On Thursday 11 October the group was pleased to welcome Dr Kenny Latunda-Dada who came all the way from Cambridge to give us a talk on North Korea. Members of the Bath and Ringwood groups also joined us.
North Korea is probably the last of the closed communist states and very little is known of what goes on there. Very few are allowed in to the country and those that are, are carefully chaperoned and only allowed to see what the authorities want them to see. No one is allowed out although a few have escaped.
Kenny spoke mainly about the prison system and the gulags. A reasonable amount of evidence has been acquired about the system, the camps and the gulags, either from defecting guards or escapees. Satellite imagery is also available now.
The prison system is divided into four main levels he said. The lowest level is locally based labour camps where people are kept for 2 or 3 months.
The next level are police run and it is where escapees, repatriated by China are held. They are tortured to reveal the degree of outside contact especially with South Korea. Any contact with the south is regarded as a 'taint' and can result in a lifetime in prison and hard labour.
Penal labour camps are the next layer and are state run and where there is hard labour.
The fourth and final layour are the concentration camps and the gulag which are situated in the mountainous north of the country. Six have been identified.
People find themselves in the system for any number of arbitrary reasons for example insulting one of the Kim dynasty or showing insufficient respect. But more chilling is the policy of 'rooting out the bad seed' which can mean one member of the family being imprisoned and three generations of the same family being imprisoned as well. They may not know why they are there or who in the family made the error.
There are rumours of gas chambers and chemical experiments.
A cast system exists in the country and the three casts are: hostile; wavering and loyal. Only the loyal can live in the cities and they get the first call on food. It explains the fact that during the great famine when around 3 million died, well fed people seem to be in the parades to cheer Kim Jung il.
People do not necessarily know what cast they are in.
Kenny said that letters sent to the embassy either here are at the UN, are sent to North Korea as they are obliged to do that.
This is a quite appalling country run since the Korean war by one of the Kim family. There was hope that the new leader would result in a softening in the regime but he has been strengthening the border guards so that may not be likely.
It is tempting to regard them as almost comic but they are nuclear state and are believed to have stock piles of chemical weapons. They have been helping Iran with their weapons.
A fuller account of this blog will be in the next newsletter due out at the end of October.
The chairman thanked Kenny for his informative talk
UPDATE: 4 February
Kenny will be speaking at the regional conference in Salisbury on 9 February
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