SEOUL - A human rights group says new satellite imagery indicates North Korea is blurring the lines between its prison camps and the surrounding population.
Commercial satellite images obtained by Amnesty International reveal North Korea has apparently expanded the perimeter of a sprawling prison camp, 70 kilometers north of Pyongyang, in South Pyongyan province.
Amnesty International released a report Thursday accompanied by the images of the Camp 14 area. It says they demonstrate that, in the past seven years, check points and guard towers have expanded to encompass a 20-kilometer radius around the Choma-Bong valley and its inhabitants.
Roseanne Rife, Amnesty International's East Asia chief in Hong Kong, tells VOA News control of the local population adjacent to the camp has been tightened, making the status of the valley's inhabitants unclear.
“There are new housing structures, as well, near the mines which might indicate that they've increased the work force in the mines," she said. "And, the fact that they're enclosed in this perimeter then raises concerns about are they being forced to work in the mines as additional forced labor. And, what we normally see the forced labor is very slave-like conditions.”
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are held in a network of camps in the reclusive and impoverished country. Defectors have described dismal conditions, with frequent executions, torture, rape and slave labor.
A session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee is to convene Monday in Geneva. It is to formally receive a special rapporteur report declaring "grave, widespread and systematic" human rights violations in North Korea.
A North Korean diplomat dismissed the report before it was made public, calling it an “ill-minded” creation of countries such as the United States, Japan and European Union members.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay is calling for an international probe, saying the issue should not be overshadowed by concern about North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development.
Amnesty International's Rife agrees.
“While there's no denying that there are serious security issues at stake here, human rights should be placed front and center in all of this. I think (concerning) the idea of sanctions we have to make sure that they don't contribute to the grave human rights violations that are taking place in North Korea,” she said.
Rife also expresses concern that humanitarian aid in time of a food crisis could become a bargaining tool in the ongoing political debates about security.