April 9, 2013

Talk aside, NKorean capital shows calm, not panic

Observers say the torrent of North Korean prophesies of doom is partly meant to win Pyongyang-friendly policy changes in Seoul and Washington.

The Associated Press

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A North Korean commuter crosses a street in central Pyongyang on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

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Visitors look at the North-South Korea industrial complex in Kaesong through binoculars at Dora Observation Post in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) near the border village of Panmunjom, Tuesday, April 9, 2013.The massive industrial park the rival Koreas have jointly run for nearly decade was a virtual ghost town Tuesday, its South Korean managers left to wander past shutdown assembly lines or stuff their cars to the brim with whatever goods would fit before heading south for the Demilitarized Zone that divides the nations. (AP Photo/Won Dae-hyun) Korea Out

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Heightening speculation about a provocation, foreign diplomats reported last week that they had been advised by North Korea to consider evacuating by Wednesday.

However, Britain and others said they had no immediate plans to withdraw from Pyongyang.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has sought to re-engage North Korea with dialogue and humanitarian aid since taking office in February, expressed exasperation Tuesday with what she called the "endless vicious cycle" of Seoul answering Pyongyang's hostile behavior with compromise, only to get more hostility.

U.S. and South Korean defense officials have said they've seen nothing to indicate that Pyongyang is preparing for a major military action.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said there was "no specific information to suggest imminent threat to U.S. citizens or facilities" in South Korea. The U.S. Embassy has neither changed its security posture nor recommended U.S. citizens take special precautions, he said.

Still, the United States and South Korea have raised their defense postures, as has Japan, which deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors in key locations around Tokyo on Tuesday as a precaution against possible North Korean ballistic missile tests.

In Rome, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the tensions as "very dangerous" and said that "any small incident caused by miscalculation or misjudgment" may "create an uncontrollable situation."

Also Tuesday, citing the tension, North Korea pulled out all 53,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which combines South Korean technology and know-how with cheap North Korean labor. It was the first time that production was stopped at the complex, the only remaining product of economic cooperation between the countries that began about a decade ago when relations were much warmer.

Other projects from previous eras of cooperation such as reunions of families separated by war and tours to a scenic North Korean mountain have been suspended in recent years.

Though the North Korean Foreign Ministry advised foreign embassies to evacuate, tourism officials are continuing to welcome visitors.

National carrier Air Koryo's daily flight from Beijing was only half full on Tuesday. Flight attendants in red suits and blue scarves artfully kept in place by sparkling brooches betrayed no sense of fear or concern.

Tourist Mark Fahey, a biomedical engineer from Sydney, said he thought a war was "pretty unlikely."

Fahey, a second-time visitor to North Korea, said he booked his trip to Pyongyang six months ago, eager to see how the country might have changed under Kim Jong Un. He said he chose to stick with his plans, suspecting that most of the threats were rhetoric.

"I knew that when I arrived here it would probably be very different to the way it was being reported in the media," he told The Associated Press at Pyongyang airport. He said his family trusts him to make the right judgment, but "my colleagues at work think I am crazy."

 

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South Koreans arrive with their belongings from North Korea's Kaesong at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. A few hundred South Korean managers, some wandering among quiet assembly lines, were all that remained Tuesday at the massive industrial park run by the rival Koreas after North Korea pulled its more than 50,000 workers from the complex. Others stuffed their cars full of goods before heading south across the Demilitarized Zone that divides the nations. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

  


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