DPRK

North, South Korea begin removing landmines along fortified border

Troops from North and South Korea began removing some landmines along their heavily fortified border on Monday, the South’s defense ministry said, in a pact to reduce tension and build trust on the divided peninsula. Project details were agreed during last month’s summit in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, between its leader, Kim Jong Un, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a statement, the ministry said the two sides agreed to remove all landmines in the so-called Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom within the next 20 days, with military engineers performing the hazardous task on the South Korean side. There was no immediate confirmation from North Korea that its troops had begun the process. The deal also provides for removal of guard posts and weapons from the JSA to follow the removal of the mines, with the troops remaining there to be left unarmed. The JSA is the only spot along the 250-km (155-mile) -long “demilitarized zone” (DMZ) where troops from both Koreas are face to face. South Korean troops have gradually taken over most operations along their side of the border but international forces under the U.S.-led United Nations Command retain major roles, especially at the JSA, where an American commander and a South Korean deputy lead the security battalion. UNC spokesman Colonel Chad Carroll declined to confirm if the command would also withdraw any weapons from the JSA, but said American forces would provide support for the demining operation. “United States Forces Korea will perform a support role – to include having air medical evacuation assets available to respond within minutes of any potential medical emergencies,” he told Reuters in a statement. Since fighting during the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a stalemate, at least nine soldiers have been killed in incidents with North Korean troops, including the killing in 1976 of two U.S. soldiers by axe-wielding North Koreans, the UNC says. In November 2017, North Korean troops at the JSA shot one of their soldiers defecting to the South five times. More recently, it was the scene of the first dramatic April summit between Kim and Moon, as well as their second, more low-key meeting, in May. In April, the neighbors announced their intention to turn the DMZ – long a symbol of tension and division – into a “peace zone”. They have already dismantled propaganda loudspeakers and some guard posts along the border. Demining projects are also set to begin on Monday in Gangwon province in South Korea’s east, to allow teams to search for the remains of soldiers killed in the war, the ministry added. More than a million landmines were laid in border areas including the DMZ and the Civilian Control Zone in the South, say demining experts, and civilians and soldiers alike have been killed or injured by them. In 2015, two South Korean soldiers were maimed by what Seoul said was a North Korean landmine, an accusation the North denied.

That’s typical for the DPRK.  They could be shown a video clear as day proving an atrocity, and they’d deny it and say it was made up propaganda.  That’s what makes discussions/negotiations so difficult.  There is the truth, and then there is their truth.

Remains of American troops returned by North Korea; Trump thanks Kim for keeping promise

President Trump thanked North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for returning the bodies of fallen American soldiers at a press conference on Friday. “At this moment a plane is carrying the remains of some great fallen heroes from America back from the Korean War,” the president said. The White House confirmed on Thursday that a plane left for North Korea to retrieve the remains of U.S. troops killed during the Korean War. Mr. Trump said that Vice President Mike Pence will greet the families when the remains return to the U.S. The remains will first arrive in South Korea, where a formal repatriation ceremony will be held on August 1. They will then be taken to Hawaii for identification. “I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me,” Mr. Trump said, “And I’m sure he will continue to fulfill that promise as they continue to search and search and search.” The commitment to return troops was first announced at Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Kim’s Singapore summit on June 12.

U.S. troop remains from North Korea headed home, White House confirms

U.S. aircraft on Thursday night flew to North Korea to begin retrieving the remains of American troops killed during the Korean war, the White House announced. American planes retrieved the remains from Wonsan, North Korea, and will return them to Osan Air Base in South Korea. A formal repatriation ceremony will be held on August 1, the Trump administration said. The White House cast the move as a significant step forward in U.S.-North Korean relations following last month’s historic summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. “At their historic meeting in Singapore, President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un took a bold first step to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, transform relations between the United States and North Korea, and establish enduring peace,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “Today, the Chairman is fulfilling part of the commitment he made to the President to return our fallen American service members. We are encouraged by North Korea’s actions and the momentum for positive change.” The move was first reported by South Korea-based Yonhap news agency. It’s unclear how many remains are being transported out of North Korea; the White House said an estimated 5,300 Americans have not yet been brought home. “The United States owes a profound debt of gratitude to those American service members who gave their lives in service to their country and we are working diligently to bring them home,” Ms. Sanders said. “It is a solemn obligation of the United States government to ensure that the remains are handled with dignity and properly accounted for so their families receive them in an honorable manner.” Earlier this week, Mr. Trump said the process of returning the remains was under way. “As you may know, we’re also working to bring back the remains of your brothers-in-arms who gave their lives in Korea. And I hope that, very soon, these fallen warriors will begin coming home to lay at rest in American soil. That’s starting the process,” the president said during a speech to a VFW convention in Kansas City. Following the repatriation ceremony in South Korea, the remains are expected to transported to Hawaii for forensic identification, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

North Korea Begins Dismantling Key Facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station

In an important first step towards fulfilling a commitment made by Kim Jong Un at the June 12 Singapore Summit, new commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (North Korea’s main satellite launch facility since 2012) indicates that the North has begun dismantling key facilities. Most notably, these include the rail-mounted processing building—where space launch vehicles are assembled before moving them to the launch pad—and the nearby rocket engine test stand used to develop liquid-fuel engines for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea. Commercial satellite imagery of the launch pad from July 20 shows that the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure has been moved to the middle of the pad, exposing the underground rail transfer point—one of the few times it has been seen in this location. The roof and supporting structure have been partially removed and numerous vehicles are present—including a large construction crane. An image from two days later shows the continued presence of the crane and vehicles. Considerable progress has been made in dismantling the rail-mounted processing/transfer structure. One corner has been completely dismantled and the parts can be seen lying on the ground. In both images the two fuel/oxidizer bunkers, main processing building and gantry tower remain untouched.

For more, and to see the relevant satellite photos, click on the text above.

USS Pueblo still held hostage by North Korea as Trump, Kim meet

The USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the Navy, sits in Boston, revered by sailors and history buffs. The second-oldest ship, the USS Pueblo, floats at a river dock in Pyongyang, still a hostage more than 50 years after North Korea seized it in a January 1968 raid in the frigid waters of the East Sea off the Hermit Kingdom’s northeastern coast. Calls from the surviving crew to bring the ship back have amounted to naught. The Colorado legislature, protective of the ship named after one of its cities, also weighs in every year with a resolution calling for the ship’s return. After one version passed 10 years ago, a state lawmaker got a postcard, featuring a photo of a North Korean soldier smashing his rifle butt against the head of a Western-looking man in a blue uniform. The card had a North Korean postmark and on it, in flawless English, the writer urged the politician to “come and take it, you dirty American.” That’s actually the polite version of what was written, according to Republican state Sen. Bob Gardner from Colorado Springs, one of the sponsors of the “bring home the Pueblo” resolution this year. Mr. Gardner still marvels at the perfect, idiomatic English written on the unsigned card. “But it proved that someone in Korea was watching our resolution even if no one in America does,” Mr. Gardner said. As President Trump meets with in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, the possession of the USS Pueblo remains a sticking point between the two nations. The Pentagon declined to comment on any efforts to get the Pueblo back, and referred all questions to the White House. The White House, in turn, did not respond. Yet it wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Mr. Trump to mention the Navy ship, given the anniversary of its seizing in what the U.S. still insists was open ocean but North Korea says were its own territorial waters. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of North Korea’s seizure of the USS Pueblo and I like many others in our state want to see the ship returned home,” Republican Rep. Scott Tipton wrote President Trump last month. “The historic summit that is to be held… presents a rare opportunity to directly make this request.” The Pueblo was a spy ship, assigned to monitor North Korean communications and laden with top secret intelligence reports and machinery. The North Koreans detected it and sent a flotilla to surround it, assisted by MiG fighters overhead. They demanded surrender, and sent a boarding party which raked the bridge and decks with gunfire, wounding the captain and several others, and killing one crew member, Duane Hodges. Capt. Lloyd Bucher ordered his crew to smash the intelligence equipment and burn or shred the documents. There was so much that they even began to dump documents overboard, according to the USS Pueblo Veterans Association. The U.S. insists the Pueblo was in international waters at the time. North Korea says it was inside the country’s boundaries, and seized the ship and crew, who were held and tortured for 335 days. The Cold War crisis was finally resolved in vintage Hollywood fashion two days before Christmas 1968 when the gaunt prisoners walked, one by one, across the Bridge of No Return in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. They were finally released after the U.S. signed an apology of sorts – then quickly rescinded it once all the American personnel were safely returned. A National Security Agency analysis, declassified in 2012, described the scope of the intelligence disaster, saying North Korea was able to figure out which codes the U.S. had broken, which telecommunications systems the U.S. was able to monitor, and who in the North Korean hierarchy was of interest to the U.S. The Pueblo’s capture was such a coup for North Korea that to this day the ship is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang, currently floating in a berth along the Botong River, and it is replete with the kind of totalitarian English the postcard writer eschewed. “The myth of the mightiness of the U.S. was shattered again by the heroic Korean people,” reads some of the propaganda, which also calls the Pueblo “a witness of history and trophy” of the “century after century the crimes of aggression committed by the U.S. imperialists against the Korean people [sic].”

Hopefully, President Trump WILL raise the issue of returning the USS Pueblo with Kim Jong Ding Dong, when he meets him only hours from now.  For more, click on the text above.

State Dept.: North Korea Using Executions, Torture Against ‘Serious Threat’ of Christianity

The U.S. State Department affirms in its annual International Religious Freedom Report, published Tuesday, that the communist regime controlling North Korea “considered Christianity a serious threat, as it challenged the official cult of personality and provided a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the government.” The State Department – citing United Nations reports, NGOs, and media organizations specializing in North Korea coverage – found that Kim Jong-un’s regime regularly employed “arbitrary executions, political prison camps, and torture amounting to crimes against humanity” against anyone suspected of adhering to any faith, but targeted Christians in particular throughout 2017. Various reports estimated “119 killings and 87 disappearances” based on religious persecution, the report notes. It also cites multiple advocacy groups that have concluded that North Korea hosts a population of up to 400,000 Christians, though it is nearly impossible to confirm those numbers, and that between 10-45 percent of Christians are languishing in the nation’s concentration camps. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) found this year that “based on the government’s own figures, the proportion of religious adherents among the population dropped from close to 24 percent in 1950 to 0.016 percent in 2002,” the report notes. The report also suggested that persecution of individuals suspected of being Christians increased recently, targeting North Korean citizens for “crimes” ranging from being found in possession of religious material to simply loitering near a church too long for police to be comfortable with their presence, or driving by a church too many times. North Korea does allow a small number of legal churches in Pyongyang, the capital, but defectors and visitors report that they appear largely for show, with no proof that real Christians attend services in them, or that the sermons provided in the few known services to occur offer anything more than Kim cult propaganda. Some defectors said that they knew of the churches as “sightseeing spots for foreigners,” without knowing the true nature of a place of worship. Nonetheless, defectors have said in interviews that North Korean police are quick to arrest anyone who appears too interested in the areas. “One defector said when he lived in Pyongyang, authorities arrested individuals who they believed lingered too long outside these churches to listen to the music or consistently drove past them around each week when services were being held on suspicion of being secret Christians,” the report notes. The full International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, is available at the State Department’s website, divided by country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a press conference Tuesday morning announcing the publication of this year’s edition. The State Department concluded, citing interviews with defectors and NGO reports published throughout 2017, that there existed in the country “an almost complete denial by the government of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and in many instances, violations of human rights committed by the government constituted crimes against humanity.” The report notes that the UN “condemned in the strongest terms the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” against religious people in the country. Christians suffered the most systematic persecution…

Of course they did..  IF President Trump actually meets with Kim Jong ding dong, he needs to put pressure on him for more religious tolerance.  Granted, it doesn’t rise to the level of denulcearization, in terms of our national security.  But, if he can certainly use the time to put in a plug for religious freedom while they’re sitting across from one another.  Just sayin..  For more of this article, click on the text above..

North Korea Walks Out of Talks with South over Joint Drills with U.S.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday local time that the nation’s senior diplomats would cancel scheduled high-level talks with South Korean counterparts, reportedly due to military drills Seoul had planned to execute with the United States. Pyongyang deployed high-level officials to both Seoul and Beijing this week. Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, was scheduled to meet with South Korean officials on Tuesday. Another group of unnamed senior officials reportedly landed in Beijing on Monday to continue discussions in anticipation of a planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. On Wednesday local time (Tuesday afternoon in most of the United States), the South Korean outlet Yonhap reported that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the government news outlet of the Kim regime, had published a report announcing that the inter-Korean talks would no longer occur. The report specifically cited the “Max Thunder” military drills being held jointly between South Korea and the United States as the reason for their backing out of the meeting. “This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea and targeting us, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap quoted KCNA as saying. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.” Yonhap added that KCNA’s brief went on to call “into question whether next month’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump can go ahead as planned.” The meeting between Kim and Trump is expected to address “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which Kim expressed a desire to see during his meeting with Moon on the border of their two countries. American officials have stated that they will not pursue regime change in North Korea and are open to giving financial incentives to the Kim regime to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, which it uses to threaten nuclear strikes on South Korea, the United States, and Japan on a regular basis. A report using satellite images on the website 38 North Monday found that North Korea has made significant moves towards shutting down its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, the only such site in the country. Several buildings have been dismantled, and a new platform, perhaps to accommodate journalists, has been assembled at the site. KCNA announced Saturday it will invite international journalists to watch the shutdown of the site; skeptics believe the site is inoperable and a symbolic “shutdown” would cost Pyongyang little. Adding to confusion on Tuesday was the publication of a report by South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo revealing that North Korea has maintained a secret uranium enrichment facility independent of the supplies found at Punggye-ri. Joongang Ilbo reports that American intelligence sources are aware of the site and will demand that its contents be part of any deal to denuclearize the country, not simply the supplies currently known to exist. “Max Thunder” is the name given to two-week-long air drills by both militaries, which is typically a drill practiced as part of the larger Foal Eagle joint exercise but was removed from the schedule reportedly as a response to Kim Jong-un’s being open to meeting with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Both militaries openly stated they will hold this exercise in May, as they do every year. Yonhap reported on March 21 that the “Max Thunder drill will be held for two weeks from May 11, involving more than 100 Air Force jets of the allies,” leaving significant time between then and the Panmunjom summit with Moon Jae-in for Kim Jong-un to raise objections over these exercises. Yet this is the first major step North Korea has made to object to the exercises. Update: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during her regular press briefing on Tuesday that the KCNA report did not correspond to any private messages American officials have received: “We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.”

We believe this is just posturing on the part of North Korea..  But, we’ll continue to monitor this developing story…