually want to move in.”

However, on those sites staffed by people from enterprises, events are characterized by a lack of basic materials and the siphoning off of what is available.

The source said, “They are short of materials, while individuals are selling off existing materials and cement to buy rice because the authorities are not providing them with any support. Of the construction overseen by enterprise work units, almost none have been erected. In Hyeongjesan district, with the exception of those sites for which soldiers are responsible, they have only erected the bottom floor.”

According to one source, on April 1st the National Defense Commission ordered, “Complete the construction of 100,000 homes by April 15th, 2012 and get people to move into the new homes without condition.”

However, reports suggest widespread skepticism of this, with one source saying, “According to rumors, there was even a threat, ‘Those in charge of construction who cannot complete it must prepare to leave their posts.’ However, there are many people saying that the 100,000 houses won’t even be done by 2017.”

See more on the priority construction projects here.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-6-30): According to the University World News (thanks to a reader):

Close watchers of North Korean affairs were caught on the hop this week by reports that universities in the hermit kingdom would be closed from 27 June for up to 10 months while students are sent to work on farms, in factories and in construction.

Diplomats in Pyongyang confirmed that students were being drafted into manual labour on the outskirts of the city until April next year to prepare for major celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the late leader Kim Il Sung’s birthday. But they said this did not mean the closure of universities.

Reports originating in South Korea and Japan suggested that the Pyongyang government had ordered universities to cancel classes until April next year, exempting only students graduating in the next few months and foreign students.

The reports said the students would be put to work on construction projects in major cities and on other works in a bid to rebuild the economy. This could indicate that the country’s food crisis and economic problems are worse than previously thought.

Experts on North Korea said full-scale university closures would be unprecedented. However, it was not unusual for students to be engaged in manual labour, with the academic year sometimes shortened in order to send students onto farms and construction sites.

Peter Hughes, British Ambassador to North Korea, told University World News by email from Pyongyang: “There has been no official announcement in DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] about university students being sent to carry out manual labour for the next 10 months, but I can confirm that students from all the universities in Pyongyang have been mobilised to work at construction sites in the outskirts of the city until April 2012.

“Some two years ago the DPRK announced that it would build 200,000 units of accommodation in the city to ease the chronic housing shortage. To date only some 10,000 units have been built, so the students have been taken out of universities in order to speed up the construction of the balance before major celebrations take place in April 2012 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung.”

Universities are not closed as lecturers and postgraduate and foreign students remain on campuses, Hughes said on Thursday.

“The UK has an English language teacher training programme at three universities in Pyongyang. The mobilisation of the students should not affect this programme as the majority of activity is focused upon teacher development and not teaching students.”

Charles Armstrong, Director of the Centre for Korea Research at Columbia University who returned from Pyongyang earlier last week, said he had visited two state-run universities, Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, as well as the private Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in the last few weeks.

At the two public universities the vast majority of students were not present, Armstrong told University World News. “It is also a very busy time for rice transplanting and you see a lot of young people in the fields.”

However, students were studying as normal at PUST, a postgraduate institution funded by Korean-American and South Korean philanthropists that teaches mainly engineering.

“It is very hard to get information in and out of the country and there may be some confusion because every summer students have to go down to the fields to help with the rice planting. It is not the first time that I have heard reports that universities have shut down for a period,” Armstrong said.

“My impression is that there is not a lot going on in terms of teaching and studying in public universities and student time is taken up with ‘extra curricular’ activities including political education. This is a regular part of university life but I have not heard of the universities being shut down completely except for a short while during the 1990s [famine],” he added.

A major famine and economic crisis in the late 1990s meant that much farm equipment went unused and simply rusted in the fields, so the need for manual labour has grown. Students and army recruits are mobilised to help, often having to travel far from where they live.

“My understanding of the university system is that it is largely dysfunctional. Resources are lacking, many professors spend their time earning from private tuition – so my impression is that it would not make a great deal of difference if they are shut down,” said Armstrong.

Aidan Foster-Carter, a writer and researcher on North Korea, formerly at Leeds University in England, said: “North Korea sets great store by these anniversaries. They decreed a few years ago that 2012 would be their date for becoming a great and prosperous nation defined in economic terms. It would make sense having extra persons out there to help with construction, though normally it is the army that does it.”

But any mass use of student labour for longer than the summer vacation months would mean a trade-off against achieving economic goals that required educated workers, he said.

“North Korea’s is a strange and broken economy but they also need educated people to pull them out and it would be a major precedent to close the universities. It could be a sign that they are in a worse mess than we thought.”

Hazel Smith, professor of security and resilience at Cranfield University who also lectures at Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung University, said North Korean universities were operating as usual in and outside the capital when she was there in May.

She said it would be counterproductive for the regime to close universities. Despite huge labour shortages throughout the country, the regime is “fully aware that people need to be taught IT and technology and of course nuclear [engineering].

“They are dependent to fulfill their economic goals on people who are computer literate and engaged in advanced science. I don’t think [closures] will last very long. There are too many other priorities to deal with.”

Analysts in Japan and South Korea suggested there could be other reasons behind the decision to disperse the students across the country, including the possibility of demonstrations at campuses inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, which began at universities.

They noted that North Korea had purchased anti-riot equipment from China in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent weeks.

Foster-Carter said North Korea watchers have been closely monitoring for signs of unrest since the spring, but there had not been any.

“The amount of information from the Middle East reaching the ordinary citizen is very, very limited and there has been nothing at all in the official media,” Armstrong said. “There has been no student unrest that we know of for the last 50 years.”

According to North Korea analysts, party controls are in place to prevent student uprisings, including political indoctrination and strong surveillance. Some analysts said surveillance on campuses had relaxed in recent years because many party officials had not been paid.

However, experts agreed that the possibility of universities being shut would be an ominous sign of tension. “The most likely reason [to shut universities down completely] would be for military mobilisation if they thought they were going to be attacked,” Smith said.

Read the full story here:
North Korea: Learning stops as students sent to work
University World News
Yojana Sharma


Sport in North Korea

Monday, July 11th, 2011

A German-language documentary was recently released on the sports facilities in the DPRK.  Featured in the film are the April 25th Sports Team football field, Moranbong Sports Team facilities, Kim Il-sung Stadium, Sosan Sports District, Pyongyang Indoor Stadium (A State of Mind), Pyongyang Primary School No.4, and Yangggakdo Stadium.  The documentary makers also apparently had access to the North Korean women’s team at the recently concluded Women’s World Cup.

Click on the image below to watch the film.