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Location of North Korean Blast Still Unclear

Posted September. 17, 2004 21:57,   


The cause of last week’s blast in North Korea is now lost in “Samsu Gapsan” since North Korean authorities took diplomats to a dam construction site in Samsu County as the site of an explosion rather than to Kim Hyong-jik County. “Samsu Gapsan” is a compound word that came from “Samsu” County and its surrounding “Mt. Gap,” which means the backland in Korean.

While claims about the site of the blast keep changing, Koreans have raised concerns not only on the absence of information, but also on possible problems with exchanging information between South Korea and the United States.

Confusion over Site of Blast—

Since the news of a blast in the northern North Korean province of Yanggang was released for the first time on September 12, the Korean government has claimed that Kim Hyong-jik County was the site of the blast. However, a government official, who asked to remain unidentified, revealed, “The site is believed to be a mountainous area with railroads passing through.” A high-ranking official from Korea’s National Security Council also designated Kimhyongjik County “as the site.”

At a meeting of the National Assembly`s Unification-Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee on Thursday, the South Korean Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young said, “When satellites sighted a unique-shaped cloud above Kim Hyong-jik County in Yanggang Province on the morning of September 9, we tried to find some links between the cloud and the seismic waves that had been detected the day before and found no connection.” It was South Korea’s first official reference to Kimhyongjik County.

Based on that fact, South Korea’s Arirang No. 1 Satellite photographed the area on September 15. However, things have changed since the U.S. released images of Woltan, and Kim Hyong-jik County taken by its reconnaissance satellite, KH12, with high-resolution (15 cm), which is better than the Korean satellite’s images. The images did not show any signs of an explosion.

Since North Korea`s Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sum claimed on October 17 that “It took sessions of blasting to build a hydroelectric power plant,” Samsu County has been believed to be the one.

Will the Suspicions around the Blast be Solved?—

Although the North arranged a trip for Pyongyang-based Western diplomats to the Samsu Dam and explained there were “two huge blasting sessions” on September 8 and 9, there were questions still left unsolved.

A source from Washington hinted on Friday, “We found something on fire.” The dark clouds detected on September 9 raised possibilities that some kind of accident had occurred, even if they were not related to any possible explosions of missile bases or arsenal factories.

The biggest issue is the noticeable sign of problems in the exchange of information between South Korea and the U.S. Although U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned on Tuesday, “The information they gave is consistent with what we saw (that it might have been demolition work for a hydroelectric facility),” Vice Minister of Unification Rhee Bong-jo said, “I have no idea what Powell saw,” indicating the absence of cooperation.

After the diplomats’ visit to the Samsu Dam on Thursday, Rhee’s comment that he did not have any information on the blast in Kim Hyong-jik County only created deeper concerns over the explosion site.

Young-Sik Kim spear@donga.com