North Korea Blocks Citizens’ Access to Pyongyang as Korean Summit Begins

korea-podium-091818.jpg South Korean president Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo following Moon's arrival in Pyongyang, Sept. 18, 2018.

North Korean authorities are blocking entry by outsiders to Pyongyang and tightening political controls in the city as talks begin between national leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korean sources say.

Moon, in his third summit with Kim this year, faces the tough task of reviving stalled nuclear diplomacy with North Korea amid a lag in disarmament discussions following Kim’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Moon also wants to push forward with his own plans to expand inter-Korean economic cooperation and find a way to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

According to news agency reports from Seoul, Kim thanked South Korea's President Moon Jae-in at the start of talks in Pyongyang for bringing about the Singapore meeting.

"Thanks to that, the political situation in the region has stabilized, and I expect more advanced results," Kim told Moon.

The first session of the talks was held at the headquarters of the North's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee.

The two leaders were accompanied by Workers’ Party vice chairman Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong, as well as South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon, the reports said.

Earlier, Kim greeted Moon with hugs and handshakes at the airport and the leaders paraded down the streets of Pyongyang in Kim's black Mercedes limousine to loud cheers from nearly 100,000 North Koreans who waved flowers and chanted "Motherland! Unification!" according to the Reuters news agency.

Severe restrictions

For ordinary North Koreans, however, restrictions are unusually severe amid official concerns that Pyongyang show itself at its best during the three-day visit, a source in North Pyongan province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.

“People who need to go to Pyongyang on business or for personal reasons are now extremely inconvenienced,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In the past, even if access to the capital was restricted, we could enter the city by bribing train security officers and soldiers at inspection points, but that won’t work this time,” the source said.

“It’s impossible to get anywhere near the city, as the atmosphere there is very strict.”

“I’ve seen restrictions around events in Pyongyang over several decades, but this is the first time they’ve tightened controls to this extent,” he said, adding that military and judicial authorities have been strengthening security at military armories and ammunition dumps.

“Pyongyang citizens were kept extremely busy from the beginning of the year to prepare for [national founding day] celebrations on Sept. 9, and now their freedom is being suppressed again because of the North-South Summit,” he said.

On Wednesday, Moon and Kim plan to hold a second day of official talks and unveil a joint statement, together with a separate military pact designed to ease tensions and prevent armed clashes, the AP reported.

'Don't wander around'

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Pyongyang said that military bases in the capital area have been told to reduce their activities and make sure that military officers and soldiers “don’t wander around Pyongyang” while the summit talks are held.

“Authorities have also told soldiers to wear civilian clothes in situations where their presence in Pyongyang is unavoidable,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

City residents have also been told to stay alert at work and in public to prevent “nonsocialist phenomena” from tarnishing North Korea’s image at a time when large numbers of South Koreans, including many business leaders, are visiting.

“Companies, organizations, people’s units, and schools have been ordered to hold lectures and other meetings to make sure that residents don’t harm the nation’s dignity by engaging in ‘unhealthy behaviors,’” the source said.

“Inspection stations are meanwhile carrying out security checks to prevent unnecessary people from coming into Pyongyang by train or by road while the summit meetings are held,” he said.

Reported by Myung Chul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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