Parents of dead American hostage urge human rights pressure on North Korea

Robie de Guzman   •   November 22, 2019   •   146

(FILE) Fred and Cindy Warmbier, parents of Otto Warmbier a US citizen who died last year, days after his release from captivity in North Korea, speak at the 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, at the International Conference Center Geneva (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland, 20 February 2018. EPA-EFE/SALVATORE DI NOLFI

The parents of American student Otto Warmbier, who died after he was released from nearly 18 months of North Korean captivity in a state of coma, urged on the South’s government Friday to pressure Pyongyang over its alleged human rights abuses.

At a press conference in Seoul organized by the Korean War Abductees’ Family Union, Fred and Cindy Warmbier called on the international community that they should not use denuclearization dialogue as an excuse to ignore such alleged crimes by North Korea.

“That’s like saying it’s OK to murder people as long as you don’t murder us,” Cindy Warmbier said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The United Nations considers North Korea as one of the world’s biggest human rights violators. The regime, led by Kim Jong-un, allegedly does not tolerate dissent, holds thousands of people in political prison camps and strictly controls the flow of external information.

The Warmbiers have repeatedly demanded North Korea be legally held responsible for the death of their son, and have been seeking international support to hold the country accountable for violating international sanctions.

“If you force North Korea to engage the world from a legal standpoint, they will ultimately have to have dialogue,” Fred said.

Their son was detained in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster when he visited Pyongyang in Dec. 2015.

The 23-year-old died a few days after he was repatriated to the US in a state of coma. North Korea denied any responsibility for his death.

Fred and Cindy were on Saturday expected to visit the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas and return to the US the following day. EFE-EPA


Seoul restaurants offer rare taste of North Korean food

UNTV News   •   December 4, 2019

The facade of Pyongyang Suljib (Pyongyang Tavern), in the neighborhood of Hongdae, with colorful posters that mimic the propaganda of the North Korean regime, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 16, 2019 (issued Dec 4, 2019). EFE/Andrés Sánchez Braun

SEOUL — Two restaurants in the neighborhood of Hongdae in Seoul are offering South Korean diners a chance to sample the flavors of their neighbor to the north in an experience that used to be rare, but which, thanks to improving diplomatic relations, is becoming increasingly popular.

Southerners can sample the flavors and atmosphere of an eatery in North Korea, officially still an enemy state of the South since the Korean War that ended with a ceasefire in 1953, although no formal truce was ever signed.

Warmer relations since a diplomatic thaw last year has changed how Seoulites view Pyongyang, a factor which has been instrumental in opening these eateries, the owners say.

Unlike most North Korean restaurants, which are run by defectors and their descendants and are quite modest and traditional, both eateries are operated by South Koreans.

“There’s no place like this in Seoul,” the owner of Pyongyang Suljib in the heart of Hongdae, told EFE.

Customers are greeted with huge posters imitating the propaganda of the Pyongyang regime and songs from the North, such as the ubiquitous “Bangapseumnida” (“Nice to meet you”).

Slogans like “Let’s put together a great harvest of empty bottles” provide a comic turn to the traditional motivational phrases used in the North; some even go a step further, such as the one bearing the message, “Those who are caught smoking on the premises will be executed by firing squad.”

As well as sampling Northern specialties such as naengmyeon — Pyongyang-style fried noodles — the eatery mimics one from North Korea down to the finest details to complete an exotic and entertaining experience for its mostly young crowd.

The attention to detail can be seen in beer bottles sporting labels that copy Taedongang — the most famous North Korean beer, which is banned in the South — to furniture acquired in Dandong, a border town in China where many North Koreans sell their wares.

But the venture has attracted its share of controversies, according to the owner, who wished to remain anonymous after backlash from conservative South Koreans.

After the restaurant’s opening was announced in October, a group of nationalists protested outside the premises and complained to the police that it praised the North Korea regime, an activity banned under the National Security Act.

At another establishment, Chin-Chin — a restaurant that opened this summer in Yeonnam district, chef Lee Jin-ho has spent months perfecting a menu that covers the best of North Korean fare.

Lee features classics such as handmade Pyongyang sundae, a blood sausage similar to black pudding, and dwaeji gukbap — pork soup with rice — offering tastes which locals won’t have ever had a chance to sample first-hand, as traveling to the North is banned.

“We used to have the same kind of dishes but they developed their own food culture the last 70 years. There’s also a lot of different (regional) renditions that we South Koreans haven’t tried,” he said.

Lee highlights the Chinese influence on Northern recipes as one of the main differences, which has led to the use of ingredients such as spring onion and doubanjiang — a spicy sauce made of fermented beans — that are not part of Southern cuisine.

The food shortages in North Korea also contributed hugely to the differences in the two cuisines. Injo gogi bap, a synthetic meat, was invented as a protein supplement to offset the scarcity of meat by using a thin layer of the residue left from soybean oil production, wrapped around rice and eaten with a spicy sauce. Lee added it to the menu because it is a daily staple for many North Koreans.

The chef had help with the recipes from Ahn Young-ja, who prepared official dinners served to former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un, before defecting to the South.

Getting some of the ingredients — such as the potato flour used for a kind of Northern noodle, the import of which is banned — also proved to be a challenge.

But, judging from his clientele, which includes “a lot of defectors,” Chin-Chin seems to have cracked the code by mixing South Korean potato starch mixed with a dash of buckwheat flour. EFE-EPA

North Korea says up to US to choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2019

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Township of Samjiyon County, North Korea, 02 December 2019. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attended the ceremony. EPA-EFE/KCNA

Seoul – North Korea on Tuesday said it was up to the United States to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks was drawing closer amid Washington’s continued “dialogue rhetoric”.

“What is left to be done now is the US’ option and it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency KCNA.

The statement quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song saying that Pyongyang had “done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps.”

This refers to North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Drawing nearer is the year-end time limit the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) set for the US. However, the US is keen on earning the time needed for it, talking about the ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ far from acting in response to the measures taken by the DPRK first,” Ri said.

The statement said North Korea had “heard more than enough dialogue rhetoric raised by the US whenever it is driven into a tight corner. So, no one will lend an ear to the US any longer.”

It said the talks touted by Washington was, “in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US”.

Experts believe that if there is no progress in talks in the next few weeks, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

Bilateral negotiations have not advanced since a failed summit in February in Hanoi, where Washington refused to lift economic sanctions in return for what Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear assets.

Both parties held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

North Korean media on Tuesday also showed leader Kim Jong-un inaugurating a real estate project near Mount Paektu, a sacred site for the regime.

Given that important decisions have often followed visits to this area, some experts believe that Pyongyang wants to ramp up the pressure with this gesture.

Last week, North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as East Sea in the two Koreas) from a super large multiple-launch rocket system, prompting Pentagon to deploy reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean peninsula.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft flew over the region for the fifth time in less than a week in a gesture that some believe may be a deliberate warning message against threats from the North Korean regime. EFE-EPA


South Korea condemns North Korea for artillery drill near border

Robie de Guzman   •   November 25, 2019

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows Kim Jong Un (C), chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, inspecting the defense detachment in Changrin Islet, North Korea (issued 25 November 2019).

SEOUL – South Korea on Monday said that the artillery firing exercise conducted by North Korea on an island near the western sea border between the countries was a violation of an agreement reached between them at last year’s Pyongyang summit.

The exercise took place on Changrin Islet in the Yellow Sea (West Sea) about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) north of the maritime border, during North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to a military detachment located there, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson confirmed to EFE.

The ministry expressed its concern over the act, claiming it violated the agreement signed by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the summit held in Pyongyang in September last year.

The authorities at Seoul however did not specify when the military exercise was carried out. North Korean state media reported it Monday.

Changrin, located about 130 kilometers northwest of the South Korean port city of Incheon, is very close to the so-called Northern Limit Line drawn by Seoul and Washington at the end of the Korean War (1950-1953), which Pyongyang does not accept.

North Korean state news agency KCNA said that Kim ordered prominent soldiers on the island to “set up a well-knit system” to ensure “full readiness for carrying out a combat mission any moment.”

“We call on North Korea to immediately stop all military actions in border areas, which are feared to heighten military tensions, and to fully comply with the pact,” Seoul’s defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said at a press conference, according to Yonhap news agency.

Following the rapprochement between the two Koreas in 2018, the lack of progress in denuclearization talks with the United States — especially regarding lifting of sanctions and resumption of cooperation projects between the Koreas — has led Pyongyang to return to a more hostile attitude towards Washington and its southern neighbor. EFE-EPA




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