Korea: Cell Phone Police Strike Back


October 25, 2007: North Korean police have increased the use of German cell phone signal detectors, to find and arrest those illegally using cell phones near the Chinese border. It is possible to get a signal there, and the government sees this as a major security leak. People can say whatever they want using Chinese cell phone service, and the government is determined to stop this phone traffic. There are believed to be dozens of the German detectors in use, with teams (consisting of several dozen secret police agents) moving through neighborhoods and hauling away those found with cell phones. The detectors are small enough to fit in a pocket, so the secret police teams are fairly inconspicuous. The cell phone users are usually engaged in commercial activities, or simply communicating with friends and family. Some North Koreans have established a lucrative business by selling North Koreans access to relatives in China, South Korea or elsewhere, via calls on these phones. The government wants to stop all of this.

October 24, 2007: Commercial satellite photos of the Syrian nuclear facility bombed by Israeli last month, show structures that indicate a nuclear research facility was under construction. The Syrians are now removing the structures, both the ones that were bombed and those left intact. North Korean technicians were involved with whatever was going on there.

October 22, 2007: North Korea is again threatening violence to settle a long standing disagreement over where the sea borders are between the two countries. What is at stake here is valuable fishing rights, and the north is willing to fight over money. But the north is weaker at sea than the south, so a lot of this is more bluff than threat.

October 19, 2007: Major floods in the last three months have seriously hurt food production in the north, wrecking about ten percent of the harvest. Thus several million people face hunger or starvation this Winter. Food prices, at the free markets the government now allows, have gone up (20-40 percent) all over the country as a result.

October 18, 2007: China has halted rail traffic into North Korea, after the North Koreans again stole Chinese rail cars. In the past, North Korean officials have taken Chinese rail cars, used to deliver food relief or commercial goods, and either used them on the North Korean railroad (which doesn't get much in the way of new rail cars) or dismantled the rail cars for metal scrap (which has risen sharply in value over the last few years.) The North Koreans have done the same thing to South Korea, which has delivered food aid via truck. The trucks sometimes "disappeared" inside North Korea. The Chinese usually reduce rail traffic until they get compensated for the lost rail cars.


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