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N. Koreans in China Unaware of Leader’s Illness

Posted September. 12, 2008 01:01,   


“What should I buy?” “Don’t drink too much. I hear it causes fatty liver.”

“Be careful not to look like a terrorist when you take a photo.”

This was the scene yesterday at 10 a.m. at a customs office in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong.

The conversations of seven North Koreans going through the departure process with presents in their hands were distantly heard.

They were North Korean workers working for an information technology company in Dandong, all graduates of prestigious universities in their homeland. They were heading back to North Korea to spend the Chuseok holidays with their families.

Train stations and customs offices in Dandong were bustling Tuesday through yesterday with people returning to North Korea. The sealed border of the Chinese border city opened for two days ahead of Chuseok.

Most stores in Dandong mainly sell basic commodities to North Koreans in China. The stores were also open to greet North Korean customers on the street across the customs office, commonly known as “North Korean Street.”

Though rumors of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s illness made headlines around the world, it was difficult to hear news about him in Dandong, even among North Koreans residing there.

News about North Korea is normally easily accessed in Dandong given its proximity to the North, but not this time.

The Dong-A Ilbo asked several Dandong residents about the rumor Wednesday morning, but no one was aware of it.

“I recently watched the news about the demolition of the North’s main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. But I’ve never heard anything about Kim’s illness,” said a resident in his 50s.

Regional newspapers such as the Dandong Daily also carried nothing on Kim’s alleged illness. Border guards in the city also denied the rumor.

The phrase “One day in Sinuiju for 690 yuan; Pyongyang, Gaesong, Mount Myohyang for 2,600 yuan (about 400 U.S. dollars)” was on the advertising board of a Dandong hotel’s elevators. Travel agencies there have the exclusive right to arrange tours to the North.

Also in downtown Dandong are a North Korean store, eight North Korean restaurants and a North Korean street. Experts estimate that North Korea has sent some 3,000 laborers to Dandong to earn dollars.