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Tag Archives: North Korea

American imprisoned in N. Korea returns to Boston

August 28, 2010

BOSTON  (KATAKAMI / AP) – An American held captive for seven months in North Korea stepped off a plane in his hometown Friday, looking thin but joyful as he hugged the former president who had helped win his release and family and friends surrounded him in a group embrace.

Aijalon Gomes was accompanied by former President Jimmy Carter, who had flown to Pyongyang to negotiate his freedom. Gomes, who had been teaching English in South Korea, was imprisoned and sentenced to eight years’ hard labor for crossing into the North from China on Jan. 25 for unknown reasons.

North Korea’s state-run news agency reported last month that Gomes had attempted suicide, leading his family to ask for his release on humanitarian grounds. North Korea said this week it would release Gomes to Carter if the former president went to get him.

Gomes hugged Carter and then his mother before his loved ones encircled him, praying and waving their hands skyward. One man gripped a small American flag, and others held a banner behind them that read: “Welcome home! Disciple of the Lord Aijalon Mahli Gomes. Salvation is ours.”

The banner also pictured a Christian cross and contained biblical references to Acts, Psalms, and Job, an Old Testament book about a man who survived great tribulation.

Gomes’ mother and family members hugged Carter and shook his hand before the group headed inside the terminal, as Gomes smiled and waved at loved ones along the way. A few minutes later, Carter reboarded the plane and left Boston.

In a statement released earlier Friday, the family thanked Carter and said it felt blessed to welcome Gomes home after what it called “a long, dark and difficult period.”

“I’m just joyful and grateful that my son is home and thank President Jimmy Carter for making sure that he was home safely,” Gomes’ mother, Jacqueline McCarthy, said as she left her home for the airport. “I thank God, I thank God, for everything everyone has done for us.”

The family also thanked the North Korean government “for caring for Aijalon during his darkest days, then agreeing to release him on humanitarian grounds.”


Reuters

The statement requested privacy so Gomes could recover from the ordeal, saying that although he was returning home, “the journey towards healing really just begins today.” The family passed by media microphones at the airport without commenting.

But later outside McCarthy’s home, several of Gomes’ relatives spoke to the media and said Gomes appeared to be fine physically.

“He looks well, he looks very well,” his uncle Michael Farrow said.

His 19-year-old brother, Milton McCarthy Jr., described feeling “an overwhelming amount of joy and happiness” when he hugged Gomes.

“It was just like they said, a prayer being answered,” he said. “It was truly a blessing.”

Family members said they’d had a limited chance to speak with Gomes and added he wasn’t expected back at his mother’s home Friday, though they didn’t say where he was staying.

“He’s just grateful to be home, and he’s just thanking God for his safe return,” his cousin Ron Odom said.

In Washington, the Department of State welcomed the news of Gomes’ release, saying officials are “relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family,” spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

It was unclear what led Gomes to enter the repressive nation. He may have been emulating fellow Christian Robert Park, who was detained after he crossed into North Korea in December to highlight its human rights record, said Jo Sung-rae, a South Korean human rights advocate who met with Gomes. Park was expelled some 40 days later after issuing an apology carried by North Korean state media.

Gomes attended rallies in Seoul in January calling for Park’s release and was arrested in North Korea just two weeks later.

Gomes, whose full name is pronounced EYE’-jah-lahn GOHMZ’, grew up the inner-city Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, then headed to college at Bowdoin in Maine before going to South Korea to teach several years after graduating.

He was the fourth American in a year arrested for trespassing in North Korea, which fought the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War and does not have diplomatic relations with Washington. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were arrested last March and released only after former President Bill Clinton made a similar trip to Pyongyang to plead for their freedom.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Gomes’ release and commended Carter. He took the occasion to appeal to donors for emergency humanitarian aid to North Korea, which has been affected by recent flooding, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said at U.N. headquarters in New York.

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Photostream : Mystery surrounds NKorean leader’s trip to China

Photostream : Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter leaving N. Korea with American Aijalon Gomes

Ex-US President Carter frees American from North Korea

A Chinese traffic police officer gestures to a resident who tried to past by a checkpoint into an area where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is reported to be staying in Jilin, northeastern China’s Jilin province on Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Kim is traveling to China, South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday, in what would be his second trip there this year. (Getty Images)

A limousine suspected of carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il leaves a hotel in the Chinese city of Jilin on August 27, 2010 where a delegation from North Korea, believed to include the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-Il, was reported to be staying. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on August 27 extended his tour of northeastern China on a trip seeking Beijing’s blessing for a succession of power to his son, media reports said. YTN TV said a convoy of some 30 cars carrying Kim and his entourage were seen leaving the Wusong Hotel in Jilin around 01:00 GMT and took a highway that leads to Changchun City. (Getty Images)

Residents are stopped from crossing into an area where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is believed to be staying in Jilin, northeastern China’s Jilin province on Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Kim is traveling to China, South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday, in what would be his second trip there this year. (Getty Images)

Government vehicles leave Wusong hotel, where reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is rumoured to be staying with his son, in Jilin city August 27, 2010. China remained silent on Friday about a reported visit by North Korea’s secretive leader Kim, with no official word on a trip analysts believe may be to line up Beijing behind his dynastic succession plans. (Getty Images)

A Chinese police officer stands guard on a hill top overlooking an area where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is believed to be staying in Jilin, northeastern China’s Jilin province on Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Kim is traveling to China, South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday, in what would be his second trip there this year. (Getty Images)

South Koreans watch a TV broadcasting file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. News reports say North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may have traveled to China in what would be his second visit to the country this year. (Getty Images)

Government cars leave the Wusong hotel in Jilin city where reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is rumoured to be staying with his son, August 26, 2010. Kim is visiting powerful ally China possibly with his son and heir apparent, South Korean government sources said, ahead of a meeting next month that may settle Kim Jong-un’s succession. (Getty Images)

A vehicle that is believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the only vehicle in his convoy that is heavily tinted and armoured, travels towards Wusong hotel in Jilin city where Kim is rumoured to be staying with his son, August 26, 2010. Kim is visiting powerful ally China possibly with his son and heir apparent, South Korean government sources said on Thursday, ahead of a meeting that may settle Kim’s succession. (Getty Images)

A view of the Wusong Hotel where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is reported to be staying in Jilin, northeastern China’s Jilin province on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010. Kim is traveling to China, South Korea’s presidential office said Thursday, in what would be his second trip there this year. (Getty Images)

Reports: Kim’s youngest son is NKorea legislator

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An undated picture is believed to show North Korean leader’s son Kim Jong-Un in Berne.

AP

June 29, 2010

SEOUL, South Korea – The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il clandestinely became a parliament member last year, another sign he is being groomed to succeed his father, South Korean news reports said Tuesday.

South Korea’s main spy agency, however, quickly cast doubt on the reports.

It is widely believed that the 68-year-old Kim plans to hand power at some point to third son Kim Jong Un, though little is known about him. Speculation about the North’s succession plans has intensified since the senior Kim reportedly had a stroke in 2008.

He has led North Korea since 1994 upon his father’s death in a hereditary succession that was in the works for years and was the first in the communist world.

Kim Jong Un reportedly ran for a parliamentary seat in elections in March last year that were closely watched for any signs of a power shift in the secretive North. His name, however, was not on the list of Supreme People’s Assembly legislators, sparking speculation he may not have run or used an alias.

On Tuesday, the mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper quoted a high-level Western source knowledgeable about the North as saying that Kim Jong Un was elected in the rubber-stamp legislature’s Constituency No. 216. The source, who was not otherwise identified, said he obtained the information from unidentified North Koreans about two months after the vote, according to the newspaper.

Another national daily — the JoongAng Ilbo — carried a similar report, saying the comments would confirm that Kim has formally entered government service after being tapped as the North’s next leader.

A spokesman at South Korea’s main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said his organization believes there is a low probability the younger Kim became a member of parliament. The spokesman declined to elaborate on the agency’s opinion. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency policy.

JoongAng Ilbo also said the constituency No. 216 has a special meaning in North Korea as Kim Jong Il’s birthday falls on Feb. 16. It said the Western source spoke during a meeting Monday with journalists in Seoul.

The source said the North appeared to have deliberately hid the son’s election, according to Dong-a Ilbo.

The list of North Korea’s 687 parliamentary members that state media released after the elections included the name of Kim Jong but it was not officially confirmed whether the person is the son using an alias, the paper said.

Not much information is available about Kim Jong Un, including his exact age, though experts say he is in his mid-20s and is reported to have studied in Switzerland. Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef said in a 2003 memoir the son looks and acts just like his father and is the leader’s favorite.

Other newspapers as well as Yonhap news agency and YTN television carried similar reports. They highlight the intense interest in South Korea in the succession.

North Korean leaders hold absolute power in the impoverished country, which has active nuclear and missile programs and regularly threatens to destroy rival South Korea.

National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon told legislators last week that North Korea has launched a propaganda campaign aimed at making its 24 million people adore Kim Jong Un, such as releasing songs and poems praising him, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.

On Saturday, North Korea said it will hold a rare Workers’ Party conference in September to choose new top leaders, a move experts say may be aimed at giving Kim Jong Un a top party job.

Tension has been high on the Korean peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March that the South blames on Pyongyang. Seoul has asked the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang, which flatly denies it launched any attack and warns any punishment would trigger war.

Report: North Korea plans meeting to elect new leaders

An undated picture shows Kim Jong Il inspecting the Rakwon Machine Complex in North Pyongan province.
An undated picture shows Kim Jong Il inspecting the Rakwon Machine Complex in North Pyongan province.

June 26, 2010

(CNN) — North Korea’s ruling party plans to hold a meeting with its representatives in September, state media said Saturday.

The meeting is “for electing (the party’s) highest leading body,” the North Korean Central News Agency said.

An announcement by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea says it hopes to make “great changes” as it marks its 65th anniversary this year.

“We are now faced with the sacred revolutionary tasks to develop the WPK … into an eternal glorious party … and further increase its militant function and role to glorify the country as a country prosperous and powerful socialist nation,” the announcement said.

Leader Kim Jong Il is believed to grooming his son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. Recent dramatic changes in North Korean leadership appear to be paving the way for an eventual transfer of power, analysts say.

Earlier this month, Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s brother-in-law and long thought to be his right-hand man, was promoted to vice-chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, state media said.

Jang’s appointment is crucial, said Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University in Seoul. Jang provides a support network for Kim Jong Un, who is his nephew. Jang is also a top military official, according to the professor.

His appointment signifies the power succession process is taking place and that he plays a key role as “liaison between the party and the military,” the professor said.

The 68-year-old leader of the communist nation suffered a stroke last year.

N. Korea promotes Kim relative in reshuffle

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (center) sits on the podium during a rare second session of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday, June 7, 2010. Sitting on the left side of Mr. Kim is the North’s No. 2 official, Kim Yong Nam.

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June 7, 2010

SEOUL (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law was promoted and a premier who apologized for a currency debacle was replaced Monday in a rare parliamentary session with strong signs that the secretive nation was preparing a hereditary succession of power.

Mr. Kim was shown on Pyongyang’s state-run television presiding over the session, sitting behind a desk in the middle of a long line of parliamentarians. The scene was shot from a distance, so it was difficult to assess the health of the 68-year-old Mr. Kim, believed to have suffered a stroke two years ago.

The rubber-stamp parliament, or the Supreme People’s Assembly, usually meets once each year to approve bills vetted by the ruling Workers’ Party. The body met in April, and no reason was given for holding Monday’s unusual second session.

But the session came amid worsening economic woes, pressing succession issues and a South Korean campaign to get the United Nations to punish Pyongyang for a ship attack in March that killed 46 sailors. North denies sinking the ship, and state-run media did not say whether parliament discussed the issue, which the South has taken to the United Nations.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the lawmakers approved a major leadership reshuffle.

The most notable change was the promotion of Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek. He was named vice chairman of the all-powerful National Defense Commission, which makes security policy. Mr. Jang is widely believed to be a key backer of the North Korean leader’s third son, Jong Un, who several analysts think will be his father’s successor.

Mr. Jang is married to Mr. Kim’s younger sister and is said to be poised to play a kingmaker role. Many believe he may lead a collective leadership after Mr. Kim’s death until the new leader takes over.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said, “Electing Jang Song Thaek to the post of vice chairman officially appoints him as No. 2 in facilitating stable succession of power.”

He added, “With this post, he has been given all responsibility and rights to secure a stable structure for future succession.”

The new premier was identified as Choe Yong Rim, a parliament member who replaces Kim Yong-il, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.