Ryongchon explosion revisited

UPDATE 2 (2011-9-8): According to the Donga Ilbo:

Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in 2007, is known to have said Kim believes the 2004 train station explosion in the North Korean town of Ryongchon was an attempt to assassinate him.

According to a diplomatic report released recently by WikiLeaks, Hyun told U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens in 2009, “Kim believed that the explosion at Ryongchon Station was a failed attempt to assassinate him, and the (North Korean) People’s Army became his most trusted group after the incident.”

Hyun was quoted as saying, “After the time when his train was to pass Ryongchon Station was revealed through mobile phones, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il believed that the explosion occurred when his train almost reached the station, and after the incident, the introduction of mobile phones in the North was markedly delayed.”

According to the report, the chairman said, “Kim Jong Il fears assassination and a coup the most. He was not an irrational person in the past, but I feel he has changed recently in certain aspects.”

UPDATE 1 (2010-3-23): Adam Cathcart tracks down the original Chinese source and offers a translation:

Curtis, I believe the original source is an article in the Chongqing (Sichuan, PRC) Evening News.  I’ll include the relevant Chinese text in two separate blocks and then translate it:

2004年4月22日中午时分,朝鲜平安北道龙川郡发生了一起严重的火车爆炸事故,导致近200人死亡,1500多人受伤,另有8000多幢房屋被毁。有分析认为,这次造成灾难性后果的朝鲜火车爆炸案,是一次针对朝鲜领导人金正日的暗杀企图。4月22日龙川爆炸事故时,有线索表明不良分子使用了手机,唯恐内部情报外泄,所以手机业务被停了。

On April 22, 2004, around noon, the story is that in North Korea’s North Pyong’an Province, Ryongchon County, a serious train explosion caused the deaths of nearly 200 people and injured more than 1,500 people, while more than 8000 homes were destroyed.

Some analysts believe that the catastrophic consequences of this North Korean train explosion followed from a attempted plan to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for assassination.

At the time of the April 22 Ryongchon explosion, clues collected along the tracks indicated that unhealthy elements had used mobile phones. For fear that internal information would leak [to the outside], the mobile phone business would be stopped.

[Note: The last sentence is pretty interesting; the phrase used is “唯恐” which means “for fear that,” but it can also lead into the idiomatic expression 唯恐天下不乱 which means “in order that all under Heaven remain unchaotic,” which seems to be a tactful dynastic-type allusion to the idea that the DPRK could ignite whenever.]

停止移动电话服务举措的命令由朝鲜国防委员会直接下达,特别是在权力机关或特殊行业就职的人员使用手机受到了严格的限制,原先持有的手机也被没收。朝鲜在境内全面禁止使用手机之后,花大笔钱购置手机的居民大为不满,因为1台手机机身和入网费共约1300美元,在一夜之间就成了废品。

The order to stop mobile phone services came down directly from the [North] Korean National Defense Committee, particularly [stating] that the authority/rights of those in special business sectors to use mobile phones was [henceforth] strictly limited and that previously held mobile phones [should be] confiscated.

After North Korea totally banned mobile phone use within its borders, many residents/citizens, having spent big money (about 1300 USD for everything including accessories and network access fees) to purchase mobile phones, became dissatisfied due to the fact that their cell phones had been rendered into scrap overnight.

[As a side note, I wonder why this news is leaking out of the PRC at a time when Kim Jong Il is said to be mulling over a return trip to China, which would almost certainly be taken by train (through the same station?). It’s a bit mystifying. But then again, Chinese readers probably have more sympathy for North Korea’s striving elites than is often acknowledged and Xinhua, perhaps, puts this story out as a gentle reminder (at a time when people are getting arrested for downloading “unharmonious content” onto their mobile phones) that life in the PRC could be much, much worse. Just my two cents — hope this helps, and thanks for the post.]

ORIGINAL POST (3/22/2010): According to the Donga Ilbo:

A 2004 explosion at a railway station in North Korea was an attempt to assassinate leader Kim Jong Il, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted an analysis as saying yesterday.

“The train explosion at Ryongchon Station in North Pyongan Province on April 22 that year killed nearly 200 people, injured more than 1,500, and destroyed more than 8,000 homes. The explosion is believed to have been an attempt to assassinate Kim,” Xinhua said.

Though Xinhua quoted an analysis, it is quite unusual for the news agency to say the explosion was an assassination attempt on Kim. Xinhua mentioned the incident while reporting on mobile phone use in North Korea.

The report said the number of mobile phone users in North Korea surged to 20,000 a year after mobile telecom service was launched in November 2002. Pyongyang, however, banned the use of mobile phones following the explosion.

Xinhua said the ban was imposed directly by the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s highest-ranking body, due to fears over the leak of news on the explosion outside of the communist country.

In the early days of mobile phone use, only officials at the people’s committee of the ruling Workers’ Party and the ministries of public safety, national security and defense could use them. After the explosion, however, as many as 10,000 mobile handsets were seized by authorities.

The cost of a mobile handset and registration was as high as 1,300 U.S. dollars when the greenback was traded at 1,200 to 1,300 North Korean won, equal to more than 600 months of monthly wages for the average North Korean worker (2.20 dollars).

In the face of mounting complaints over the ban, North Korean authorities re-allowed the use of mobile phones in March last year.

An estimated 120,000 North Koreans use mobile telecom service. Considering North Korea’s population of an estimated 24 million as of 2008, this translates into one handset per 200 people.

Xinhua added that mobile phones have brought about many changes in the lives of North Koreans.

I am taking this with a grain of salt until I find the source.  I post it here so you can judge for yourself.

Here are before/after images of the Ryongchon explosion.

Read the full srticle here:
“2004 Explosion Was Attempt on Kim Jong Il`s Life”
Donga Ilbo
3/22/2010

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  • Curtis, I believe the original source is an article in the Chongqing (Sichuan, PRC) Evening News:
    http://bbs.tiexue.net/post2_4149833_1.html

    I’ll include the relevant Chinese text in two separate blocks and then translate it:

    2004年4月22日中午时分,朝鲜平安北道龙川郡发生了一起严重的火车爆炸事故,导致近200人死亡,1500多人受伤,另有8000多幢房屋被毁。有分析认为,这次造成灾难性后果的朝鲜火车爆炸案,是一次针对朝鲜领导人金正日的暗杀企图。4月22日龙川爆炸事故时,有线索表明不良分子使用了手机,唯恐内部情报外泄,所以手机业务被停了。

    On April 22, 2004, around noon, the story is that in North Korea’s North Pyong’an Province, Ryongchon County, a serious train explosion caused the deaths of nearly 200 people and injured more than 1,500 people, while more than 8000 homes were destroyed.

    Some analysts believe that the catastrophic consequences of this North Korean train explosion followed from a attempted plan to target North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for assassination.

    At the time of the April 22 Ryongchon explosion, clues collected along the tracks indicated that unhealthy elements had used mobile phones. For fear that internal information would leak [to the outside], the mobile phone business would be stopped.

    [Note: The last sentence is pretty interesting; the phrase used is “唯恐” which means “for fear that,” but it can also lead into the idiomatic expression 唯恐天下不乱 which means “in order that all under Heaven remain unchaotic,” which seems to be a tactful dynastic-type allusion to the idea that the DPRK could ignite whenever.]

    停止移动电话服务举措的命令由朝鲜国防委员会直接下达,特别是在权力机关或特殊行业就职的人员使用手机受到了严格的限制,原先持有的手机也被没收。朝鲜在境内全面禁止使用手机之后,花大笔钱购置手机的居民大为不满,因为1台手机机身和入网费共约1300美元,在一夜之间就成了废品。

    The order to stop mobile phone services came down directly from the [North] Korean National Defense Committee, particularly [stating] that the authority/rights of those in special business sectors to use mobile phones was [henceforth] strictly limited and that previously held mobile phones [should be] confiscated.

    After North Korea totally banned mobile phone use within its borders, many residents/citizens, having spent big money (about 1300 USD for everything including accessories and network access fees) to purchase mobile phones, became dissatisfied due to the fact that their cell phones had been rendered into scrap overnight.

    [As a side note, I wonder why this news is leaking out of the PRC at a time when Kim Jong Il is said to be mulling over a return trip to China, which would almost certainly be taken by train (through the same station?). It’s a bit mystifying. But then again, Chinese readers probably have more sympathy for North Korea’s striving elites than is often acknowledged and Xinhua, perhaps, puts this story out as a gentle reminder (at a time when people are getting arrested for downloading “unharmonious content” onto their mobile phones) that life in the PRC could be much, much worse. Just my two cents — hope this helps, and thanks for the post.]

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  • Thanks for the translation, Adam.


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