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09SHENYANG119 2009-07-08 04:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Shenyang
Cable title:  

DPRK REFUGEES: MORE DIVERSE, ELITE, AND RELIANT UPON BROKERS

Tags:   CH ECON KN KS PGOV PREF PREL RS 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: DPRK refugees are increasingly diverse,
elite, and reliant upon well-connected broker networks,
according to ROK contacts. The network of brokers had
cornered the market on facilitating the trans-China leg of
North Korean border-crossers, driving the most obvious
evidence of DPRK-PRC movement further underground. Back in
China, contacts in NGOs and missionary groups who have
traditionally been the best source of information on the
situation in Northeast China said they are focusing less on
maintaining constant communication with border-crosser
networks and more on humanitarian aid projects on both sides
of the border. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) With meetings arranged via Embassy Seoul, ConGenOff
met with various DPRK-focused groups in the Republic of
Korea May 25-27 to discuss specific Northeast China-related
issues involving border-crossers. These groups included the
Hangyeore School (Ref A & B,) North Korean Intellectuals
Solidarity (NKIS) (Ref C,) and NKnet (Ref D.) ConGenOff
visited the Yanbian Autonomous Korean Prefecture June 18-24
to observe developments along the PRC-DPRK border on
the Tumen River.

DEFECTOR NUMBERS CONTINUE TO RISE: BROKERS MOVE SILENTLY


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3. (C) ConGenOff met with Hangyeore Middle/High School
principal Kwak Jong-moon (protect) on May 25 to share
impressions of the current situation on the PRC-DPRK border
since a previous meeting held in March 2008. (NOTE:
Hangyeore is a school that was opened specifically for
defectors.)

4. (C) Kwak suggested that the number of border-crossers in
the first quarter of 2009 was higher than during the same
period in 2008 and prior years and that Chinese authorities
were focusing less on rounding up or hunting North Korean
border-crossers than in the past. He said that when looking
at the middle/high school students the school had processed
this year, 2009 was one of the busiest and "most interesting"
years on record. Kwak explained that there are more defectors
from more diverse social strata attending the school, including
educated elites who no longer require the remedial education
that earlier defector children needed. He reported that they
hailed from regions all around North Korea, not just from
those adjacent to the PRC-DPRK border, that they had spent
very little time in China, if at all, and had not necessarily
transited the traditional routes through Southeast Asia.

5. (C) Kwak said that all of these factors could only be
explained by the emergence of a solid, experienced network
of brokers. Kwak said that almost all of the new influx of
defector-minors arriving at his school moved seamlessly
through a profit-motivated broker network that was
efficient, discreet, and likely difficult for outsiders such
as NGOs and missionaries to detect. Kwak said that many of
the recent defectors were dependants of those who had
successfully defected to South Korea and if the price was
right, a well-connected broker could get people out of the
DPRK to the ROK within weeks. Kwak said that cracking this
broker network was difficult for South Korean intelligence,
asserting that defectors would never reveal the name of
their broker, rather carrying this information to the
grave.

6. (C) Kwak maintained that presently nobody was getting out
of North Korea without the "right" connections and paying
substantial bribes. DPRK border guards would literally
light a path across the border for would-be VIP border-
crossers. To give an example of how well-coordinated the
broker network was, Kwak related the story of one person who
had crossed the Tumen River in the middle of the night and
had been greeted on a deserted stretch of gravel road by a
man who had been waiting on a motorcycle ready to offer his
services to anyone who might need transit to South Korea.
Even the defector had been surprised by the ease of finding

SHENYANG 00000119 002 OF 003


a broker. Kwak said that DPRK border-crossers were now
aware of the profit-driven nature of the broker business,
including the real risk of human-trafficking and other
hardships on the Chinese side, even in the event of a
successful crossing. With the exception of instances where
brokers received extraordinarily large payments, Kwak said
that almost all female border-crossers were subject to some
form of sexual abuse.

7. (C) Kwak said that the number of border-crossers was on
the rise and reiterated previous reports (Ref A and B) that
they were no longer motivated by hunger but by family
connections and/or ideology. Kwak said that the penalty for
a border-crosser who sought food but who had no contact with
South Koreans or other third-country nationals was a two-
year sentence at a light labor camp. The penalty for one
who had contact with South Koreans or other third-country
nationals was much more severe, while the penalty for anyone
involved with religion or proselytizing was death.

NKIS ELITE - MY FAMILY GOT HERE VIA BROKERS


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8. (C) ConGenOff met with NKIS Representative Kim Heung-
kwang, a 2004 defector, Hamheung native, and graduate of
Kimchaek Engineering University on May 26 (see Ref D for
more information on this organization.) ConGenOff
subsequently met with ten other North Korean defectors in a
group setting.

9. (C) Kim said he had been able to get his wife and
daughter out of DPRK through the aid of a broker. He said
he had paid the equivalent of USD 30,000 to the broker and
that his family had journeyed from Hamheung to Yanbian and
taken a flight from China headed to Seoul - all within the
span of a week. Kim thought the number of defectors leaving
North Korea was down overall, but that people sharing his
higher social status and educational background were fueling
the increase in successful defections to South Korea over
the last couple of years. (NOTE: Kim and other defectors'
willingness to front large amounts of money and maintain
secrecy might explain the phenomenon of visibly fewer North
Korean border-crossers but higher defector entry into South
Korea.)

10. (C) Most participants in the group session said they
disliked Sino-Koreans because they spearheaded the broker
networks. They acknowledged, however, that the network
could not operate without the services of the Sino-Koreans.
Kim and his colleagues alleged that claims of North Korean
death camps and extreme torture were greatly exaggerated.
He did not dispute the existence of limited occasions where
North Korean authorities had committed heinous abuses, but
he averred that they did not form a regular practice.

DAILY NK - ROKG VETS OUR ARTICLES, LESS DEFECTORS


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11. (C) NKnet's Secretary General Kim Yun-tae is a South
Korean who was previously a North Korean-sympathizer student
activist associated with the "Juchepa" (Juche Group) in the
early 1990s who had prior travel experience to Pyongyang
(Ref E.) NKnet publishes the Daily NK, one of the main
online publications covering North Korean issues and staffed
by former North Korean defectors. Kim said that South
Korean intelligence frequently perused the Daily NK and
regularly called to seek clarification and question or
dispute many of their articles. Kim admitted that his
organization provided only limited snapshots of border
society and other areas of the DPRK to which they had access
rather than the complete picture. When pressed, Kim
acknowledged that the situation on the Chinese side of the
border with respect to border-crossers was not as dire as
some reports depicted it.

12. (C) When asked what methods his group used to gather
information, Kim would not go into much detail, only
mentioning the burying of cell phones on hillsides for
people to dig up at night. He said that places like Dandong
and along the border in Jilin province were natural
gathering points for cross-border cell phone communication
and for meeting sources. He explained that he and some of
his colleagues relied upon their 1980s/1990s tactics of
evading South Korean intelligence to avoid excessive PRC and
DPRK surveillance. Kim said he would not compromise his

SHENYANG 00000119 003 OF 003


network by telling ConGenOff more about the group's
composition. He said he relied upon a diverse group of
individuals for information and that the Chinese government
had banned some of his staff from re-entering China (e.g.
North Korean defectors now in possession of South Korean
passports.) Kim added that Sino-Koreans were not to be
trusted as the broker networks were run by Sino-Koreans.

13. (C) Kim apologized if any of his group's articles seemed
to be inflammatory or hysterical, as if they were trying to
push a cause. When ConGenOff specifically raised a recent
article about a Yanbian Sino-Korean "helper" of refugees who
had gone "into hiding" due to increased Chinese public
security pressure since the mid-March detainment of two
American journalists, Kim stressed that such articles should
be taken in context as merely one person's account and that
a larger trend should not be extrapolated from one case.
When pressed further, Kim responded that he and NKnet had
honestly not heard much about defectors in general and not
that much since the mid-March detainment of the
journalists.

BORDER UPDATE ALONG THE TUMEN RIVER


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14. (C) In conversations with ConGenOff June 18-24, several
regular Consulate contacts in Yanji continued to profess a
lack of knowledge regarding recent border-crosser activity,
saying that it had been several years since such activity
was out in the open. Instead, these contacts said they
focus their efforts on various development and food aid
projects within North Korea, most of which continue to
operate unabated in North Hamgyeong Province and Rason. Our
Amcit contacts asked ConGenOff about the circumstances
surrounding the original detainment of the two American
journalists, saying they were unaware of any details in the
case.

15. (C) At Tumen on June 22, the Chinese security posture on
the border remained unchanged from previous visits (Ref E.)
Foreign tourists, including Westerners, were seen at the
Tumen/Namyang land crossing but were not allowed to go out
onto the bridge, unlike Chinese tourists. Further upstream,
ConGenOff noticed six armed People's Armed Police guards
standing watch on the main road closest to the point where
the June 16 Korean Central News Agency report placed the
journalists' arrest. Back in Tumen that afternoon,
ConGenOff observed one North Korean truck crossing over to
North Korea carrying a full load of small cardboard boxes.

16. (C) Recent heavy rains had caused landslides in several
areas along the border between Tumen/Namyang and
Kaishantun/Sambong, with work crews of up to 20 individuals
working to shore up hillsides on the North Korean side. In
its middle reaches, the Tumen River now occupies most of its
usually-dry riverbed, and the strong current created rapids
in several stretches, making crossing the river difficult.

WICKMAN