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12 March 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 12 Mar 2011


  • A UN WFP official returning from an assessment of the food security situation in NK described food shortages in NK following ‘a very tough winter’ that has affected the potato crop and germination of their winter wheat. The team were reportedly given excellent access, visiting 20 counties they had never been to before and gathered a lot of information from visiting markets, state shops, schools, hospitals, and interviewing households on a random basis. The information will now be analysed and used to make recommendations for food aid.
  • NGO Good Friends reports that food distribution in Pyongyang was reduced to nothing by January, and that people are dieing from starvation in various parts of the country. Open Radio for North Korea reports that recent refugees are describing the food security situation to be so bad that soldiers are worse fed than ordinary residents.
  • UN Special Rapporteur Darusman called on the international community to provide humanitarian aid to NK, under the UN principle of ‘no access, no aid’, but without political conditions. The price of rice has doubled from 400-500 won in the first half of 2010 to around 900 won. Sweden is the only country to have pledged aid through the UN in 2011. UNICEF says it only received 20% of the funding needed for its projects to feed women and children in 2010.
  • Some US lawmakers voiced concerns that possible food aid to NK should be monitored properly and fully accounted for, however Democrat Donald Payne said that the US should give aid as the US has a humanitarian responsibility to the NKorean people and should not let them get caught in the middle of a political dispute.
  • SK’s Blue House official expressed doubts about NK food shortages, saying the NK Govt may be stockpiling food for its big celebrations in 2012. A SK diplomatic source has claimed that NK has even requested food aid from Zimbabwe. NK Govt officials also apparently asked for food aid from SK during contact over a possible summit. The SK Govt continues to openly politicise food aid and an official said that food aid would only be possible after an apology for the 2010 attacks, claiming that otherwise there would be a big backlash from the SK public.


  • RFA reports that trafficking gangs are scouting out women inside NKorea and tempting them to China, where they are sold like merchandise. Prices for women aged 20-29 are around $1000; age 30-39 $760; age 40+ $460. Traffickers are often ethnic Koreans or even sometimes defectors themselves.
  • SK Govt agencies have started small scale training courses for NK refugees in Gyeongi Province to learn about the agricultural industry and farming methods so they can make a living in rural areas. There are plans to expand the programme to refugees in other parts of the country.
  • 47 year old NK refugee Han Pil-soo heads a successful trading company based in Seoul, mainly selling products online to China. Teaching NK refugees business skills needed to rebuild his country in the future is a key part of his motivation and 37 of his employees are NK refugees (over 80% of his workforce).
  • The stand-off over the 4 would-be defectors from the drifter boat continues. The NK Govt has refused to accept the other 27 NKoreans if all 31 are not returned. They demanded that the 4 defectors meet face-to-face with their family members to confirm to them that they were staying in SK by their own free will, a particularly horrific move as it is widely expected that the family members would be sent to prison camps in the event of defection. The NK Govt then released video interviews of the family members (clearly reading a script) and sent and published letters purportedly written by the family members pleading with their husband/brother/daughter to return. The letters actually recognise the free will of the defectors to stay or return, instead of treating them as if they had been forced to stay as depicted by the NK Govt. They also recognise that their defection would cause their families problems in the future.
  • Selected excerpts translated by SP: “Our Myeong-ok would not give in to vulgar temptations. You know too well what kind of place south Korea is. How could you so easily give up the embrace of your fatherland and your mother that raised you? How could you live alone in that rough land where human dignity is so brutally trampled?”
  • Un-ha. You must not become a sinner for your whole life to your younger brother and your parents that gave birth to you… You must not become an irremovable stain and source of criticism on the Bong family name, that has represented patriotism and loyalty to our country for generations.”
  • I hope with all my heart that you will always be an excellent father and will not cast a shadow on the bright futures of [our children] Jiwon and Jihyang… Please return in an honourable manner and without shame in front of our fatherland and our family.”
  • The SK Govt has said it will deliver the letters to the would-be defectors only if NK agrees to reciprocate and deliver letters to SK citizens detained in the north from family members in the south (the SK Govt believes there are around 510 such people still alive).
  • The SK Govt seems to have extended the questioning period for NKoreans picked up from drifting boats to one month after the Yeonpyeongdo attack last year, again mixing up humanitarian and political issues.
  • Story of Ma Young-ae, a NK refugee and former NKorean intelligence officer who now runs a restaurant in N Virginia.
  • Story of Park Su-hyeon and his 2 brothers who defected from NK and became oriental medical doctors in the south.
  • Tim Peters [spelt Pieters here] describes his work in the underground railroad.


  • A SK lawmaker claimed KJI has deployed tanks and other weaponry around his residence for fear of unrest. The NK Govt is also reportedly tightening controls on diplomats returning from abroad to stop them spreading information about the unrest in the Arab world.
  • A UN FAO-OIE team is on the ground in NKorea to help deal with the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks.
  • NK’s TB incidence ranks at 7th or 8th in the world, with around 345 cases per 100,000 compared to 90 per 100,000 in SK and 98 per 100,000 in China. The epidemic seems to be growing, fueled by food shortages and presence of other infectious diseases. KEI reports the success of engagement on public health issues such as the US-DPRK Tuberculosis Project which has developed NK’s first modern TB lab.
  • The CEO of Associated Press was in NK, possibly in efforts to set up a bureau in Pyongyang to join China’s Xinhua and Russia’s Itar-Tass.
  • ORNK reports that a large quantity of leaflets describing the Egyptian uprising have been found in Hyesan, near the border with China. The leaflets were thought to have been carried across the border with China and sparked a clear up operation by the police and security services.
  • Fortune telling is banned in NK, but the punishment is minor compared with the punishment for other religious activities. Since the breakdown in faith in the authorities in the 1990s visiting fortune tellers has become more popular, and refugees tell of people trading valuable rice for readings so they could have some hope for the future. The Daily NK also reports that a prominent fortune teller has attracted attention by predicting that power in the post-KJI era will rest with ‘Mr. Jang’ (Jang Song-taek).
  • Lankov describes the slow improvement in the NK economy over the last 10 years (including improvement in food security), driven by the growth of private enterprise and trade with China. He speculates that further improvement in NK’s economy will hasten the regime’s demise.


  • The USG is pressuring China to agree to a UNSC presidential statement recognising NK’s uranium enrichment programme as a violation of existing Security Council resolutions, arguing that this would provide the basis for resuming the SPT.
  • A NK economic delegation will visit San Diego and NYC to learn about western economic systems.
  • Following on from DDOS cyber attacks on SK Govt websites, SK blamed NK for GPS disruption in the south, which may have been aimed at disrupting US-ROK military drills. SK announced it will also improve its physical national defenses against possible NK attacks.
  • The SK spy agency claims the CCP has invited KJU to China.
  • 100s of SKorean firms have been left on the edge of bankruptcy by an inter-Korean trade ban in place since May 2010. Hyundai Asan is also being forced to diversify its operations after the long term ban on tours to the Mt. Kumgang resort in NK hit its revenue.


  • KCNA has recently increased its output, especially ‘world news’ not directly related to Korea. KCNA reports that ‘yeppuni’ in NK refers to “women who devoted their lives to the country in both the front and rear during the war”, whereas in SK it just refers to a pretty girl.
  • Interesting behind-the-scenes piece on the Daily NK, NK Intellectuals Solidarity, etc.
  • The NK Govt’s desperation for foreign cash may lead it to look into selling carbon credits.
  • Noland on leaflet propaganda – includes English translation of a propaganda leaflet sent to the north. Operations to send leaflets to the north have been suspended after the mother of one of the group leaders was murdered (it is unclear in what circumstances or if there was any NK involvement in the murder).
  • According to one of Rumsfeld’s papers, in 2003 there were 69 NK citizens serving in the US military.
  • Pyongyang Broadcasting Station, which targets SKorean listeners and is not accessible in NK, reported on the North African uprisings describing them as ‘anti-people’ and saying that NK’s ideology remains strong.
  • Knowledge request by Chosun Exchange in the area of contract negotiations, microfinance and bond markets.
  • NK was beaten to the position of least liked country by Iran in a BBC poll.
  • Methamphetamines made in NK are said to be flooding the Asia-Pacific market and are cutting street prices by as much as half in the Philippines.
  • NK state media put out a very short report on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a day after it happened.

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