November 13, 2004 in Nation/World

Small radios part of plan to end N. Korea isolation

Tim Johnson Knight Ridder
 

SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. government is preparing to smuggle tiny radios into North Korea as part of a newly financed program to break down the country’s isolation.

For the next four years, Washington will spend up to $2 million annually to boost radio broadcasts toward North Korea and infiltrate mini-radios across its borders.

North Korea, probably the most isolated country in the world, has only radios that are rigged to capture broadcasts lionizing the nation’s Stalinist leadership. The broadcasts also blare from outdoor loudspeakers.

The American plan to smuggle small radios into North Korea is outlined in the North Korean Human Rights Act, which President Bush signed into law Oct. 18. The sweeping act provides money to private humanitarian groups to assist defectors, extends refugee status to fleeing North Koreans and sets in motion a plan to boost broadcasts to North Korea and get receivers into the country.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Il regime says the tiny radios will air “rotten imperialist reactionary culture” to undermine the country.

The human rights act, in its broad scope, also has encountered opposition from President Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea’s center-left leader. Officials under Roh say the act will stiffen Pyongyang’s resistance to the outside world and hinder already-stalled talks to get North Korea to abandon its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.

They scoff at the U.S. plan to smuggle in radios, saying it’s a goodhearted idea but one that will worsen the plight of North Koreans. Anyone captured with a radio, they said, might face prison.

Supporters of the tactic argue that it offers a ray of hope to a populace that’s hungry for news amid food shortages and an acute humanitarian crisis.

A House of Representatives International Relations Committee report on the human rights act says North Korea’s radio broadcasts exalt ruler Kim Jong Il, feed “paranoia about the threat of attack by the United States, and misrepresent the conditions and standards of living that exist in the outside world, particularly in South Korea.”

In 2001 and 2002, American diplomats in Havana, Cuba, passed out more than 1,000 short-wave radios so Cubans could tune in to the Florida-based anti-Castro radio station Radio Marti.


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