North Koreans ‘believe they are at war on a daily basis’, Russian academic warns

Leonid Petrov has spent a lifetime watching North Korea and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on the reclusive regime.

The Russian academic has not long returned from his latest trip to the capital Pyongyang and is never surprised at just how surreal it is.

“North Korea is a wonderland of myths … you feel like you are participating in a movie,” he said.
This week that strange movie has taken yet another twist.

The half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was murdered in a Malaysian airport. Two women have been arrested over a suspected intricate poisoning plot.

Kim Jong-nam had lived in exile, considered a potential rival to the leader. There are suspicions that Kim Jong-un ordered the killing.

“Regimes like this cannot survive without fresh blood, they constantly need purges, they need repression,” Dr Petrov said.

North Korea is considered a rogue state. It is nuclear armed and this last week reminded the world of the threat it poses.

Kim Jong-un ordered a test-fire of a missile towards Japan as the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting US President Donald Trump.

Dr Petrov said it was a reminder that North Korea was still in a state of war.
“They believe they are at war on a daily basis, they are convinced that war is imminent,” he said.

As a reporter for CNN, I had the opportunity to look behind the veil of secrecy.

I stood with thousands of soldiers as the boy king Kim Jong-un spoke his first words to the North Korean people.

I saw a country whose people remain cut off from the outside world. One man I spoke to had never heard of the Beatles, despite being a musician himself.

The capital Pyongyang is a showpiece. My minders took me on a carefully choreographed tour, proudly showing off their amusement park and shopping centre.

Everything was contrived to present North Korea as a powerful, independent nation.

But outside the capital there is a very different reality. I travelled across the country by train, passing through a barren landscape. Barely anything grows anymore. People stare aimlessly ahead.
It is a country of gulags — secret prisons where people vanish.

Former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby compiled a report into North Korea’s human rights abuses and found a regime of unimaginable cruelty.

“There was widespread, prolonged and brutal wrongs done against the people of North Korea, many of which rose to the level of crimes against humanity — crimes of such violence that they shock humanity and demand accountability,” he said.

The people have at times been pushed to the brink of starvation with widespread famine. All the while more money is put into boosting the military.

North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and it is believed it could have as many as a dozen in its arsenal.

It is still developing a missile system that could ultimately strike the United States or Australia.

“North Korea is increasingly growing in power … it is not certain we will survive. We will only survive if humanity can grasp the situation and deal with the risks, we shouldn’t ignore this, it is a very serious moment in human history,” Michael Kirby said.

Kim Jong-un is the third generation of a family dynasty. He has learned the lessons of survival from his grandfather Kim Il-sung and father Kim Jong-il.

Observers believe he will do whatever it takes to preserve the regime, and that includes killing potential rivals even in his own family. He reportedly had his uncle executed and fed to the dogs.

Now the death of his brother has some wondering if Kim Jong-un is feeling increasing pressure.

He is isolated, brutal, and heavily armed. The world has tried in vain to negotiate with him.

There are heavy sanctions against the regime, but that has not deterred him from building more nuclear bombs.

The frightening and unanswerable question is: will he use them?

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