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Trump-Kim summit: North Koreans pessimistic about ‘gimmick’ talks | News

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Seoul, South Korea – Sae In Han is a 24-year-old high-school graduate who fled North Korea with her mother and sister in 2012.

Unlike a big number of North Koreans who have escaped the country, Han is hopeful the upcoming talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump will bring about change in her country.

“Even though I now live in South Korea, I can feel changes taking place in the North,” Han told Al Jazeera. “And that’s why I’m hopeful of a good outcome in Vietnam. Even people in North Korea are hopeful from what I hear, especially of improving the economy and thus their lives.”

Following the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last year, the two leaders will meet in Vietnam on February 27-28. 

Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula will be a key point on the agenda again with the US seeking the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme in exchange for security guarantees.

On the streets of North Korea, economic prosperity is what people desire, said Han, adding that it should feature high on the agenda in Hanoi.

In 2017, North Korea’s economy contracted at the sharpest rate in two decades, according to an estimate by South Korea’s central bank, as international sanctions and drought hit growth hard, amidst signs that living conditions were beginning to deteriorate.

Last June, Singapore spent nearly $15m to pay for Kim’s accommodation, summit logistics as well as security for the two world leaders. International sanctions made it difficult for Kim to cover his overseas accommodation.

“North Korea should denuclearise in order to invite foreign investment. That would boost economy and improve people’s lives,” added Han.

“More isolation means more devastation. And I think Kim is aware of that which is why he’s talked about economic development as a goal.” 

Progress on the economic front could also include resuming trade with South Korea as well as the rail connection across the border and reopening the Kaesong Industrial complex that was shut down three years ago when relations between Pyongyang and Seoul were close to the lowest they had been.

The Kaesong complex brought together South Korean management and investment, with North Korean labour – to offer a glimpse of what a unified economy might look like.

Additionally, the state of human rights in North Korea is once again missing from the headlines leading up to the Vietnam summit, said Yong Hwa Kim, a public security officer who fled North Korea in 1988.

“Just the other day I heard people’s lives in North have gotten worse since the Singapore summit,” said Kim.

“In Singapore, they never talked about the human-rights situation in North Korea. Without that, the summit is heading in the wrong direction and will make lives of North Koreans worse.” 





Chul Hwan Kang, a former journalist, is not hopeful that the talks will make a difference in North Koreans’ lives [Al Jazeera]

In 2017, almost 130,000 people were believed to be held in North Korea’s gulags – prison camps where inhabitants are subjected to torture and inhumane conditions.

North Korean defectors told the International Bar Association’s War Crimes Committee that torture included a prisoner’s newborn baby being fed to guard dogs, and a variety of violent measures designed to induce abortions, including injecting motor oil into women’s wombs. 

Chul Hwan Kang, who was once kept in a gulag, is president of the North Korea Strategy Center. According to him, if talks could solve the North Korean issues, it would have happened a long time ago.

“I don’t have much hope from the summit,” said Kang. “The North has kept lying for the last 20 years. Now, most of the Korean defectors see this as a gimmick. Nobody thinks any progress will be made or the regime will change. 

“I don’t mean to say that the talks are useless. They are meaningful. But the context is what’s lacking. There are not talks around the human rights issues and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is different from denuclearisation of North Korea. And that’s what is needed.

“The US, and the world, should not be fooled by the North’s plan which is disguised as one of peace.”

Kang also called the Vietnam summit a “last chance” for North Korea, an opportunity that the US should “use wisely”.

Unlike Han, who felt a change in North Korea was under way, the mood among others is one of pessimism. And some say it is for a good reason.

“If you escape Hitler, it is hard to welcome him or see him in a good way,” said Seong Ha Joo, a journalist who defected 18 years ago.

“They were suppressed during the regime, and they experienced so much hardship. It’s natural for them to react emotionally. They are still suffering from the horrible memories of that time. It is hard for them to trust what Kim says, of course.” 

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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