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North Korea threatens to pull out of family reunions

Posted by Rattana_S On February - 7 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea says it may back out of the family reunions it agreed to hold with South Korea if the latter continues with the annual drills it holds with the United States.

Annual military exercises in the region by South Korean and U.S. forces are scheduled for the end of this month.

“The reckless act of war is a violent violation and infringement of humanitarianism,” a spokesman for the North Korean Policy Department of the National Defense Commission said Thursday.

“It does not make sense to carry out the reunion of families, who were separated due to the War, during a dangerous nuclear war practice.”

The drills, the South Korean defense ministry said Thursday, will go on.

The reunions of about 100 people from each country are scheduled to take place between February 20 and 25, the South Korean unification ministry said Wednesday, following face-to-face talks between the two sides.

If they go ahead, the meetings of divided Korean families would be the first to take place since 2010.

North Korea has unceremoniously pulled the plug on such meetings in the past.

“If such agreements get turned around repeatedly, it cannot move forward,” South Korean Unification Minister Rhoo Kihl-jae told reporters. “We’ve seen these in the past several decades. To expand the trust, I want to say that the agreement must be kept.”

Drills infuriate N.Korea

The drills infuriate North Korea, which says it sees them as a prelude to an invasion. Last year, it ratcheted up its threatening rhetoric to alarming levels as the exercises took place.

In its calls so far this year for better relations, North Korea has asked South Korea not to take part in the drills — a request that Seoul and Washington have rejected.

Past disappointment

Reunions were due to take place last September, but Pyongyang canceled them with only a few days notice, accusing Seoul of souring ties between the two countries.

The reunions are an emotive issue. And time is running out for many of the surviving members of the families that were split by the 1950-53 war between the two Koreas. A lot of them are now in their 80s and 90s.

Tens of thousands of people in South Korea are on the list of those wanting to take part in the reunions.

This month’s planned reunions are scheduled to take place at the site where previous ones were held: Mount Kumgang, a resort on the North Korean side of the border that used to be jointly operated by both sides.

Report: NK executes shamed general’s family

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 26 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Purge of relatives and children of Jang Sang-thaek, himself put to death by Kim Jong-un, reported in South Korea.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has executed his uncle’s entire family, including his children and relatives serving as ambassadors to Cuba and Malaysia, according to South Korea’s state news agency, Yonhap.

Jang Song-thaek, a once powerful North Korean military general, was executed last month as divisions between him and his nephew Kim widened.

Kim referred to Jang as “worse than a dog” and “human scum” in his announcement of his execution, which he said was for treachery and betreyal. Pictures showed Jang being led from his office by state security.

“Extensive executions have been carried out for relatives of Jang Song-thaek,” an anonymous source said to Yonhap in a report published on Sunday. “All relatives of Jang have been put to death, including even children.”

The executed relatives include Jang’s sister Kye-sun, her husband and ambassador to Cuba, Jon Yong-jin, the ambassador to Malaysia, Jang Yong-chol, who is Jang’s nephew, as well as his two sons, the sources said.

The two ambassadors were recalled to Pyongyang in early December. The sons, daughters and grandchildren of Jang’s two brothers were all executed, the sources told Yonhap.

One source told Yonhap that some relatives were dragged out of their houses and shot in front of a crowd.

South Korea’s state news agency did not specify when they were killed. The article does not mention any specific sources and the agency is known for its anti-North Korean bias.

(CNN) — Skiing is not the first thing that immediately springs to mind when thinking about North Korea. But a luxury resort in the isolated nation is now receiving visitors.

Located in Masik, Kangwon province, the hotel and resort officially opened January 1 after reportedly encountering a number of setbacks.

Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based Koryo Tours was one of the first visitors invited to the resort — representing one of the few foreign tour companies operating in North Korea.

Cockerell shared his surreal experience on the company’s blog, recounting some surprise encounters.

“On my arrival at Masik on Jan 12th who was I to immediately run into but Dennis Rodman!,” wrote Cockerell. The former NBA star was visiting the resort after his much-publicized and controversial basketball match to mark Kim Jong Un’s birthday.

Rodman returns after North Korean storm

Another interesting encounter was with North Korea’s latest pop music phenomenon, a 20-member girl group called “Moranbong Band,” who were supposedly hand-picked by Kim himself.

“Women copy their hairstyles, men follow them for other reasons. They were here skiing and all seemed very nice and charming, sadly for our single guides they weren’t around the hotel bars in the evening though,” said Cockerell.

‘Fancy and comfortable’

The resort’s entrance fee has not yet been fixed, but Cockerell estimates it will probably soon be set at around €30 ($41) a day without rentals, which will cost around another €12.

The hotel is “very fancy and comfortable,” and features 120 rooms housed in two buildings, a swimming pool, bars, cafes, billiard tables, a karaoke room, a steam room and a dry sauna.

There are 11 runs including two beginner slopes, local tour guides who speak English but don’t ski and a large number of ski instructors available.

While the ski resort is expected to draw some foreign interest, the resort is “clearly built for locals,” said Cockerell.

“The number of local Korean skiers here was also a great surprise, considering that prior to a fortnight ago there was just one ski slope in the country, and in a very remote and hard to reach area,” he said.

Foreign visitors cannot call and book the hotel, but must be part of a tour group package via companies such as Koryo.

“We’re waiting for a review from diplomatic corp in Pyongyang — they know about it, but they need to look into it further,” said Cockerell about their plans for offering a Masik ski tour package for foreign tourists.

Controversy

“We’re well aware of the controversies surrounding this ski resort, that is is a highly expensive construction project which many see as economically doubtful and emblematic of recent building developments in the country,” he wrote on the Koryo Tours blog.

The resort has been scrutinized from conception to construction. Austrian and French companies declined to sell lifts to North Korea while the Swiss government blocked a potential sale from a Swiss company, reported The Washington Post, due to the new U.N. sanctions blocking the sale of luxury goods to North Korea that were imposed in March. The ski lifts currently in place at Masik were made in China.

MORE: How to travel to North Korea

A cautionary tale of dogs, imposters and North Korea

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 6 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

An anonymous blogger is a tenuous enough source for a news story. But an imposter posing as that anonymous blogger?!

Perhaps not since “curveball” – the now discredited Iraqi defector whose evidence was used to make the case for war – has an unreliable single source had such a field day.

The extraordinary claim that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had his uncle fed alive to a pack of hungry dogs comes from this posting on a Chinese microblog.

It’s been pointed out by those who’ve unearthed the trail that all it took was a bit of Chinese and some basic curiosity. But as the sensational story was splashed around the world the original, extremely shaky sourcing on which it was based was lost.

The post containing the gory details of the alleged execution is from a blogger calling himself Choi Seongho and claiming to be a North Korean newspaper editor now studying in China. His blog on Tencent, the country’s second most popular microblogging platform, carries satirical comments about life in North Korea. He has 30 thousand followers and he doesn’t reply to direct messages.

He also has a namesake. There is a Choi Seongho very much alive and blogging on Sina, China’s leading platform. The content is very similar, a mix of seemingly tongue-in-cheek North Korean patriotism and mild satire. But he has more than 2 million followers, was the first of the two to open an account, and although he keeps his identity anonymous, does reply to direct messages.

When asked by the BBC whether he was the source for the dog story, he denied it, saying; “The person on Tencent is someone trying to be me, who is not me.”

Admittedly, many of the news organisations carrying the North Korean execution story have wondered out loud at its authenticity. Now we know the original sourcing, a single anonymous Chinese blog masquerading as another, more popular, Chinese blog, the story looks too weak to be worth the ink.

In the end, what all this tells us, as others have pointed out, is that when it comes to North Korea we’re too ready to entertain our darkest imaginings, even if we don’t quite believe them ourselves.

It is certainly a dark and secretive place, but that makes it all the more important that we report the truth, not a sensational parody of it.

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