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North Korea

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is visiting China for two days, just a week after meeting President Donald Trump.

Kim Jong-un will most probably discuss sanctions and the commitment he made at the summit, in general terms, to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

China, North Korea’s only economic ally, has already suggested sanctions against North Korea could be eased.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the US have confirmed they have suspended planning for their next joint military drills.

That follows a pledge made by President Trump at the Singapore summit.

Image source Wikimedia

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The visit to China is Kim Jong-un’s third since March, when his first trip abroad since taking office was to meet President Xi Jinping.

Kim Jong-un’s latest visit was, unusually, reported by Chinese state media. However, it gave no details on the agenda.

On June 12, President Trump and Kim Jong-un signed what the US president called a “comprehensive” agreement.

North Korea agreed to denuclearization – something it had also committed to in talks with the South – while President Trump said the US would end its joint military exercises with South Korea.

Ending the war games had been a long-standing demand by both North Korea and China.

However, both South Korea and Japan – the US’s other main ally in Asia – said the joint drills were very important.

President Trump’s announcement appeared to catch South Korea off guard and there was confusion how it would be implemented.

There was also confusion over President Trump calling the drills “provocative”, a term hitherto used by North Korea to describe them. The US had always insisted they are purely defensive in nature.


There are about 29,000 US soldiers based in the South and each year the US and South Korea regularly conduct large scale military drills.

The next military drill was scheduled for August with some 17,500 US military personnel due to take part.

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General Kim Yong-chol, one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s most senior officials, is thought to be travelling to the US, as preparations for a possible summit gather pace.

South Korean news agency Yonhap said Kim Yong-chol was due to arrive in the US on May 30, via Beijing.

His trip to the US could be part of preparation for a proposed meeting between the North Korean leader and President Donald Trump.

The summit was thrown into doubt after President Trump pulled out last week.

However, both sides have been working to get the summit – scheduled for June 12 in Singapore – back on track.

It would be the first time a North Korean leader has met a sitting US president.

Photo AP

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Kim Yong-chol was scheduled to fly to New York on May 30, after speaking with Chinese officials in Beijing, Yonhap reported, citing diplomatic sources.

The former spy chief would be the most high-profile North Korean official to visit the US since 2000.

The apparent introduction of Kim Yong-chol to negotiations would be significant, as it would underline North Korea’s desire to ensure the talks go ahead.

He has been part of recent high-profile diplomatic overtures by North Korea.

Kim Yong-chol, 72, is a controversial figure in neighboring South Korea, and previously served as a negotiator in inter-Korean talks.

During his time as a military intelligence head, Kim Yong-chol was accused of being behind attacks on South Korean targets, including the torpedoing of a South Korea warship which killed 46 seamen, as well as the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.

As a result of these incidents, the US imposed personal sanctions on him in 2010 and 2015.

Despite reportedly being punished for an “overbearing attitude” in 2016, Kim Yong-chol has continued to hold senior posts in the army and party, and was the head of North Korea’s delegation to the closing ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

He is regularly seen at Kim Jongg-un’s side and has attended meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea, and met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang.

In February, Kim Yong-chol was sent to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he sat close to President Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump.

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North Korea has threatened to pull out of a summit with President Donald Trump if the US insists it gives up its nuclear weapons.

The highly anticipated meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is due to take place on June 12.

However, in an angry statement, North Korea’s vice-foreign minister accused the US of making reckless statements and of harboring sinister intentions.

Kim Kye-gwan pointed the finger squarely at US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

He said: “We do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him.”

The groundbreaking agreement for Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump to meet came about as North Korea said it was committed to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

Photo AP

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Donald Trump to Meet Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12

Exactly what that would entail has remained unclear, but North Korea has invited foreign media to witness the dismantling of its main nuclear test site later this month.

John Bolton recently said North Korea could follow a “Libya model” of verifiable denuclearization, but this alarms Pyongyang, which watched Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi give up his nuclear program only for him to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later.

Kim Kye-gwan’s statement, carried by North Korea’s state media, said that if the US “corners us and unilaterally demands we give up nuclear weapons we will no longer have an interest in talks” and “will have to reconsider” attending the June 12 summit in Singapore.

The official said North Korea did have “high hopes” but that it was “very unfortunate that the US is provoking us ahead of the summit by spitting out ludicrous statements”.

He is known to be highly respected in the North Korean leadership and has taken part in negotiations with the US before. There is very little chance Kim Kye-gwan;s comments were not personally endorsed by Kim Jong-un.

Hours before the announcement, in a sign of growing problems, Pyongyang has also pulled out of a meeting scheduled with South Korea on May 16 because of anger over the start of US-South Korean joint military drills.

Pyonyang had earlier said it would allow them to go ahead, but then called them “a provocative military ruckus” which was undermining its diplomatic efforts.

The sudden change in tone from North Korea is said to have taken US officials by surprise. Analysts said Pyongyang could be trying to strengthen its hand before talks.

The US state department said it was continuing to plan the Trump-Kim meeting, and President Trump is yet to comment.

President Donald Trump has announced he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on 12 June.

The president tweeted: “We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!”

Two months ago, President Trump stunned the world by accepting an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un for an unprecedented sit-down.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un had previously exchanged insults and threats. The breakthrough came after landmark talks between North Korea and South Korea.

The president’s announcement came hours after he welcomed home three American detainees released by North Korea.

Their release came during a visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to arrange details of the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Photo AP

President Trump Welcomes Three American Detainees Freed by North Korea

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No sitting US president has ever met a North Korean leader.

According to the White House, the American citizens detained in North Korea were freed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit, which President Trump earlier said he thought would be a “big success”.

The key issue expected to be discussed is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program – over which Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un furiously sparred in 2017.

North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests since 2006, despite international condemnation and sanctions, saying it needs the weapons for its own security.

The US wants North Korea to give up its weapons program completely and irreversibly.

Ahead of the meeting, Kim Jong-un has pledged to stop nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, and also to shut down a nuclear test site.

However, analysts caution that Kim Jong-un is unlikely to easily abandon nuclear weapons that he has pushed so hard to obtain, and that “denuclearization” means something quite different to both sides.

The US and Singapore have a close relationship. Singapore has diplomatic ties with North Korea but suspended all trade with the country in November 2017 as international sanctions were tightened.

Other locations which had been considered for the Trump-Kim summit included Mongolia and the Korean border’s demilitarized zone (DMZ).

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Three American detainees, who were released by North Korea earlier, have been welcomed home by President Trump.

President Trump said it was a “special night for these really great people” as they arrived at the Andrews Air Force Base near Washington.

According to the White House, Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul had been freed as a gesture of goodwill ahead of the planned meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

President Trump said he thought the summit would be “a big success”.

The date and location have been decided but not yet announced.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump entered the plane after it landed at about 02:45 local time and a few minutes later emerged with the three men to wave to the media.

The president said he appreciated that Kim Jong-un had allowed the men to leave as “frankly we didn’t think that was going to happen before the meeting”.

Photo AP

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Asked if this was his proudest achievement, President Trump said that would be “when we denuclearize that entire peninsula”.

He said: “It’s a great honor. But the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.”

Of the upcoming summit, President Trump said: “I think that we’re going to have… a very big success… I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful.”

He said he hoped he could travel to North Korea one day and that he believed Kim Jong-un wanted to bring his country “into the real world”.

The three men were smiling and waving and appeared in good health.

In an impromptu chat before the media with President Trump, Kim Dong-chul said: “It’s like a dream and we are very, very happy. We were treated in many different ways. For me, I had to do a lot of labor. But when I got sick I was also treated by them.”

Kim Hak-song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-chul had released an earlier statement saying: “We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo and the people of the United States for bringing us home.

“We thank God and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return.”

The three men had been jailed for anti-state activities and placed in labor camps.

Their release came during a visit to North Korea by Mike Pompeo to arrange details of the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

According to the North Korean state news agency KCNA, Kim Jong-un said he had accepted a US proposal to grant the three detainees an amnesty, adding that his meeting with President Trump would be an “excellent first step” towards improving the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is making a second surprise visit to North Korea, with speculation growing that he will bring home three jailed Americans.

His visit is intended to lay the groundwork for a historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.

Mike Pompeo told reporters he was hoping to finalize plans for talks, which are likely to focus on denuclearization.

However, the release of the detainees is a central issue for the Americans.

A South Korean presidential official told news agency Yonhap that North Korea was expected to release the US citizens as a “goodwill gesture”.

Mike Pompeo said he hoped Pyongyang would “do the right thing” and release three Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

He said: “We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months.”

Image source Wikimedia

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North Korea has historically used its foreign prisoners as leverage in its diplomatic dealings.

One of the detainees was jailed in 2015, the other two have been in prison for just over a year. Their convictions have been widely condemned as political and an abuse of human rights.

The last American to be freed – Otto Warmbier, who was jailed for stealing a hotel sign – was released last year but was fatally ill, and died shortly after returning home. The cause of death remains unexplained.

Mike Pompeo said a “good relationship” was formed at the first meeting in April, which marked the highest level US contact with North Korea since 2000.

A state department official travelling with Mike Pompeo said the US would also be “listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantially changed” with the nation’s nuclear ambitions.

Last month, President Trump stunned the international community by accepting North Korea’s suggestion for direct talks – it will be an unprecedented move for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.

President Trump referred to Mike Pompeo’s latest visit while announcing that the US was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran.

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Kim Jong-un has become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

In a moment rich with symbolism and pomp, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un shook hands at the border.

Kim Jong-un said it was the “starting point” for peace, after crossing the military line that divides the peninsula. He also pledged a “new history” in relations with his neighbor.

His visit comes just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea.

Much of what the summit will focus on has been agreed in advance, but many analysts remain skeptical about North Korea’s apparent enthusiasm for engagement.

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in were met on April 27 by an honor guard in traditional costume on the South Korean side. The leaders walked to the Peace House in Panmunjom, a military compound in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.

The North Korean leader then invited the South Korean president to step briefly across the demarcation line into North Korea, before the pair stepped back into South Korea – all the while holding hands.

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It was an apparently unscripted moment during a highly choreographed sequence of events.

When the first session ended, the pair separated for lunch and Kim Jong-un returned to North Korea in a heavily guarded black limousine.

When he returned in the afternoon, the leaders took part in a ceremony consisting of the planting of a pine tree using soil and water from both countries.

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shoveled soil on the roots of the tree and unveiled a stone marker featuring their names, official titles and a message that read: “Planting peace and prosperity.”

The Korean summit will conclude with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet will be held on South Korea’s side and the menu is as symbolic as the other rituals.

According to local sources, Kim Jong-un will serve Swiss potato dish rosti – a nod to his time studying in Switzerland – along with North Korea’s signature dish of cold noodles, and North Korean liquor.

Kim Jong-un is accompanied by nine officials, including his powerful and influential sister Kim Yo-jong.

The Korean meeting – the first between Korean leaders in more than a decade – is seen as a step toward possible peace on the peninsula and marks the first summit of its kind for Kim Jong-un.

The summit carries promise for both Koreas with topics being discussed ranging from nuclear technology and sanctions to separated families, and is seen as an opportunity to foster economic co-operation.

Ahead of talks with President Moon at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom, Kim Jong-un said: “I feel that [we] have fired a flare at the starting point… the moment of writing a new history vis-à-vis peace, prosperity and North-South relations.”

He also wrote in a guestbook: “A new history begins now.”

The White House has expressed hope that the talks will achieve progress towards peace ahead a proposed meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump in the coming weeks – an unprecedented move.

Talks are likely to focus on reaching an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has advanced significantly since the last summit more than a decade ago.

South Korea has warned that a deal to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons will be “difficult” to achieve.

Kim Jong-un announced last week that he was suspending nuclear tests.

The move was welcomed by the US and South Korea, although Chinese experts have indicated that North Korea’s nuclear test may be unusable after a rock collapse following its last nuclear test.

As well as addressing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are expected to discuss a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War, as well as economic and social issues.

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Relations between the United States and South Korea had their beginnings at the end of World War ll in 1945 when the US occupied the south end of the peninsula and the Soviet Union took the north end pending planned national elections. The two sides could not agree on the type of government (Washington was for a democracy and Moscow favored communism;) hence, an election never took place, resulting in the United Nations recognizing South Korea (Republic of Korea) as the legitimate government.

In 1950, North Korea invaded the ROK and the US sent its military to South Korea to help them fight against the communist invasion. By 1953, the war ended in a stalemate, but the US troops remained, and in 1954, both countries signed the ROK/US Mutual Security Agreement, a pact to defend each other in case of foreign attacks. In reality, this was more of a one-sided agreement. South Korea feared another invasion from North Korea and the presence of the US military hindered such plans.

Post-Korean War, the ROK was ravaged. Its per capita GDP plunged to $64, lower than the African nation of Congo, which was then the poorest. Millions of people were injured, killed and separated from their families. The United States was its single biggest contributor, giving its Asian ally a total of $64 billion in grants, aids, and loans from 1948 to 1978. Its economy grew rapidly in the 1960s and today, it is the fourth biggest economy in Asia, and is a member of the OECD and the G20.

Image source Wikimedia

The ties that bind Seoul and Washington have remained strong. Trade between the two countries reached an estimated $144.6 billion in 2016, and Korea is the US’ sixth biggest goods trading partner. Seoul has the second largest contingent of US military personnel, numbering around 23,500 troops.

But 2017 brought in new leaders for the two nations. President Trump took office in January and President Moon Jae-in in May, and one is as different from the other as night is from day. Trump has shown himself to be a racist, misogynist, and favoring isolationism. Moon is a former student activist and human rights lawyer.

Already, some issues are possible areas of contention. While Trump is aggressively hostile against North Korea and threatens to attack it, Moon, a champion of human and civil rights, prefers the soft approach by engaging in talks to reach an agreement.

On the US’ bilateral trade agreement, Trump wants a renegotiation of the KORUS Free Trade Agreement to reduce US’ trade deficit. He has been quoted as saying that the US is losing $40 billion a year on ROK in trade. The White House Chief Executive has also demanded cost sharing on defense spending with Asian allies and talks on the Special Measures Agreement have begun. During his campaign period, Trump was quite vocal in his criticism of the nation’s expenses for the US troops stationed in allied countries.

South Korea’s show of independence from its benefactor was evident in the High Court’s ruling on the lawsuit that former comfort women brought against the ROK government. The women, now in their 70s, claim that they were forced into prostitution for the US military with the tacit consent of their officials. They won their case and Seoul’s court has ordered the government to pay them damages. While the United States was not a party to the suit, and embassy officials would not comment on it, this is the first official acknowledgment that American soldiers are not as faultless as they are portrayed to be.

What hasn’t changed is its arrogance towards Japan. Japan has taken to heart its war crimes and the atrocities its army has committed against the comfort women of World War ll. It has given billions in aid and compensation and offered numerous apologies to the women. But South Korea’s leaders, past and present, never stop asking for more.

The recent case involving their own government selling their own women to US soldiers should make them realize that they should clean up their own backyard instead of throwing garbage on to other countries.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are to meet in person by May, South Korean officials confirmed after talks with the president at the White House.

The South Koreans passed a verbal message from Kim Jong-un, saying the North Korean leader was “committed to denuclearization”.

President Trump hailed “great progress” but said sanctions would remain in place.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said the news “came like a miracle”.

He said: “If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest.”

Photo AP

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China has welcomed the development, saying the Korean peninsula issue was “heading in the right direction” and calling for “political courage”.

However, North Korea has halted missile and nuclear tests during previous talks, only to resume them when it lost patience or felt it was not getting what it demanded.

The latest announcement came days after the South Korean delegation met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

Speaking outside the White House after briefing President Trump, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said he had passed on a message that Kim Jong-un was “committed to denuclearization” and had “pledged that North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests”.

According to a statement sent to the Washington Post, North Korea’s UN ambassador said the “courageous decision” of Kim Jong-un would help secure “peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region”.

There is no indication yet of where the Trump-Kim talks might take place, but the Korean border’s demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Beijing are seen as likely options.

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Kim Jong-un is hosting a dinner for two South Korean delegates, the first time officials from Seoul have met the North Korean leader since he took office in 2011, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

The dinner has been confirmed by a South Korean presidential spokesman.

The South Korean delegation is in Pyongyang for rare talks partly aimed at restarting dialogue between North Korea and the US.

Relations between North Korea and South Korea have warmed following the PyeongChang Winter Games.

In an unprecedented move the delegation includes two ministerial-level envoys – intelligence chief Suh Hoon and National Security adviser Chung Eui-yong.

According to the North Korean state radio, the delegation was met by Ri Son-gwon, North Korea’s reunification chief, who led talks in the weeks before the Winter Olympics.

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During the two-day visit, the South Korean group will focus on establishing conditions for talks aimed at getting rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as well as dialogue between the US and Pyongyang.

Chung Eui-yong had earlier told a press briefing he would deliver President Moon Jae-in’s “resolution to maintain the dialogue and improvement in relations between the South and the North… [and] to denuclearize the Korean peninsula”.

On March 3, President Donald Trump said that the US would be prepared to meet North Korea, but reiterated that Pyongyang would first have to “denuke”.

However, North Korea – which has said it wants to talk to the US – said it was “preposterous” for the US to insist on preconditions.

It’s remains unclear who would represent the US in any such meeting.

The top US diplomat on North Korea Joseph Yun announced his decision to retire earlier last week, a departure which could hamper the Trump administration.

The relationship between the US and North Korea were particularly tense before the Winter Olympics, with both countries repeatedly threatening each other with total destruction.

The US has distanced itself from the North Korean overtures during the Games.

VP Mike Pence has said there is “no daylight” between the US and its regional allies on the need to “continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.

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According to US officials, VP Mike Pence was due to meet North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics last week, but the North Koreans canceled the meeting at the last moment.

VP Mike Pence was in South Korea for the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A spokesman said the vice-president was scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, among others.

It would have been the first official interaction between North Korea and the Trump administration.

North Korea has made no comment on the reports.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said when the “possibility arose” of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation, Mike Pence “was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs”.

Heather Nauert said in a statement: “At the last minute, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”

North Korea’s attendance at the Winter Olympics was seen as a major thaw in consistently tense relations on the Korean peninsula.

Mike Pence was criticized by some for not engaging diplomatically with the North Koreans while in South Korea.

He sat feet away from Kim Yo-jong – who is accused of human rights violations – at the Games but did not interact with her, saying: “I didn’t believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum.”

Image source Twitter

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Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said North Korea had “dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics”.

“This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Nick Ayers said.

On leaving the Games, Mike Pence said the US and its allies remained firmly aligned on North Korea

“There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program.”

However, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has said he is considering accepting an invitation to visit Kim Jong-un in North Korea.

South Korean and North Korean athletes entered under the same flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

North Korea ice hockey player Chung Gum Hwang and South Korean bobsledder Won Yun-jong were joint flagbearers.

Olympic president Thomas Bach has declared: “We are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

Russian athletes came in under the neutral Olympic flag during the ceremony.

Russia is banned from the Games, and the forthcoming Paralympics, as a consequence of the 2016 McLaren report which claimed more than 1,000 of its sportspeople benefitted from state-sponsored doping.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited 169 Russians who have met the anti-doping criteria to compete as independent athletes and their team will be known as the ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’.

An estimated 35,000 spectators inside the Olympic Stadium were given seat warmers, wind shields, hats and gloves with temperatures as low as -6C during the two hour-long ceremony.

Senior political figures from North Korea and the United States – two of the countries at the center of the political row – were both present.

Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, was sat one row behind VP Mike Pence in the VIP section.

Image source YouTube

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South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in shook hands with Kim Yo-jong and said at the ceremony: “I would like to take this opportunity to convey greetings and a message of friendship from the people of Korea.

“The Seoul 1988 Summer Games paved the way for reconciliation between east and west – breaking down the wall of the Cold War. Thirty years after hosting the Summer Games, the Pyeongchang Olympics has commenced with a hope for peace from everyone around the world.

“It was with an ardent desire that the people of Korea aspired to host the Winter Games, the only divided nation in the world. It mirrors the Olympic spirit in its pursuit of peace.”

North Korea announced it was to send a delegation to Pyeongchang in January after it met its South counterparts in their first high-level talks in more than two years.

The North Korean team consists of 22 athletes who will compete in five sports, although their women’s ice hockey players will compete in a unified Korean team. They played together for the first time on February 4 in their only practice match, which they lost 3-1 to Sweden.

The ‘wow moments’ in the ceremony included the formation of the Olympic Rings made up of 1,218 drones – a Guinness World Record for drones used in a performance – and 100 skiers.

There was also ‘the vision of peace in the sky’ which was a constellation inside the arena, while ‘the balance of yin and yang’ saw Korean drummers perform in unison before forming the South Korea flag. And the center of the stadium was lit up in the eye-catching ‘link to the world’ segment.

It all culminated in the ceremony centerpiece, which was the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame. That saw the final torchbearer Yuna Kim, who won Olympic ice skating gold in 2010, at the top of a slope light the flame as 30 fire rings ascended towards the white moon-shaped porcelain cauldron.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, is to attend February 9 opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in South Korea, ministers in Seoul say.

Kim Yo-jong, a senior Workers’ Party official promoted to the politburo in 2017, will be the first immediate Kim family member to cross the border.

Both Koreas will march under one flag at the opening ceremony.

North Korea’s participation has been seen as a thawing of bilateral ties.

However, the US, Japan and others have accused North Korea of using the Games for propaganda purposes.

Image source EPA

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Believed to have been born in 1987, Kim Yo-jong is the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il and is Kim Jong-un’s full sister. She is about four years younger than her brother and is said to be very close to him.

Kim Yo-jong is reportedly married to the son of Choe Ryong-hae, the powerful party secretary.

She has been in the spotlight sporadically in recent years, with her main job being to protect her brother’s image via her role in the party’s propaganda department.

Kim Yo-jong remains blacklisted by the United States over alleged links to human rights abuses in North Korea.

It would be the first by a direct member of the Kim dynasty.

Chang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and brother in law of Kim Jong-il, did travel to South Korea but did not belong to the Baekdu blood line, which is considered significant.

North Korea’s head of state Kim Yong-nam will go to PyeongChang this week for the Winter Olympics.

Kim Yong-nam, 90, is the most senior official to ever visit South Korea.

North Korea confirmed his attendance at the opening ceremony, set for February 9.

Both Koreas will march under one flag at the opening ceremony.

Although Kim Yong-nam’s attendance at the Winter Olympics signals a thaw in relations between the Koreas, experts say it is unlikely to have any impact on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Kim Yong-nam will be in South Korea for a three-day visit and will lead a 22-member delegation.

He has seen the rule of all three North Korean leaders in his career.

Kim Yong-nam is the ceremonial head of state who receives credentials from foreign diplomats in Pyongyang. As such, he is usually responsible for sending condolences or congratulatory messages to foreign leaders.

He has been the president of North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, since 1998.

Unlike North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Yong-nam has traveled abroad on official visits. In August 2017, he travelled to Iran to attend President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration ceremony for his second term in office.

Kim Yong-nam also attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014.

He is said to be a loyal follower of the top leadership.

“As Kim is known to be acting and speaking under the country’s guidance, he makes no mistakes. That’s why he could keep his high-level post in a country where political purges are common,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted one North Korean defector as saying.

Image source Wikimedia

PyeongChang 2018: North Korea and South Korea to March Under Single Flag

North Korea Crisis: Kim Jong-un Offers Threats and Hopes in New Year Speech

South Korea has said it will seek high-level talks with the North Korean delegation during the visit, Yonhap reported.

Kim Yong-nam’s attendance at the opening ceremony will also put him in the company of Vice President Mike Pence, at a point of high tension with Washington over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

On February 4, the Washington Post reported that Fred Warmbier, whose son Otto Warmbier was jailed by North Korea and died days after returning to the United States, would attend the opening ceremony as a guest of VP Mike Pence.

Fred Warmbier and his wife, Cindy, were guests of President Donald Trump at last week’s State of the Union address.

On February 5, North Korea proposed sending an art troupe to the Games by ferry, a move that would require an exemption from bilateral sanctions.

According to South Korea’s unification ministry, Pyongyang proposed that its delegation use the Mangyongbong 92, a ferry that usually operates between North Korea and Russia, for transportation and as accommodation for the group.

All North Korean ships have been banned from entering South Korean ports since 2010.

South Korean ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a press conference: “We’re seeking to apply an exemption… to support a successful hosting of the Olympics.”

On February 4, the united Korean women’s ice hockey team played its first match, but lost the friendly against Sweden 1-3.

The outing was the first and only practice match for the newly minted Korean squad.

As well as the ice hockey players, North Korean athletes will compete in skiing and figure skating events. It is also sending hundreds of delegates, cheerleaders and performers.

North Korea currently faces growing international pressure and sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs after it conducted a series of missile tests designed to demonstrate its nuclear capability.

Its participation in the Olympics, which run from February 9 to 25, was an unexpected warming of ties.

Meanwhile, although South Korea and the US have agreed to delay the annual big joint military exercises which always enrage North Korea, they will still go ahead at the end of the Paralympics.

North Korea and South Korea will march together under a single “unified Korea” flag at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

In rare talks at the truce village of Panmunjom, the two Koreas also agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

These are the first high-level talks between North Korea and South Korea in more than two years.

It marks a thaw in relations that began in the new year when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to send a team to the games.

The games will take place between February 9 and 25 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

If the plans are realized, a hundreds-strong North Korean delegation – including 230 cheerleaders, 140 orchestral musicians and 30 taekwondo athletes – could cross into South Korea via the land border to attend the Winter Olympics.

It will mean the opening of the cross border road for the first time in almost two years.

The two Koreas have also agreed to field a joint team for the sport of women’s ice hockey. It would be the first time athletes from both Koreas have competed together in the same team at an Olympic Games.

Image source YouTube

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PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018: North Korea Rejects South Korea’s Offer to Form Unified Team

North Korea has also agreed to send a smaller, 150-member delegation to the Paralympics in March.

The agreement will have to be approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on January 20, because North Korea has missed registration deadlines or failed to qualify.

South Korea will also need to find ways to host the North Korean delegation without violating UN Security Council sanctions outlawing cash transfers to Pyongyang and blacklisting certain senior North Korean officials.

South Korea’s hockey coach and conservative newspapers have expressed concern about the prospect of a united hockey team, saying it could damage South Korea’s chances of winning a medal.

Tens of thousands of people are said to have signed online petitions urging South Korean President Moon Jae-in to scrap the plan.

However, the president told South Korean Olympic athletes on January 17 that North Korea’s participation in the Games would help improve inter-Korean relations.

President Moon Jae-in has said the Olympic agreement could pave the way for the nuclear issue to be addressed and lead to dialogue between North Korea and the US, according to Yonhap news agency in Seoul.

A missile alert sparked panic among residents of Hawaii on January 13 before it was declared to be false.

Mobile phone users received a message saying: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Hawaii Governor David Ige apologized to people, saying an employee had pressed the wrong button.

Meanwhile, the US government announced there would be a full investigation.

An alert system is in place because of the potential proximity of Hawaii to North Korean missiles.

Last month, Hawaii tested its nuclear warning siren for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

According to the Associated Press, a push alert was sent to people’s phones.

The phone message, all in capital letters, went out at 08:07 local time.

The message was corrected by email 18 minutes later but there was no follow-up mobile text for 38 minutes, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

Image source Flickr

Hawaii Activates Nuclear Attack Warning Siren for First Time since Cold War

In a tweet, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) said simply: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”

TV and radio broadcasts across the state were also interrupted with a recorded emergency message: “Stay indoors!

“If you are outdoors seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building while laying on the floor. We’ll announce when the threat has ended. This is not a drill!”

Matt Lopresti, a member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, was at home when he received the emergency alert on his mobile phone.

He described how he and his family had sought shelter in a bath tub.

He told local broadcaster KGMB: “We got our children, grabbed our emergency supplies, put them in our most enclosed room in our house which is our bathroom.

“We put them in the bath tub, said our prayers, tried to find out what the Hell was going because we didn’t hear any alarms, any of the sirens.

“There’s not much else you can do in that situation. You know, we did what we could… and I am very angry right now because it shouldn’t be this easy to make such a big mistake.”

The US military confirmed no missile threat had been detected and the alert had been released in error.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, announced an investigation.

He tweeted: “The @FCC is launching a full investigation into the false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii.”

North Korea’s missile and nuclear program is seen as a growing threat to America. Hawaii is one of the American states closest to North Korea.

In September, North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test.

In December, the Star-Advertiser reported that a missile launched from North Korea could strike Hawaii within 20 minutes of launch.

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North Korea has accepted South Korea’s proposal to hold military talks to defuse border tension, after their first high-level meeting in two years.

It will also send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in South Korea in February.

According to the South Korean government, an agreement was also reached to reinstate a military hotline suspended two years ago.

However, the North Korean delegation was negative on the subject of denuclearization, South Korea added.

The US gave a cautious welcome to the meeting.

The state department said the United States remained in close consultations with South Korean officials who would ensure North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics did not violate UN sanctions.

After a day of negotiations, both Koreas issued a joint statement which confirmed they had agreed to hold military talks on defusing military tension.

North Korea also agreed to send a National Olympic Committee delegation, athletes, cheerleaders, art performers, spectators, a taekwondo demonstration team and media to the games, while South Korea would provide the necessary amenities and facilities.

The statement also referred to exchanges in other, unspecified areas and other high-level talks to improve relations, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.

Image source Wikipedia

North Korea Crisis: Kim Jong-un Offers Threats and Hopes in New Year Speech

UN Imposes New Sanctions on North Korea over Ballistic Missile Tests

South Korea asked North Korea to end any hostile acts that might raise tension, while the North agreed there was a need to guarantee a peaceful environment on the peninsula, a statement from the South’s government said.

The South also proposed that athletes from both Koreas march together at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang as they did at the 2006 Winter Olympics. It also pushed for the reunion of family members separated by the Korean War – a highly emotional issue for both countries – to take place during the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls in the middle of the Games.

South Korea said it would consider temporarily lifting relevant sanctions, in co-ordination with the UN, to facilitate North Korea’s participation in the Olympics.

North Korea’s reaction to these proposals is not known.

In his opening remarks, the head of North Korea’s delegation, Ri Son-gwon, was fairly neutral. He said he hoped the talks would bring a “good gift” for the new year and that his country had a “serious and sincere stance”.

Talks were held in the Panmunjom “peace village” in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the border.

Five senior officials on each side attended and the leaders of both were said to have watched the talks via a CCTV feed.

In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics. South Korea’s Olympics chief had said last year that North Korea’s athletes would be welcome.

Following Kim Jong-un’s overture, South Korea then proposed high-level talks to discuss North Korea’s participation, but the North only agreed to the talks after the US and the South agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics. North Korea sees the annual drills as a rehearsal for war.

Some critics in the US see North Korea’s move as an attempt to divide the US-South Korea alliance.

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President Donald Trump has responded to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying his nuclear button is “much bigger” and “more powerful”.

In a tweet, the president warned: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

President Trump’s tweet is the latest contribution to the bickering, increasingly personalized feud between the nuclear-armed leaders.

Earlier this week, Kim Jong-un threatened that his nuclear launch button was “always on my table”.

Photo AP

North Korea Crisis: Kim Jong-un Offers Threats and Hopes in New Year Speech

Donald Trump’s Tweet Calls Kim Jong-un Short and Fat

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump’s unorthodox words sent social media into a frenzy.

It ended a quick-fire day of tweeting that included taking credit for a lack of airplane crashed, announcing awards for “corrupt media”, and threatening to pull aid from Palestinians who do not show “appreciation or respect”.

President Trump’s latest comment states the obvious: any US president has immediate access to the nuclear codes and the US has the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal.

Many people online have expressed alarm at the apparently light-hearted use of nuclear threats by world leaders.

However, Donald Trump’s supporters have defended him, saying his comments are both factually accurate and show American strength and resolve.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump had a long-running spat with Marco Rubio over the size of his hands.

At the time, he insisted: “He referred to my hands – ‘if they are small, something else must be small’. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee”.

This connection was not missed by social media users.

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In a New Year speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said a nuclear launch button is “always on my table” and warned the US it will never be able to start a war.

Kim Jong-un said the entire US was within range of North Korean nuclear weapons, adding: “This is reality, not a threat.”

However, he also offered a potential olive branch to South Korea, suggesting he was “open to dialogue”.

Kim Jong-un also announced that North Korea may also send a team to the Winter Olympics in Seoul.

When asked by reporters to respond to Kim Jong-un’s latest threats, President Donald Trump said: “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

President Trump was speaking at the sidelines of New Year’s Eve celebrations at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

North Korea has come under increased criticism and sanctions over the past year because of its nuclear weapons program and repeated testing of conventional missiles.

During the time, North Korea claimed to have a fully deployable nuclear weapon, though there is still some international skepticism about its true capacity to carry out such an attack.

In his televised speech, Kim Jong-un re-emphasized his focus on the weapons program, but implied the country still has a few stages left to go before achieving its ambitions. North Korea must “mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment”, he said.

Donald Trump’s Tweet Calls Kim Jong-un Short and Fat

US Wants New Sanctions Against North Korea Including Freeze on Kim Jong-un’s Assets

Kin Jong-un also said they would not use their weapons unless they felt that peace was threatened.

While his language against the United States remained tough, Kim Jong-un did not employ his typically antagonistic tone when speaking about his neighbors in South Korea.

He said: “The year 2018 is a significant year for both the North and the South, with the North marking the 70th anniversary of its birth and the South hosting the Winter Olympics.

“We should melt the frozen North-South relations, thus adorning this meaningful year as a year to be specially recorded in the history of the nation.”

A spokesperson for South Korean President Moon Hae-in said their office had “always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea at anytime and anywhere”.

“We hope the two Koreas will sit down and find a solution to lower tensions and establish peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Kim Jong-un also said he would also consider sending a delegation to the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February – a gesture which South Korea has previously suggested would be welcome.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people and we wish the Games will be a success,” he said.

“Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility.”

Lee Hee-beom, the president of the PyeongChang Games’ organizing committee, told South Korea’s news agency Yonhap he was delighted to hear of the potential participation.

He said: “[The committee] enthusiastically welcomes it. It’s like a New Year’s gift.”

The only two North Korean athletes who qualified for the Games are figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik.

Although North Korea has missed the official deadline to confirm their participation, the skaters could still compete with an invitation by the International Olympic Committee.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in last month suggested delaying an annual joint military drill with US troops until after the Games. North Korea usually denounces any such exercises as a rehearsal for war.

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The latest UN sanctions imposed on North Korea have been described by Pyongyang as an “act of war”.

A North Korea’s foreign ministry statement said the measures were tantamount to a total economic blockade, the official KCNA news agency reported.

The statement added that strengthening North Korea’s deterrence was the only way to frustrate the US.

On December 22, the UN Security Council imposed the new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s ballistic missile tests.

The US-drafted resolution – unanimously backed by all 15 Security Council members – includes measures to cut North Korea’s petrol imports by up to 90%.

North Korea is already subject to a raft of sanctions from the US, the UN and the EU.

Image source Wikimedia

UN Imposes New Sanctions on North Korea over Ballistic Missile Tests

Alleged North Korean Economic Agent Arrested in Australia

Characteristically bellicose, North Korea described the latest UN sanctions “as a violent breach of our republic’s sovereignty and an act of war that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and a wide region: “The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment of the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country.

“We will further consolidate our self-defensive nuclear deterrence aimed at fundamentally eradicating the US nuclear threats, blackmail and hostile moves by establishing the practical balance of force with the US.”

The US said it was seeking a diplomatic solution to the issue and drafted this new set of sanctions, including deliveries of petrol products will be capped at 500,000 barrels a year, and crude oil at four million barrels a year; all North Korean nationals working abroad will have to return home within 24 months under the proposals, restricting a vital source of foreign currency.

There will also be a ban on exports of North Korean goods, such as machinery and electrical equipment.

The UN sanctions came in response to North Korea’s November 28 firing of a ballistic missile, which the US said was its highest yet.

President Donald Trump has previously threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it launches a nuclear attack while North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has described the American president as “mentally deranged”.

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Australian authorities have arrested a man for allegedly acting as an economic agent for North Korea.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) said that Chan Han Choi, 59, has been charged with brokering illegal exports from the country and discussing the supply of weapons of mass destruction.

Police allege Chan Han Choi has broken both UN and Australian sanctions.

The case against Chan Han Choi, who has lived in Australia for more than 30 years, is the first of its kind in the country.

It is the first time anyone has been charged under Australia’s 1995 Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act.

Police say there was evidence that Chan Han Choi had been in contact with “high ranking officials in North Korea”.

They allege he had brokered services related to North Korea’s weapons program, including the sale of specialist services including ballistic missile technology to foreign entities, in order to generate income for the North Korean regime.

Image source Public Domain Pictures

Charles Jenkins: US Army Sergeant Who Defected to North Korea Dies in Japan Aged 77

US Urges World to Cut Diplomatic and Trade Ties with North Korea

Chan Han Choi also was charged with brokering the sale of coal from North Korea to groups in Indonesia and Vietnam. He is facing six charges in total after being arrested at his Sydney home on December 16.

In a news conference, police confirmed the man was a naturalized Australian citizen of Korean origin who had been in the country for over 30 years.

They described him as a “loyal agent” who “believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose”.

However, police insisted Chan Han Choi’s actions did not pose any “direct risk” to Australians, with the actions occurring offshore.

“I know these charges sound alarming. Let me be clear we are not suggesting there are any weapons or missile component that ever came to Australian soil,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said.

“Any individual who attempts to fly in the face of sanctions cannot and will not go unnoticed in Australia.”

Chan Han Choi could face up to 10 years in prison and has been denied bail.

In October the Australian government said they had received a letter from North Korea urging Canberra to distance itself from the Trump administration.

North Korea had previously warned that Australia would “not be able to avoid a disaster” if it followed US policies towards Kim Jong-un’s regime.

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Former US Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins, who defected to North Korea and became Pyongyang’s prisoner for nearly 40 years, has died at the age of 77.

Charles Jenkins lived in Japan where he had settled with his family after his 2004 release.

He was among four US soldiers who defected in the 1960s and later became North Korean film stars, but was the only one who was released.

The other three soldiers reportedly died in North Korea, including James Dresnok who was said to have died of a stroke in 2016.

Charles Jenkins died on Sado island on December 11, where he was living with his wife Hitomi Soga, also a former prisoner of North Korea.

According to Japanese media, Charles Jenkins collapsed outside his home and later died of heart problems in hospital. His wife said in a statement that she was “very surprised” by his death and “cannot think of anything”, according to AFP.

Charles Jenkins had led an extraordinary but also difficult life in North Korea, which he would later chronicle in a memoir and several interviews.

In 1965, while stationed with the US Army in South Korea by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Charles Jenkins decided to abandon his unit and defect to North Korea, fearing he would be killed in patrols or sent to fight in the Vietnam War.

He said he thought that once in North Korea, he could seek asylum with the Russian embassy, and eventually return to the US in a prisoner swap.

Image source Wikimedia

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One January night, Charles Jenkins said he downed several beers, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to North Korean soldiers there. He was only 24 years old.

However, Russia did not grant him or the other Americans asylum. Instead, they were held as prisoners by the North Koreans.

In a 2005 interview with CBS, Charles Jenkins said: “Thinking back now, I was a fool. If there’s a God in the heaven, he carried me through it.”

The men were forced to study the teachings of then-leader Kim Il-sung; did translation work; and taught English. However, they also became minor celebrities when they acted in North Korean propaganda films, starring as Western villains.

Charles Jenkins said his captors often beat him, and conducted medical procedures on him that were sometimes unnecessary or brutal, including cutting off a US Army tattoo without anesthesia, an experience which Charles Jenkins had described as “hell”.

In 1980, he was forced to marry a Japanese woman abducted to teach North Korean spies her language.

The couple had two daughters, Mika and Brinda. Charles Jenkins said that as foreign prisoners, they were treated better than ordinary North Koreans and given rations, even during the famine that swept North Korea in the 1990s.

In 2002, his wife was freed after negotiations by the Japanese government. Pyongyang then allowed Charles Jenkins to leave two years later, along with their daughters.

The family reunited under intense scrutiny from the press in Japan, where there was widespread sympathy.

In Japan, Charles Jenkins surrendered to the US Army, almost four decades after he had defected, and was court-martialled.

He was eventually given a 30-day prison sentence, and a dishonorable discharge.

The family settled in Sado island Charles Jenkins eventually found work as a greeter in a tourist park.

However, he had to cope with the culture shock of adapting to the modern world, after spending so many years in an isolated country.

He claimed he had never touched a computer, let alone used the internet, and was surprised to see many women serving in the army as well as black people working as policemen, according to CBS.

Charles Jenkins also suffered from lingering complications from medical procedures he received in North Korea and had to be hospitalized after his release, he told the Los Angeles Times in one of his last media interviews published in August.

Even while living in freedom, Charles Jenkins still remained afraid of his former captors, and was constantly worried that he or his family would eventually be assassinated.

North Korea has launched a new ballistic missile, the latest in a series of launches that have raised tensions with its neighbors and the US.

According to the Pentagon, it was an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew for about 620 miles and fell into the Sea of Japan.

South Korean news agency Yonhap said that the missile was launched from Pyongsong, South Pyongan province.

Pyongyang’s last ballistic missile test was in September.

That came days after North Korea had conducted its sixth – and largest – nuclear test.

The US said the latest launch happened at about 03:30 local time.

Japan’s government said the missile travelled for about 50 minutes but did not fly over Japan, as some have done in the past.

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President Donald Trump Urges North Korea to Discuss Giving Up Nuclear Weapons

President Donald Trump was briefed while the missile was still in the air, the White House has said. Afterwards the president said: “We will take care of it.”

South Korea’s military said it had responded to the launch with a missile exercise of its own.

North Korea is thought to be focusing efforts on building long-range missiles with the potential of reaching the mainland continental US.

North Korean officials said the first of the longer-range missiles it tested in July could hit “any part of the world”, but the US military called it an intermediate-range missile instead.

Its last nuclear test reportedly involved a miniaturized hydrogen bomb that could be loaded on to a long-range missile, raising tensions with the US even further.

Last week, President Donald Trump announced that the US was re-designating North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism because of its missile and nuclear program.

The US later imposed fresh sanctions against North Korea. The measures targeted North Korean shipping operations and Chinese companies that traded with Pyongyang.

Singapore has decided to suspend all trade with North Korea, a customs notice showed, as the UN and US seek ever tougher measures against the state.

According to Singapore Customs, commercially traded goods from or to North Korea were banned from November 8. Offenders may be fined or jailed for up to two years.

The move comes as UN sanctions were imposed after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.

Singapore was North Korea’s eighth biggest trading partner in 2016, but that only made up 0.2% of the North’s trade.

Image source Flickr

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The vast majority of North Korea’s trade is conducted with China, Pyongyang’s biggest economic supporter.

The latest round of UN sanctions targeted several companies and individuals, including two businesses in Singapore.

In January 2016, a Singapore company was fined $125,700 for facilitating a shipment of arms from Cuba to North Korea.  A court found the Chinpo Shipping Company was in breach of the UN sanctions on North Korea.

Tension in the Korean peninsula reached unprecedented levels earlier this year after North Korea’s repeated missile tests, including two long range missiles that flew over Japan, and its sixth and biggest nuclear test.

The US and the UN are hoping that sanctions will starve North Korea of the means to pursue its aggressive program of nuclear weapons development.

Singapore still retains diplomatic ties and North Korea maintains an embassy in its financial district.

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According to South Korea’s military, a North Korean soldier has been shot while defecting to the South at the heavily protected Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The defector was injured by his own military as he crossed to the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area in the village of Panmunjom.

The soldier has been taken to hospital.

About 1,000 people from North Korea flee to South Korea each year – but very few defect via the DMZ.

This is the fourth defection by a North Korean soldier via the DMZ – one of the world’s most heavily guarded strips of land – in the last three years.

North Korea and South Korea are technically still at war, since the conflict between them ended in 1953 with a truce and not a formal peace treaty.

Image source Wikimedia

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According to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the North Korean soldier made it across by passing through the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, which is the only portion of the DMZ where both forces stand face-to-face.

“He crossed from a North Korea post towards our Freedom House [a building on the South Korean side of the border],” the statement said.

The soldier was hit in the arm and shoulder by gunfire, it added.

According to South Korean media this is only the third defection across the JSA since the end of the Cold War. The last time a soldier crossed was in 2007, and before that in 1998.

The number of North Koreans defecting to the South in the first two-thirds of this year dropped by 13% compared with 2016.

According to South Korean officials, from January to August 2017, 780 North Koreans escaped to South Korea.

The fall is believed to be a result of tighter government surveillance and reinforced border security by both North Korea and China.

The majority of the defectors flee via China, which has the longest border with North Korea that is easier to cross than the heavily protected Demilitarized Zone.

South Korea says more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.