April 4, 2013

North Korea

Jessica Kumari revisits what she learned on the border.

Jessica: North Korea is one of the most secretive nations in the world. This satellite image shows it is literally a black hole of information. And the only information you get is from the government. A steady stream of propaganda is pumped out on TV and radio.

Video of daily life is rare. Journalists and tourists, like former pro-basketball player Dennis Rodman, are usually allowed just a glimpse of the capital, Pyongyang. But they are only shown what the north wants them to see.

A year ago, a bus carrying several dozen foreign reporters made a wrong turn, giving journalists a rare chance to see the North Korea’s desperate reality. The average citizen earns about five dollars a day, most of the country’s 25 million are too poor to drive, so they walk. Too poor to buy food, so many starve.

North Korean refugee: You would see kids like in Africa in the markets with weak arms and swollen bellies.

Jessica: The country has been ruled by the Kim family since 1948. Kim Jong-un became the youngest president more than a year ago.

Instead of helping the people, the nation’s money is spent building up its military. And in recent months, the North Koreans have carried out a series of nuclear weapons tests, ignoring restrictions and economic punishments imposed by the United Nations. In recent weeks, Kim Jong-un has been directing his threats of destruction at the United States.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel: Some of the actions they’ve taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger.

Jessica: So how did this communist country become so isolated? For thousands of years, the mountainous peninsula was neither north or south, just Korea…but it was a target for invasion. And when World War II began, Korea was under Japanese control. Japan lost the war and, in the end, the winners – the allied forces – divided the country in two. The Soviet Union backed the north and its rebel leader Kim Il Sung. The United States supported the south and its anti-communist president.

But it didn’t end there. Two years later, the North Korean army invaded the south. The Korean War lasted three years. Millions died, including over 35,000 U.S. troops who were fighting for the south. Even though major fighting ended in 1953, there was never a peace treaty or formal agreement to end the war.

North and South Korea have remained at war. To this day it is a scene that is played out at the border. Soldiers stand guard ready to fight a war frozen in time.

The Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is a two-and-a-half mile wide strip of land that runs about 150 miles along the border of North and South Korea. The only way for someone like me to get there is with an armed escort.

Colonel Rhodes: We’re going to get you some PA alarm bands so they know who you are and know what you’re doing.

Jessica: It is patrolled by almost 2 million soldiers, lined with high voltage electric fences and surrounded by more than a million landmines, or buried explosives.

Ortiz: Right now you’re being observed by North Korean soldiers.

Hauck: They’re over there in that checkpoint over there.

Jessica: So, right there is North Korea?

Hauck: Right there is North Korea. Yes ma’am.

Jessica: Oh my gosh! Right now I’m literally one step away from North Korea.

If we crossed the line, North Korean soldiers have the right to shoot.

Hauck: They are allowed semi-automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and things like that, and they do have them and they may point them at you. They probably won’t shoot you but I have to warn you about that.

Jessica: Ok, not very comforting.

During my visit, my escort, Colonel Rhodes, also took me to Taesong-dong, a village on the South Korean border with simple homes for its 200 residents and a 328-foot flagpole.

Just a mile-and-a-half across the border, North Korea built its own village, Kijong-dong. It also has a flagpole but at 525 feet, it towers over the South Korean one. In this village, most of the buildings are hollow, like a Hollywood set. A make believe world meant to lure South Koreans to live in the north.

Refugee: I realized after I come here, it was not true. Absolutely not true.

Jessica: Now the question is whether the threats from North Korea are just as hollow. The State Department says it is taking the North Korean leader seriously.

Victoria Nuland: These kinds of moves are not going to make North Korea more secure, they’re not going to feed the people of North Korea, they’re not going to get the country out of its isolation. There is a chance for diplomacy if they do the right thing, but not if they don’t.

Jessica: Jessica Kumari, Channel One News.


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