North Korea is believed to have a population of 23.5 million. In addition, about five million are living illegally in northern China, where they have fled to over the last ten years. About 150,000 North Koreans are prisoners in forced labor camps. The largest prison, however, is the armed forces, which contains 1.17 million troops. Only about 7,300 North Koreans have made it to South Korea so far, most of them in the last decade.
It's also believed that 1,734 POWs from the Korean War were kept in North Korea. About 550 are thought to be still alive, with 885 confirmed dead. In addition, North Korean agents have kidnapped 489 South Koreans over the years, with 103 believed to be still alive.
Some 3-5 three percent of the population lives quite well, and keeps the rest in line.
June 25, 2006: For over two weeks, North Korea has used it's missile launch preparations to try and get some better aid offers out of its enemies. But China, which is the most important supplier of charity, has threatened to cut off much of the food and fuel if North Korea launches the missile. Even South Koreans are getting fed up, despite the fact that North Korea could trash South Koreans economy, and comfortable standard of living, by launching an attack (which would fail, but it's the threat that counts.) In any event, it appears that the missile launch preparations will not result in an actual launch. The entire exercise appears to have been just a negotiating ploy.
June 21, 2006: The U.S. believes that it can shoot down the North Korean Taepodong 2 missile with its various anti-missile systems. However, if North Korea is trying to launch a satellite, the missile will be more difficult to destroy.
June 11, 2006: North Korea is preparing a multi-stage Taepodong 2 missile for launch. This liquid fueled missile takes several days to prepare for launch, and it can't be easily hidden. The missile can reach parts of Alaska, as well as all of Japan.
June 6, 2006: The U.S., Japan and South Korea are attacking the source of North Korea's hard currency income. The north grows poppies (and produces heroin), counterfeits American currency and solicits cash donations from the affluent Korean community in Japan. All three of those sources are under attack. South Korea is working to find more of the North Korean made counterfeit American currency, and take it out of circulation. Japan is threatening to cut back on remittances of North Korea doesn't behave, and more investigative resources are being devoted to North Korea's use of their diplomats for moving and distributing heroin. Lastly, the U.S. is bringing attention to the fact that North Korea indulges in a form of slavery, where it makes workers available for foreign firms, either in North Korea or overseas (as in Russia), but pays these workers very little. The North Korean government takes most of the worker pay.