PP has learned from a South African researcher that North Korean diplomats have reduced their buying and selling of ivory and rhino horns over the last year.

For a regime that has been involved in the slaughter and sale of African wildlife for over 30 years, this sudden change in behaviour appears strange. Kim Jong Un is happy to conduct poisonous nuclear tests, so its hard for PP to imagine that he’s suddenly developed an environmental conscience.

So what could be driving his change of mind?

It looks like a final effort to save the reputation of North Korea’s embassies overseas after its diplomats were caught in a series of embarrassing acts.

In September and October 2016 two North Korean diplomats were separately detained in Addis Ababa for smuggling ivory. In March 2016 a North Korean diplomat in Tanzania was kicked out for ivory and drug trafficking in Zambia and South Africa using a forged passport. Embarrasingly – and widely reported in the global media, in May 2015, Pak Chol-Jun and Kim Jong-Su, both North Korean diplomats based in Pretoria, were arrested with 4.5 kilograms of rhino horns in Maputo. (See article here.)

These are not isolated cases. For decades, the criminal trade in African wildlife has been a valuable source of income for the regime in Pyongyang. The Global Initiative Against Transactional Organised Crime reported in 2016 that North Korean diplomats have been caught smuggling horn and ivory at least 18 times since 1986. (See article here.) The extensive trade also ties in to the wider political destabilisation. For example, in 2009 North Korea provided arms and training to military groups in the DRC and Ethiopia in exchange for diamonds and ivory. These goods were smuggled out for resale to organised crime groups in Thailand.

With this long and negative history in Africa, is the DPRK going to stop its involvement in wildlife crime? It doesn’t seem likely to PP.

Indeed, the regime already appears to have lost control of the issue. PP has learned that in the last few months, middlemen in West Africa claimed that DPRK labourers in Africa were continuing to smuggle ivory for their own personal profit. North Korean workers are a source of cheap labour in poorly managed mining projects in the forests of West and Central Africa. Forced to hand over all of their wages to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear pet project, PP doesn’t think that they will stop exploiting Africa’s wildlife to make some money on the side.

North Korean involvement in wildlife crime looks likely to continue. African governments must unite to stop these criminal acts. Pyongyang’s diplomats overseas must not be allowed to continue destroying Africa’s natural wealth for their own benefit.

North Korea continues to pressure its overseas workers to produce revenue with little regard for their wellbeing – slavery?

PP found reports that according to a Mauritius investigative journalist, a North Korean fishing crew based in the country was refused the permission to access medical treatment by the DPRK regime – in spite of severe illness that left the members of the crew unable to work. The North Korea government refused permission for the sick workers to even leave Mauritius despite warnings about a severe threat to life and wellbeing.

The problems of North Korean fishing crews has made headlines before, as the isolated country’s desperate economic situation forces them into waters further and further from the North Korean coast. In January this year, three members of a twelve-man crew were found dead after their boat capsized in the Sea of Japan. Four more bodies were found in a separate boat nearby. (See article here.)

Fishing is not the only dangerous industry that DPRK laborers are forced into by the regime. North Korean workers have been killed in industrial accidents all around the world, including three miners that burned to death in an explosion at a coal mine in Malaysia in November 2014. (See article here.) Construction workers building the World Cup stadium in Qatar were taking home approximately 10% of the salary they were supposed to earn, with the rest being sent straight to the regime. The amounted to approximately $100/month in pay left over for the workers to live on – less than $3.50 per day.

It is clear to PP that higher pressure on fisherman shows that ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions are having a major impact on North Korea’s economy. Since the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371 in September last year, pressure has really increased against the state and its overseas business ventures. 2371, which bans the member states from accepting additional workers from North Korea, has been strongly implemented by some of DPRK’s previous international allies.

For example, Angola, traditionally a North Korean ally, expelled 154 North Korean construction workers in November 2017; Sudan announced the stop of all their trade and military and the U.A.E. agreed to suspend any new visas from October 2017. The pressure is only increasing!

This should all be good news for North Korea’s overseas workforce, which has long labored under a form of slavery in support of the repressive government. However, reports from human rights activists suggests to PP that North Korea continues to send workers overseas in contravention of UN sanctions and the dangerous working conditions they are facing. The numbers are unclear but between 50,000 and 80,000 North Koreans are believed to be laboring overseas, with most of them based in Russia and China. (see article here.) There are still reports of construction workers earning less than $2 an hour, a figure which looks even more worrying if the workers only actually receive 10% of their earnings.

North Korea continues to make the case for more work permits for laborers based in Russia, as well as seeking to send more workers to other countries including Uganda , Belarus and Nigeria. Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for African nations to end economic ties with North Korea suggests to PP that this activity remains a concern, in spite of the extensive sanctions in place. North Korea’s continued human rights abuses against its own citizens, at home and abroad, must stimulate other countries to stick firmly to UN resolutions.

The outlook for North Korean workers overseas remains difficult. Showing just how close to slavery this employment is, PP hears reports that workers have had their mobile phones confiscated to limit their access to information and to prevent defections. To get around this, the regime chooses workers who have wives and children in the DPRK so they are less likely to defect.

Without more international pressure to stop this form of modern day slavery, North Korean citizens will continue to die in unsafe mines, fishing vessels and construction sites around the world.

In a blind response to the effect of international sanctions, the North Korean regime elites continue to channel funds towards luxury goods as its people suffer

PyongyangPapers learned this week that North Korea continues to import huge amounts of luxury goods for its leaders and elites, including expensive watches and branded spirits, while its people struggle with the malnourishment due to heavy rationing of food.

In the first quarter of 2018, North Korean brokers overseas sourced cars, champagne, brandy, and Mont Blanc wristwatches to import into the isolated nation. Favorites for the wealthy elite include brandy,  scotch whiskies and the Western cigarette brands. These actions cheat tough UN sanctions on the import of luxury goods.

At the same time, inside North Korea, citizens are facing what is being spoken of as the next “arduous march” – the terrible famines of the mid-1990s when over three million North Koreans died of hunger.

Fuel shortages have had a strong impact on North Korea. The authorities demanded last year that ordinary citizens abandon their motorized vehicles in favor of the ox carts, even while shipping in luxury goods for the elites. In February, in a demonstration of how serious the shortages have become, the captain of the North Korean ManGyongBong ferry put out a mayday call (see article) after his boat ran out of fuel and low on food supplies!

Fuel shortages are also limiting the coal mines from operating at their highest capacity, causing regular power cuts and a lack of heating for many houses. PP hears that the price of electricity increased by 11% in the last two weeks of November 2017 – a devastating increase in price as winter temperatures began to move into the minus numbers.

The lack of fuel is also hurting the availability of food. PP hears that rations are now cut by half, with the white rice almost impossible to get hold of in places and cooking oil short as well. Even the army, the regime’s most important source of support, has not been spared rationing, and soldiers have complained of malnourishment. This supports recent studies on the health of North Korean military military defectors, with many found to be suffering from chronic hunger, diseases and very serious infections of the parasites and worms.

See article on defectors and parasites

The outlook for the rest of 2018 does not show much improvement. PP has learned that the North Korean Ministry of Agriculture was told by senior leadership that no fuel would be available to plough rice paddies for the rest of the year. This means fields will have to be turned by hands or by hands or by simple ox plows – greatly reducing the amount of food each farmer can produce.

With the possibility of famine approaching, the decision of North Korea’s elites to continue shipping in expensive whisky, cars and watches shows just how out of touch the regime has become, and how little they care for the ordinary people in rural areas outside of Pyongyang.