The location of a possible new prison camp or extension of a pre-existing camp next to Camp 14 in Kaechon County | Image: Google Earth via NKEconWatch
- A new report by the Unification Medical Center at SNU says that suicide is very rare in NK, because people who kill themselves are classed as traitors, and their families can suffer a drop in songbun level by being categorized as families of anti-state elements. NK authorities also hesitate to report suicide cases, partly because they use SK’s high suicide rate to claim superiority for their social system. Also, NKorean mental health patients sometimes get drug treatment, but more frequently they are subject to “labor treatment” or other physical activities.
- During a recent hospital inspection, KJU reportedly noted a sign written in Korean and said, “It is better to write signboards not only in Korean but in foreign languages.”
- NK has loosened restrictions on foreigners bringing in cell phones. Foreigners can now bring mobile phones into the country or rent one at the airport, and purchase a SIM card to make international calls. However, foreigners will not be able to make domestic calls.
- SK National Assembly Research service: “Kim Jong-un’s regime is relatively stable on the surface, but it is not enough to judge its stability appropriately. There is a possibility of changes in its policy or politics in the next three to four years.” The report called for the incoming SK govt to communicate with PY to foster trust.
- Daily NK source: “There are checkpoints on the borders between every region now, and they’re closely checking documents [ID and transit permit] one by one. They’ve also really stepped up the number of body searches. And yet even if they catch you then you just pay them off and it all goes away.”
- NKEconWatch has a couple of images of Pyongyang’s mosque, located in the Iranian embassy compound.
- According to Chinese customs data, NK imported 16,420 CCTV cameras worth 1.66m USD from China from Jan to Nov last year. Altogether NK has imported over 100,000 CCTV cameras at a cost of about 10m USD. Pundits say many of the cameras are used to monitor the border with China. Major exports from NK to China included crude oil and oil products, naphtha products, cargo trucks and flour.
- Authorities are creating a festive mood in preparation for KJI’s birthday on Feb 16, with cultural events, festivals, public gatherings and international forums.
- The Rodong Sinmun continues to make hay of the successful satellite launch, claiming that every sector of SKorean society had praised the rocket technology of the north as far surpassing that of SK.
- AP Vice President Daniszewski: “I suspect that [NK] probably will allow more foreign news outlets in the country down the road.”
FOOD SECURITY & ECONOMY
- NK reportedly imported significantly less grain and fertilizers from China last year, mainly due to improvements in overall food conditions in the country. Seoul-based Korea Rural Community Corp: NK’s grain imports from China dropped 26.8% from 352,282 tons in 2011 to 257,931 tons in 2012.
- NK authorities are putting pressure on citizens to assist in New Year state projects, such as “collect one ton of manure,” as well a drive for scrap metal. NK authorities are calling these projects “New Years Projects” and “Patriotic Movements”, implying that families will be politically judged for their participation.
- Japan-based pro-NK paper Choson Shinbo reported that NK is aggressively promoting “scientification and integration” of farming, including by holding scientific farming lectures for chiefs of the smallest units in co-op farms across the country early this year.
- SK’s National Human Rights Commission interviewed 100 children born to NK refugees in China. Only 21 of the children lived with their North Korean birth mother and 20 lived with their father only. Another 39 were looked after by grandparents or relatives, and 20 lived in shelters run by evangelical missionaries. The NKHRC believes there are 20,000 to 30,000 children under 19 born in China to NKorean mothers. The main reason for abandonment was because the mother had been repatriated to NK, accounting for 36%. 31% said the family broke down when the mother left the family, mostly to go to SK.
- Obama has signed into law the NKorean Children Welfare Act of 2012. Haggard opinion: “This is an ambitious but complicated agenda, no doubt modified from earlier versions by concerns that some “adoptions” amount to little more than child trafficking. Yet the language clearly shows respect for these concerns. Getting Beijing to buy in is a very long shot. But the legislation will hold the spotlight on the issue and could make real gains with respect to third countries. We are for it.”
- SK’s NIS detained a defector on suspicion of giving PY information on 10,000 fellow defectors living in Seoul. According to the NIS, over the last 5 years 11 defectors have been arrested as ‘disguised spies’, but this is the first time a defector-turned-official has been arrested for espionage. The suspect is denying the allegation. The case has been used to raise criticism of the govt’s “naive way” of dealing with defector issues and its intelligence capabilities.
- NKEconWatch flagged new satellite imagery which shows the addition of a new area next to Camp 14 which bears striking similarity to other known prison camps, built sometime between Dec 2006 and Sep 2011. A ROKG intelligence official told the Chosun Ilbo that it is not clear whether it is an extension of the existing camp or an entirely new camp.
- A UN working group has concluded that the families of two prominent N Korean defectors (Kang Chol-hwan and Shin Dong-hyuk) are being held in gulags in the North and will urge the regime to treat them humanely.
- Opens Doors USA reported the deaths of two NKorean Christians, revealing that one was shot while he was leaving for Bible training in China, and that another one died in a labor camp in North Korea.
- Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: “I am… concerned that, at the international level, the spotlight is almost exclusively focused on DPRK’s nuclear programme and rocket launches. While these, of course, are issues of enormous importance, they should not be allowed to overshadow the deplorable human rights situation in DPRK, which in one way or another affects almost the entire population and has no parallel anywhere else in the world… because of the enduring gravity of the situation, I believe an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst – but least understood and reported – human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue.”
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- The UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution (S/RES/2087) condemning NK’s recent rocket launch and expanding sanctions on tergetted entities and individuals related to the rocket program. Susan Rice: “Today’s resolution makes clear that there will be an increasingly steep price to pay if NK again chooses confrontation with this council and the international community.”
- The NK Foreign Ministry responded by saying: “The DPRK will continuously launch satellites for peaceful purposes to conquer space and become a world-level space power… The DPRK drew a final conclusion that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is impossible unless the denuclearization of the world is realized as it has become clear now that the U.S. policy hostile to the DPRK remains unchanged.” And saying that, “There may be talks for peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region in the future, but no talks for the denuclearization of the peninsula.”
- The Chinese FM spokesman said the resolution was “generally balanced” and “also delivers some positive information, including calling for a peaceful solution to the (Korean) Peninsula issue through dialogue and negotiation as well as the resumption of six-party talks.”
- Victor Cha, CSIS: President Obama will follow the lead of incoming President Park Geun-hye in handling NK. “The US has to wait to respond to what the Park gov’t is going to do. The US, I think, will try to be supportive.” Cha also said he believes that the US is a “long way from any kind of new initiative” on NK.
- Before the UNSC resolution was adopted NK’s Foreign Ministry again called for a peace treaty and the dissolution of the United Nations Command in SK, saying that it was a test which would determine whether the US wants to maintain its belligerent policies toward the north. A USG official responded typically by saying they are prepared to engage constructively if NK lives up to its own commitments and refrains from provocations.
- Kyodo: Kenneth Bae, the Korean-American detained in NK may face the death penalty or be sentenced to reeducation through labor for an indefinite term.
- SK President-elect PGH has sought closer cooperation on NK issues in a series of meetings with EU ambassadors.
ANALYSIS & OPINION
- Pan Zhenqiang, retired PLA major general: “With regards to the format of unification, China’s formula of ‘one country, two systems’ may have some exemplary value.” Pan also expressed “great skepticism” over any long-term planning based on NK regime collapse.
- Roberta Cohen on NKHR at the UN: “In the human rights arena, change is possible too. There can be surprises — chipping away at the regime and also working to penetrate the information wall around NK could result sooner or later in change.”
- Interview with Felix Abt, the “capitalist in NK.”
- Ben Rogers calls on the UK govt to do more for the NK people, including by supporting the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry and establishing a BBC World Service Korean channel.
- Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Eric, on her visit to NK: “It’s like the Truman Show, but on a country-scale.” Photos. Eric Schmidt’s short blog post about his trip is here.
- Review of “You For Me For You“, a play about sisters separated while fleeing NK.
- German photographer Mosler’s photos of the landscape and villages of NK.
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