On the availability of Chinese and North Korean rice

July 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

As volumes of rice bought and sold in North Korea continue to rise, stores operated by foreign-currency earning entities and market vendors are entering into greater competition for customers, inside sources in North Korea report.

“Goods including rice, beans and flour are flowing in steadily from China,” a source from North Pyongan Province explained. “In the olden days the arrival of July would have meant the worst conditions for rice, but this year there have been no big shifts and prices have stayed stable.”

A second source in North Hamkyung Province corroborated the state of affairs, saying,  “Every day a number of freight trucks loaded with rice come in through the customs house at Hyesan, and there’s the smuggled stuff, too.”

“It used to be the norm for rice to retail in the jangmadang [market]Stores only traded it wholesale,” the North Pyongan Province source went on. “But now stores are retailing it, too. Any time rice comes in through customs, buyers are there lining up to take it.”

“Stores” run under the auspices of foreign-currency earning entities began to spring up Pyongyang and other major cities toward the end of 2006. They were given formal permission to sell rice and corn alongside manufactured goods, thus in effect ending the state’s official dominance of domestic grain circulation.

The rice sold in markets comes from two sources: China, and domestic farms.  Stores mostly sell rice originating in China, whereas market vendors tend to purvey rice from a variety of sources, sources say. The ratio of Chinese to North Korean rice sold in public markets is roughly 6:4.

Lower socio-economic groups and restaurants catering to the general public tend toward Chinese rice, which is plentiful and cheap but considered insufficiently glutinous. On the other hand, affluent groups are the main purchasers of rice grown in North Korea. The stickiness of the product is higher, but so is the price: roughly 500 KPW more per kilo than Chinese varieties.

“First to attract customers, and then to turn them into regular visitors, both shops and markets are competing on price and service,” one source explained. “The stores sell their rice for 100 or 200 KPW less than the jangmadang, but customers there cannot negotiate, and the seller never throws anything in for free.”

However, this appears to be changing. According to the source, stores have now begun to grant greater price autonomy to shop officials, allowing for haggling over price and other forms of value-added.

“Customers can negotiate prices and get home or business delivery if they purchase more than 100kg,” one source reported. “It’s just like in the market now. Shops have started providing extra services, and delivery men, eager as they are to earn money, have started crowding outside storefronts waiting for customers where once they would have waited on the road.”

Read the full story here:
Price War as Stores Take on Nimble Vendors
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-7-22

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Cabinet meeting on economic policy held

July 22nd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea recently held a top Cabinet meeting to assess its economic policy in the first half of 2014 and discuss a strategy in the coming quarter, according to a news report.

Premier Pak Pong-ju attended the extended Cabinet plenary session, according to the July 13 edition of the Minju Josun obtained by Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday. It did not specify when it was held.

Cabinet members raised the need to minimize flood damage this summer as a top priority and also stressed the importance of enhancing electricity production, said the North Korean government newspaper.

They also called for a concerted effort to develop the metalworking industry and the chemical sector, which the communist nation views as two pillars of its economic growth drive, it added.

In the first half of 2014, the North exceeded its target in several economic sectors, said the newspaper.

Salt production increased by 39,800 tons from last year’s total and fish catches jumped by 17,000 tons, it said.

Read the full story here:
NK officials discuss economic policy in key Cabinet meeting
Yonhap
2014-7-22

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North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group

July 19th, 2014

According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea has joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), whose purpose is to prevent funding of terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.

Members of the APG unanimously decided to accept North Korea and Tuvalu as observers during its general meeting held in Macau yesterday.

APG is the Asia Pacific unit of the Financial Action Task Force under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has 41 member countries including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan and observers include countries such as Germany, France and the U.K., as well as 27 international organizations such as the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

Since North Korea has been accepted as an observer, it has to follow several rules including the prevention of money laundering, funding of terrorist organizations or actions, sharing its knowledge and experience and following global regulations and laws.

The APG will decide later whether to elevate North Korea from observer status to a member country once it evaluates Pyongyang based on its annual reports to the organization and visits by the representatives of the group over the next three years.

South Korea and many other members are trying to figure out the motive behind the unexpected move by Pyongyang, because North Korea was previously opposed to joining the APG.

“[North Korea’s motive] is a mystery to us,” said a high ranking government official, who requested anonymity. “We suspect that North Korea, while looking for ways to ease the international financial restrictions imposed on them, decided to show their efforts in improving their global image [by joining the APG].

“But since the lists that they need to follow are long, we will probably have wait and see how sincere and determined they are with their decision.”

In other words, it could be a facade as a way for North Korea to ease the sanctions imposed on it, since the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear ambitions is low.

The action is particularly suspicious because up until last year’s APG meeting held in Shanghai, North Korea refused to join the organization because of the rule requiring members and observers to follow global standards. North Korea at the time argued that it would join the APG only after the agreement to follow UN resolutions was taken out.

The resolutions include prevention of money laundering, nuclear terrorism and development of nuclear weapons, which is the opposite of the North Korean government’s goal of securing both economic growth and nuclear weapons.

But now, North Korea has agreed to follow all regulations presented by APG.

The tide seemed to have turned as financial sanctions imposed by the international community and led by the U.S. have intensified.

Pyongyang suffered heavily last year after the U.S. and China closed the accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which was known as the money laundering window for Pyongyang. The money laundered through the trade bank is suspected of being used in funding the regime’s control over the country.

In May, the state-run Bank of China said it had notified the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea that it was closing all of its accounts and suspending all financial transactions. It did not specify the number of accounts in the bank.

The move came as a shock considering China and North Korea’s strong ties. China was previously the lifeline of North Korea, whose economy has been heavily dependent on its close ally.

Last year wasn’t the first time that North Korea’s accounts have been shut down. In 2005, the U.S. froze North Korea’s accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which was a heavy blow to Pyongyang’s ability to secure foreign capital.

The recent change of heart seems to have been triggered by a report by the U.S. State Department in May designating North Korea as a country that is non-cooperative against terror, citing its decision not to join either the FATF or APG.

Although suspicious, the South Korean government isn’t disapproving of the move by the North, as there are positive aspects such as better transparency of Pyongyang’s finances if it conforms to the APG’s regulations.

And if Pyongyang doesn’t follow the rules and loses its license as an observer, the sanctions against North Korea will further tighten.

“North Korean representatives, after their acceptance was approved [in Macau], stressed that they will work on following the APG’s international standards and our [South Korean] government has emphasized the importance of following the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council,” said a government official.

Read the full story here:
North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group
JoongAng Daily
Jung Won-yeop and Park Jin-seok
2014-7-19

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Rajin (Rason) port 3 open for business

July 18th, 2014

According to KCNA:

Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port Goes Operational

Rason, July 18, 2014 20:13 KST (KCNA) — Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port has been built with success in the DPRK.

The building of the wharf pursuant to the plan for cooperation between the DPRK and Russia provided another foundation for making a positive contribution to boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and economic and trade relations among countries of Europe and Northeast Asia.

An inaugural ceremony took place in Rason City Friday.

Present there were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also present there were Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, Yury Viktorovich Bochkarev, consul general of the Russian Federation in Chongjin, those concerned of railways and other Russian guests and staff members of foreign embassies in the DPRK.

Vladimir Yakunin in a speech said he was pleased with the completion of the wharf.

The wharf is capable of loading and unloading millions of tons of coal, he said, expressing belief that such joint work would not only develop the bilateral cooperation but promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries.

Jon Kil Su said in his speech that the successful reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan railway section and the completion of Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port are precious products of the vitality of the Moscow Declaration signed by leader Kim Jong Il and President V. V. Putin. He noted that the transport channel newly provided in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two peoples would satisfactorily play the role of a friendship bridge linking Europe and Northeast Asia and, through this, the international position of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone would be further enhanced.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

A reception was given on the same day.

According to ITAR-TASS:

A new Russian-North Korean terminal was commissioned on Friday in Rajin, which is the major seaport of the North Korean Rason trade and economic zone located in the northeast of the republic. Thus, the pilot part of the project aimed at the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean railway from Russia’s Hasan to the seaport of Rajinis over. Relevant agreement of the heads of Russian, North and South Korean railway authorities was signed in Russia’s Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2006.

Russian Railways’ (RZD) subsidiary, RZD Trade House, and the Rajin port had established the joint venture Rason Con Trans in order to carry out the modernization process. The cargo traffic capacity of the new high-tech multi-purpose facility is about five million tonnes a year. The initial stage of the terminal operation envisions supplies of coal and other bulky goods towards the port. Alongside with cargo transshipment and storage, the terminal makes it possible to organize coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.

“Today, we are eyeing the loading of the first ship with Russia-mined coal,” RZD President Vladimir Yakunin told the terminal commissioning ceremony. “We are interested in bigger amounts of cargoes in the terminal and higher number of vessels, which will represent the whole world. The launching of the terminal is expected to be fruitful and beneficial not only for the economy of North Korea, but also business communities of neighbor states.”

Jointly with representatives from Russia and North Korea, businessmen from South Korea were also attending the ceremony.

This Russian source had a good summary of events leading up to the opening (Translated by Google):

The official ceremony is scheduled for July 18 in Rajin, which is considered the main port of the SRE. Investment in the project is mainly carried out by the Russian side.The volume of transshipment terminal at the first stage is planned at 4-5 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS.

Initially, the terminal was planned for container transport, but in agreement with the leadership of North Korea until it will be used for the carriage of the Russian coal. In the future, is expected to increase traffic and expand the range of goods.

Agreement to begin the reconstruction of the railway line from the Russian station to Hassan and the port of Rajin as a pilot project to restore the Trans-Korean Railway was reached in 2006. The project started in October 2008, when an agreement was signed between the “Russian Railways” and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the DPRK to cooperate in its implementation. The project is implemented by the joint venture “RasonKonTrans”, created in the same year, with the share of JSC “RZD Trading House” (70%) and the port of Rajin (30%).

In October 2011, a team of machinists Far Eastern Railways of Russia led a demonstration container train in Rajin, opening cargo traffic between the two countries. To control the movement of trains on the line Hasan – Rajin, a special control center with the participation of specialists “RasonKonTrans” and North Korean shipping company “Donghae”.

34 specialists from the DPRK have been trained in the training centers of the Far Eastern Railway.

In the future, when the message will be set up all over trnskoreyskoy magitrali – from the South Korean port of Pusan ​​through Korea to Russia, will be able to refocus on the Russian Trans-Siberian significant portion of goods that are currently going by sea from South Korea to Europe.

According to experts, these advantages have Rajin – ice-free port on the eastern coast of North Korea with the developed infrastructure, which uses Russian standard gauge with a high degree of security for shippers and benefits for entrepreneurs.

Additional information:

1. The Russia-Rason Railway that services the port was opened in September 2013.

2. Russia has already tested the port and made sure everything worked before its official opening.

3. South Korea is also interested in the Rajin port.

4. There has been some confusion on the legal status of the various piers at Rajin. I help shed some light on the confusion here.

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De facto marketization of North Korean health care

July 18th, 2014

Eun Jeong Soh, post-doctoral fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, has written an interesting article in the East Asia Forum on the innovative practices that have developed in the DPRK’s health care system. According to the article:

In contrast to a number of incremental changes toward marketisation — which the government inevitably adopted — Pyongyang has emphasised its intention to maintain completely free and socialised health and education sectors. As a result, despite lacking the resources to provide for the country’s over 700 hospitals and over 6000 clinics, privatisation and decentralisation in the health care sector has been minimal. There have been reports of privately owned and financed pharmacies in the streets of major cities and in a number of hospitals. Nevertheless, health workers are generally reluctant to seek outside resources directly and autonomously for fear of getting into trouble.

Under this peculiar context, informal health care practices — such as informal payments, a black market for medicines and home-practicing doctors — have developed. In a study conducted by the United States Institute of Peace, 90 per cent of respondents admitted to having made informal payments to doctors and that purchasing medications on the black market was common. Interviews with defectors resettling in Seoul confirm this trend. People have learned to treat themselves at home using antibiotics, glass syringes bought from the black market and herbal or traditional medicines. Doctors and pharmacists have created informal referral networks based on a sense of mutual trust in each other’s expertise and competence.

Another noticeable phenomenon is the emergence of home-practicing doctors. Patients have come to prefer private house doctors — out of both convenience and trust — over hospitals where one has to bring everything from medicines to meals. Such practices are illegal but not uncommon. Even in the old days, given the close doctor-patient relationship fostered by the North Korean-style free health care system, people in emergency situations visited doctors’ homes.

Read the full story here:
Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain
East Asia Forum
Eun Jeong Soh, ANU
2014-7-18

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DPRK tightens entry rules in Kaesong factory park

July 18th, 2014

Apparently out of fear that the Keasong Industrial Complex might be used to subvert national security, the DPRK is instituting new rules for South Koreans entering the park. According to Yonhap:

“The North notified the management committee for the Kaesong Industrial Complex of its plan to tighten entry rules starting on Friday,” said the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.

Under the stricter rules, South Korean workers are subject to a one-day entry denial if they are found carrying prohibited materials critical of the North Korean regime or automobile black boxes.

Those who don’t abide by entry rules by failing to cover up their car license plates or deviating from regular entry allowance hours will also be put under entry denial of up to two days, according to the ministry.

The North has also hinted at the possibility of punishing South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong complex, depending on the level of future entry rule violations, the ministry said.

Currently, North Korea fines South Korean workers US$100 for carrying cell phones, while failure to abide by entry hours is subject to a $50 fine.

The toughened rules also came despite Seoul’s pronounced opposition to the unilateral decision.

Seoul has previously expressed its opposition and demanded the changes be discussed bilaterally, but the North has unilaterally issued the notification, officials said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea tightens entry rules in Kaesong factory park
Yonhap
2014-7-18

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Increase in DPRK-Vladivostok air travel in 2014

July 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Air passenger traffic between the North Korean capital and the neighboring Russian port city of Vladivostok surged more than 20 percent in the first half of 2014 from a year earlier, a news report said Wednesday, amid signs of closer ties between the two nations.

The number of passengers between Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang and Vladivostok International Airport in the Russian Far East shot up 22 percent on-year during the January-June period, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

It cited data from the Vladivostok airport, which did not reveal the exact number of passengers and the reason for the jump.

However, RFA attributed the surge to increased bilateral exchanges and cooperation in economic, tourism and other fields.

The sharp increase compares with a 1.7 percent drop in the number of users of Vladivostok International Airport during the six-month period, which totaled 838,000, it said.

North Korea’s Air Koryo operates the Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, on the Pyongyang-Vladivostok route.

Read the whole story here:
Pyongyang-Vladivostok passengers up 22 pct in H1: report
Yonhap
2014-7-16

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USDA publishes “International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24″

July 16th, 2014

You can download the full report here (PDF).

Below are some comments and data on North Korea from the report:

“After Afghanistan, North Korea has been the most persistently food insecure country in the region as grain output stagnated from 1995 until 2010. Only recently has some growth been exhibited. In 2014, 70 percent of the population is estimated to be food insecure; this is projected to decline to 40 percent in 2024. Since grain production growth is projected to remain low—around 1 percent per year—during that time, the improvement is driven primarily by low projected population growth of  0.4 percent per year.”

And this table:

 

 

USDA-food-security-2014

 

There is additional data in the report. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

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New Czech brewery in Rajin

July 15th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-8-14): Reader Théo Clément sent these pictures of the interior of the beef factory/bar:

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UPDATE 2 (2014-8-6): Here is an interview (in English) on Radio Praha with Martin Kovář about the brewery.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-15):

Czech-brewery-rajin

Pictured above (Google Earth): The new brewery in Rajin

One of the individuals involved in setting up the brewery gave this interview (in Czech). NK News translated some of it:

Zvu Potez Sales Director Martin Kovar said that North Korean representatives in the Czech Republic contacted his company directly, saying they wanted to open a brewery in the DPRK with Czech expertise.

“We took them to a few Czech microbreweries so they could examine them and know what to expect from them,” he said, “And they chose a type of beer that most of them liked”.

The brewery subsequently opened in December last year, with equipment brought directly to the site in shipping containers from Prague, via the Russian railway line across Siberia from Khasan in Russia to Rajin port.

According to visitors to the Rason area in late 2013, two staff from the Zvu Potez company arrived in Rajin to help set up the site and train three to four locals in how to use and maintain the brewery.

Among the Czech staff was Tomáš Novotný, who worked as Chief Technologist for Zvu Potez in North Korea for six months while the brewery was being set up.

His job, he told NK News in an email, was to give the North Koreans the “know-how” and supervise the production of the first beer, which he said would be brewed primarily for the local market.

The Czechs have now all returned home, he said, and the brewery is under the full direction of the North Koreans.

And according to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea then opened a microbrewery in the Rason Special Economic Zone in late 2013 and equipped it entirely with Czech-made appliances and hardware.

In addition to the equipment, Novotny explained that the ingredients – malt, hop, and yeast – were also imported from the Czech Republic.

In this effort, brewing technologist Novotny stayed in the North for six months, beginning last October, to teach two North Koreans what he knows about beer.

Novotny added, however, he does not know what the North plans to do once they use up the one-year supply of ingredients from his country.

So why is the impoverished country striving to improve the quality of its beer? It may be that better beer means better business.

While beer at the bar in Rason is free for locals, tourists must pay about 70 U.S. cents per pint, according to the North Korea-focused website NK News.

Pyongyang is also encouraging foreign visitors to take a tour of its various microbreweries, including the Rakwon Paradise , the Taedonggang Craft Brewery, and the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

The Czech company’s work on the Rason brewery has come to an end, and it does not intend to send more experts unless North Korea places additional orders.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-2): An article in Forbes tells us that Rason is getting a new Czech brewery:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

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Kumgang Resort operational status (UPDATED)

July 14th, 2014

Pictured above (Google Earth): April 2010 satellite imagery of the Kumgang tourist resort

The Kumgang resort was receiving 400,000 visitors per year until in July 2008 it became the scene of a terrible tragedy, the shooting of a South Korean tourist. Following the incident, the South Korean government prohibited its citizens from visiting the resort until the DPRK allowed a joint-Korean investigation of the shooting and made a guarantee of future safety.  The DPRK never agreed to these terms so the park fell idle.

The suspension of the project has cost the DPRK government millions of dollars. In response it has moved to pressure the ROK government to change course and allow the tours to resume. Below I have kept a timeline of the course of these events and their outcomes.

___________

2014-7-14: The Hankyoreh marks July 11–the 6th anniversary of the day when tours to Mt. Keumgang in North Korea were suspended. 

“As a result of the suspension of tourism to Mt. Keumgang, we have lost nearly 1 trillion won [US$981 million], including the 300 billion won [US$294.32 million] invested in the facilities and an estimated 530 billion won in lost revenue,” the investors said. They urged the governments of North and South Korea to immediately hold working-level talks to resume tourism to Mt. Keumgang and to hold reunions for divided families.

“The position of the government is that the issue of the safety of its citizens must be resolved before it can allow tours to Mt. Keumgang to resume. In addition, given the continuing UN Security Council sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing, which occurred after tours to Mt. Keumgang were halted, we think that the tours cannot be resumed until the government indicates that doing so would not be in violation of UN sanctions,” said Ministry of Unification spokesperson Kim Ui-do during a regular press briefing on July 11.

2012-11-27: The Hankyoreh reports that North Korea provided a written guarantee for the safety of tourists at Mt. Kumkang during 2010 working level talks with the South Korean government.

2011-9-6: South Korea asks foreigners not to invest in Kumgang saying such investments would violate existing property rights.

2011-9-6: Park Chol-su, head of Daepung International Investment Group, said he wants to discuss with South Korea’s Hyundai Asan how to handle its assets at the North’s Mount Kumgang.

2011-8-31: Chinese tourists arrive in Kumgang on Mangyongbong.

2011-8-30: South Korea calls for international boycott of Kumgangsan resort

2011-8-28: Taephung Investment Group outlines new Kumgang business plan

2011-8-24: Kumgang opened to DPRK and Chinese toursits

2011-8-23: South Korean workers leave Kumgang

2011-8-22: DPRK orders expulsion of remaining South Korean staff, auctioning of assets

2011-8-19: Hyundai officials visit Kumgang amid dispute over fate of company assets

2011-8-6: Steve Parks claims he has signed an MOU with the DPRK government

2011-6-2: “DPRK Law on Special Zone for International Tour of Mt. Kumgang” released. PDF of the statute here.

2011-4-29: SPA designates Kumgang special zone

2011-4-1: DPRK rescinds Hyundai’s Kumgang contract rights

2010-11-15: Kumgang re-fozen

2010-10-31: Family reuniuons were held there in October/November

2010-8-7: DPRK using Kumgagn assets to serve tourists in the North

2010-5-16: Taephung shows Chinese investors Kumgang

2010-5-3: Most South Korean and Chinese employees leave

2010-4-25: The National Defense Commission takes over the properties and puts the Korea Taepung International Investment Group in charge of attracting investors and tourists to the resort.

2010-4-23: Seoul denounces the seizure

2010-4-11: Chinese tourists began arriving at the resort (here and here).

2010-4-11: Employees told to leave/sealed up

2010-4-11:The DPRK “seizes” the Hyundai properties in the Kumgang resort

2010-3-24: Investors worried about losing out

2010-3-18: DPRK threatens to seize Kumgang Resort

2010-3-18: Hyundai-Asan’s chief offers to resign

2010-3-10: DPRK threatens to revoke contracts with South Korean partner, Hyundai-Asan

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