- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

Inside North Korea
Western reporters get into North Korea so rarely that we are inclined to take advantage of any opportunity to visit the so-called "hermit kingdom," even for a carefully staged set-piece event that offers little chance for real news.
So it was that we sent reporter Nicholas Kralev to the North Korean port city of Kumho last week to observe the pouring of concrete for the foundation of a nuclear reactor being built under the 8-year-old Framework Agreement with the United States.
Mr. Kralev was one of only three American print journalists invited to attend the event, presumably because of his prior close coverage of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO, the international consortium that will eventually build two reactors in the North.
The press entourage was well filled out, however, with a handful of American broadcast reporters and similar delegations from the other KEDO member countries principally Japan, South Korea and the European Union.
Altogether about 45 journalists boarded a boat Tuesday evening in Sokcho, South Korea, for the overnight voyage to Kumho.
Mr. Kralev was assigned a stateroom with three other reporters a CBS Television producer based in Tokyo, a German news agency reporter based in Seoul and a CNN producer based in Hong Kong.
In Kumho the next morning, the reporters as well as 80 to 90 KEDO officials and diplomats filed off the boat one-by-one as their names were read from a list under the watchful gaze of two armed North Korean soldiers, each with a badge bearing the likeness of both the late North Korean President Kim Il-sung and his son, the present leader, Kim Jong-il.
The next hour or more was spent in an elaborate customs and immigration procedure in which the reporters were required to list every item they were carrying, down to their pens and notepads.
Only after considerable negotiation were the broadcast reporters permitted to bring in the satellite phones they would need to file from North Korea.

Standing on ceremony
Even before arriving, the press group had been briefed on the ground rules for the event: They could shoot all the photos they wanted of the construction site but not of anything else.
Similarly, they could take pictures of the construction workers at the site many of whom had been brought in from other countries but must not try to talk to any of them.
The rules were strictly enforced. North Korean "guides" on board the buses carrying the reporters to the site made sure no one shot pictures through the windows.
And when Mr. Kralev struck up a brief conversation in Russian with an Uzbek construction worker at the site he was quickly warned to stop.
It's not clear what the North Koreans were worried about. The worker who was employed by KEDO, not the North Korean government said before being silenced that he was midway through a one-year stint at Kumho and was very happy with both his pay and his KEDO-provided housing.
The ceremony itself was highly orchestrated, with the workers ranged in long, very straight rows to watch as a succession of KEDO officials made short speeches about the importance of what was happening.
Dozens of Korean women in flowing traditional dresses handed out lapel flowers to all of the visitors.
Finally, five gloved KEDO executives with spotless new shovels simultaneously tossed concrete into the hole for the reactor's foundation.
Fireworks then exploded in the daytime sky, and all the dignitaries lined up for pictures.
Mr. Kralev says he was more impressed, though, with the real work of laying the foundation, conducted by a massive crane that dropped huge buckets full of concrete into the hole with great precision.
Mr. Kralev noted something else about the ceremony whose significance remained unclear; none of the North Koreans spoke at the event at all.
The ceremony over, the reporters were taken back to a press center with plenty of table space but only two local and four overseas phone lines.
With long waits and balky Internet connections, Mr. Kralev was just barely able to get his story filed before the group had to return to the boat where they had to go through the same customs and Immigration procedure all over again.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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