- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2020

South Korea cast fresh doubt over the weekend on North Korea’s assertions that it has not recorded a single case of COVID-19, while reports swirled of tens of thousands dying in secret quarantine camps run by the ruling regime in Pyongyang.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the audience at a major security conference in the Middle on Saturday that she finds it “hard to believe” there has been no outbreak in North Korea.

“All signs are that the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don’t have,” Mrs. Kang said at the annual International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Dialogue in Bahrain.

“It’s a bit of an odd situation,” she said, according to a report by Channel News Asia.

The comments came a day after a South Korea-based news outlet claimed more than 50,000 people have died in “COVID-19 quarantine facilities” set by the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.



The web-based publication Daily NK — an outfit run mostly by North Korean defectors known to be highly critical of the Kim regime — claimed nearly 4,200 North Korean military personnel have been among those who’ve died in the alleged camps, many of which the publication claimed are run by the military.

The Washington Times was unable to verify the report, although one respected North Korea analyst said it should be viewed with a mix of skepticism and seriousness.

“We have to be skeptical of these reports but if true we need to be vigilant,” said David Maxwell, a former U.S. Special Forces officer with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

“These conditions could lead to significant instability inside [N]orth Korea and crisis action decision making by Kim Jong-un,” Mr. Maxwell said in comments circulated via email on Sunday.

The claim about secret quarantine camps coincides reports that North Korea is running an elaborate cyberespionage operation aimed at hacking companies developing COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, including the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

Sources involved in investigating the alleged hacking say it began in August and September, as the race to develop vaccines gained full steam among American, British, South Korean and other research firms, according to reports by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

The Kim regime has not confirmed a single coronavirus case in his isolated nation. However, South Korean and U.S. officials say there is an outbreak of unknown proportions in North Korea, which was engaged in significant trade and cross-border activities with China prior to closing the border between the two shortly after the virus was found to be spreading on the Chinese side in early 2020.

In a related development this week, a report citing Japanese intelligence claimed Mr. Kim and other high-level members of the North Korean regime have been given a COVID-19 vaccine by the Chinese government. The report by the online publication “19FortyFive” claimed two Japanese intelligence sources said Mr. Kim and “multiple other” regime officials were given the vaccine “within the last two to three weeks.”

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