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North Korea Plays Down Nuclear Test At Home

Pyongyang City, North Korea.
by Charles Whelan
Beijing (AFP) Oct 11, 2006
North Korea's nuclear test, which has dominated headlines around the world, received little fanfare at home and even failed to top news bulletins there, foreign residents said Wednesday. Kim Jong-Il's regime routinely puts on lavish military parades in Pyongyang, where footage of thousands of troops marching in unison alongside the nation's finest weaponry are often broadcast around the country and abroad.

But the small pocket of expatriates allowed to live in the hermit nation said North Koreans appeared strangely subdued about Monday's test, with no special activities seen on the streets of the capital.

Despite triggering international uproar, it was beaten on Monday for top spot on the state-controlled TV news by at least two items, including a report on North Korea's rigid communist ideology.

Poland's ambassador to North Korea, Roman Iwaszkiewicz, said the blast was first reported on radio and television at midday on Monday in Pyongyang, shortly after the news was released by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

"Surprisingly it was not even given top billing on the TV news," Iwaszkiewicz told AFP by telephone.

"It was probably third or fourth on the list. The first news item was about some political meeting abroad praising Juche," he said, referring to North Korea's official communist ideology of national independence.

The diplomat said he was unsure why North Korea would want to play down the test to its own people, which the state-run KCNA had described as an "historic event" to improve security and peace.

Other foreign residents said it was business as usual in North Korea this week despite the blast.

"It really has been a bit quiet," said one foreigner working for a UN aid organization.

"There was quite a bit more of a reaction when the government announced a while back that they were going to carry out a test. After the test, not much has happened," said the expatriate who asked not to be named.

The day after the blast, Tuesday, was a national holiday which included celebrations to mark the 61st anniversary of the founding of the country's ruling Workers' Party.

Those festivities had apparently nothing to do with the nuclear test and were less exuberant than in the past, according to observers.

"The festivities seemed to be less of a big deal than they were last year," said the Polish ambassador.

Another foreign resident also said he had noted nothing out of the ordinary in the capital this week.

"As far as we can see, everything is quite normal on the streets," said Gopalan Balagopal, the Pyongyang representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"On the surface, everything seems normal, but as you know, North Korea is different from other countries."

UNICEF is one of a handful of international organizations that operate in the isolated communist country, most of them offering humanitarian assistance, a task now made harder by the nuclear test.

"We rely on international donations to help North Korean children, but people may not be so generous now that North Korea has conducted a test," said Balagopal.

North Korea has been unable to feed its 22 million people for more than a decade and has been living on international aid since a famine killed millions in the mid-1990s.

At the same time, North Korea has been in a standoff with the outside world for years over its drive to build a nuclear bomb, a goal it claimed to have achieved with Monday's test.

Landmark projects hit hard by NKorea's nuclear claim
Seoul (AFP) Oct 11 - Landmark inter-Korean projects which earn North Korea tens of millions of dollars a year have already been hit by the communist state's nuclear test, officials said Wednesday.

The number of South Korean tourists to the North's scenic Mount Kumgang resort has declined by more than 30 percent since Pyongyang's shock announcement on Monday.

Officials also warned Wednesday that jitters would prolong a delay in expanding a South Korean-built industrial estate at Kaesong in the North, amid uncertainty as the UN prepares tougher sanctions on Pyongyang.

The two projects, a symbol of Seoul's "sunshine" policy of engagement with its communist neighbour since the late 1990s, have been under pressure along with rising calls to cut off funding which could be used for weapons.

The projects launched by South Korea's Hyundai Group have been major sources of hard currency for the impoverished North.

Hyundai has invested 1.5 trillion won (1.56 billion dollars) in the two projects. It has also remitted 451 million dollars to North Korea from Mount Kumgang since tours began in late 1998.

Kaesong, where thousands of North Koreans work for South Korean companies, was opened in 2004 and brings Pyongyang up to 600,000 dollars in wages each month.

Seoul hoped to make it a development model, combining its capital and the North's cheap labor, to reduce tensions which have existed since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

At a meeting with President Roh Moo-Hyun on Wednesday, South Korean businessmen operating in Kumgang and Kaesong demanded that their businesses remain unaffected, according to Roh's office.

"We would carry on even if there was only one Mount Kumgang tourist left. We need lots of help," Hyundai Group chairman Hyun Jeong-Eun told Roh, according to the office.

Roh remained cautious in responding, saying he would "consider various things before reaching a conclusion" on the fate of the projects, his aides said.

A poll conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper indicated 53 percent of South Koreans want the Kumgang and Kaesong projects to stop while 42 percent want them to continue.

Hyundai Asan, an affiliate of the South Korean group which runs both projects, said 31 percent of the 1,263 South Koreans with bookings for Tuesday had cancelled their trips to the Kumgang resort. Some 43 percent of 888 scheduled visitors cancelled on Wednesday.

"The Mount Kumgang tour is going on as scheduled today though," Hyndai Asan spokesman Choi Yong-Man said.

The South's construction ministry and state-run Korea Land Corp reiterated they had no immediate plans to resume the expansion of the Kaesong site.

"There has been a delay since North Korea test-fired missiles in July. The delay will be prolonged even further by its nuclear test," said Bae Kook-Yeol, a senior manager of Korea Land Corp.

An unidentified construction ministry official told the Yonhap news agency Seoul had postponed "indefinitely" the Kaesong land leases, originally rescheduled for late this month, to South Korean firms.

Kaesong is just north of the heavily fortified border. The North has called for the South to expand the industrial site.

Currently 15 South Korean firms operate at Kaesong and Seoul had expressed hopes of attracting some 3,000 factories there by 2024.

Helped by the engagement policy, South Korea became North Korea's second largest trading partner after China in 2002 -- accounting for one-third of the North's annual trade.

Inter-Korean trade involving Kaesong accounted for 17 percent of last year's total inter-Korean trade volume of one billion dollars.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Bush Waves Sticks And Carrots At North Korea In Nuclear Standoff
Washington (AFP) Oct 11, 2006
US President George W. Bush vowed Wednesday that North Korea would face "serious repercussions" over its claim to have tested a nuclear bomb for the first time. But Bush also committed his government to seeking a diplomatic rather than military solution to the standoff, and offered Pyongyang a promise of economic help if it backed away from the nuclear brink.







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