North Korea's military drone 'more like a toy'

Unmanned reconnaissance aircraft is either an antique or a toy, experts say

BAENGNYEONG, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 31:In this handout image provided on April 2, 2014 by the South Korean Defence Ministry, the wreckage of a crashed drone is seen in the Baengnyeong Island, bo
(Image credit: 2014 South Korean Defence Ministry)

A DRONE picked up by the South Korean military after an exchange of fire with North Korea during a naval exercise on Monday was described by experts as "toy-like", "poorly designed," and "antiquated".

Seoul suspects that the unmanned aircraft was designed to conduct reconnaissance missions, Reuters reports. But experts who looked at its remains concluded that it was not terribly sophisticated.

"It is like a toy," said Kim Hyoung-joong, a cyber defence professor at Korea University in Seoul. "But for surveillance purposes, it doesn't have to be a high-tech, top-notch military product like Predators or Global Hawk drones."

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Tensions on the Korean peninsula flared on Monday as North and South Korea exchanged fire across the disputed western sea border.

The clash came after North Korea mounted a live-fire drill in seven parts of the maritime border – a key flashpoint between the two nations.

Seoul later announced that it had found a crashed drone on Baengnyeong island on Monday afternoon. South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman Park Soo-jin said that an investigation had concluded that the aircraft came from the North.

Last month a Pentagon report to Congress concluded that North Korea's armed forces suffer from "significant resource shortages and aging hardware".

Dr James Hoare of the Centre of Korean Studies at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told NBC that North Korea's military equipment dates back 50 years. "Much of their military force is pretty decrepit, with a lot of World War II stuff," he said. "They put a lot of emphasis of their fighting spirit because they have not got much else."

North Korea trades fire with South across sea border

31 March

TENSIONS on the Korean peninsula have flared up with North and South Korea exchanging fire across the disputed western sea border today, in what has been described as the "most dramatic incident" between the two nations since 2010.

Seoul announced that its military had returned fire after around 100 North Korean shells landed in its territorial waters. South Korean islanders fled to shelters as the two sides exchanged fire, after North Korean live-fire drills turned hostile, The Guardian reports. No casualties were reported on either side.

The skirmish took place during the annual stand-off that accompanies joint military exercises between the US and South Korea. The exchange of fire is the most serious incident since North Korean artillery killed four South Koreans on the island of Yeonpyeong in 2010.

Pyongyang carried out its drills a day after it announced that it was ready to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test.

"We would not rule out a new form of nuclear test for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence," said the North Korean regime in a statement ahead of its operation, without giving any indication of what that might entail, Reuters reports.

Last week Pyongyang carried out its first Nodong missile launches since 2009, test-firing two of the medium-range weapons over the sea. The UN announced that it would consider an "appropriate response" to the launch, the BBC reports.

South Korean officials said that they could see no signs that North Korea was planning an imminent nuclear test, but there is evidence that the North has finished preliminary construction of a new underground nuclear detonation site, the Guardian reports.

On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that urged the Security Council to act over "gross human rights violations" in North Korea. Pyongyang said that the resolution was a "vicious, hostile" act motivated by the US government.

Kim Jong un wins 'election' with 100 per cent share of the vote

10 March

IN ONE of the most decisive victories in electoral history, the North Korean president Kim Jong-un was yesterday elected to the country's parliament.

"Every single vote cast on Sunday in Kim's constituency was for the man who can now add MP to his many titles that include Supreme Commander of the armed forces and chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission," the Daily Telegraph reports.

Even more remarkably, turnout was 100 per cent and there was not a single abstention.

According to North Korea's official KCNA news agency, the result was an expression of "people's absolute support and profound trust in supreme leader Kim Jong-un as they single-mindedly remain loyal to him, holding him in high esteem".

However, in North Korean parliamentary elections, each ballot includes just one name.

In theory, people can vote ‘no’ to the candidate, but in practice the vast majority vote ‘yes’ – at least according to official accounts.

Once elected, members of parliament are unlikely to find their duties too taxing. "The supreme people's assembly usually meets only rarely, often only once a year," The Guardian reports. "It has little power and when it is not in session, its work is done by a smaller and more powerful body called the presidium."

Nevertheless, the paper reports, the composition of the assembly may offer some clues about the working of the North Korean regime.

"Analysts will be closely watching to see if the deputies this time around reflect a generational change as Kim looks to solidify his power and replace older cadres with younger, more loyal ones," it says.

NORTH KOREA: Kim Jong-un 'targets deputy' in new purge

4 March

SOUTH KOREA is investigating reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has embarked on another purge, this time targeting one of his closest officials.

There is growing speculation that the regime's second most powerful man, Choe Ryong-hae, has been imprisoned and is undergoing interrogation under orders from the young dictator.

For the past month, Choe has failed to appear at a string of public events where he would normally be standing close to Kim, reports The Times. It is thought the pair might have clashed over the way Choe was running various state-owned businesses.

South Korea has announced that it will look into the rumours, which come just a few months after the high-profile execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, in December.

Choe is said to have once been on such friendly terms with the Kim family that he used to call former leader Kim Jong Il "brother". He was elected to the Party Central Committee in December 1986, entering the highest elite in North Korea at the extraordinarily young age of 36. When Kim Jong-un took over the regime, Choe's power grew further, and following the death of Kim's uncle he cemented his position as one of Pyongyang's most senior leaders, taking on responsibilities from the late Jang.

Speaking before the purge rumours were reported, Dr Cheong Seong Chang, an expert from the Sejong Research Institute based outside Seoul, noted that if an "accident" were to befall Kim Jong-un within the next few years "Choe would be one among the core power elite who could emerge as the next leader".

But with power, comes risk, and it is thought Kim might have deemed Choe a threat to his leadership. One former Pyongyang government insider last year predicted that Choe could be next on Kim's hit list. He told the Daily NK in December: "Jang is gone, but Choe cannot replace him and could easily go the way of Jang in no time."

North Korea: how should the West deal with Kim Jong-un?

20 March

HUNDREDS of families divided by the Korean War will be reunited in the next few days, in the latest in a series of contradictory signals from the North Korean regime.

More than 100 South Koreans have travelled north to visit relatives they have not seen since conflict divided the peninsula in 1950.

The concession came days after UN investigators urged the international community to act over the crimes against humanity being committed by the North Korean regime against its own people.

The 372-page UN report said North Koreans had suffered "unspeakable atrocities" and that those responsible - including the country's leader Kim Jong-un - must face international justice.

The UN's report, and the erratic signals from Pyongyang, raise a series of questions: who is Kim Jong-un, what does his regime want and what can be done to prevent its mistreatment of the Korean people?

Who is Kim Jong-un?

Kim Jong-un is the third son of the former "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il. His grandfather, Kim Il-sung was installed as premier by the Soviet Union soon after the end of the Second World War and swiftly set about establishing the "cult of personality" that sustains the North Korean premiership to this day.

Kim Il-sung lead the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the Korean war – a bloody engagement that ended in stalemate with both sides, north and south, entrenching themselves along the Armistice Line of July 27, 1953. The line has become known at the Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, and, paradoxically, remains the most militarised border in the world.

Kim Jong-un's succession to the leadership after his father's death in 2011 initially appeared quite smooth, but in December 2013, Kim purged and executed his uncle, Chang Song-thaek, accusing him of plotting a coup.

The early days of Kim's reign have been characterised by aggressive military posturing. In his first public speech, Kim praised the country's "military first" doctrine, the BBC reports.

"Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolised by imperialists," he said. "We have to make every effort to reinforce the people's armed forces."

That reinforcement includes a continuation of the country's controversial nuclear weapons programme. In 2012, North Korea tried unsuccessfully to launch a rocket that it claimed would put a satellite in orbit. The UN condemned the attempted launch as a thinly veiled ballistic missile test and tightened sanctions on the country.

In February 2013 the pariah state carried out its third nuclear test, reported to be three times larger than tests conducted under Kim's predecessor Kim Jong-il.

What does North Korea want?

Victor Cha, a former member of the National Security Council and author of the book The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future said that North Korea is pursuing its nuclear weapons programme not just for defensive purposes, but also as a future bargaining chip.

The country may be willing to bring its nuclear programme back under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, Cha says – though not, critically, to give up its nuclear weapons altogether – in exchange for the right concessions. "Pyongyang would certainly want a great deal in return for these 'concessions,'" Cha says, "including energy and economic development assistance, normalised relations with the United States and a peace treaty ending the Korean War."

Senior strategy advisors Michael Green and Christopher Johnson agree, according to CNN. "Do the leaders want respect, aid, lifting of sanctions and legitimacy?" they ask. "Of course: But the regime has determined that these come from owning nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles."

What can the West do?

Most analysts believe that it will be very difficult for the West to do very much at all. Any UN plan, including referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court, would probably be vetoed by China in the security council, says Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. He argues that in the wake of the protracted engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the West has grown war-weary, making future international intervention less likely.

"Maybe this is what it means to live in the post-intervention era," Freedland says. "Few even call for action – in North Korea or Syria – because we know it's not going to happen."

One critical measure in dealing with North Korea is to stop portraying the country as a joke, says Colin Freeman in the Daily Telegraph: "Too often, North Korea's hereditary tyrants have been seen as just cartoon crackpots, people too mad to be taken seriously. Instead, we focus on Kim Jong-un's mistresses and his dreadful haircut, on his dad's fondness for fortune tellers and funding North Korean Godzilla-type films, rather than the cold-blooded killing they have both ordered."

Even once people begin to take Pyongyang's crimes seriously, it will still be difficult to get the country's leaders to the International Criminal Court, The Times says. But even if China blocks attempts to indict North Korean leaders, sooner or later the regime will "have its day in court", the paper predicts. "There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, and the recent dramatic purge by Mr Kim of his own uncle points to deep fissures even within his inner circle".

Could infighting bring the regime to an end? Some commentators believe that in the absence of intervention from the outside world, the collapse of the regime from within may be the best hope for the people of North Korea.

Kim Jong-Un stands as MP, with 100% backing guaranteed

5 February

AS IF being the supreme leader of a dictatorship is not enough, Kim Jong-Un has decided to stand in North Korea's parliamentary elections next month.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, he was unanimously nominated to stand for the 'divine' Mount Paektu constituency, where his father Kim Jong-Il claimed to have been born.

The nomination was celebrated with a dance party for military personnel in the constituency, which wound up with a lively rendition of the song We Will Defend General Kim Jong-Un at the Cost of Our Lives.

The national assembly is largely a rubber-stamping body with little authority, but many top North Korean officials have been members, including Kim Jong-Un's father when he was in power.

The elections – which are held every five years – take place on 9 March and offer an insight into Pyongyang's power shifts, with the opportunity to see if any senior figures are removed from the candidates' list.

Kim Jong-Un has already overseen sweeping changes within the country's ruling elite, including the dramatic execution of his powerful uncle and political mentor Jang Song-Thaek on charges of treason and corruption.

The supreme leader's success in the polls is a foregone conclusion, with only one approved candidate standing for each of the 687 districts.

"In theory, voters can reject him or her by crossing the name out at a designated table," says The Times. "But given how obvious this would be, and the harsh punishments meted out to dissenters, it is no surprise that turnout is close to 100 per cent and the results are unanimous."

To abstain or cast a 'no' vote would result in the "destruction of the dissenter's family", explains News Focus International, a news site set up by North Korean exiles.

But there is said to be a more sinister reason why the so-called elections are held. It is when the North Korean state conducts a "comprehensive crackdown on missing individuals", says News Focus International. Families of those who have escaped the dictatorship may be able to lie or bribe surveillance agents at other times of the year. "But it is during an election period that a North Korean individual's escape to China or South Korea becomes exposed."

Dennis Rodman does a 'Marilyn' with Kim Jong-un song - video

8 January

THE world's oddest 'bromance' got a little weirder today as Dennis Rodman sang a breathy version of Happy Birthday to North Korean despot Kim Jong-un.

Rodman's performance – which has been compared, unfavourably, to Marilyn Monroe's famous serenading of President Kennedy – took place on a basketball court in Pyongyang. When it was over, a team of middle-aged former NBA players assembled by the Rodman clashed with North Korea's finest.

Jong-un is believed to have turned 31 recently, but his official age has not been confirmed by the pariah state.

One of the American players, former New York Knicks star Charles D Smith, said the US team didn't join Rodman when he serenaded Kim Jong-un. The reason appears to be musical, not political.

"We always tell Dennis that he can't sing. He is tone deaf," Smith told Sky News. "He did it alone."

The match, at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, was watched by a crowd of about 14,000 people. To keep it friendly, the Americans played against the North Koreans in the first half, but split up and merged teams for the second half.

Did Kim Jong-un really feed his uncle to pack of dogs?

7 January

WHEN a Hong Kong newspaper reported that the North Korean despot Kim Jong-un had fed his uncle to a pack of starving dogs, the story flashed around the world. The gruesome account of Jang Song-thaek's execution seemed to confirm the West's worst suspicions about the brutality of the pariah state and its young leader.

But was it true? The source of the story that made headlines around the world is believed to be a satirical Chinese blog, the Daily Mail reports. The posting on the Chinese Tencent Weibo site appeared on 11 December and within hours had been viewed 290,000 times. That might have been the end of it if the story hadn't been picked up by the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper. It released an article about the execution and a screenshot of the Weibo post. Policymic describes Wen Wei Po as a "notorious tabloid" and says it is known as Hong Kong's version of America's National Enquirer. But that reputation didn't stop the story being reported by the English-language Hong Kong expatriate newspaper The Straits Times. It was the Times' account of Jang's death that was picked up by newspapers around the world. Many news outlets did their best to remain sceptical, while reporting the gory details. Business Insider, for example, asked if it was "remotely plausible" that North Korea's No2 official had been stripped naked and put in a cage with 120 starving dogs? The story was an "incredible twist" to the story of Jang's downfall, Business Insider said: "But you have to wonder – could it possibly be true?" Confirming any story about North Korea's elite is notoriously difficult and the truth about Jang's demise may never be known. But another aspect of the story – the idea that the enthusiasm with which Chinese media picked up the starving dogs story illustrates just how degraded relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have become – still appears solid.

Kim Jong-un fed his uncle to pack of starving dogs

3 January

THE brutality of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been underlined by reports he executed his uncle by putting him in a cage with a pack of starving dogs.

Initial reports suggested Jang Song-thaek, the No.2 man in North Korea, had been shot by a firing squad after being found guilty of treason. But an account in Wen Wei Po – China's official mouthpiece – suggests the reality was even more disturbing.

According to the report, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides, the Straits Times reports. They were joined by 120 hounds who had been "starved for three days", the paper says. The dogs were allowed to prey on the men until they were "completely eaten up".

The Straits Times says the gruesome process is called "quan jue", or execution by dogs. Wen Wei Po says Jong-un and 300 officials attended the execution which lasted more than an hour.

As well as shining new light on the brutality of Jong-un's regime, the report reveals that Beijing "no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime," the Straits Times says. It is an impression enforced by a sternly-worded editorial in the Global Times – an organ associated with the Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily – that discussed the "backwardness" of North Korea's political system.

The editorial warned the Chinese government not to "coddle North Korea any longer", saying that the majority of Chinese are disgusted with the Kim regime.

The antipathy is mutual it seems. The purging of Jang, who had close ties to China and was accused of selling North Korean goods too cheaply to Chinese businessman, was interpreted by many as an act of antagonism towards Beijing.

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