A great story from the LA Times that shows how NK treats its friends. Imagine how they treat their enemies.
N. Koreans provide slave labor in Europe
By BARBARA DEMICK
Los Angeles Times
ZELEZNA, Czech Republic — The old schoolhouse is now a factory producing uniforms. Almost all the workers are North Korean, and the women initially looked delighted to see visitors. It gets lonely working out here, thousands of miles from home. They crowded around to chat.
“I’m not so happy here. There is nobody who speaks my language. I’m so far from home,” volunteered a tentative young woman in a T-shirt and sweatpants who said she was from Pyongyang , the North Korean capital.
But as she spoke, an older woman with stern posture and an expressionless face — a North Korean security official — passed by in the corridor. The young women scattered wordlessly and disappeared into another room, closing and bolting the door behind them.
Hundreds of young North Korean women are working in garment and leather factories like this one, easing a labor shortage in small Czech towns. Their presence in this new member of the European Union is something of a throwback to before the revolution of 1989, when Prague , like Pyongyang , was a partner in the Communist bloc.
The North Korean government keeps most of the earnings, apparently one of the few legal sources of hard currency for an isolated and impoverished regime living off counterfeiting, drug trading and weapons sales. Experts estimate that there are 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans working abroad on behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. In addition to the Czech Republic , North Korea has sent workers to Russia , Libya , Bulgaria , Saudi Arabia and Angola , defectors say.
Almost the entire monthly salaries of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, are deposited directly in an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives them only a fraction of the money.
“This is 21st-century slave labor,” said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague . He helped set up the factories in 1998 and served as president of one of the shoe factories until he defected to South Korea in 2002.
Kim says that Czechs often mistook the North Korean women for convict laborers because of the harsh conditions. “They would ask the girls, `What terrible thing did you do to be sent here to work like this?”‘
In fact, the women usually come from families deemed sufficiently loyal to the regime that their daughters will not defect. With salaries at state-owned companies in North Korea as low as $1 per month, the chance to work abroad for a three-year stint is considered a privilege.
Having shed its own communist dictatorship, the Czech Republic is sensitive to human rights issues. But the country has to employ about 200,000 guest workers, largely to replace Czechs who have left to seek higher wages in western Europe.
Czech officials say that the North Koreans are model workers.
“They are so quiet you would hardly know they are here,” said Zdenek Belohlavek, labor division director for the district of Beroun, which encompasses Zelezna and Zebrak, a larger town where about 75 North Korean seamstresses stitch underwear.
Another labor investigator, Jirina Novakova, who has visited the factories, also complained that the women’s salaries were deposited into a single bank account in the name of one of the North Korean embassy interpreters.
“Frankly, we have some difficulty with that,” she said. “But if they do it voluntarily, there is not much we can do about it.”
Jiri Balaban, owner of the Zelezna factory, said it was none of his business what they did in the free time or how they spent their money. “My business is that they work,” he said.
In theory, the women could escape. Although the doors are locked from the inside in Zelezna, the windows are not barred. But where would they go?
Last year, when a Czech television crew attempted to film a shoe factory in Skutec, a group of irate North Koreans broke their camera. After the incident, the factory decided it would no longer employ North Koreans because of bad publicity and human rights concerns.
“They often times do not even have enough (money) for food,” Vaclav Kosner, financial director of the factory, was quoted as telling the CTK news agency. “They are sometimes truly hungry.”
By far the largest number of North Koreans working outside their country are in Russia, where they do mostly logging and construction in military-style camps run by the North Korean government. When the camps were first set up in the early 1970s, the workers were North Korean prisoners. But as the North Korean economy disintegrated in the late 1980s, doing hard labor in Siberia came to be seen as a reward because at least it meant getting adequate food.
Kim Yong Il, who got a job doing mine construction in the 1990s because of his brother’s political connections, said he and a dozen other men were kept in a house with bars on the windows and a padlock on the door. He received no money, but his family in North Korea received extra food rations. He defected in 1996 and now lives in Seoul , South Korea . He is one of about 50 North Koreans who escaped the camps in Russia and are living in the South, according to the Christian North Korean Association, a defector group in Seoul .
There have been no such incidents with the seamstresses in the Czech Republic . The fact that they come from Pyongyang , home only to the most loyal North Koreans, means that their families have privileges that could be taken away in an instant if a relative were to defect.
In 2002, Kim the former diplomat and his wife defected in Prague and sought asylum from South Korea . Soon afterward, their adult son and daughter were taken away. He believes they were sent to a prison camp.
Kim, 53, recently asked a contact in North Korea to gather some information about relatives. “Even my wife’s relatives, down to the second cousins, have disappeared,” he said. “We couldn’t find a trace of them.”
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- In the wake of the impressive gains achieved by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt s parliamentary elections and the fears of the Christian community from the resurgence of the Islamic group, the Brotherhoods supreme guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef called for a national dialogue with leading Coptic figures. Speaking to Asharq al Awsat on Sunday, Akef indicated his willingness to discuss a number of important issued with Egyptian Christian intellectuals, in order to give each side the opportunity to present its views.
Founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al Banna, the Brotherhood was officially banned in 1954. Its fields candidates as independents.
His attempt at appeasement followed remarks by the Coptic scholar Milad Hanna, a few days ago, where he signaled that Christians would pack their bags and leave Egypt if the day the Brotherhood seizes power. Egypt , Hanna surmised, was at a historical crossroads.
Akef told Asharq al Awsat he had yet to agree on an agenda for the proposed dialogue and indicated he had taken part in similar discussions with Christians.
The cultural, political, religious and humanitarian wind has changed direction. The wind has created a different climate. The Brotherhood ascension to power is not a possibility despite not being likely tomorrow or in the near future, Hanna said.
In an article published in Asharq al Awsat, the Brotherhoods deputy supreme guide Mohammad Habib revealed the group is unlikely to form a government. However, this is how we envisage it, he wrote.
In Hannas opinion, this last sentence indicated the Islamist group was publicizing its future program. In such a case, it was normal and logical for the Copts to be on the alert and distressed, he added.
Remembering decade-old discussions between the two sides, Hanna said the balance of power had shifter dramatically since then.
Nowadays, a dialogue would not be balanced in light of the Brotherhoods considerable popular support and strength which allow it to form a government, he added. Hanna feared the Brotherhood would adopt this as a strategic concern, especially as they have entered government in other countries and that doing so in Egypt , where the brotherhood was founded in 1928 will become a strategic concern.
Given the differences between the Copts, who are part of Egyptian society, and the Brotherhood which is a political and a religious group, dialogue would be exceedingly difficult, Hanna revealed. It remains to be seen who will represent the Christian community with the inability of the church or any group to speak in the name of all Copts. He added that there were differences of opinion and perspectives within Egypt s Christian community and there was no unifying body to appoint representatives.
Hanna would not rule out taking part in an inter-communal dialogue but said his participation was conditional on who would participate in and the agenda of the meeting.