Archive for January, 2012

An update on the Huichon and Ryesonggang Power Stations

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Huichon Power Station on Google Earth
The Huichon Power Stations 1 & 2 (희천1호발전소, 희천2호발전소) are too new to appear on Google Earth satellite imagery. I have, however, mapped them out by hand on the old imagery to give a better idea of their locations. I have also tagged them on Wikimapia.

In the picture above you can see that the Huichon Power Station’s headwaters begin in Ryongrim County (룡림군) where the newly-built Ryongrim Dam holds back a large reservoir. This reservoir drains through a tunnel [in orange in the image above] approximately 30 km long (18.5 miles) and empties through the Huichon Power Station No. 1 in Tongsin County into the Chongchon River. The river flows south where it crosses into Huichon County and builds up behind a second reservoir.  From this second reservoir the water drains out directly through the Huichon Power Station No. 2.

The construction of the Ryongrim Dam has resulted in the destruction of at least two villages, Toyang-ri (도양리) and Sinchang-ri (신창리).  Toyang-ri was destroyed for the dam itself. Sinchang-ri was flooded by the reservoir.  A third village, Kuryong-ri (구룡리), was also likely flooded or relocated—although this cannot be confirmed with current satellite imagery. The destroyed villages were probably relocated to Ryongrim Town itself. On several recent occasions North Korean television has highlighted improvements in housing and leisure facilities within the town.


When Kim Jong-il gave guidance visits to this site he often stood on the eastern side of the dam which offers the view captured in the image above (R).

The Huichon Power Station No. 1 itself is located in Tongsin County aproximately 30km due south from the Ryongrim Dam (40.273568°, 126.526565°).


In the satellite image above I have drawn the physical location of the power plant.  Next to and below it I have posted images from KCTV dated 2011-3-10.

The Huichon Power Station No. 2 lies on the Chongchon River just south of the border with Tongsin.


This project might have resulted in the destruction of one village, Kyonghung-ri (경흥리), in Tongsin County, but this is impossible to confirm without better satellite imagery.

So where will the electricity produced at these new power stations be consumed? On January 21, 2012, Rodong Sinmun reported the answer:

Like the warm hands of leader Kim Jong Il, the transmission lines from the Huichon Power Station are now almost stretching out for the capital city of Pyongyang.

To meet the great expectations of Kim Jong Il who entrusted them to such a gigantic work, the builders of the power station have gained great successes.

They have erected big dams, cut waterway tunnels and carried out other bulky tasks that were said to take ten years and more; and in the wake of trial operation of generating equipment at the Huichon Power Station No. 1, they successfully assembled the hulks of generators at the Huichon Power Station No. 2.

These successes had an immediate chain reaction on the scaffold workers laying transmission cables from the power station to the capital city.

They have already laid transmission cables in scores of kilometer long section, while preceding the construction of pylons in two months.

By their heroic labor, the excavation work to lay the foundation for the pylons have been wound up, too.

Now, their job is concrete tamping of the pylons’ foundations. By introducing new work methods they are hastening their work of erecting pylons as firm as would stand for many hundred years.

Now that power lines have been lain in major sections, they have buckled down to laying the power lines in the remaining sections and erecting transformer substations to reach the capital city as early as possible.

It won’t be long before we can see the power lines reach Pyongyang amid the cheers of the citizens.

Since I have mapped out a significant portion of the North Korean electricity grid on Google Earth, I can point out an area where I believe these power cables are being constructed. In the image below, dated 2010-9-14, I have connected the power cable tower construction sites with a yellow line:

In the image above there are approximately 146 power cable towers under construction between Pakchon (North Pyongan-top of image) and Sunan (Pyongyang-bottom of image). Of course, to be certain that these are the specific lines connecting Huichon and Pyongyang,  I will need more imagery.

 More on the Huichon Power Stations here.

Ryesonggang Power Station 2 update

I previously wrote about the Ryesonggang Power Station No. 2 here. Since a newer satellite image has come to my attention that shows the project completed, however, I thought I would post an update.




Ryesonggang Power Station No. 3 

On June 25, 2011 North Korean television showed construction of the Ryesonggang Power Station No. 3 had begun.  The DPRK submitted this project to the UNFCC’s Carbon trading program. Using satellite imagery, we can see that construction is indeed well under way:


The satellite images above are dated 2007-10-4 (L) and 2011-3-23 (R). In the right-hand photo I have boxed in the construction site and the quarters and facilities of the construction workers.

UPDATE: This was picked up by Radio Free Asia.



DPRK celebrates lunar new year in its own style

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

KCNA reported that North Koreans celebrated the lunar new year by paying tribute to Kim Jong-il:

On the lunar New Year’s Day, the Korean people are ardently yearning for the leader Kim Jong Il.
People are seen laying flowers or floral baskets before portraits of smiling Kim Jong Il displayed throughout the country, recollecting the undying feats he performed for the country and the people.
An old man, Ri Thaek Ju, living in Sosong District, Pyongyang, told KCNA, “I don’t think the leader left his people. He is among the people. He is greeting the Lunar New Year with us.”

They also laid floral baskets at Kim Il-sung statues (video here):

Floral baskets were placed before the statues of President Kim Il Sung in different parts of the country on the lunar New Year 2012.
Service personnel and Pyongyangites from all walks of life and school youth and children and overseas compatriots staying in the socialist homeland, visited his statue on Ryongnam Hill to pay tribute to him.

…And they also performed plays offering well wishes to Kim Jong-un:

Schoolchildren’s performance “Country of Eternal Sun” took place at the Mangyongdae School Children’s Palace Monday on the lunar New Year 2012.
The performance began with prelude “Please accept, the dear respected Kim Jong Un, our greetings on lunar New Year.”
The performers made a deep bow to Kim Jong Un, representing the unanimous best wishes of the younger generation of the DPRK.

So there are “three generations” of post-revolution North Koreans, and each one now has their own leader to pay homage to on Lunar New Year. Interestingly, Lunar New Year was banned by the DPRK until the 1980s as it was classified as a Chinese holiday. But why ban a cultural holiday when you can co-opt it for political purposes?

The AP also published this story.

Read more about holidays in the DPRK here.

UPDATE 1: On January 24, KCNA reported that Kim Jong-un hosted a banquet for senior members of the North Korean government.

UPDATE 2: On January 25, the Daily NK reported some very interesting information from within the DPRK which further shows how the Lunar New Year has been co-opted as a tool for the legitimization of Kim Jong-un’s rule:

A Chinese trader who resides in Pyeongseong, North Korea, arrived in Dandong on January 21 for the start of the Lunar New Year holiday period. The trader, who in this article we will call ‘John’, received permission to visit China after waiting over a month to leave the country since the death of Kim Jong Il. John met with his suppliers in Dandong to order items he would take back into North Korea, before departing for Shenyang to visit relatives.

Daily NK met with John in Shenyang on January 22 to ask him whether or not the rations announced by North Korean authorities had actually been distributed as planned. As he is a Chinese expatriate, he says he did not receive any rations this time, however “ordinary people did get them. The rations were half white rice and half mixed-grain rice.”

“Even within Pyeongseong, people got different rations depending on what street or neighborhood they live in – some got 3 days worth, others got 5. Our People’s Unit gave 3 days. But that wasn’t the problem; in one area people got grain rice mixed with corn, and the really unlucky amongst them were disappointed to find that their rations had already gone off.”

“On the way here I also heard from people living in Sinuiju who were given corn soup rather than rice of any sort,” John says. Given that corn soup costs roughly half as much to provide as other grain rations, evidently the government distributed corn-based rations in some cities and counties in order to help carry out its plan.

According to John, authorities also offered to supply fish to citizens. “They handed out coupons to buy a sailfin sandfish for 2,800 won and called this an order from Kim Jong Eun.” With this coupon citizens could head to a government-run store and purchase the fish for 2,800 won, however John says that most people declined to buy from the government-run stores when fresh sandfish could be bought from the market for 3,300 won.

Regarding crackdowns on foreign currency, John said that “It would be hard for people like me to live if the government stopped people using the Yuan. When I purchase stock I have to pay for it in Yuan, so if I wasn’t able to do that I wouldn’t be able to trade. That might end up being the case again. The ‘gruppas’ (inspection teams) are showing up to carry out crackdowns on illegal foreign exchange transactions, but this has just driven most people to do it in the privacy of their own houses.”

“Even people who lose their foreign currency in the crackdowns can get it back with a bribe. How can you stop that? Even cadres like foreign currency, so how can it work if they order a crackdown?”


Preciseness emphasized for the tax investigation of special economic zones

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is continuing to put forward new laws for the special economic zones (SEZs) such as Rajin-Sonbong and Hwangumpyong Island. Recently, North Korea announced special guidelines for the tax investigations of foreign businesses in the zones.

North Korea’s Academy of Social Science Newsletter Volume 4 (published on November 2011) released an article titled, “Suggestions to Improve Tax Investigations in the Special Economic Zone,” which included detailed instructions for the policy improvement for tax investigation for SEZs. Here, particular emphasis was placed on the enhancement of the tax investigation system — to be accurate and rational — for the foreign investment companies.

The article explained, “Based on the principles of equality and reciprocity for the construction of powerful economic state, the tax investigation system in the SEZ must be improved especially at the present time when SEZs are being constructed and expanded to increase economic trade with other nations.”

It also stressed tax officials must be equipped with, “comprehensive knowledge and experience who accurately understand the entire process of business management. They must be capable of creating new tax investigation methods and be able to discern the various forms of tax evasions.”

For the qualifications of the tax officials, the article recommended that the officials be selected based on their knowledge and experience; ability to develop techniques for tax investigation; awareness of rules and regulations of tax laws and bylaws, and regulations of rights and responsibilities of taxpayers; and capability of conducting research on foreign tax investigation policies.

The Academy of Social Science is a government agency of the DPRK, and the recent article on the tax investigation reflects that the government has already begun the process of implementing the tax investigation guidelines and laws in the SEZs.

The article emphasized establishing a tax investigation system acceptable to foreign companies. One can construe this as North Korea’s effort to attract more businesses to the SEZ, which is currently suffering from poor performance.

In addition, North Korea is believed to be placing weight on the tax investigation based on its past experiences with the South Korean companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). In the past, the officials of the Central SpecialDirect General Bureau toured the industrial districts in China and showed keen interests in the tax management.

On December 8, 2011, the KCNA reported that the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) has adopted the Economic Zone Act for Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands. The law was revised and supplemented to include the Free Economic and Trade Act of Rajin-Sonbong. However, the details of these laws were not disclosed and some experts are predicting that these laws are likely identical to the Chinese laws in China’s flourishing SEZs.

However, on January 11, 2012, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported that China rejected the new Special Economic Zone Act of the DPRK because it is “not business-friendly.” The news reported, “China said the law was not business-friendly, telling North Korea that the law had some problemsregarding taxes, accounting, remittance of profits and stability of investment.” It is reported that North Korea is working on the revision of these laws and likely for a new special zone act to be passed by the Standing Committee of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).


Kaesong production up 14% in 2011 – employment to increase

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

According to Yonhap:

The joint South-North Korean industrial complex in the North’s border city of Kaesong saw its production expand 14.4 percent in 2011 from a year earlier, Seoul’s unification ministry said Monday.

The total production at the Kaesong Industrial Complex reached US$369.9 million during the January-November period last year, up from $323.3 million worth of production for all of 2010, according to the Ministry of Unification.

The output during the last month of 2011 has not been tallied yet, the ministry said, adding the on-year growth rate may be far greater.

Production for the first 11 months of 2011 marks a 25.7-percent growth from the same period in the previous year, the ministry also noted.

Monthly production hit $31.1 million in January last year and hovered near the $30-million mark every month last year, except in February, according to the ministry.

The ministry attributed last year’s output growth to an increasing number of workers at Kaesong.

North Korean laborers working at the complex reached a peak of 48,708 as of November last year, the ministry said. The comparable figure at the end of 2010 was 46,284, it said.

Yonhap also reports the following:

The provision of new laborers is seen as a signal of the new North Korean leadership attempting to maintain the joint industrial complex, the symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation, despite the North’s repeated denunciations of the Lee Myung-bak administration for allowing only a former South Korean first lady and a businesswoman to visit Pyongyang to mourn Kim’s death.

“North Korea will provide about 400 more laborers to the Kaesong Industrial Complex on the 26th (of January) immediately after the Lunar Yew Year’s holiday,” a source at the Kaesong complex said.

A Unification Ministry official also said that he “heard that North Korea will soon increase the laborers at the Kaesong Industrial Park.”

The North had planned to increase the number of North Korean laborers late last month but suspended the plan due to the sudden death of Kim on Dec. 19.

Hundreds of South Korean factories in the industrial park employ 48,708 North Koreans as of the end of November last year, up 2,400 from a year earlier.

Read the full stories here:
Production at joint industrial Kaesong park expands 14.4 pct in 2011

N. Korea to provide 400 new laborers to S. Korean firms in Kaesong: sources


Enlarged plenary meeting of Cabinet held

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Pictured above (Google Earth) is Changsong Town in North Pyongan Province. This town is the home of the Changsong Joint Conference which was held in August 1962.  This meeting was referenced in the DPRK’s most recent Cabinet plenary meeting on the DPRK economy.

According to KCNA (2012-1-22):

An enlarged Cabinet plenary meeting was held.

Present there were Premier Choe Yong Rim and cabinet members.

Attending the meeting as observers were senior officials of the organizations under direct control of the Cabinet, directors of management bureaus, chairpersons of provincial, city and county people’s committees, chairpersons of provincial rural economy committees, chairpersons of provincial planning committees, directors of provincial foodstuff and daily necessities management bureaus and managers of major factories and enterprises.

Prior to the meeting, the participants paid silent tribute to the memory of leader Kim Jong Il.

The meeting reviewed the fulfillment of last year’s national economic plan and discussed how to implement the decision of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, joint calls of the WPK Central Committee and the Central Military Commission and the militant task put forward in the joint New Year editorial.

Vice-Premier Ro Tu Chol made a report to be followed by speeches.

The enlarged meeting set it as a priority task for this year to direct efforts into developing light industry and agriculture to improve the people’s livelihood and successfully carrying out the WPK’s prosperity-oriented strategy in the pilot domains and basic industries of the national economy upholding the flames of South Hamgyong Province. It also indicated the tasks and ways for it.

Also discussed was an issue of raising higher the flames of great innovation of South Hamgyong Province in the light industrial and agricultural fields.

The meeting mentioned the need to produce quality consumer goods favored by the people in the field of light industry and effect a decisive turn in development of local industry this year marking the 50th anniversary of the historic Changsong joint conference.

It also stressed the need for ministries and national institutions to help Changsong County in its industrial development.

Also discussed at the meeting were such issues as fulfilling the assignments for grain production for 2012 both in lowland and mountainous areas, making the best use of modern stockbreeding and poultry bases and large fruit and fish farms as well as the tasks for ministries and national institutions to preferentially supply materials, equipment and electricity to farming processes.

The meeting drew attention to the tasks for the industrial fields of electric power, coal, metal, railways and machine and construction and building materials, etc.

The meeting tabled the tasks for all ministries, national institutions and provincial people’s committees to lay their own scientific and technological foundations for stepping up the work for turning the economy into one based on technology in a forward-looking manner as required by the industrial revolution in the new century.

It also discussed the tasks for the fields of education, literature and art, public health, sports, capital construction, land management and urban management.

The meeting stressed the need for all economic officials to preserve the socialist principle and ensure profitability in economic management, operate and manage the economic work on the basis of detailed calculation and science as well as the need for ministries, national institutions and industrial establishments to set up strict order regarding planning, financial dealings and administration.

Relevant decisions were made at the meeting.

As premier of the Cabinet Choe Yong-rim has made quite a few prominent appearances in the DPRK media in the last two years which highlight his official efforts to improve the North Korean economy. His most recent public appearance (January 12) is reported to have been at the Jenam Coal Mine.

Kim Jong-un, however, is not a member of the Cabinet, so he did not attend the meeting. To date his legitimacy is being established through his relationship to Kim Jong-il/Kim Il-sung and as a leader of the KPA—rather than as a leader in the government or even the party (at least so far).

As a result, Kim Jong-un’s guidance visits have consisted almost exclusively of visits to KPA units.  In this month alone, he has visited the 105 Tank Brigade, KPA Unit 169, KPA Unit 3870, KPA Unit 354, KPA Unit 671, and the KPA soldiers constructing the Pyongyang Folk Village on the outskirts of Pyongyang. Uriminzokkiri has also credited him with spearheading the DPRK’s nuclear tests.

UPDATE: Here is Yonhap coverage of the meeting.

“Changsong Joint Conference”
The KCNA article prompted me to look into the “Changsong Joint Conference”, a term that did not ring a bell. The most recent reference I can find to it is this blurb from a March 2011 article in Korea Magazine:

The Changsong Joint Conference of Local Party and Economic Officials was held in August 1962.

The conference marked the beginning of developing the local industry throughout the country.

In recent years the county has made strenuous efforts to carry out the plan of the Workers’ Party of Korea for the building of a thriving nation and achieved many successes.

Hundreds of hectares of forests of raw materials and timber forests including pine-nut, wild-walnut and larch forests have been newly created.

The Changsong Foodstuff Factory gathers in scores of kinds of wild fruits including acorns, wild grapes, fruits of Actinidia arguta and Crataegus pinnatifida every year in mountains.

Recently its officials and workers have modernized all production processes including wild fruit drinks and wines as required in the IT age to produce foodstuffs in time.

Wines made from the fermented juice of wild grapes, fruits of Actinidia arguta and other wild fruits, Crataegus pinnatifida, Rubus crataegifolius, carbonated Actinidia arguta and other fruit juices, dried bracken and sliced bracken and other wild vegetables preserved in soy sauce are in great demand for their peculiar flavour.

The Changsong Textile Mill which started operation with six housewives has been turned into a modern fabric producer. As a treasure mill, it makes a great contribution to the improvement of the people’s standard of living. It produces quality fabrics, woolen knitted goods and quilts and blankets with local raw materials.

The Changsong Paper Mill produces paper from ground pulp. It has streamlined the equipment to improve the qualities of goods.

Looking round the local-industry factories in Changsong County in November last year, Kim Jong Il kindled the flame of developing the local industry throughout the country after the model of Changsong.

Changsong County stands at the head of development of local industry. Now its people work harder to change further the looks of their home village.

Another blogger seems to have located a single page of a book on the Changsong Joint Conference. Fortunately, he typed out the introduction:

The great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung had made a farsighted plan for bridging the gap between town and country and between regions and raising equally the living standards of all the working people. For this Changsong County had been taken as a model.

The great leader who had long pushed preparations for rapid improvement in the livelihood of the mountain peasants, studied deeply the state of affairs in this part of the country, and through his several on-the-spot guidances, paved the shortest cut to establish a socialist paradise.

In August 1962, in order to spread the example of Changsong across the land he convened the historic Changsong Joint Conference of Local Party and Economic Functionaries. There he put forward a new policy and overall ways and means to enhance the role of the county and develop local industry and agriculture, so as to improve radically the people’s living conditions.

In 1974, our people erected in Changsong the historic monument to the on-the-spot guidance of the respected and beloved leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, out of their wish to retell throughout generations the profound care of the fatherly leader who had shown the bright future of mountain villages and transformed that area into a people’s paradise fine to live in.

Kim Jong-il last visited Changsong in November 2010 where he visited the Changsong Foodstuff Factory, Changsong Textile Mill, and Changsong House of Culture. The first two locations are the shining examples of the success of the Changsong Joint Conference.  The Changsong House of Culture is where the meeting was officially held in 1962.

But if the goal of the conference is to reduce the disparity in the DPRK’s living standards, Changsong is probably not the best place to start. Changsong is home to one of the North Korean leadership’s most well-known luxury retreats.  This is because it was was extensively photographed by Kenji Fujimoto while he was working as Kim Jong-il’s personal chef.   See a satellite image and Mr. Fujimoto’s pictures of the compound here. You can see the Taegwan leadership train station Kim used to visit the compound here.


Early 20th century Pyongyang in photos

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Kwang On-yoo sent me a link to some very interesting historical photos of the Korean Peninsula which are archived by the University of Southern California’s Digital Library. Below are some choice pictures from what is now the DPRK:

Pyongyang Anchor Stones

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Pyongyang High School (Under Construction)

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Pyongyang High School, boys dormitory

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Pyongyang church congregation

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Kija’s Tomb (Pyongyang)

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View of Pyongyang

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Pyongyang Hall Memorial Hospital

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Seven Star Gate

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Spirit House (Haeju)

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Haeju Hospital nurses

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North Korean nature

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A while ago I posted a map of Pyongyang in 1946.  I spent some time looking for thess Pyongyang locations but did not have any luck. Kija’s Tomb still exists today on Moran Hill.  Let me know if you can find where any of these buildings used to be located.

UPDATE 1: Here is the Chilsong Gate.


Korea Peace Foundation to donate flour to the DPRK

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Pictured above (Yonhap): Food aid to be delivered to the DPRK (2012-1-27)

According to Yonhap:

Representatives of a South Korean charity group plan to visit North Korea next week to deliver 180 tons of flour aid to North Korea to help ease its chronic food shortages, officials said Friday.

The planned shipment by the Seoul-based Korea Peace Foundation marks the first flour assistance to the communist country following the death last month of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The UNDP also made public that it will place a priority on the DPRK this year:

Radio Free Asia says the United Nations Development Programme will place a priority on improving food security in North Korea by reducing crop losses after harvests.

The U.S. based broadcaster said the UNDP plans to save more crops and improve seed production by revamping North Korea’s crop storage facilities and farm equipment such as threshers and grinders.

Around 15 percent of crops harvested in Pyeongyang are said to be damaged every year, while only 13 percent of the 150-thousand tons of seed produced meet international standards.

Food security is achieved by securing a certain amount of food, taking into account potential population increases, natural disasters and war.

Additional Notes:
1. I believe the “Korea Peace Foundation” is also the “Korean Conference of Religion and Peace (KCRP)

2. Read about South Korea’s aid to the DPRK in 2011 here.

3. CNN also covered the story about South Korean food aid.

Read the full Yonhap article here:
S. Korean group to send first flour aid to N. Korea after Kim’s death


“Recently” detained Japanese men returned home

Friday, January 20th, 2012

UPDATE 2 (2012-1-20): The DPRK has released two Japanese men recently detained in Rason. According to the Associated Press:

Two Japanese men detained in North Korea 10 months ago have returned home, a minister said Friday, adding it could be a “positive” diplomatic sign from the reclusive state.

The two arrived back in Japan this week, said Jin Matsubara, head of the National Public Safety Commission.

“I think this could be taken as a positive message from North Korea,” he told reporters.

Police declined to comment on whether the two men paid any money or why they were released.

The men, reportedly in their 30s and 40s were detained in a special economic zone near the communist state’s border with Russia. They returned via China.

Three Japanese men had initially been taken into detention in March last year, but one of them, who was in his 80s, was freed and returned to Japan in April, Jiji Press news agency and public broadcaster NHK said.

Reports said the three men were employees of a machine maintenance firm in Tokyo who had visited Rason city near North Korea’s border with Russia in March to check machines at a food manufacturing factory.

They were reportedly detained on charges of hiding drugs in canned goods to be exported to China and currency counterfeiting.

The release of these men was also covered in Bloomberg.

UPDATE 1 (2011-5-4): According to KCNA:

Japanese Detained in DPRK for Their Crimes

Pyongyang, May 4 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency Wednesday issued the following report:

Masaki Furuya, former representative managing director of JP Dairin Co. Ltd., Hidehiko Abe, representative managing director of Realise Co. Ltd, of Japan, and Takumi Hirooka, managing director of Sugita Industrial Co. Ltd, of Japan, were put in custody by a relevant body on charges of drug trafficking and counterfeit after entering Rason City of the DPRK on March 14.

They admitted their crimes and their gravity.

Masaki Furuya had already been expelled from the DPRK and the two Japanese are called to legal accounts.

What they did is a very grave violation of the law of the DPRK and international law and they will, therefore, face proper legal actions.

The Wall Street Journal also reports that the DPRK held a Japanese man for drug smuggling from 2003-2009.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-4-20): According to Yonhap:

North Korea detained three Japanese men on apparent drug smuggling charges in its special economic zone last month, but it later released one man, a news report said Wednesday.

The three Japanese employees of a machine maintenance firm in Tokyo visited the city of Rason, near North Korea’s border with Russia, in March to check machines at a food manufacturing factory, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said, citing unidentified sources.

They were detained on charges that they hid drugs in canned goods to be exported to China, though the North later allowed one of them to return to Japan, the newspaper said.

The North has demanded a large bail for the two detainees, it said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs in Seoul, and the pro-North Korean association in Tokyo said they had no information.

The North’s state media have not reported on the case.

North Korea arrested a Japanese man on drug smuggling charges in 2003 before allowing him to return home on humanitarian grounds in 2009.

The news came days after North Korea confirmed the detention of a Korean-American man on a crime against the North.

The North said it will indict Jun Young-su, who was arrested in November, claiming he admitted his crime in the course of the investigation, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.

According to the Korea Times the men were detained in Rason.

Read the Yonhap story here:
N. Korea detains two Japanese men: report


DPRK ambassador to Germany caught fishing without license

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Pictured above: The North Korean embassy in eastern Berlin and the hostel located on its embassy compound.

According to Der Spiegel:

In recent years, there have been numerous reports of foreign diplomats in Berlin abusing their diplomatic immunity by committing crimes. Traffic violations appear to be the most common offense, but diplomats have also been accused of exploiting domestic employees and even theft. Most of the time, all they have to do is show their diplomatic passport to get off scot-free.

This week, it would seem, a new transgression must be added to the list. Berlin newspapers are reporting that the North Korean ambassador to Germany did a bit of fishing on Sunday — albeit without a license.

According to reports in dailies Berliner Morgenpost and BZ, Berlin police discovered a man fishing on the Havel River in the city’s Spandau neighborhood on Sunday afternoon. When the officials asked to see the man’s fishing license, he apparently responded by saying he was the North Korean ambassador.

According to the reports, the angler did not have any proof of identity on him, nor did he have a fishing license. The police then asked their colleagues to bring them a current photograph of the ambassador and his personal details. When they arrived, the officers reportedly confirmed that the man was indeed the ambassador, Si Hong Ri, who took his current position in September 2011.

The officers then apparently told the ambassador to cease his illegal fishing activities. According to the police report quoted by the Berliner Morgenpost and the BZ, “the ambassador politely acknowledged (the request) with a smile and continued with the offense.” The police were unable to do anything, given the man’s diplomatic immunity.

When contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday, a Berlin police spokesman confirmed that a report had been filed on Sunday but declined to comment on the identity of the person involved. Fishing without a license is a crime in Germany punishable with up to two years in prison or a fine.

Yonhap also reported on the incident.

Read the full story here:
North Korean Ambassador Caught and Released
Der Speigel


DPRK phone imports in 2010

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Radio Free Asia posted the following information:

The latest UN statistics showed that in 2010, North Korea imported 430,000 mobile phones from China, its primary ally and biggest trading partner, a six-fold jump from imports the previous year.

North Koreans forked out U.S. $35 million to buy these mobile phones, six times more than the money spent in 2009, according to the UN figures.

At the same time, Koryolink, North Korea’s only 3G mobile phone network operator, saw a rapid increase in subscribers—from about 90,000 at the end of 2009 to 430,000 a year later and more than 800,000 in the third quarter of 2011, according to majority owner Egypt’s Orascom Telecom.

While the rapid increase in mobile phone users is allowing greater communications within and outside the country, there are various restrictions in usage and it does not signal any major opening up of North Korea, experts told RFA.

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Cellphones No Signal Of Reforms