PN's Voice 43a

Peace Network Korea
PN's Voice 43a, 25-05-2015
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PN's Voice No. 43a  25.05.2015 
Small steps, Road to peace

S. Korea Conditionally willing to Discuss Sanctions on N.K.

South Korea announced yesterday that it is willing to discuss the issue of its sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang agrees to resume long-stalled inter-Korean talks. Seoul slapped a set of sanctions on North Korea on May 24, 2010, some two months after the North torpedoed the South Korean Navy vessel the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. The so-called May 24th Measure bans all inter-Korean exchanges, except for an inter-Korean industrial complex and humanitarian aid.
Pyongyang has asked Seoul to lift the sanctions before any inter-Korean dialogue, but the South maintains that the North should first take "responsible action" for the sinking of the Cheonan. However, the South did publically declare the possibility of lifting the sanctions; "South Korea is open to discussing various issues including the sanctions if the North responds to our proposal for inter-Korean talks," the Ministry of Unification said in a statement. The ministry's statement came on the fifth anniversary of the attack, which took place just south of the inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea.

In late December, the South proposed that the rival Koreas hold high-level talks to help resolve pending issues, including family reunions. Pyongyang has yet to respond to the overture. The ministry added that South Korea will continue to seek inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation while leaving the sanctions in place.

Pyongyang maintains it has been wrongly accused and yesterday repeated its July 2010 offer of conducting an inter-Korean investigation into the sinking in exchange for the lifting of the May 24th sanctions. The Policy Department of the North’s National Defense Commission repeated its proposal to conduct a joint investigation, first made in July 2010. “If there is a basis to believe that the sinking was our doing, (South Korea) should accept our demands to jointly inspect the incident in front of all our people and the world,” the department said in a statement. South Korea says the North’s involvement in the attack is indisputable. “An international probe has already concluded North Korea was behind the attack,” Seoul’s unification ministry said at a regular briefing in March. “We express our regret for the North’s repeated distortion of truth and criticism of our government.
Source : Yonhap News


S. Korea-U.S. to Launch Joint Military Division

South Korea and the United States will put a landmark joint division in operation next month to bolster combat readiness against North Korean threats, the U.S. military said last Thursday. Last year, the allies agreed to establish the combined wartime division of their troops to enhance a joint defense posture and "tactical-level" combat capabilities to better deter the belligerent North Korea. The new division will consist of a brigade from the South Korean Army and the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division currently located in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul, with each entity to carry out normal duties in its assigned area during peacetime. It will become the first South Korea-U.S. combined military unit capable of carrying out actual combat missions since their Combined Field Army Command was disbanded in July 1992," it added.

The joint unit, meanwhile, will be moved to Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of the capital, by the end of next year, along with the 2nd Division, in accordance with a base relocation plan in South Korea. Seoul and Washington have been working to relocate the Yongsan Garrison, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters in central Seoul, and the 2nd Division north of Seoul to Camp Humphreys in the city of Pyeongtaek with a plan to turn the Seoul areas into vast public parks.

The agreement has raised questions as to whether this is a stepping stone towards the passing of OPCON (war-time operational control of the military) back to South Korea.
Source : Yonhap News


N. Korean ‘Camp 22’ Shut Down Due to Prisoner Escapes

North Korea’s decision to board up one of the country’s most notorious political prison camps was prompted by the escape of two people to China, rather than concerns over the UN’s investigation into it human rights abuses in the country according to sources inside the hermit kingdom. The duo escaped from the now-dismantled Camp 22 near the border with China in North Hamgyong province’s Hoeryong county, the sources said, shortly after regime leader Kim Jong Un assumed power following his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011. The younger Kim had Camp 22—which former guards who have defected say carried out biological and chemical weapon experiments on prisoners—torn down as one of his first orders of business, drawing praise from North Koreans who saw the move as a sign of possible reform. But a North Korean law official told Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Korean Service that Kim’s decision to shutter the camp in mid-2012 was directly related to the escape of a female political prisoner and her accomplice—the driver of the facility’s director of operations. “It must have been shocking to Kim Jong Un, who had just reached the peak of power,” the official said. Lacking political experience, Kim hurriedly eliminated the camp, he said, judging that if news of the escape became known to prisoners, it would lead to a disturbance inside the facility.

A trade official in North Hamgyong province confirmed that the prisoner had escaped to China with the help of the camp driver. “It was in mid-February 2012 that a political prisoner fled from Camp 22,” the trade official said. He told RFA that the driver hid the female prisoner in the director of operations’ car, knowing soldiers at the camp’s guard post would not inspect the vehicle, and drove about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north to Onsung on the border, where the two crossed the frozen Tumen River into China. He said that after Camp 22 was closed months later, rumors initially spread among North Korean security officials in China that the fugitives had “already made their way to South Korea or were arrested by Chinese authorities and sent back home.” But later, he said, the officials confirmed that the two escapees had yet to make their way to any third country and are currently “wandering around north-eastern China.”

The closure of Camp 22 has been extensively documented by a number of sources, as well as through the analysis of satellite imagery. In 2012, sources inside North Korea told RFA that the camp’s population had plummeted from an estimated 30,000 to 3,000, likely as a result of starvation, before being moved to another facility. They said some guards had been left behind until the end of August that year to destroy all traces of monitoring and detention facilities while the camp was converted into a coal-mining hub.

In August 2013, Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) called for an inquiry into the fate of some 20,000 former prisoners of Camp 22 after signs showed the facility had been destroyed. And in September that year, the Washington Post editorial board noted that “thousands of prisoners seem to have evaporated into thin air—perhaps via Camp 22’s crematoria.”
Source : Radio Free Asia


Female Activists Cross DMZ

The group of about 30 female international peace activists, called WomenCrossDMZ, arrived in South Korea yesterday after crossing the DMZ that separates North and South Korea. The group included feminist Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace laureates, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. On Sunday morning, a bus picked them up from the North Korean side and ferried them across the Demilitarized Zone that has separated the two Koreas for more than half a century. "We feel very celebratory and positive that we have created a voyage across the DMZ in peace and reconciliation that was said to be impossible," Steinem said after the group, which had originally planned to walk across the zone, arrived in South Korea. The activists said they acted as "citizen diplomats" in North Korea, speaking with women at a series of events during their time there. "We can learn on paper and on screen," Steinem said. "But the ability to understand, not just learn, happens when we are together and able to empathize." The group says women need to be involved in the peace-building process. It calls for reuniting families divided by the Korean War, and replacing the 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty -- demands similar to those made by the North Korean government.

Other activists have criticized the event, saying the group is overlooking major problems faced by women under Kim Jong-Un's authoritarian rule. "It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women," said Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. "If they truly cared, they would cross the China-North Korea border instead, which is actually more dangerous now than the DMZ," Scholte said ahead of the event. North Korean women who cross into China often become victims of human trafficking, ending up being forced to work in the sex industry or sold as brides to rural Chinese men. The reported abuses for North Korean women are not limited to the Chinese border. North Korean defectors have testified of rape and abuse in prison camps by fellow inmates or guards.

Maguire, who became known for organizing peace demonstrations during the conflict in Northern Ireland, suggested the human rights situation would improve if the two Koreas were to sign a full peace treaty. "You can get to human rights when you have a normal situation and not a country at war," she said Sunday.
Observers say that a group being allowed by both North and South Korean authorities to hold this kind of event is unusual but not unheard of. A group of bikers from New Zealand crossed the border in 2013, and another group drove through the DMZ last year.

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the North Korean government abruptly cancelled his planned visit to an industrial zone. Situated to the north of the DMZ, the Kaesong Industrial Complex contains factories that are owned by South Koreans and staffed by thousands of North Koreans.
Source : CNN


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