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All Things North Korea Thread


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North Korea might be making millions -- and breaking sanctions -- selling sand. Yes, sand.


It was May of last year when Lucas Kuo and Lauren Sung noticed something strange: more than 100 ships gathering in the waters near Haeju, North Korea.


As part of their work at the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a nonprofit that analyzes and investigates security issues using big data, the two analysts keep an eye on traffic in North Korean waters and further afield in Northeast Asia.

They do this because Pyongyang has been accused of selling coal and other valuable goods, sometimes in very big quantities, on the high seas to get around the prying eyes of customs officers, who must enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea. Instead of moving goods into a port before trading, North Koreans supposedly just move them from one ship to another at sea and lie about their origins.


These "ship-to-ship transfers" can rake in tens of millions of dollars for Kim Jong Un's cash-strapped regime, depending on what's sold.

They are meant to be fast and discreet, and usually involve a few ships at most. But Sung and Kuo kept seeing dozens of ships mysteriously sailing to North Korea.

Something was up.

What Kuo and Sung went on to discover was a massive operation allegedly worth millions of dollars involving 279 ships which appeared to be skirting international sanctions on North Korea.

But these ships weren't being used for running guns, dealing drugs, offloading counterfeit cash or trafficking endangered species, crimes North Korea is notorious for worldwide. They weren't even carrying coal, Pyongyang's most profitable export.


They were being used to dredge and transport sand. That may seem innocuous, but North Korea is barred from exporting earth and stone under United Nations sanctions passed in December 2017. Trading North Korean sand is a violation of international law.

Despite those measures, North Korea raked in at least $22 million last year using "a substantial sand-export operation," UN investigators said in a report released in April. 


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Kim Jong Un's sister threatens S. Korea with military action


he powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened military action against South Korea as she bashed Seoul on Saturday over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.


Describing South Korea as an “enemy,” Kim Yo Jong repeated an earlier threat she had made by saying Seoul will soon witness the collapse of a “useless” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.


Kim, who is first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said she would leave it to North Korea’s military leaders to carry out the next step of retaliation against the South.


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S Korea unification minister offers to resign over tensions with North


Kim Yeon-chul said he took responsibility for the worsening of inter-Korean relations.


It comes a day after North Korea blew up a symbolic liaison office near the border which was built to improve ties with the South.


The North Korean army meanwhile has said it will send troops into disarmed areas along the border.


Earlier on Wednesday, Pyongyang explained why it blew up the office in Kaesong.


A state media article accused the South of breaking 2018 agreements and behaving like a "mongrel dog" - while the sister of Kim Jong-un accused the South's president of being a US "flunkey".


While the South says it remains open for talks, it has condemned the North's actions as senseless and damaging.


Tensions have sharply escalated in recent weeks - partly prompted by defectors in the South sending propaganda over the border.


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N Korea's Kim suspends plans for military action against S Korea


North Korea has announced it will suspend "military action plans" against South Korea, after a meeting of the governing party's Central Military Commission presided over by leader Kim Jong Un, the official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday.


The video conference meeting on Tuesday also discussed documents outlining measures for "further bolstering the war deterrent of the country", KCNA reported.


Political tensions between the two Koreas have been rising over Pyongyang's objections to plans by defector-led groups in South Korea to fly propaganda leaflets across the border. North Korea is also suffering under economic sanctions that it wants eased as part of denuclearisation talks that have been stalled for months.


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Furious Kim Jong-un blew up office after 'dirty photos' of his wife were shared


North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un reportedly ordered for a liaison office with South Korea to be blown up after becoming furious at “dirty and insulting” depictions of his wife in an anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaign which is being orchestrated in the South.


The North had originally threatened to close the inter-Korean liaison office and other projects if the South failed to stop North Korea defectors from sending the leaflets and other material into the country.


Leaflets in one of the most recent launches, carried out on May 31, had included provocative imagery of the North's First Lady Ri Sol Ju, sparking "serious outrage" in Pyongyang, according to Russian ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora Agence France-Presse reports.


North Korea blew up the joint liaison office last week and threatened military action over defectors in the South sending anti-North leaflets across the border.


An explosion was heard before smoke was seen rising from the joint industrial complex in the town of Kaesong, some 85 miles southeast of the North Korean capital Pyongyang.


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Hundreds of North Korean ghost ships with skeletons inside wash up onto beaches


Some 500 North Korean ghost ships, some with skeletons inside, have washed ashore in Japan in the past five years.


Last year, a boat was discovered with two human heads inside as well as the decomposing remains of five other bodies after is came ashore on Sado Island.


It had been a mystery as to why the boats continued to run ashore, but it appears an answer has finally been found.


According to Global Fishing Watch (GFW) and NBC News, the shipwrecks could be happening due to Chinese vessels being sent to fish illegally in North Korea’s waters.


Its report claims the illegal fishing operations to travel out further to sea – risking their lives in unsafe boats and then being swept away by strong waves and dying at sea.


Japan’s coastguard said more than 50 North Koreans have washed up on beaches in the past two years.


Jungsem Lee, who works at the Korea Maritime Institute, told the Guardian: “Competition from the industrial Chinese trawlers is likely displacing the North Korean fishers, pushing them into neighbouring Russian waters.


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Kim Jong Gun: North Korean generals pose like gangsters alongside their leader with pistols awarded to them to mark Korean War armistice anniversary


North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un was shown Monday surrounded by generals posing like gangsters holding commemorative pistols awarded to them to mark the anniversary of the Korean War armistice. 




Meanwhile in the South, masked veterans marked the occasion with a socially distanced ceremony as the two sides separately held memorials for the armistice that ended hostilities in 1953.




The contrasting events marked 67 years since the ceasefire that left the peninsula divided and millions of families split by the Demilitarized Zone.


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Escape to North Korea: Defector at heart of COVID-19 case fled sex abuse investigation


Last week, a 24-year-old defector returned to North Korea the way he left in 2017, authorities say, but with a coronavirus pandemic raging in the background this time, his illicit trip drew far more attention.


South Korea has identified the man only by his surname, Kim, and said he was the “runaway” who North Korea accuses of illegally crossing their shared border last week with symptoms of COVID-19.


Facing a sexual assault investigation, Kim evaded high-tech South Korean border control systems by crawling through a drain pipe and swimming across the Han River to the North on July 19, the South Korean military has said. He appears to have spent several days there before being caught.


According to police, a female defector in her 20s filed a complaint on June 12, accusing Kim of sexually assaulting her at his home. They interviewed him once on June 21, and he denied the accusations.


The investigation gathered steam when one of Kim’s acquaintances reported to police on July 19 that he threatened the woman and planned to flee to the North, a police official said.


A warrant for Kim’s arrest was issued two days later, but according to North Korean state media, he had already arrived there.


By July 24, North Korean authorities had found him in Kaesong, and said he displayed COVID-19 symptoms. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the city be locked down and declared a state of emergency, state media reported on Sunday.


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Kim Jong-un gives sister Yo-jong 'more responsibilities'


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has delegated more responsibilities to his aides, including his sister Kim Yo-jong, South Korea's spy agency claims.


Mr Kim still maintains "absolute authority", but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.


Ms Kim is now "steering overall state affairs", the National Intelligence Service added.


However, Seoul's spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.


The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on Thursday to South Korea's National Assembly.


"Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little," the agency was quoted as saying.


Ms Kim now has responsibility for Pyongyang's policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is "the de-facto number two leader," it added, although it stressed that Mr Kim had "not selected a successor."


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Kim Jong Un's sister may have taken over a key North Korean post, South Korean officials say


Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong is effectively running one of the most important political bodies in North Korea, officials in Seoul believe, according to South Korea's defense minister.

The development, if true, likely further cements her status as the secretive country's second-most powerful figure.

Speaking to lawmakers in the National Assembly on Tuesday, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Kim Yo Jong is likely now in charge of the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party (WPK), the party body that deals with ideological indoctrination, party organization and political appointments.

Experts say the OGD is also responsible for monitoring the estimated 3 million members of the WPK to make sure they are sufficiently loyal to Kim Jong Un and respect the teachings of the North Korean regime.


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Kim Jong-un raises alarm over North Korea's coronavirus response as typhoon nears


In a rare display of urgency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held his third high-level political conference in as many weeks, where he raised alarm about the nation's coronavirus response and a typhoon forecast to hit the country early Thursday.


During an enlarged meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Workers' Party on Tuesday, Kim lamented unspecified "defects" and "shortcomings" in the country's' anti-virus campaign and urged that they be corrected swiftly, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday.


Kim also called thorough preparations to minimise damage from Typhoon Bavi, which comes weeks after torrential rains caused flooding and massive damage to homes and crops, inflicting further pain to an economy ravaged by US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and border closures amid the pandemic.


Kim set tasks for the party and public services at every level, "saying that to thoroughly prevent the casualties by the typhoon and minimise the damage to crops is important work which can never be neglected even a moment", KCNA paraphrased the leader as saying.


Typhoon Bavi as of Wednesday morning was near the South Korean island of Jeju and was on course to hit the northwest coast of the Korean Peninsula around daybreak on Thursday morning. South Korea's weather agency said it had a maximum wind speed of 155 kilometers per hour (96 mph) and was forecast as one of the strongest to hit the peninsula this year.


Kim's comments come amid conjecture over his health after South Korea's spy agency said he had delegated some authority to his sister Kim Yo-jong to relieve his "governance stress".


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North Korea orders troops and police to shoot citizens who approach the Chinese border


North Korea has ordered military units and police to shoot on sight anyone in the country who goes within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of the Sino-Korean border, the latest of Pyongyang’s draconian measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, sources in the country told RFA Wednesday.


A resident of North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA’s Korean Service that he learned of the new border policy less than a day before it took effect at midnight local time Thursday.


“Police in the city of Hoeryong issued an emergency notice from the Ministry of Social Security, saying they would kill anyone within a kilometer of the North Korea-China border regardless of their reason for being there,” the source said.


The emergency declaration “will be in effect along the entire North Korea-China border until the coronavirus pandemic ends,” said the source, adding that authorities emphasized that they were trying to prevent the transmission of coronavirus through contact with people from China.


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