Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Underground for years

The following exchange was broadcast a little while ago on the BBC News Hour. The announcer, Owen Bennett-Jones, was interviewing former British Ambassador to North Korea John Everard about life in that country. At one point they reference the Google Maps of North Korea, which were just released.

Everard: You could travel freely within thirty km of central Pyongyang, which gave you the city itself and a lot of countryside. If you went outside that, the rule book said that you require permission. In practice, you could go to the beach at Nampo, heading due west from Pyongyang, and no one would actually stop you. And colleagues did the same on the beach going the other way, at Wonsan (?), going east. And on one occasion I drove about two thirds of the way up to the Chinese border to see a museum there, which I duly did, and no one seemed to (care) that I'd gone way outside Pyongyang.

ANNCR: No permission?

Everard: No permission. So the system isn't quite as watertight as people make out.

ANNCR: One of the striking things about the [just-released] Google Maps -- I don't know if it surprises you -- they've marked one of the labor camps.

Everard: Yes, so I saw. The position of the labor camps has been argued over for quite some time. And things are complicated by the fact that -- we believe -- that some of the labor camps are actually underground, so they won't show on maps.

ANNCR: Really?!

Everard: Yes.


Everard: Well, because, if you put a labor camp underground -- remember that these are slave laborers, often making munitions and things that the regime doesn't want to show the world. If you put them underground, you can't actually spot them from satellites, or it's a lot more difficult to do so. A colleague of mine once gained access, incredibly, to one of these places. And told me that he found that the people there had been underground for years, hadn't seen the light.

ANNCR: How on earth did a foreigner get in there?

Everard: It's a long story.

ANNCR: Which you can't tell?

Everard: Which I can't tell.

-- BBC News Hour, 2145h GMT, 29 January 2013

Everard is the author of a memoir about his time in North Korea, Only Beautiful Please.

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