N, Korea Lifts Lockdown, Rejects Aid 08/14 06:16
(AP) -- SEOUL, South Korea (AP) --- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lifted a
lockdown in a major city near the border with South Korea where thousands had
been quarantined for weeks over coronavirus worries, state media said Friday.
But Kim, during a key ruling party meeting on Thursday, also insisted the
North will keep its borders shut and rejected any outside help as the country
carries out an aggressive anti-virus campaign and rebuilds thousands of houses,
roads and bridges damaged by heavy rain and floods in recent weeks.
Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency also said Kim replaced Kim
Jae Ryong as premier following an evaluation of the Cabinet's economic
performance and appointed Kim Tok Hun as his successor.
Entering the last year of an ambitious five-year national development plan,
Kim Jong Un in December declared a "frontal breakthrough" against international
sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in a struggle for economic
But experts say the COVID-19 crisis likely thwarted some of Kim's major
economic goals by forcing the country into a lockdown that shut the border with
China --- the North's major ally and economic lifeline --- and potentially
hampered his ability to mobilize people for labor.
During Thursday's meeting, Kim said it was clear after three weeks of
isolation measures and "scientific verification" that the virus situation in
Kaesong was stable and expressed gratitude to residents for cooperating with
the lockdown, KCNA reported.
Kim said his country now faces a dual challenge of fending off COVID-19 amid
a worsening global pandemic and repairing damage from torrential rain that
lashed the country in past weeks.
KCNA said 39,296 hectares (97,100 acres) of crops were ruined nationwide and
16,680 homes and 630 public buildings destroyed or flooded. It said many roads,
bridges and railway sections were damaged and a dam of an unspecified power
station gave way. There was no mention of any information related to injuries
Kim expressed sympathy with people who were at temporary facilities after
losing their houses to floods and called for swift recovery efforts so that
none is "homeless" by the time the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of
the ruling Workers' Party's founding on Oct. 10.
"The situation, in which the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has
become worse, requires us not to allow any outside aid for the flood damage but
shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work," KCNA
paraphrased Kim as saying.
Kim's public rejection of international aid for flood recovery and his
decision to release Kaesong from quarantine are negative indicators for
inter-Korean cooperation as South Korea had hoped to restart diplomatic
engagement by providing support in these areas, said Leif-Eric Easley, a
professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Cho Hey-sil, spokesperson of Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles
inter-Korean affairs, said the South remains willing to provide humanitarian
assistance to the North.
North Korea in past months has severed virtually all cooperation with the
South amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and
Pyongyang, which faltered over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and
The North in June blew up an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong,
following months of frustration over Seoul's unwillingness to defy U.S.-led
sanctions over its nuclear weapons program and restart joint economic projects
that would help the North's broken economy.
"The North Korean economy, while touting self-reliance, is increasingly
dependent on China and will struggle to balance sanctions-busting efforts and
COVID-19 prevention," Easley said. "The job of North Korea's new premier will
be to show the country has recovered from recent flooding and has upgraded
public health facilities" by the October party anniversary, he said.
In late July, Kim ordered a total lockdown of Kaesong and had the nation
shift into a "maximum emergency system" after the North reported it found a
person with COVID-19 symptoms.
The North's state media said the suspected case was a North Korean who had
earlier fled to the South before slipping back into Kaesong. But South Korean
health authorities say the 24-year-old hadn't tested positive in South Korea
and never had contact with any known virus carrier.
North Korea later said the person's test results were inconclusive and still
maintains it is virus-free, a status widely doubted by outsiders. Some experts
said the North was likely trying to shift the blame over a possible spread of
the virus to South Korea.
In an email to The Associated Press last week, Dr. Edwin Salvador, the World
Health Organization's representative to North Korea, said the North has told
the U.N. agency it quarantined 64 first contacts of the suspected Kaesong case
and 3,571 secondary contacts in state-run facilities for 40 days.
Since the end of December, North Korea has quarantined and released 25,905
people, 382 of them foreigners, Salvador said.