Washington, D.C. 1924. "Auto equipped with radio (made for Potomac Electric Power Co.)":
Most of the 50 remaining South Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex returned home late Monday night after North Korea ignored a deadline Seoul set for talks to keep the factory complex going. But seven are stuck there while the North tries to squeeze every last possible penny out of the South.
They are staff from the committee in charge of operating the industrial park, utility KEPCO, the Korea Water Resources Corporation, the Korea Land and Housing Corporation, telecom provider KT and Woori Bank.
They were scheduled to vacate the complex at 5 p.m. Monday, but North Korean officials, citing unfinished business, effectively took them hostage by refusing to authorize their departure.
Eventually the head of the management committee, Hong Yang-ho, and six others offered to stay so the other 43 could leave. It was not until 9 p.m. that the 43 were permitted to cross the border back to South Korea.
A Unification Ministry official said Pyongyang demanded the payment of unsettled fees, and five staff members of the management committee and two KT workers had to stay behind to settle the issue.
The unpaid money is mostly back wages for North Korean workers, as well as communications fees and corporate taxes, the official said.
"The remaining staff will return after additional negotiations over the fees and method of payment," he added. North Korea is demanding around US$8 million.
In an absurd twist, North Korea is punishing the South Koreans for its own blunders. The South Korean companies pay their staff on the 10th of each month, but since North Korea closed the border on April 3, they were unable to deliver the money.
At MEMRI, excerpts from an interview with Syrian army defector Brigadier-general Zaher Al-Saket, former head of chemical warfare in the 5th division, which on aired on Al-Arabiya TV on April 27, 2013:
There are three types of chemical weapons: harassing chemical agents, incapacitating agents, and lethal agents. When the demonstrations started, the regime used harassing agents, like any country in the world using tear gas to disperse demonstrations. As for incapacitating and lethal chemical agents - the regime used incapacitating agents at first, but when the world remained silent about this, and the regime thought that the international community did not care, it used lethal [chemical] weapons in more than 13 locations. The last incident was in Utaybah. The regime used sarin gas on three occasions, and I am increasingly afraid that they will use agents more powerful than sarin. They have VX gas and mustard gas, also known as iprit. […]
The regime's accusation that the opposition has used chemical weapons is the most compelling proof that the regime itself has used them, because the opposition does not have the means to use chemical weapons. The means of using chemical weapons are known to the whole world: airplanes, missiles, helicopters, and artillery. Worst still, this regime has binary chemical weapons. The world must understand that there are binary chemical weapons in Syria, and [Bashar Al-Assad] will use them against his people, because he is the Nero of our age.
Binary chemical weapons consist of two non-toxic agents, which are placed in incubators that are loaded onto artillery shells. Then, the shells are launched, and when the two agents mix, a toxic substance is formed. […]
[Al Assad] has a complete arsenal of chemical weapons. Some came from the former USSR, and some are being manufactured right now. […]
Iranian experts are working with Syrian officers in the Mazzeh military airport. They manufacture incubators for the toxic substances, which will be loaded onto warheads carried by airplanes. When these warheads hit the ground, they release a toxic cloud. […]
I was given an order to use these substances, but I replaced them with liquid bleach. This was the reason for my defection from Al-Assad's army. […]
In the Amoud Horan battle in Busra Al-Harir, I was given an order to launch toxic agents into the trenches and caves to which the F.S.A. was heading. But, Allah be praised, I replaced this substance with liquid bleach, which I diluted with water and launched into the trenches. […]
I buried these substances with my own hands, so my commander would not find out and send me to prison. […]
In Utaybah, near the Damascus international airport, the regime used sarin gas three times, because it is close to the airport. The next time chemical weapons were used was in Khan Al-Assal. First, they used incapacitating agents, and then they used lethal agents, because the F.S.A. forces had managed to reach the military academy, which is the main regime stronghold. […]
The chemical weapons are kept in heavily fortified places in the mountains. I know exactly where they are. […]
The U.S. can seize control of these weapons right now, but if I reveal their location in the media, they will vanish immediately. […]
The chemical weapons are kept in several places: In Aleppo, in the Hama region, in Damascus, and in Latakia. The chemical weapons are there.
"The Nero of our age"...very good. Is someone getting the locations of the weapons from this man? And if not, why not?
North Korea is demolishing villages near the border with China along the Duman River and forcing residents to move south in order to prevent defections.
A government source here said on Friday, "North Korea has been forcibly relocating villagers along the Duman River to places further from the border." The source added soldiers have been mobilized to demolish homes in some of the villages.
In one village in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province, around a hundred homes were reportedly demolished. The Duman narrows as it passes Onsong, making the area a popular spot for defectors to cross into China.
Activists in South Korea who help North Korean defectors said one Onsong resident was executed by firing squad recently after being captured in the attempt to defect. "The regime believes that stemming defections is an effective method of staying in power," the government source said
The North has stepped up border patrols and installed high-tech surveillance equipment, including devices that track the sources of cell phone signals.
And travel restrictions are tightening:
The North Korean authorities are operating enhanced controls on transit through the region of the country closest to China, including close checks on the documentation of travellers passing through in the direction of the Sino-North Korean border.
Part of the process means it has become more difficult to obtain travel permits. Although the issuance of such permits was recently resumed following months of combat mobilization and other activities that limited movement, the process of traveling through the border is making life difficulties....
Even for those with a permit there are still multiple layers of security and checks on the way to the border.
“Even after you get a travel permit by paying bribes, there are still the PSM agents on the trains and railway staff doing hourly checks,” the source said. “People say it is worse than the customs checks on the border.”
“Stations are being locked down by soldiers and then intensive body and baggage checks are taking place at Gomusan (the station before Musan and Hoiryeong on the Musan Line (train 9-10) and Sariwon-Rajin Line (train 113-114)) and at Huchang (the station before Rajin on the Pyongyang-Tumen River Line (train 7-8)),” the source noted. “They even have magnetic detectors for the body checks.”
Travellers ensnared by the checks are supposed to be detained locally until a security agent from his or her area of residence arrives to deal with the case. However, payments of 50,000 to 100,000 Won are apparently sufficient to attain release for those who simply don't have the right transit permits. The only ones whose release cannot be obtained so easily are those caught with South Korean materials in their baggage; they face re-education or labor camp sentences, sources say.
This seems kind of appropriate:
The greatest voice in Country music? I wouldn't argue.
[I wrote here about George Jones and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" a while back. The video there is no longer available, but the post - if I do say so myself - is still worth a read.]
After contending with Pyongyang's threats and rhetoric for several weeks, Seoul resolved to give Pyongyang an ultimatum on the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex.
In a statement Thursday, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-seok proposed “formal, working-level talks" between the authorities of both sides to "discuss humanitarian issues affecting South Korean staff" still staying at the industrial park and to "normalize its operations."
He then demanded Pyongyang respond to the offer by Friday morning and said Seoul would take "grave measures" if the offer was rejected.
A senior government official here said, "The statement took the form of an offer of dialogue, but in fact, it gave priority to the expression 'grave measures.' We didn't make the proposal in anticipation of a positive response [from the North]."
The park's operations have been suspended for 23 days since the North blocked access on April 3.
No response was received, and so, today:
"Because our nationals remaining in the Kaesong industrial zone are experiencing greater difficulties due to the North's unjust actions, the government has come to the unavoidable decision to bring back all remaining personnel in order to protect their safety," Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said.
"North Korea must guarantee the safe return of our personnel and fully protect the assets of the companies with investment in Kaesong," he added.
He did not give a timescale for the withdrawal. A total of 175 South Korean workers are currently in the complex, which is home to South Korean factories staffed by North Korean workers.
The precedents, as far as getting the assets back, are not good:
In 2011 North Korea said it seized assets from Mount Kumgang, a mothballed tourism site run by the two countries.
That little effort at cooperation ended when a 53-year old South Korean tourist was shot by some over-zealous North Korean soldiers, whose claim that the poor woman was running and didn't heed warnings was contradicted by forensic tests showing that she was standing still or walking slowly at the time. A South Korean request for a joint inquiry was refused.
Kaesong was a major source of revenue for the North, which effectively confiscated the wages of the slaves workers - minimal though they were. At least the poor drones were allowed to keep their Choco Pies.
No more, though. It's difficult to see this ending anyway except badly.