Geopolitics

A Peek Inside Pyongyang: Kim Jong Il’s Eldest Son Opens Up

In a new book called "My Father, Kim Jong Il and Me," Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi offers a rare glimpse into North Korea’s ultra-secret halls of power. The book is based on lengthy interviews and e-mails with Kim Jong Nam, the late Kim

Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (YouTube)
Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (YouTube)
Philippe Pons

TOKYO -- Finally, a voice of dissent can be heard from North Korea, and it is none other than that of Kim Jong Nam, son of the late Kim Jong Il, who was recently succeeded by Jong Nam's younger half-brother. A book by the Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi, based on three interviews and more than 150 e-mails with Kim Jong Nam, offers an unexpected insight into the so-called "black sheep" of the family. More importantly, it also lifts the veil, however slightly, on the mysteries of power in Pyongyang.

Until the recent release of My Father, Kim Jong Il and Me, Kim Jong Nam, in his 40s, was principally known for his foray into Japan in 2001. He wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland but, because he was holding a fake passport, was deported. The affair seriously embarrassed Pyongyang. Since then Jong Nam has lived in the Chinese cities of Macau and Beijing.

"He is a very warm person who loves his country, worries about its future and has replied as openly as possible to my questions," says Gomi. After a chance meeting with Jong Nam at Beijing airport, the journalist would go on to have three more sit-down conversations with him. The two also maintained an eight-year-long e-mail correspondence.

"A little capitalist"

Kim Jong Nam is critical of the regime, but doesn't attack it head-on. "My father was more opposed than anyone else to continuing the hereditary transfer of power, but internal factors forced him to change his mind," he told Gomi. To justify hereditary succession, Pyongyang often cites the need to avoid internal conflict that could lead to complications from abroad.

On Jan. 3, shortly after his father's funeral, Jong Nam wrote: "I doubt that with just two years of training the successor will be able to take control of an absolutist system," implying that his half-brother, Kim Jong Un – whom he has never met – may be just a symbol of continuity. Jong Nam himself is not interested in politics. "I live in Macau because I feel free here," he wrote, without specifying what in fact he does do there.

In his conversations with Gomi, Kim Jong Nam described himself as worried about the future of his country: "How many of those that supported my father really worry about the well-being of the population?"

After spending eight years studying in Switzerland, Jong Nam became – in his father's eyes – "a little capitalist." "Without reforms, the economy is going to collapse and the regime with it," he told Gomi. "I want to believe that my half-brother understands my opinion." Jong Nam lamented also that his half-brother is surrounded by a closed-circle of advisors "who shelter the head of state from the people."

Jong Nam claimed to feel "protected" but also "monitored" by China. Following the announced publication of the book – which he himself deems "premature" – Kim Jong Nam advised Yoji Gomi that he would be ending their e-mail correspondence.

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo – YouTube

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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