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Archive for the ‘Korean Peninsula’ Category

Japan’s move to lower South Korea trade status takes effect

August 28, 2019

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s downgrading of South Korea’s trade status took effect Wednesday, a decision that has already set off a series of reactions hurting bilateral relations. Japanese manufacturers now must apply for approval for each technology-related contract for South Korean export, rather than the simpler checks granted a preferential trade partner, which is still the status of the U.S. and others.

Since Japan announced the decision about two months ago, South Korea decided to similarly downgrade Tokyo’s trade status, which will take effect next month. Seoul has also canceled a deal to share military intelligence with Japan.

South Korea has accused Japan of weaponizing trade because of a separate dispute linked to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan denies retaliating and says wartime compensation issues were already settled.

“Relations between Japan and South Korea continue to be in an extremely serious situation because of South Korea’s repeated negative and irrational actions, including the most critical issue of laborers from the Korean Peninsula,” Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Suga was referring to South Korea’s Supreme Court ruling last year that said the wartime compensation deal, signed in 1965, did not cover individual rights to seek reparations and ordered Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor.

Suga said Japan will continue to try to talk to South Korea. The wrangling has dented what had been a thriving tourism and cultural exchange between the neighboring nations, including Japanese becoming fans of Korean pop music and movies. Some South Koreas are boycotting Japanese goods or joining street protests to denounce Japan.

Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, said earlier this week that the trade status review was needed for proper checks on exports because of concerns about what could be used for military purposes.

Japan has never specified the security concerns further, or how they originated. Seko also denounced South Korea’s scrapping the military intelligence agreement, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, arguing the trade decision was not directly related to military cooperation.

The intelligence-sharing agreement remains in effect until November. Japan and South Korea have shared information about North Korea’s missile launches, the latest of which happened Saturday.

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S. Korea, Russia differ over warning shots fired at jets

July 23, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean air force jets fired 360 rounds of warning shots Tuesday after a Russian military plane twice violated South Korea’s airspace off the country’s eastern coast, Seoul officials said in an announcement that was quickly disputed by Russia.

South Korea said three Russian military planes — two Tu-95 bombers and one A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft — entered the South’s air defense identification zone off its east coast before the A-50 intruded in South Korean airspace. Russia said later that two of its Tu-95MS bombers were on a routine flight over neutral waters and didn’t enter South Korean territory.

South Korea said it was the first time a foreign military plane had violated its airspace since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. According to South Korean accounts, an unspecified number of South Korean fighter jets, including F-16s, scrambled to the area and fired 10 flares and 80 rounds from machine guns as warning shots.

Seoul defense officials said the Russian reconnaissance aircraft left the area three minutes later but later returned and violated South Korean airspace again for four minutes. The officials said the South Korean fighter jets then fired another 10 flares and 280 rounds from machine guns as warning shots.

But the commander of Russia’s long-range aviation forces denied both that the planes had violated South Korean airspace and that shots were fired. “If the Russian pilots had identified such a threat to themselves, they would have immediately given an appropriate response,” Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash said, according to Russian news agencies.

He said South Korean military planes escorted the Russian planes over neutral waters, which he called “aerial hooliganism.” South Korea’s presidential national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told top Russian security official Nikolai Patrushev that South Korea views Russia’s airspace violation “very seriously” and will take “much stronger” measures if a similar incident occurs, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Russian military analyst, told The Associated Press he believed the incursion could have been a navigation mistake. He also suggested the incident would not have serious consequences because “South Korea right now is not very interested in pressing this into a kind of long-term worsening of relations.”

The former Soviet Union supported North Korea and provided the country with weapons during the Korean War, which killed millions. In 1983, a Soviet air force fighter jet fired an air-to-air missile at a South Korean passenger plane that strayed into Soviet territory, killing all 269 people on board. Relations between Seoul and Moscow gradually improved, and they established diplomatic ties in 1990, a year before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The airspace that South Korea says the Russian warplane violated is above a group of South Korean-held islets roughly halfway between South Korea and Japan that have been a source of territorial disputes between the two Asian countries. Russia isn’t part of those disputes.

Japan, which claims ownership over the islets, protested to South Korea for firing warning shots over Japanese airspace. South Korea later countered that it cannot accept the Japanese statement, repeating that the islets are South Korean territory. Japan also protested to Russia for allegedly violating Japanese airspace.

South Korea said the three Russian planes entered the South Korean air defense identification zone with two Chinese bombers. South Korea said the Chinese planes didn’t intrude upon South Korean airspace.

The Russian statement accused South Korean aircraft of trying to hamper the flights of Russian jets before “a vague missile defense identification area” that it said South Korea unilaterally defined. Russia said it had raised its concerns about the zone before.

Before their reported joint flights with the Russian planes, the Chinese warplanes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone off its southwest coast earlier Tuesday, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said. Seoul says Chinese planes have occasionally entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone in recent years.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff registered their official protests with Beijing when they summoned China’s ambassador and defense attache. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was not clear about the situation but noted that the air defense identification zone is not territorial airspace and others are entitled to fly through it.

She took issue with a reporter’s use of the word “violation” to ask about China’s reported activity in South Korea’s air defense identification zone. “I feel that given China and South Korea are friendly neighbors, you should be careful when using it, because we are not clear about the situation,” she said.

Associated Press writers Jim Heintz and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

S. Korea, Japan fail to resolve growing trade dispute

July 13, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea and Japan on Friday failed to immediately resolve their dispute over Japanese export restrictions that could hurt South Korean technology companies, as Seoul called for an investigation by the United Nations or another international body.

Tokyo last week tightened the approval process for shipments of photoresists and other sensitive materials to South Korea, saying they can be exported only to trustworthy trading partners. The move, which could affect South Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display screens used in TVs and smartphones, has triggered a full-blown diplomatic dispute and further soured relations long troubled over Japan’s brutal colonial rule of Korea before the end of World War II.

At their first meeting in Tokyo since the crisis erupted, Japanese officials told their South Korean counterparts that Tokyo saw weaknesses in Seoul’s export controls. They said that the trade curbs were not retaliation for South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate aging South Korean plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II, according to a Japanese trade ministry official.

Lee Ho-hyeon, an official from South Korea’s trade ministry, said Japanese officials cited inadequate bilateral discussions as a reason why their government tightened controls on high-tech exports to South Korea, but didn’t clearly say whether Tokyo believes Seoul may have illegally transferred sensitive materials to North Korea.

Lee said South Korean officials countered by saying that Seoul has a stronger export control system than Tokyo’s. The Japanese officials also reiterated that they won’t negotiate over the trade curbs and said, without specifying, that there have been “inappropriate” cases regarding Japanese exports to South Korea. When pressed by South Korean officials, the Japanese said the cases were unrelated to illegal shipments to a third country but refused to provide details, Lee said.

He said South Korean officials protested that Japan was providing only “very abstract” reasons for its stricter export controls. “The positions still differ (between the two sides),” Lee said. “We did not see any willingness by Japan to change its measures from this meeting.”

The meeting started in an icy atmosphere, with officials skipping handshakes and staring at each other across the table in silence for several minutes, and continued for nearly six hours. Kim You-geun, deputy director of South Korea’s presidential national security office, said South Korea has been thoroughly implementing U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. He demanded that Japan provide evidence for claims made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative aides that there may have been illegal transfers of sensitive materials from South Korea to North Korea.

Kim said his government proposes Japan accept an inquiry by the U.N. or another body over the export controls of both countries to end “needless arguments” and to clearly prove whether the Japanese claims are true or not.

He said South Korea has been imposing stringent export controls on arms and sensitive materials that can be used for both civilian and military purposes as a signatory of major international pacts that govern such transactions.

“If the result of the investigation reveals that our government did something wrong, our government will apologize for it and immediately apply measures to correct it,” said Kim, reading a prepared statement on live TV.

“If the result shows that our government has done nothing wrong, the Japanese government should not only apologize but also immediately withdraw the exports restrictions that have the characteristics of a (political) retaliation. There also should be a thorough investigation on (any) Japanese violation,” he said.

South Korea plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Its trade minister on Tuesday said an “emergency inspection” of companies that process and export the chemicals imported from Japan found no sign of illegal transactions allowing them to reach North Korea or any other country affected by United Nations sanctions.

In Washington, Kim Hyun-chong, another South Korean presidential official, was meeting with officials from the White House and Congress as Seoul sought U.S. help to end its diplomatic row with Japan. Kim Hee-sang, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, also held talks with State Department officials in Washington.

“The U.S. side has showed a good understanding about (the issue) and expressed a desire to provide active support to resolve the problem as South Korea, the United States and Japan should work together and cooperate in the Asia-Pacific,” Kim Hyun-chong told South Korean reporters after a meeting with U.S. congressional officials.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that its minister, Kang Kyung-wha, discussed the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who Seoul said expressed an “understanding” of the South Korean position and agreed to facilitate communication through diplomatic channels between Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

North Korea hails ‘historic’ Kim-Trump summit

By Sunghee Hwang

Seoul (AFP)

July 1, 2019

North Korea on Monday hailed the weekend meeting between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in the Demilitarized Zone as “historic”, as analysts said Pyongyang was looking to shape the narrative to its own agenda.

The two leaders agreed to “resume and push forward productive dialogues for making a new breakthrough in the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

After a Twitter invitation by the US president on Saturday, the two men met a day later in the strip of land that has divided the peninsula for 66 years since the end of the Korean War, when the two countries and their allies fought each other to a standstill.

Kim and Trump shook hands over the concrete slabs dividing North and South before Trump walked a few paces into Pyongyang’s territory — the first US president ever to set foot on North Korean soil.

“The top leaders of the DPRK and the US exchanging historic handshakes at Panmunjom” was an “amazing event”, KCNA said, describing the truce village as a “place that had been known as the symbol of division” and referring to past “inglorious relations” between the countries.

The impromptu meeting in the DMZ — where the US president said they agreed to resume working-level talks within weeks on the North’s nuclear program — was full of symbolism.

Trump’s border-crossing — which he said was uncertain until the last moment — was an extraordinary sequel to the scene at Kim’s first summit with Moon Jae-in last year, when the young leader invited the South Korean president to walk over the Military Demarcation Line, as the border is officially known.

“It was an honor that you asked me to step over that line, and I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim.

Pictures from the meeting — including a sequence of images from the two men emerging from opposite sides for a handshake and a skip across the border — were splashed across the front page of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which carried 35 images in total.

Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies, said the KCNA report was “typical North Korean propaganda that glorified Kim as leading the tremendous changes in geopolitics”.

– ‘Mysterious force’ –

Analysts have been divided by Sunday’s events, some saying they spurred new momentum into deadlocked nuclear talks, while others described them as “reality show theatrics”.

The first Trump-Kim summit took place in a blaze of publicity in Singapore last year but produced only a vaguely worded pledge about denuclearisation.

A second meeting in Vietnam in February collapsed after the pair failed to reach an agreement over sanctions relief and what the North was willing to give in return.

Contact between the two sides has since been minimal — with Pyongyang issuing frequent criticisms of the US position — but the two leaders exchanged a series of letters before Trump issued his offer to meet at the DMZ.

Regional powerhouse China on Monday said renewed discussions between North Korea and the United States are of “great significance”.

“It is hoped that all parties concerned will seize the opportunity, move in the same direction, actively explore effective solutions to each other’s concerns and make progress on the peninsula,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.

Trump’s historic gesture came over a week after Xi Jinping made the first visit to Pyongyang by a Chinese president in 14 years — a trip which analysts had said Xi may use as leverage in his own trade talks with Trump that concluded with a truce at the G20.

As well as the working-level talks, Trump also floated the idea of sanctions relief — repeatedly demanded by Pyongyang — and said he invited the North Korean leader to the White House.

Such a trip would have to come “at the right time”, he added.

KCNA was less specific, saying Kim and Trump discussed “issues of mutual concern and interest which become a stumbling block”.

Trump regularly calls Kim a “friend” and KCNA cited the North Korean leader as lauding their “good personal relations”, saying they would “produce good results unpredictable by others and work as a mysterious force overcoming manifold difficulties and obstacles”.

Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the North was portraying Kim as “being courted by Trump”…

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/North_Korea_hails_historic_Kim-Trump_summit_999.html.

State media say Chinese President Xi to visit North Korea

June 17, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping will make a state visit to North Korea this week, state media announced Monday, as U.S. talks with North Korea on its nuclear program are at an apparent standstill.

Xi will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the visit on Thursday and Friday, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said. It said the trip will be the first by a Chinese president in 14 years. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency also announced the visit, but provided no further details.

The visit coincides with the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea, CCTV said. The broadcaster added the leaders will exchange views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The visit comes as negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea appear to have reached an impasse. A summit in Vietnam in February between Kim and President Donald Trump failed after the U.S. rejected North Korea’s request for extensive relief from U.N. sanctions in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step. Since the summit’s breakdown, no major contacts between the U.S. and North Korea have been announced.

Kim traveled to the Russian Far East in April for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move was viewed as aimed at strengthening his leverage over Washington and persuading Moscow to loosen its implementation of the international sanctions against North Korea.

Last month, North Korea fired short-range missiles and other weapons into the sea in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the U.S. KCNA reported in April that Kim said he will give the U.S. “till the end of the year” to reach out with further proposals.

Since taking office in 2012, Xi has met with Kim four times in China. The meetings were timed in proximity to Kim’s meetings with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, highlighting Beijing’s role as a key player in the nuclear standoff. Beijing has long advocated a “dual suspension” approach in which North Korea would halt its nuclear and missile activities while the U.S. and South Korea cease large-scale joint military exercises.

Chinese political scholar Zhang Lifan said the aim of Xi’s trip is likely not to make any breakthroughs, but rather to remind other countries of China’s unique position. Zhang said Beijing may be seeking to gain leverage ahead of a G-20 summit in Japan later this month and reassert itself as a global player amid growing concerns over its economy.

“North Korea is a card for China to play,” Zhang said. “China may want to show off its relationship with North Korea and demonstrate its importance to U.S.-North Korean relations.” South Korea’s presidential office said it hopes Xi’s visit to North Korea will contribute to a swift resumption of negotiations to resolve the nuclear standoff. It said it has been engaging in discussions with Beijing over the possibility of a visit by Xi, which it views as a positive development in efforts to peacefully resolve the peninsula’s issues.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Human rights group locates North Korean execution sites

June 11, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A human rights group said Tuesday it has identified hundreds of spots where witnesses claim North Korea carried out public executions and extrajudicial state killings as part of an arbitrary and aggressive use of the death penalty that is meant to intimidate its citizens.

The Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group said its research was based on interviews with 610 North Korean defectors conducted over four years who helped locate the sites with satellite imagery.

The group didn’t reveal the exact locations of the 323 sites because it’s worried that North Korea will tamper with them, but said 267 of them were located in two northeastern provinces near the border with China, the area where most of the defectors who participated in the study came from.

North Korea’s public executions tend to happen near rivers, in fields and on hills, and also at marketplaces and school grounds — places where residents and family members of those sentenced are often forced to attend the killings, the report said.

The group also said it documented three sites where people died while in detention and 25 sites where the dead were allegedly disposed of by the state. It said it also found official locations that may have documents or other evidence related to the killings.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the report, and the group acknowledged that its findings weren’t definite because it doesn’t have direct access to North Korea and cannot visit the sites defectors told it about. Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, one of the report’s authors, also said interviews with defectors suggest that public executions in North Korea are becoming less frequent, although it’s unclear whether that’s because more people are being executed in secret.

South Korea’s Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-sponsored think tank, expressed similar views on its annual white paper on North Korea’s human rights released last week. The institute said the North still uses public executions to provoke fear and control the behavior of its citizens, particularly in city and border areas where crimes are more prevalent.

The Transitional Justice Working Group is a nongovernment organization founded by human rights advocates and researchers from South Korea and four other countries. The group said the new report was made possible by funding from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. Congress.

North Korea didn’t immediately respond to the report, but the nation bristles at outside criticism of its human rights record and claims negative assessments are part of U.S.-led pressure campaigns meant to tarnish the image of its leadership and destroy the country’s political system. In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May, North Korea said it “consistently maintains the principle of ensuring scientific accuracy, objectivity and impartiality, as well as protecting human rights in dealing with criminal cases.”

A 2014 United Nations report on North Korea’s human rights conditions, however, said state authorities carry out executions, “with or without trial, publicly or secretly,” in response to political and other crimes that are often not among the most serious offenses. While public executions were more common in the 1990s, North Korea continues to carry them out for the purpose of instilling fear in the general population, the report said.

The new report said its findings show arbitrary executions and extrajudicial killings under state custody have continued under the rule of young leader Kim Jong Un despite international criticism over how North Korea supposedly applies the death penalty without due judicial process.

Since assuming leadership in 2011, Kim has shown a brutal side while consolidating his power, executing a slew of members of the North Korean old guard, including his uncle Jang Seong Thaek, who was convicted of treason, and senior officials accused of slighting his leadership.

Following a provocative run in nuclear and missile tests, Kim initiated diplomacy with Washington and Seoul in 2018 in attempting to leverage his arsenal for economic and security benefits. But North Korea’s human rights issues have so far been sidelined in the summitry between Kim, President Donald Trump, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Almost all of the state killings documented in the report were public executions by firing squad. Public executions in most cases are preceded by brief “trials” on the spot where charges are announced and sentences are issued without legal counsel for the accused, the report said.

Criminal charges for executions commonly cited by interviewees included violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault, but also property crimes like stealing copper or cows and brokering defections. With a lack of due process in the North’s judicial system, it’s unclear whether the charges would actually match the act of the accused, the report said.

Bodies of people killed by state agents aren’t usually returned to the family and are often dumped in mountainous areas, buried in the ground without markers, or thrown into a gorge or ravine, the report said.

Authorities often force family members of those sentenced and residents, including children, to watch public executions. Some defectors reported incidents in the mid-2010s where guards used metal detectors to find and confiscate mobile phones from witnesses to prevent them from recording the events, which showed the government’s concern about information on the public executions getting outside the country, the report said.

The rights group said the information it gathered will be crucial if a political transition in North Korea allows for the identification of victims, the return of remains to families and investigations into human rights abuses committed by the government.

The group released an earlier report in 2017 based on a smaller number of interviews. It said the new report is better sourced, based on accounts of direct witnesses or those who heard from direct witnesses and were able to provide geographic information of the sites.

A look at alleged raiders of North Korean Embassy in Madrid

March 27, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The 10 people who allegedly raided the North Korean Embassy in Madrid last month belong to a mysterious dissident organization that styles itself as a government-in-exile dedicated to toppling the ruling Kim family dynasty in North Korea.

Their leader appears to be a Yale-educated human rights activist who was once jailed in China while trying to rescue North Korean defectors living in hiding, according to activists and defectors. Details have begun trickling out about the raid after a Spanish judge lifted a secrecy order Tuesday and said an investigation of what happened on Feb. 22 uncovered evidence that “a criminal organization” shackled and gagged embassy staff before escaping with computers, hard drives and documents. A U.S. official said the group is named Cheollima Civil Defense, a little-known organization that recently called for international solidarity in the fight against dictatorship in North Korea.

Here’s a look at the group and its apparent leader.

THE GROUP

Details about the creation of the Cheollima Civil Defense group are hazy. The word “Cheollima” — spelled “Chollima” in the North — refers to a mythical winged horse that the government often uses in its propaganda.

In March 2017 the group said it had arranged the escape of Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who was assassinated at a Malaysian airport earlier that year.

A man claiming to be Kim Han Sol appeared in a YouTube video at the time and said he was safely with his mother and sister.

“My name is Kim Han Sol from North Korea, part of the Kim family,” the man said in English in the 40-second video clip. “My father has been killed a few days ago.”

Recently the group declared on what appears to be its website the establishment of “Free Joseon,” which it described as “a provisional government” that would fight against “the criminal incumbents of the north.” The Joseon Dynasty ruled the Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years until 1910, when Japan colonized Korea, which was later divided at the end of World War II.

The group also recently posted a video showing an unidentified man destroying glass-encased portraits of North Korea’s two late leaders. South Korean media reported that the group was behind the writing of “Let’s topple Kim Jong Un,” the current North Korean leader, on the wall of the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia.

After the Spanish judge released documents about the Feb. 22 incident, the Cheollima website said it had been responding to an urgent situation at the embassy and was invited onto the property, and that “no one was gagged or beaten.” The group said there were “no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event.”

The Spanish court report said the intruders urged North Korea’s only accredited diplomat in Spain, So Yun Sok, to defect.

The Cheollima website said the group shared “certain information of enormous potential value” with the FBI, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality.

The FBI said its standard practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.

If Cheollima was behind the embassy break-in, it indicates the involvement of North Korean defectors who have experience working for North Korea’s military or security authorities, said Nam Sung Wook, a former president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s main spy agency.

“There are many young North Korean men who come to the South with more than 10 years of military experience,” said Nam, who now teaches at Korea University in South Korea. “People would be surprised at what they are capable of doing, and they aren’t always being closely watched by the South Korean government.”

THE ALLEGED LEADER

A Spanish court document identified the leader of the group that entered the embassy as Adrian Hong Chang.

This is likely to be Adrian Hong, who in 2005 co-founded Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an international activist group devoted to rescuing North Korean refugees, according to North Korean defectors and activists who spoke with The Associated Press.

Hannah Song, CEO of LiNK, said Hong has had no involvement with the organization for more than 10 years. “We have no knowledge of his recent activities,” Song said.

The Spanish judge, Jose de la Mata, described Adrian Hong Chang as a Mexican national and resident of the United States. According to the Spanish court report, the man flew to the United States on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos. The report didn’t say what type of information the items contained or whether the FBI accepted the offer.

An online message by AP to a verified Twitter account linked to activist Adrian Hong wasn’t immediately answered.

Hong is known for his work helping North Koreans flee their homeland and resettle in South Korea and elsewhere. LiNK said it has helped more than 1,000 North Koreans reach safety. Fellow activists and North Korean defectors said Hong was detained in China briefly in the 2000s because of his work.

Kang Chol-hwan, a prominent North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he was close to Hong and helped him with LiNK.

Kang, an ex-inmate of North Korea’s notorious Yodok prison camp, said Hong became passionate about North Korean human rights after reading his detention memoir. He said Hong visited Seoul and rallied against what he believed were pro-North Korea sympathizers and those silent on North Korean human rights issues.

Kang, who said he last saw Hong about five years ago, said Hong wanted to “muster anti-government forces (in North Korea) and bring down North Korea from the inside.” Kang said Hong even went to Libya to study the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi so he could explore ways to topple the Kim government.

“He has great capacity for organization because of his experience establishing LiNK,” Kang said. “He’s a very smart guy.”

Fellow defector-turned-activist Heu Kang Il, who met Hong around 2005, recalled him as a “passionate young man.”

Testifying before the Canadian Senate in 2016, Hong said: “North Korea is not a normal nation with the government seeking to serve and protect its citizens. It is a brutal totalitarian regime, ruled by a royal family and a class of vassals, both in tenuous concert with one another. It does not care for the welfare of its people.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014, Hong said the international community must support “efforts to strengthen meaningful opposition and civil society in the country, training exiles to one day assume leadership positions, educating younger refugees, and creating more robust programs to help defectors adjust to life on the outside.”

“A class of Korean technocrats must be capable of stabilizing and rebuilding on a national scale,” Hong wrote.

Associated Press writer Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

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