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Convenience Store In North Korean Prison Exploits Convicts, Family Members

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency, Sept. 16, 2017. VOA

Guards at a prison camp in North Korea have recently enlarged a convenience store attached to the facility, pressuring inmates’ relatives to spend money there to purchase food and medicine formerly brought in for free, sources in the country say.

The new store at the Kaecheon Correctional Labor Camp in South Pyongan province was opened at the end of last year following a surge in the prison’s incarceration rate, a source in South Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The store is now crowded with visitors each day, and is being used as a way to exploit family members of the inmates and suck the money out of them,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Korea, Missile

“They are not allowed to bring in food or other necessities, so they are forced to make those purchases from the convenience store,” the source said.

Employees at the store are family members of the prison’s officials, the source said, adding, “And they abuse their authority by selling things like alcohol and cigarettes at much higher prices than they could get by selling them at street markets” outside the facility.

“Visitors are afraid that their loved ones inside the prison could suffer badly if they complain about the ridiculous prices, so they reluctantly make their purchases at the convenience store,” he said.

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A train transporting dozens of South Korean officials runs on the rails which leads to North Korea, inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea. VOA

Prison officials also pressure inmates to ask family members visiting the store to buy expensive items such as solar batteries, razors, office paper and other supplies, “falsely claiming that these things are needed for common use in the facility,” the source said.

Severe conditions

Inmates who fail to deliver the demanded goods are often beaten or receive other kinds of punishment during bed-checks at night, he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Ryanggang province said he had gone to Kaecheon after hearing that his brother, an inmate at the prison, was suffering from malnutrition there.

“When I arrived, I was told that visits were allowed only once per quarter, and they refused to allow me into the visitors’ room,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

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A prison camp in North Korea’s South Pyongan province is shown in an undated photo., AsiaExpress

“I got frustrated, and argued with them when I was told that I should just buy food at the convenience store and send that in,” he said.

“I couldn’t bear their attitude which cares only about their business dealings at the store, while they reject visitors’ requests to see their family members inside the prison, so they can hide the severe conditions at the facility and stop the spreading of rumors about it.”

Prison authorities are failing to address the growing numbers of prisoners suffering from illness and malnutrition at Kaecheon, the source said.

Also Read: Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

“Instead, they would rather call up the inmates’ families and demand that they bring in medicine and food.”

Inmates’ families can now help save the lives of their loved ones in the prison by sending in a mixture of corn flour, sugar, and oil put into a meal, RFA’s source said.

“And they can do this only by purchasing these things directly from the convenience store,” he said. (Radio Free Asia)

Next Story

After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting.

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Protesters march toward the U.S. Embassy during a rally supporting the U.S. policy to put steady pressure on North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

With negotiations at an impasse, Washington has imposed additional sanctions on those assisting Pyongyang — the first such action since February’s failed summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“This is not really about intensification of pressure,” a senior U.S. administration official said. “This is about maintaining pressure as defined by the international community.”

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks at a news conference in Hanoi, following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he walked away from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because Kim demanded the U.S. lift all of its sanctions.
In this Feb. 28, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks at a news conference in Hanoi, following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he walked away from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because Kim demanded the U.S. lift all of its sanctions. VOA

Thursday’s sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department on two China-based shipping companies were the latest evidence of some “leakage” in the enforcement of sanctions by Beijing, but U.S. officials said that overall, China was abiding by the U.N. resolutions slapped on North Korea for its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs.

Washington wants Pyongyang to surrender its entire nuclear arsenal and other mass-destruction weapons before being granted any relief from sanctions. The North Koreans insist on sanctions relief before halting production of fissile materials.

“Insisting on unilateral North Korean disarmament upfront is pushing on the wrong door. We should be pushing to first slow the program, then cap it, and ultimately keep rollback and disarmament the long-term goal,” said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But every month that passes without a grand deal is one in which North Korea’s nuclear program continues to grow larger — increasing the risk of its own use and proliferation to other countries — and the chances of a deal grow smaller.”

 

FILE - In this undated image from video distributed Jan. 1, 2019, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech in North Korea.
In this undated image from video distributed Jan. 1, 2019, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech in North Korea. VOA

Analysts also worry Kim could grow impatient, turn away from diplomacy with Trump and look to China to provide sanctions relief that North Korea desperately needs.

“I’m not sure we can be confident that Beijing will uphold enforcement after Trump so abruptly walked away from negotiations with North Korea,” said Jean Lee, who directs the center for Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center, a global policy research group in Washington. “I do hope North Korea sticks to negotiation and does not resort to provocation. If Pyongyang doesn’t get the response it craves and needs from Washington, North Korea may turn back to a tried and tested strategy: to get Trump, and the world’s attention, with another illicit missile launch or test.”

U.S. officials on Thursday, speaking to reporters on condition of not being named, expressed patience and confidence with their stance toward North Korea.

Patience

“What they’re facing now is unprecedented,” said one U.S. official of the sanctions on North Korea. “We’ll give it some time.”

Lee, currently in Seoul, told VOA she found it “interesting that we’re back to a form of strategic patience. There was high hope, especially here in Seoul, that Trump’s impatience and unpredictability would lead to fast movement on North Korea. But the Trump administration is finding that it’s much tougher than the president may have thought of simply bullying Kim into acquiescence.”

A prolonged lull in talks “could become risky, and maintaining maximalist positions will not be sustainable,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a national security research group in Washington.

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2018, photo, a North Korean woman walks outside Bugsae Shop, also known as the "Singapore Shop," in Pyongyang. Business is booming at such shops, which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knock-offs from China. The stores stock many of the very things U.N. sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block.
In this Dec. 21, 2018, photo, a North Korean woman walks outside Bugsae Shop, also known as the “Singapore Shop,” in Pyongyang. Business is booming at such shops, which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knock-offs from China. The stores stock many of the very things U.N. sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block. VOA

“They need to negotiate a denuclearization-peace road map soon and preferably an interim agreement on fissile materials. Rapid and complete denuclearization is not realistic. Denuclearization will have to occur in stages but in accordance with an agreed road map on how this all ends,” Kim told VOA.

The current primary point of pressure on Pyongyang by the international community is on entities, including their ships, involved with illicitly exporting North Korean goods, such as coal, and taking products — especially petroleum — into the impoverished country in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Unless North Korea denuclearizes, “we’re going to maintain that pressure,” a senior U.S official said.

Daily monitoring

A coalition of countries — using their vessels, aircraft and classified intelligence means — are daily watching the movement of ships involved in the illegal trade.

North Korea and those helping it are trying to obscure identities of ships and cargo by disabling or manipulating systems that identify the vessels for safety and navigation, physically altering vessel identifications and making ship-to-ship transfers to avoid ports, according to a sanctions advisory jointly issued Thursday by the U.S. Treasury and State departments and the Coast Guard.

Neither the United States nor any other country has moved to interdict the offending ships.

FILE - This photo released by Japan's Ministry of Defense shows what it says is the North Korean-flagged tanker Yu Jong 2, left, and the Min Ning De You 078 lying alongside in the East China Sea, Feb. 16, 2018.
This photo released by Japan’s Ministry of Defense shows what it says is the North Korean-flagged tanker Yu Jong 2, left, and the Min Ning De You 078 lying alongside in the East China Sea, Feb. 16, 2018. VOA

“I don’t want to talk about potential steps we may or may not take,” replied a senior administration official when asked by VOA whether there was discussion here about using the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard in international waters to take such action.

Also Read: “Saw Blood Flowing Like A River”: Survivor Recounts New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting.

“The door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea. The president wants to see progress at the working level, and he’s engaged as well,” a senior administration official said. (VOA)