North Korean Defectors in China Decreasing: U.S. Expert
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The number of North Korean defectors hiding in China is estimated to have shrunken in recent years to almost one tenth the level seen in the late 1990's, a U.S. demographer said on Jan. 7.
The assessment is a controversial but important factor in shedding light on the conditions of those North Koreans who live in China. The defectors live under constant fear of deportation because their country considers defection a capital crime.
Activists and relief groups say tens of thousands of North Korean defectors live in China, but Dr. Courtland Robinson at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health said the number may have dropped to between 6,000 and 16,000 as of 2007.
"About a decade ago, people were literally being starved to death and fleeing to China," Robinson said in an interview, putting the 1998 figure between 50,000 and 130,000. Famine had reportedly killed as many as 2 million people in North Korea in the mid-1990s.
An official at South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles affairs involving North Korea, said he could not support the figures given by either activists or Robinson, arguing it was impossible to determine the exact number of those defectors in hiding.
Robinson, speaking on the sidelines of a conference on North Korean defectors in Seoul, said he had turned to local residents in China as informants to assess the number of defectors living in their towns. He then applied demographic methods to come up with what he called "plausible ranges" of a population.
"The very essence of these measurements is to start selecting sites randomly, not sites where you think North Koreans may be living," he said.
"It's a combination of things that has contributed to the decrease. Tightened border security on both sides is one," Robinson said. "Defectors have also evolved in terms of their understanding of how difficult it is to live in China."
Over 18,000 North Koreans have come to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. The annual number of defectors is increasing year by year and the Unification Ministry expects the accumulated figure to top 20,000 this year.
S. Korea Helped N. Korean Officials Understand Market Economy in 2009
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea helped North Korean officials and trade experts receive up-to-date market economy training last year, a government source said on Jan. 8.
The source at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said 40 North Korean officials were taught about the stock market, supply of consumer goods, light industrial policies, international trade and intellectual property right protection at China's Dalian University in October and November.
A research institute under the state-run Seoul National University provided the education program, which cost the South 220 million won (US$194,000).
The official, who declined to be identified, said that the research institute selected training courses with input given by North Korean officials and a similar amount of money has been reserved in the 2010 budget to conduct similar programs this year.
The ministry, however, said that South Korean officials were not directly involved in the training program.
Despite the cooling off in bilateral relations after President Lee Myung-bak took power in early 2008, Seoul has provided assistance to help train North Korean computer experts, medical personnel and government officials as part of its effort to expand cross-border exchange and contacts.
North Korean Airline Banned from Flying to Europe
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Air Koryo, North Korea's air carrier, has been banned from offering flight services to Europe for a fifth year after having failed to meet international safety requirements, U.S. international broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) said on Jan. 9.
The North Korean carrier has been involved in the list of carriers prohibiting from flying to the 27 members of European Union that was released this year, RFA said.
Air Koryo reportedly has a fleet of about 20 planes made between the 1960s and 1970s in the Soviet Union.
N. Korea's 2nd Nuclear Test Site Pinpointed in New Study
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Two U.S.-based scientists said on Jan. 10 they've located the site of North Korea's second nuclear test last year more precisely than ever before, pinpointing it just 2 kilometers off the place where the first test was conducted in 2006.
Lianxing Wen, a geophysics professor at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, and his graduate student, Hui Long, located the epicenter of the second nuclear test on May 5 last year with a margin of error of only 140 meters, compared with 3.8 kilometers achieved by the U.S. Geological Survey.
"We locate the 2009 test at 723 meters north and 2,235 meters west of the 2006 test," the scientists said in the study, which was published in the January-February edition of Seismological Research Letters of the Seismological Society of America.
Identifying the coordinates of the 2009 test site as 41°17′38.14″N latitude and 129°4′54.21″E longitude, the scientists said their findings should help Asian monitors to pinpoint the location of another nuclear test should North Korea ever decide to go ahead with one.
"The location of any future nuclear test around this particular test site will be pinpointed in real time, with a similar precision," Wen said in a separate email interview. "With its exact location known, the wave propagation effects due to location geology can be accurately accounted for, leading to a more accurate determination of yield."
North Korea conducted its first underground nuclear test in Oct. 9, 2006 in Punggye-ri in its northeastern county of Kilju, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.
Wen and Long said they analyzed the seismic waves from the first nuclear test to understand the geological complexities of the earth in the region, and used the data to reduce the uncertainty involved in determining the ground zero of the second test.
"The strategy is not to try to fully understand the complexities of the jungle (earth), but to take advantage of the forensic evidence of the jungle complexities that are imprinted in the recordings" of the first nuclear test, the scientists said in a separate introduction to their thesis.
The waveforms from the first test were obtained from nine seismic stations based in Japan, South Korea and China, the study said.
North Korea conducted its second nuclear test amid a deadlock in international talks aimed at stripping it of its nuclear ambitions, raising tensions and inviting harsh U.N. sanctions.
"High-precision location would reveal, in real time and at great accuracy, an increasingly complete view of the geographic network of a nation's nuclear test infrastructure," the paper said.
"Logistically and economically, it is convenient to use the same facilities to do multiple tests. Environmentally, it would confine nuclear wastes in a particular site," Wen said in the email.
N. Korea Suspected of Inflating Heir Apparent's Age: Report
TOKYO (Yonhap) -- North Korea's heir apparent was actually born in 1984, proving to be one year younger than previously known, a Japanese newspaper reported on Jan. 10, citing an unidentified informed source.
Mainichi Shimbun said it has been confirmed that Kim Jong-un, the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, is now 26 years old, as he was born on Jan. 8, 1984, instead of the previously known date, Jan. 18, 1983.
A 25th birthday celebration was held in Pyongyang on Jan. 7 last year in honor of the North Korean heir apparent, the paper insisted.
Jong-un is said to be born to the leader's third wife Ko Yong-hui. He has also been described as resembling his father the most in appearance and temperament among the three sons.
The report came amid media speculation that North Korea may again attempt to manipulate the year of Jong-un's birth to 1982 to make him 30 years old in 2012, when the North will celebrate the centennial of the birth of its deceased founding leader Kim Il-sung and is expected to formally declare Jong-un as the heir.
N. Korea among Nine Worst Countries in Rights, Democracy
WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has been listed among the nine worst countries in terms of human rights and democracy, an independent human rights watchdog group said on Jan. 12.
"Of the 47 countries ranked Not Free, nine countries and one territory received the survey's lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan," Freedom House said in the survey titled "Freedom in the World 2010: Global Erosion of Freedom," which was posted in its Web site.
The group graded nations from 1 to 7 in political and civil liberties categories, with North Korea receiving 7 in each category. South Korea, which was designated as "Free," got the high grade of 1 in political rights and 2 in civil liberties.
In announcing the outcome of its annual survey, which designated 89 countries as "Free," 58 as "Partly Free" and 47 as "Not Free," the rights advocacy group deplored the finding that "For the fourth consecutive year, global declines in freedom outweighed gains in 2009."
"This represents the longest continuous period of decline for global freedom in the nearly 40-year history of the report," it said, adding "Five countries moved into Not Free status, and the number of electoral democracies declined to the lowest level since 1995."
The report cited "the growing pressures on journalists and new media, restrictions on freedom of association, and repression aimed at civic activists engaged in promoting political reform and respect for human rights."