Pyongyang

OpenCalais Metadata: Latitude: 
39.0333
OpenCalais Metadata: Longitude: 
125.75

“Hello world from comms center in (hash)Pyongyang.”

That Twitter missive, sent Monday from Koryolink’s main service center in downtown Pyongyang using my iPhone, marked a milestone for North Korea: It was believed to be the first tweet sent from a cellphone using the country’s new 3G mobile data service.

Later, as we were driving through Pyongyang, I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a new roadside banner referring to North Korea’s controversial Feb. 12 nuclear test while AP’s Chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder shot an image of a commuter walking beneath a bridge at dusk. We uploaded these images to Instagram geotagged “Pyongyang.”

Pretty ordinary stuff in the world of social media, but revolutionary for North Korea, a country with an intricate set of rules designed to stage manage the flow of images and information both inside and beyond its borders.

Leader Kim Jong Un has pushed science and technology as major policy directives, and we’re starting to see more laptops in offices. But the World Wide Web remains strictly off limits for most North Koreans. North Korean universities have their own Intranet system, although the material is closely vetted by authorities.

“Hello world from comms center in (hash)Pyongyang.”

That Twitter missive, sent Monday from Koryolink’s main service center in downtown Pyongyang using my iPhone, marked a milestone for North Korea: It was believed to be the first tweet sent from a cellphone using the country’s new 3G mobile data service.

Later, as we were driving through Pyongyang, I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a new roadside banner referring to North Korea’s controversial Feb. 12 nuclear test while AP’s Chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder shot an image of a commuter walking beneath a bridge at dusk. We uploaded these images to Instagram geotagged “Pyongyang.”

Pretty ordinary stuff in the world of social media, but revolutionary for North Korea, a country with an intricate set of rules designed to stage manage the flow of images and information both inside and beyond its borders.

Leader Kim Jong Un has pushed science and technology as major policy directives, and we’re starting to see more laptops in offices. But the World Wide Web remains strictly off limits for most North Koreans. North Korean universities have their own Intranet system, although the material is closely vetted by authorities.

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — An international film festival opens Thursday in what may seem the unlikeliest of places: North Korea.

Held every two years, the Pyongyang International Film Festival offers North Koreans their only chance to see a wide array of foreign films on the big screen — from Britain, Germany and elsewhere (but not America). And it’s the only time foreigners are allowed into North Korean theaters to watch movies alongside locals.

This year, festivalgoers will get the chance to see two feature films shot in North Korea but edited overseas: the romantic comedy “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” a joint North Korean-European production, and “Meet in Pyongyang,” made in conjunction with a Chinese studio.

While it’s true that homegrown movies predictably tend toward communist propaganda with a healthy dose of tear-jerker, North Korea is a film-crazy country. Well-to-do residents pay as much as 500 won (about $5 according to official exchange rates) to see new releases from the government-run Korean Film Studio, as well as Russian and Chinese imports.

Those who don’t have the means to go to the theater tune into the Mansudae TV channel, which shows mostly Chinese and Eastern European films on weekends. Some recent offerings have included “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and the only western offering shown on state TV in recent memory, the British film “Bend It Like Beckham,” which aired in 2010.

This year, a huge screen in front of the Pyongyang train station has become another popular place to watch movies. On Monday, hundreds of locals stood transfixed by a North Korean drama in a plaza in front of the station.

The late leader Kim Jong Il, who died in December, was a notorious film buff.

He was 7 when he saw his first film — “My Hometown” — the inaugural film made at by the Korean Film Studio. The film, about a young man who returns to his village after Korea is liberated from Japan, made a lifelong impression on the future leader, according to Choe Hung Ryol, director of the studio’s external affairs department.

In 1973 Kim published a treatise called “On the Art of the Cinema,” in which he extolled filmmaking as a way to aid the people’s “development into true communists.”

“Creative work is not a mere job, but an honorable revolutionary task,” he wrote.

In 1978, Kim “recruited” a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, and his actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee. According to the late director’s memoirs, he was lured to Pyongyang to make propaganda films, but he and his wife slipped away from their bodyguards during a 1986 trip to Vienna.

Kim’s father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, also wrote a film called “The Flower Girl,” and current leader Kim Jong Un also has a keen interest in film, according to Korean Film Studio spokesman Choe .

In an interview with The Associated Press, Choe acknowledged that the main purpose of North Korean cinema is propaganda.

“Our films carry a different purpose than movies made in other countries,” he said. “We make films for the purpose of ideological education.”

And to play with the emotions of the audience, evidently.

“If you watch a lot of North Korean films, you’ll find yourself crying a lot,” he said. “If you don’t cry, you’re clearly a person without emotion.”

A visit to the film studio is a lot like going back in time, from the thatched cottages of a bygone rural Korea, to the ancient royal palaces of the Choson Dynasty, to a louche depiction of 1950s South Korea compete with brothels, pubs and pharmacies.

“American tourists who come here always tap the walls to see if the buildings are real,” Choe said. “They say the sets in Hollywood are just facades.”

For British filmmaker Nicholas Bonner and his Belgian co-producer Anja Daelemans, the upcoming North Korean premiere of “Comrade Kim Goes Flying” will be a moment nearly seven years in the making.

The film, a romantic comedy about a coal miner who dreams of becoming an acrobat, was shot in North Korea in 2010 with a local cast, directed by veteran North Korean filmmaker Kim Gwang Hun, and edited in Belgium.

“It’s not what you expect from North Korea, and it’s not something people have seen before,” Bonner said.

Writing the script took three years, as the North Korean and European members of the team worked to come up with a story line that was both entertaining and politically safe for showing in North Korea. Bonner credits his the Koreans with contributing some of the film’s funniest moments

“In the end, you’re dealing with professionals,” Bonner said. “They do their job. You’re in the film world, and we’re all making a film.”

But for sheer scale, “Comrade Kim” can’t possibly compete with the heavyweight of North Korean cinema, the 63-part epic “Nation and Destiny,” which began in the 1990s. Filming is already under way on part 64.

 Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: North Korea opens foreign film festival

North Korean guide Kim Won Ho, right, speaks to a foreign journalist near a photo depicting the 2009 satellite rocket launch at the Three Revolutions exhibition hall in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea accused the U.S. of hostility on Tuesday for suspending an agreement to provide food aid following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch, and warned of retaliatory measures in response.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also rejected the U.N. Security Council’s condemnation of Friday’s launch of a long-range rocket as “unreasonable,” and reasserted the nation’s right to develop a civilian space program.

North Korea fired a three-stage rocket Friday over the Yellow Sea in defiance of international warnings against what the U.S. and other nations said would be seen as a violation of bans against nuclear and missile activity.

North Korean officials called the launch a peaceful bid to send an observation satellite into space, timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary Sunday of the birth of late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. The launch was a failure, with the rocket splintering into pieces less than two minutes after takeoff.

Condemnation was swift, with the U.S. and others calling it a covert test of rocket technology that could be used to fire a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Washington immediately halted a plan brokered in February to provide North Korea with much-needed food aid in exchange for a suspension of its nuclear and missile programs.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday it was difficult to say whether the North’s latest statement could indicate whether its “opaque regime” was readying a nuclear test.

“In the past there’s been a pattern of bad behavior,” he told a briefing in Washington. “We can’t preclude anything at this point.”

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council, including North Korea ally China, condemned the rocket launch as a violation of resolutions prohibiting North Korea from ballistic missile and nuclear activity, and directed its sanctions committee to strengthen penalties against the country.

Toner reminded North Korea of its obligations under the resolutions, and said the Security Council’s statement Monday made clear it was determined to take further action if North Korea conducts another rocket launch or nuclear test.

Responding to the Security Council’s condemnation, North Korea accused the U.S. on Tuesday of leading a campaign to deny its right to develop its defense and civilian space programs.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry vowed to press ahead with its space ambitions, and warned it would no longer adhere to the February agreement with the U.S.

“We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the
ensuing consequences.”

“Peace is very dear for us but the dignity of the nation and the sovereignty of the country are dearer for us,” the statement said, without specifying what countermeasures North Korea might take.

North Korea also faced U.N. Security Council condemnation after launching a long-range rocket in 2009, and walked away from six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest.

Weeks later, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, its second, and revealed it had a uranium enrichment program that could give scientists a second source for building atomic weapons.

A South Korean protester hangs an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un near the North’s mock missiles during an anti-North Korea rally denouncing North’s plan to launch a long-range rocket in Seoul on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday, South Korean and U.S. officials said, defying international warnings against moving forward with a launch widely seen as a provocation.

Liftoff took place at 7:39 a.m. from the west coast launch pad in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, citing South Korean and U.S. intelligence.

However, the launch may have failed, U.S. officials said in Washington. South Korean officials said they could not confirm that.

Japan’s Defense Minister Naiki Tanaka said, “We have confirmed that a certain flying object has been launched and fell after flying for just over a minute.” He did not say what exactly was launched.

He said there was no impact on Japanese territory from the launch.

In Pyongyang, there was no word about a launch, and state television was broadcasting video for popular folk tunes. North Korean officials said they would make an announcement about the launch “soon.”

North Korea had earlier announced it would send a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite as part of celebrations honoring national founder Kim Il Sung, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated Sunday.

Space officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns — its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998. The United States, Britain, Japan and others, however, have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned that the launch would be a direct threat to regional security and said the U.S. would pursue “appropriate action” at the U.N. Security Council if North Korea goes ahead with it.

According to projections, the first stage of the rocket is due to fall into the ocean off the western coast of South Korea, while the second stage of the rocket was due to fall into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Luzon.

North Korean space officials have dismissed assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as “nonsense.”

___

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea — Surprise and skepticism met the announcement that North Korea would freeze most nuclear activities in exchange for food aid from the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. officials will closely watch North Korea carry out its promises to suspend uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, stop long-range missile and nuclear tests and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to return.

Both sides call the steps confidence-building measures to improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea, and recognized the 1953 Korean War armistice as a “cornerstone” of peace on the Korean peninsula.

Some key questions and answers about the agreement announced late Wednesday:

Q: What is North Korea’s motivation for reaching this deal?
A: Ensuring stability. As Kim Jong Un becomes the third-generation Kim to lead the nation, North Korea’s leadership is keen to resolve potentially destabilizing issues, including the U.S. military presence in South Korea and chronic food shortages.

The Korean peninsula has been in a technical state of war since the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and a peace treaty with the U.S. is a key foreign policy goal for North Korea.

Food shortages in the country are chronic. Sanctions were imposed in 2006 and tightened in 2009 after two nuclear tests, and aid promised in exchange for disarmament was halted. That meant less food and resources, and harsh weather has also cut into the meager agricultural output.

The North Koreans would like to raise the issue of lifting those sanctions in future talks.

Q: What does this agreement say about Kim Jong Un’s fledgling rule?
A: This deal is the clearest sign yet that the foreign policy laid out during Kim Jong Il’s rule will be carried out under Kim Jong Un, and suggests a measure of stability and continuity in Pyongyang two months after his father’s death.

After the provocations of 2009, including the launch of a long-range missile and a nuclear test, North Korea’s foreign policy on the U.S. shifted dramatically in 2010. After Kim Jong Un was revealed during a special Workers’ Party conference in September 2010 as his father’s chosen successor, the policy toward the U.S. veered noticeably toward engagement and away from provocation.

Starting in July 2011, North Korean and U.S. diplomats met at least three times to hash out the details of a far-reaching agreement on offering food in exchange for nuclear concessions.

The Associated Press reported in December they were on the verge of signing the deal when Kim Jong Il’s death put those negotiations (of food aid for dearmament) on hold. That the North Koreans returned to the negotiations before the end of the semiofficial 100-day mourning period indicates unity.

Q: What are North Korea’s current nuclear capabilities?
A: North Korea tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 and is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight “primitive” atomic bombs, according to U.S. scientist Siegfried Hecker at Stanford University. In 2009, North Korea claimed it would begin enriching uranium, a second way to make atomic bombs, and revealed the facility to Hecker and North Korea expert Robert Carlin during a November 2010 visit.He says North Korea is not producing plutonium at the moment, but there’s little information about whether they’ve made highly enriched uranium or tried to build a bomb using it.

Q: How effective will the agreement be in curtailing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?
A: Hecker says he has advised the U.S. government to think about three points: No more bombs, no better bombs and no exports. The suspension of uranium enrichment will limit its ability to make more bombs, while the moratorium means it won’t be able to test its devices. U.N. inspectors are to be allowed back into North Korea’s facilities to verify it is adhering to the agreement.

Q: Will North Korea ever rid itself of nuclear weapons?
A: Skepticism is widespread that North Korea will ever give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea has always cited the U.S. military presence in the region as a main reason for its drive to build atomic weapons, and having nuclear weapons to protect against the U.S. threat has always been a key source of pride for the North Koreans.

That said, North Korea insists that a nuclear-free Korean peninsula remains a goal.

Q: If this deal proceeds as expected, what will be the next step in improving relations between North Korea and the U.S. and its allies?
A: U.S. and North Korean officials must meet to discuss the technical details of distributing food aid, a tricky issue since Washington wants to be sure the food goes to malnourished children and not to the elite or the military. Next, North Korea must reach out to the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow the return of inspectors who were expelled in 2009.

The issue of tensions between the two Koreas, particularly blame for the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, remains unresolved as does the matter of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Both have been obstacles to resuming the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that also involve China and Russia.

Q: How and when will the U.S. food aid arrive?
A: U.S. officials and non-governmental organizations say experts will have to be on the ground in North Korea before food delivery begins. Aid groups say that could take anywhere from several weeks to months. Washington and Pyongyang have promised another meeting “soon” to finalize details about a proposed initial package of 240,000 metric tons of food aid, with the potential for more down the road.

It may not, however, arrive in time for the big celebrations in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report. Follow AP’s Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean and Foster Klug at twitter.com/APKlug.

Printed on Friday, March 2, 2012 as: North Korean nuclear deal raises particular question

South Korean navy sailors in a speed boat patrol around South Korea’s western Yeonpyong Island after finishing their exercise, near the disputed sea border with North Korea, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. South Korea on Monday conducted live-fire military drills from five islands near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea, despite Pyongyang’s threat to attack.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea conducted live-fire military drills near its disputed sea boundary with North Korea on Monday despite Pyongyang’s threat to respond with a “merciless” attack.

North Korea did not carry out the threat as it focuses on internal stability two months after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il and prepares for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States later this week. But with American forces scheduled to conduct additional military exercises with ally South Korea over the next few months, tensions are expected to remain high in the region.

Washington and North Korea’s neighbors are closely watching how new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son, navigates strained ties with rival South Korea, the planned U.S.-South Korean military drills and a standoff over nuclear weapons programs.

South Korea’s drills took place Monday in an area of the Yellow Sea that was the target of a North Korean artillery attack in 2010 that killed four South Koreans and raised fears of a wider conflict. North Korea didn’t threaten similar South Korean firing drills in the area in January, but called the latest exercise a “premeditated military provocation” and warned it would retaliate for what it considered an attack on its territory.

A North Korean officer told an Associated Press staffer in Pyongyang on Sunday that North Koreans would respond to any provocation with “merciless retaliatory strikes.”

North Korea is prepared for a “total war,” and the drills will lead to a “complete collapse” of ties between the Koreas, the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried Monday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
Such rhetoric has been typical of North Korean media in the past.

Later Monday, South Korean troops on five islands near the disputed sea boundary fired artillery into waters southward, away from nearby North Korea, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

North Korea’s military maintained increased vigilance during Monday’s drills, which ended after about two hours, though Seoul saw nothing suspicious, a South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

South Korean military officials said they were ready to repel any attack. Residents on the front-line islands were asked to go to underground shelters before the drills started, according to South Korean officials.

Analysts said the threats allow Pyongyang to show its anger over what it sees as a violation of its territory, but that an immediate attack was unlikely during what is a delicate time for inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean relations, and for internal North Korean politics.

“South Korea’s military would have immediately responded this time, and that’s something that North Korea can’t afford” during its transfer of power to Kim Jong Un, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

The North’s threat appeared aimed at mustering internal support or could be the result of top military officers showing their loyalty to Kim Jong Un, Yoo said.

The North knows that raising tensions ahead of nuclear talks with the United States won’t be advantageous, said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

The Korean peninsula has been technically at war for about 60 years. The maritime line separating the countries was drawn by the U.S.-led U.N. Command without Pyongyang’s consent at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea routinely argues that the line should run farther south.

Relations between the Koreas plummeted following the November 2010 shelling of front-line Yeonpyeong Island, seven miles (11 kilometers) from North Korean shores, and a deadly warship sinking in March of that year blamed on Pyongyang. North Korea has flatly denied its involvement in the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Kim Jong Un’s handling of North Korea’s military and diplomacy will come into sharper focus over the next several weeks.

The United States and North Korea will have important nuclear disarmament talks Thursday — the third round of bilateral talks since last summer and the first since Kim Jong Il’s Dec. 17 death. They are aimed at restarting six-nation aid-for-disarmament negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.

The North pulled out of those negotiations in early 2009 but has said it is willing to restart the six-nation talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But the U.S. and its allies are demanding that the North first demonstrate its sincerity in ending its nuclear weapons program.

Additionally, a series of military exercises between the United States and South Korea will extend over more than two months. Seoul and Washington say their long-planned annual drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea calls them preparation for an invasion.

South Korea began joint anti-submarine drills Monday with the United States, but the training site is farther south from the disputed sea boundary, South Korean military officials said. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as what U.S. and South Korean officials call deterrence against North Korean aggression.

South Korean and U.S. troops will start 12 days of largely computer-simulated war games next week, and two months of field training drills in early March.

Early Monday, the powerful Political Bureau of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party announced it would convene a conference in mid-April to “glorify” the late leader and to rally around his son.

The conference could wrap up the North’s power succession process, analyst Cheong said, with Kim Jong Un possibly promoted to general secretary of the Workers’ Party, the ruling party’s top job and one of the country’s highest positions.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Military tensions persist over Korean peninsula