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Helas
Jan 31st, 2005, 07:52 PM
Chairman Kim’s dissolving kingdom
Michael Sheridan, Rajin, North Korea
http://images.thetimes.co.uk/images/trans.gifFAR across the frozen river two figures hurried from the North Korean shore, slip-sliding on the ice as they made a break for the Chinese riverbank to escape a regime that, by many accounts, is now entering its death throes.

It was a desperate risk to run in the stark glare of the winter sunshine. We had just seen a patrol of Chinese soldiers in fur-lined uniforms tramping along the snowy bank, their automatic rifles slung ready for action.

NI_MPU('middle');Police cars swept up and down the road every 10 or 15 minutes, on the look-out for refugees. A small group of Chinese travellers in our minibus, some of whom turned out to have good reasons to be discreet, pretended not to notice.

The two made it to shelter and we ploughed on towards a border post that offered us a rare opportunity to cross into the northeastern corner of the last Stalinist state, posing as would-be investors in an experimental free trade zone.

We had already witnessed one sign that North Korea’s totalitarian system is dissolving, even as its leaders boast of owning nuclear weapons to deter their enemies.

“It’s just like the Berlin Wall,” Pastor Douglas Shin, a Christian activist, said by telephone from Seoul. “The slow-motion exodus is the beginning of the end.”

In interviews for this article over many months, western policymakers, Chinese experts, North Korean exiles and human rights activists built up a picture of a tightly knit clan leadership in Pyongyang that is on the verge of collapse.

Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres. Without any public announcement, governments from Tokyo to Washington are preparing for a change of regime.

The death of Kim’s favourite mistress last summer, a security clampdown on foreign aid workers and a reported assassination attempt in Austria last November against the leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, have all heightened the sense of disintegration.

The Japanese intelligence agency, in an unclassified report issued on December 24, referred to “signs of instability” inside the political establishment and predicted a feud among the elite as they strive to seize power from Kim.

Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s ambitious brother-in-law, was purged from party office after he tried to build up a military faction to put his own son in power. Mystery surrounds the fate of Vice-Marshal Jo Myong-rok, the soldier once sent as Kim’s emissary to meet Bill Clinton in the White House.

The dictator’s favoured heir apparent, his son Kim Jong-chol, 23, who was educated in Geneva, is reported to have staged a shoot-out inside a palace with Kim Jang-hyun, 34, an illegitimate son of Kim Il-sung, father of the dictator and founder of the dynasty.

Rumours of rivalry and bloodshed have multiplied since the Dear Leader’s last meetings with dignitaries from Russia and China last September. Since then Kim has vanished from view.

Analysts in Seoul say that in recent propaganda pictures the bouffant-haired dictator is wearing the same clothes as in photographs from two years ago, suggesting that they may have been taken then. Observers await Kim’s official birthday, February 16, to see if the state media accord him the usual fawning adulation. According to exiles, North Korean agents in Beijing and Ulan Bator are frantically selling assets to raise cash — an important sign, says one activist, because “the secret police can always smell the crisis coming before anybody else”.

Once we had crossed the steel bridge into this hermetic member of President George W Bush’s “axis of evil”, much of what we saw suggested that the party’s reign is a facade.


As we shivered in the frontier post the portraits of Kim and his late father, Kim Il-sung, stared down from the wall as if nothing had changed. But the cult of the Kim dynasty, its “perfect” theory of Juche — patriotic self-reliance — and the utopian society of which the official guides boast are visibly breaking down.

NI_MPU('middle');Word has spread like wildfire of the Christian underground that helps fugitives to reach South Korea. People who lived in silent fear now dare to speak about escape. The regime has almost given up trying to stop them going, although it can savagely punish those caught and sent back.

“Everybody knows there is a way out,” said a woman, who for obvious reasons cannot be identified but who spoke in front of several witnesses.

“They know there is a Christian network to put them in contact with the underground, to break into embassies in Beijing or to get into Vietnam. They know, but you have to pay a lot of money to middlemen who have the Christian contacts.”

Her knowledge was remarkable. North Korean newspapers are stifled by state control. Televisions receive only one channel which is devoted to the Dear Leader’s deeds. Radios are fixed to a single frequency. For most citizens the internet is just a word.

Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

“The information blockade is like a dam and when it bursts there will be a great wave,” said Shin, the crusading pastor.

Here in the north of the country, faith, crime and sheer cold are eroding the regime’s grip at a speed that may surprise the CIA’s analysts: facts that should give ammunition to conservatives in Washington who call for a hardline policy.

Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004.

Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons.

The regime is fighting to save itself from subversion. Its agents kidnapped Kim Dong-shik, a South Korean missionary, from the turbulent Chinese border town of Yanji in 2000. Last week the South Koreans demanded a new investigation: the clergyman has never been seen again.

The secret police cannot staunch the word of the gospel. Two of our party turned out to be Christian businessmen who had come from China carrying wads of cash. Korean-language Bibles have been smuggled in by the hundreds.

The veneer of communist propaganda is still kept up. “There is no need for religion in North Korea,” said our loyal tour guide. “Personally, I believe in the Korean Workers’ party and our Dear Leader.” Fifty miles south of the border we watched as schoolchildren obediently filed out in a shrieking gale to follow their teachers in pilgrimage along the seashore to a shrine to Kim Il-sung, who is still revered as the “Great Leader”.

Lined up outside a fisherman’s cottage where the Great Leader stayed in 1953, they listened to a revolutionary harangue by a woman teacher with more attention than most seven to 12-year-olds might muster. They had marched two miles, wrapped up like small bundles against a wind that blew off the Sea of Japan so bitterly that the spray froze on the lines of the fishing boats. It was –15C that day.


These are children whose average weight and height after years of malnutrition are 20% less than those of their equals in South Korea, according to the United Nations. Their rations were recently cut from 300g to 250g of staple food a day.

NI_MPU('middle');Yet the proverbial hardiness of the Koreans — a quality that amazed British soldiers who fought in these conditions from 1950 to 1953 to keep South Korea out of Kim Il-sung’s hands — is no longer enough to make up for his son’s deficiencies.

Two years ago the younger Kim introduced free market reforms in a half-hearted attempt to restart an economy that has been dying since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Rajin, a deepwater port that is open to foreign trade, is supposed to be a showpiece of the new economy in the potentially rich northeast next to China and Russia.

However, here we saw economic chaos that has led to unheard-of social disorder. At the central market child beggars chased us along alleys of shoddy Chinese goods, past stalls heaped with decaying fish. A group of dead-eyed teenagers kicked and shoved the younger boys to go after the foreigners. The guides hastily warned us against robbers.

To most North Koreans the prices must have seemed insane. A crab caught locally cost more than a driver’s monthly wages of £1.40. A Chinese cotton vest cost two weeks’ money.

Still hundreds of people jammed the officially sanctioned market and dozens of illegal vendors froze outside as they touted vegetables, clothes and hunks of rancid meat.

No official intervened to stop the illicit trade. Judging by the aggressive pushing and arguing over the goods, there might have been a riot if they had. A few North Koreans are clearly making money. Many more, though, are falling into penury.

Later we were taken for lunch to a state restaurant where lukewarm fish, vegetables and rice were produced from a chilly kitchen. There were iron bars on the windows and a heavy padlock on the door to prevent looting. Marxists, if there were any remaining in North Korea, might have described the situation as prerevolutionary.

Last April an unknown number of North Koreans died in an explosive fireball that wrecked the railway station at Ryongchon, near the Chinese border, on the day when Kim’s personal train was due to pass through.

Foreign diplomats initially accepted the regime’s explanation of an accident. But two well informed ambassadors in Pyongyang say that they now have doubts.

In a telltale measure, frontier guards ordered us to leave all mobile phones at the Chinese border post — rumour has it that the Ryongchon blast was triggered by a mobile phone.

An attempt to kill Kim would come as no surprise. Defections by party officials and army officers have increased as the elite senses that it faces disaster. Japan is considering economic sanctions to retaliate for the kidnappings of its nationals by North Korea and some American policymakers think that the regime should be pushed to the point of self-destruction. Nonetheless, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, wants to keep pressurising North Korea through negotiations. “The military option is not on the table for the United States,” said an American aid official who is up-to-date with her thinking.

To the children of the No 5 junior school in Rajin, that would come as a surprise. Their classrooms boast lurid posters of American marines murdering Koreans and greedy warmongers ganging up on a proud nation, as though Kennedy and Khruschev still held the world in thrall.


Their teeth chattering with cold, the children staged a classic communist song-and-dance routine for visitors, the boys clad in miniature military uniforms in tribute to Kim’s Songun — army first — policy.

NI_MPU('middle');Paranoia and brainwashing remain the regime’s most effective tools. Yet even as it tries to fight off God it has made its peace with Mammon.

On a freezing night when Rajin was sunk in gloom, its oil refineries empty, its power stations inert, one building stood ablaze with lights on the bleak seashore northeast of the city. It was a casino, where slate-faced Chinese gamblers squandered thousands of dollars at the baccarat table while impassive guards scrutinised them for any hints of dodgy play. Given the record of North Korean’s secret police it was hard to imagine anyone daring to cheat.

Very long but excellent article don't you think?

Lord Nelson
Jan 31st, 2005, 10:00 PM
yeah nice article but I'm afraid Kim Yung Il will still be in power until he is too old. You can compare N. Korea to Burma where the previous dictator ruled until his 80s where he was then deposed and lived under house arrest. The current regime is ruled by another dictator. I think that this scenario will also occur in N. Korea.
Reading articles about N. Korea can send you chills. Don't listen to the Silence of the Lambs theme if you read about how N. korean soldiers torture people......The soldiers from U.S. Puebla had all of their teeth kicked out. You should read about the last U.S. living deserter in N. Korea called Dresnok. He deserted in 1961 and is still in N. Korea. It goes for an interesting read.

Lord Nelson
Jan 31st, 2005, 10:41 PM
• Report: The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps (U.S. Committee

Hidden in the valleys between high mountains in the northern provinces of North Korea lies one of the country's darkest secrets -- political penal labor prisons.

Known as Kwan-li-so, these massive, sprawling encampments are where people who dare to speak out against the government of Kim Jong ll are sent to pay for their perceived wrongdoings.

According to a report by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, about 150,000 to 200,000 North Koreans are locked away in political prisons.

Behind the walls of a Kwan-li-so conditions and treatment are brutal.

"People are starved to death, worked to death, frozen to death over a period of time, and it's just absolutely horrific, reminiscent of what we've read coming out of the old Gulags under Stalin," says Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback.

Along with political prisoners, up to three generations of their families also are banished without trial -- usually for lifetime sentences in a system of "guilt by association," the report finds.

North Korean authorities have consistently denied these prison camps exist.

But rare pictures -- grainy and unsteady -- that were smuggled out of a camp near North Korea's border with China and acquired by a Japanese TV network provide compelling evidence of their existence.

The prisoners shown in the video are said to be North Koreans who tried to flee to China, or who were forcibly returned after escaping there. Satellite imagery offers further clues on the conditions in the prisons.

Former inmates recount a bleak existence under the eyes of ferocious guards.

"They beat people regardless of their sex or age," says a one-time prisoner. "My lip was split and I had such severe internal bleeding my excrement turned black with blood."

Escapees say dozens of prisoners are jammed into rudimentary huts.

"You couldn't even lie down," a former inmate says. "The back of the person in front of me touched my chest. There was no room to move."

The report describes hard labor at the camps involving mining for coal, iron deposits, gold and other ores, or logging and wood-cutting in nearby mountains. Inmates often work 12 or more hours a day, seven days a week, with time off only for national holidays.

Prisoners are provided only enough food to be kept on the verge of starvation.

Hunger yields large numbers of informants among the prisoners, leading to a prison culture of distrust and hostility. Prisoners fight each other over scraps of food or over the clothing of deceased inmates.

The fate for those caught stealing food or attempting escape are quickly sealed.

One camp survivor recalls a public killing of an attempted escapee, who was tied and dragged behind a car in front of assembled prisoners until dead, after which time the other prisoners were required to pass by and place their hands on his bloodied corpse.

Another prisoner shouted out against this atrocity, and he was immediately shot to death.

There are growing calls to put Pyongyang's human rights record on the international agenda.

"We really have to push on this or we will create yet another episode of humanity's knowing something terrible is taking place and not reacting," says Brownback.

This week, the highest ranking official ever to flee North Korea is providing more ammunition on the inner workings of the North Korean system.

Hwang Jang Yop, a close advisor to Kim until he defected to South Korea in 1997, is making an unprecedented visit to the U.S. capital where he's been meeting with key members of Congress and Bush administration officials.

Hwang has warned against any nuclear deal that helps Kim's regime to survive. He argues pressure on human rights will contribute to the regime's collapse.

He has paid a price for such views. His wife and one daughter reportedly committed suicide after his defection. And three other children are said to be prisoners in labor camps.

Oleh
Feb 1st, 2005, 12:05 AM
KHI wont give up until he dies, then there will either be anarchy or another dictator to take his place and susequent civil strife until the regime slowly dies away and the South has to probably absorb the country picking up a multi trillion dollar bill, a few million comparitivly uneducated, mindwashed and unemployed poverty striken citizens..That regime has fucked the Korean peninsular for a long time after it dies.

If I was a North Korean I probably would not know there was anything better than what I had (Which I would know is awful from the hunger pains and probable depression) due to the brain washing, but then again there are alot who try to make the break for China in hope of something better. I feel genuine pitty for the people of North Korea and wonder what chance they have. Kim is not going to stand aside and say "Democracy time". If anything a leader who is scared and on his last legs is mre likely to be like a cornered dog and lash out and in his case take everyone he can with him. He is a nut job running a "Stalinland" type theme park where he is the hand and his nation and people a little snow globe for him to shake and stir at leisure and no one will tell him to stop.