Seoul, Aug 14, 2018 (AFP) - North Korea has stopped processing tourist visas for foreigners ahead of a high profile anniversary next month, according to a China-based tour operator. The measure follows reports that Pyongyang had suspended visits by Chinese tour groups as it prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the country is officially known.
Koryo Tours, a popular agency among Western tourists seeking to visit the North, said on its website it had been "informed on 13 August by our partners in Pyongyang that they had been instructed from above that all tourist visa applications currently underway are to be frozen". It was not given a reason for the freeze, the company said, but was told it would apply until the anniversary on September 9. "This suggests to us that... a higher power in the country is simply pressing pause on tourism until it is clear to them who is coming in such delegations and how many people," it added. Pyongyang has previously lavishly celebrated the date with military parades or mass games involving thousands of people performing acrobatic choreography in unison, and is expected this time to hold its first mass games for five years.
Speculation has also mounted that the nuclear-armed North could be preparing to mount a parade -- at which it normally shows off some of the weapons that have earned it multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions. Chinese President Xi Jinping is speculated to be on the guest list, as officials in the North told South Korean journalists that he was invited to the event. In his New Year speech in January, leader Kim Jong Un said North Korean people would "greet the 70th founding anniversary of their Republic as a great, auspicious event".
The occasion comes during a rare diplomatic detente on the Korean peninsula which has seen the South's president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un meet twice, with a third summit planned for September. The rapprochement also led to a landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, where the two leaders signed a vague agreement on denuclearisation. Although Trump touted his summit with Kim as a historic breakthrough, the North has since criticised Washington for its "gangster-like" demands of complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament. The US has urged the international community to maintain tough sanctions on the isolated regime.
Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2018 10:27:07 +0200
Seoul, Aug 2, 2018 (AFP) - North Korea on Thursday warned that an "unprecedented" heatwave has caused heavy damage to crops as it urged citizens to "join the struggle" to prevent drought-like conditions from worsening and hampering food production in the impoverished country. The Korean peninsula has been gripped by a scorching heatwave in recent weeks, with dozens of deaths in the South blamed on soaring temperatures that have hit all-time highs. The temperature in North Korea's capital Pyongyang climbed to a record high of 37.8 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, with state TV warning that it was "taking a toll on the economy". It did not elaborate on the scale of the damage.
But the rising temperatures have already inflicted heavy losses on the richer South, which has reported more than three million deaths of livestock and a fivefold increase in deaths from heat-related illnesses, while vegetable prices have doubled due to supplies being affected. The North's state-run Rodong newspaper on Thursday said that curbing further damage to the agriculture sector was an "extremely important and urgent task". "Rural areas across the country... are reporting damages to crops including rice and corn due to extremely high temperatures and drought," it said in an editorial. "Today's reality is calling for every single individual across the country to join the struggle to contain the damages stemming from high temperature and drought," it said, urging citizens to "display their patriotic zeal" and "save every single dollop of water". "This year's high temperature is an unprecedented natural disaster but it is not an insurmountable difficulty," it added.
The North has a fragile economy and has been frequently condemned by the international community for decades of prioritising its military and banned nuclear weapons programme over adequately providing for its people. It has also been slapped with UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile tests, with the restrictions remaining in place despite an ongoing diplomatic rapprochement that has seen the North's leader Kim Jong Un hold a landmark summit with US President Donald Trump. The country has periodically been hit by famine, and hundreds of thousands of people died -- estimates range into millions -- in the mid-1990s. The food situation has improved in recent years however, partly due to reforms in agriculture and increasing trade at state-sanctioned private markets that have cropped up nationwide. But the nation remains vulnerable to natural disasters including flood and drought due to chronic lack of infrastructure, deforestation and decades of state mismanagement.
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 15:04:19 +0200 By Poornima WEERASEKARA, Ryan MCMORROW
Beijing, April 23, 2018 (AFP) - Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans were killed when a bus plunged from a bridge in North Korea, Chinese officials and state media said Monday. Two other Chinese nationals were injured in Sunday's accident south of the capital Pyongyang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular press briefing. Lu said China was investigating the cause of the accident and had deployed a team, including medical experts, to North Korea "to assist with the emergency rescue and treatment operations".
The ministry provided few details but China's official Xinhua news agency reported later that the bus had fallen from a bridge in North Hwanghae Province on Sunday night. China's state broadcaster showed images of a large overturned vehicle, with light rain falling on rescue vehicles at night and doctors attending to a patient. China was informed about the accident on Sunday night and its embassy personnel in Pyongyang rushed to the scene, the foreign ministry said in a statement. The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese, with the Cold War-era allies sharing a long land border and operating flights between the two countries.
Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban -- Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market -- and official warnings from other countries. Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists are believed to visit the North every year, with many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong. For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago. Chinese tourism to the North has continued even though Beijing has enforced a slew of United Nations sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.
- 'All necessary means' - President Xi Jinping urged China's foreign ministry and embassy in North Korea to take "all necessary means" to handle the accident, and called for an "all-out" effort to help the injured and deal with the deceased, according to Xinhua.
China's state broadcaster CGTN had tweeted that the tour bus had plunged from a bridge prior to official confirmation of the accident. The post was later deleted without explanation. North Hwanghae province lies south of the capital Pyongyang and stretches to the border with South Korea. It includes the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites.
More recently, the area hosted a manufacturing complex operated with the South. The tour group was travelling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source. North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas they are dirt rather than tarmac. Vehicles are sometimes forced to ford rivers or take detours when bridges are unpassable.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong, where the accident reportedly happened, is one of the best in the country. It runs north-south from the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with South Korea but has little traffic, like all North Korean highways. Tank traps have been installed along the road in many locations -- sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armoured vehicles.
Date: Thu 26 Oct 2017
Source: EpiCore Global Surveillance Project [edited]
Re: ProMED-mail Typhoid fever - North Korea: (RG) RFI
Regarding the report of a typhoid fever outbreak in North Korea, at present, I do not know of formal notifications or communications. Note that the region of the possible outbreak is large and remote, has chronically inadequate water and sewage systems as generally elsewhere in country, and both Ryanggang and neighboring North Hamgyong provinces were also badly hit by flooding in 2016. Massive post-flood investments have gone into recovery and reconstruction of these areas and it will be important to know the point/city of outbreak. The rainy season and flash floods tend to increase risks of water- and foodborne illnesses, although access to Widal test or ELISA or even liver function tests here to timely confirm and treat remains limited, unstable, and discriminatory.
[ProMED thanks the EpiCore Global Surveillance Project member for the comment. - ProMED Mod.LL]
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:31:25 +0200 By Sebastien BERGER
Masikryong, North Korea, April 25, 2017 (AFP) - Outside a large stone tablet acclaims "the work of Dear Leader Kim Jong-Un who devoted hard work and heart and soul to make our people the happiest and most civilised people". On the ski fields of Mount Taehwa, groomed pistes snake down wooded hillsides to a luxurious hotel and a giant screen showing a North Korean army choir. But the runs are empty.
Work began on Masikryong ski resort, the only one in the North and the brainchild of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, after Pyeongchang in the neighbouring South was awarded the 2018 winter Olympics. The impoverished, nuclear-armed nation has ramshackle infrastructure and around 40 percent of its people are undernourished, according to the Global Hunger Index. But the luxurious resort boasts a wood-panelled reception and statues of winter sports athletes. Outside a large stone tablet acclaims "the work of Dear Leader Kim Jong-Un who devoted hard work and heart and soul to make our people the happiest and most civilised people".
At a visitor centre packed with pictures of Kim - including one of him using a chairlift, although without skis - guides credit him with giving on-the-spot guidance no fewer than 144 times over the course of construction. The resort is a three-hour drive from Pyongyang, down a potholed concrete road that passes through unlit tunnels and which civilian work crews clear of snow and ice by hand after fresh falls. The warm comforts inside are a world away from the scenes outside the entrance checkpoint, where peasant farmers drag sleds loaded with firewood across frozen lakes, and ox-drawn carts are used for transport. And - aside from the nursery slopes - it is deserted.
- Happy lives - A second-hand Doppelmayr bubble lift, the ski boxes still stencilled with 'Ischgl', its original Austrian home, takes visitors to the top of Mt Taehwa, where a handful of curious Westerners enjoy the thrill of having almost an entire resort to themselves.
With a 700-metre vertical drop, the skiing compares favourably to other destinations in neighbouring China or South Korea. At one point on a weekend afternoon in peak season, Swede Patrik Hultberg was the only skier on the slopes, he said. "That's really cool. I wish I could experience it more, hitting new pistes and there's nobody there."
Norwegian software developer Lars Eidnes has previously snowboarded in Iran and Kyrgyzstan. "If you want to escalate from there, then you come to DPRK," he said. Day passes for foreigners cost almost $100, while for citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - around 100 of whom were on the single nursery slope - they are priced at the equivalent of about $30 at free-market rates.
By some estimates that approaches an ordinary worker's monthly salary. But most will go on group trips organised by their work unit, school or organisation, at zero or minimal cost. After trying skiing for the first time, ship's captain Kwak Jong-Song said he found it "refreshing". "I would like to thank our Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un who is giving his whole devotion to our people's happy lives," he said. Ordinary North Koreans normally only ever express officially-sanctioned views when speaking to foreigners.
- White elephant? - Resort executives say it sees 70,000 visitors a year. Such figures are hard to square with the uncrowded vistas, but hotel director An Song-Ryol insists it is profitable. "We do not mind the cost if it is for the improvement of the welfare of our people," he said. "We do not calculate."
Pyongyang has a "byungjin" policy of "simultaneous development", meaning pursuing both GDP growth and nuclear weapons at the same time, even though it is subject to multiple sets of UN sanctions over its atomic and missile programmes - among them a ban on luxuries, including snowmobiles and "recreational sports equipment". At a parade this month for the 105th birth anniversary of founder Kim Il-Sung it displayed an arsenal of devices, including a suspected new intercontinental ballistic missile, as well as floats showing mock-ups of prestige property projects.
Masikryong was part of a regional development plan and driven by authorities' view that a prosperous country should have a ski resort, said Nick Bonner, director of specialist North Korea travel agency Koryo Tours, which offers it among its destinations. "So they built it." "It's not busy, it's never been busy," he told AFP. "But it's not quite a white elephant either. It's going to take time." But Andrei Lankov, director of website NK News and professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said Pyongyang's tourism expectations have been "absolutely unfounded" and "nearly comical".
Kim Jong-Un went to school in Switzerland, he pointed out. "He just decided to emulate what he saw there," he said. "He saw wonderful mountains in Korea, which are indeed beautiful, and he said why not make our country into a tourist destination like Switzerland so we can make a lot of money like Switzerland does." The incongruity of the situation is not lost on some Masikryong visitors. Norwegian Eidnes, 29, said he had been treated "like a king" at Masikryong. "It's very opulent, things are very nice," he added. "That's a sharp contrast to normal life for everyone. It's been on our minds."