North Korean envoy, in South, opens door to US talks

This file photo taken on December 13, 2007 shows North Korea's chief delegate Kim Yong Chol (C) and North Korean soldiers crossing the border which divides the two Koreas to attend the inter-Korean general talks at the South's side of the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas since 1950-53 Korean War. (AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018
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North Korean envoy, in South, opens door to US talks

PYEONGCHANG: A North Korean envoy making a rare visit to South Korea said Sunday that his country was willing to open talks with the United States, a rare step toward diplomacy between enemies after a year of North Korean missile and nuclear tests and direct threats of war from both Pyongyang and Washington.
Kim Yong Chol, who Seoul believes masterminded two attacks in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, was in South Korea for the end of the Olympics. He said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to improve ties with Washington and had “ample intentions of holding talks” with its rival, according to the South’s presidential office.
He made the remarks during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is eager to engage the North after one of the most hostile periods in recent years on the Korean Peninsula.
Moon, who was invited a day after the opening ceremonies to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong Un, also said that Washington and Pyongyang should quickly meet to “fundamentally solve” the standoff on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim later sat in the VIP box at Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang for the Olympic closing ceremonies, just feet away from Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and the top US military commander on the peninsula, Gen. Vincent Brooks. The former anti-Seoul military intelligence chief watched K-pop divas and fireworks and stood for the South Korean national anthem.
Even the faintest possibility of diplomacy will be welcomed by many. But there will also be widespread skepticism among conservatives in Seoul and Washington, with many wondering if the North is simply looking for economic relief after a series of increasingly tough international sanctions slapped on Pyongyang for its illicit weapons programs or more time to develop those weapons.
Moon has yet to accept the North’s invitation for a summit, but he has advocated engagement with Pyongyang his entire political career and likely wants to go.
But he must first strike a balance with Washington, which has a policy meant to isolate and sanction the North until it agrees to give up its nukes. Some observers believe that Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge to win concessions from Seoul.
There was no immediate comment from the United States, where it was dawn when the statement was released.
Kim Yong Chol was head of the North’s military intelligence when the 2010 attacks on South Korea took place and is currently a vice chairman of the ruling party’s central committee tasked with inter-Korea relations.
With decades of experience, he is one of the most powerful people in the North’s ruling regime. Seoul decided to temporarily take him off of a blacklist to allow the visit.
South Korea is hoping to ease tensions by allowing the North to participate in the games and send senior delegations.
Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, attended the opening ceremony in a historic first — no member of the ruling Kim family had ever traveled to the South before. She invited President Moon Jae-in to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang. The delegation to the closing ceremony was expected to follow up on that invitation while in South Korea.
The delegation’s arrival was met by protesters calling for Kim’s arrest for his alleged role in the 2010 attacks — the sinking of the warship Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors and an artillery strike on a South Korean island that killed four people.
Outside Olympic Stadium, just before the ceremony, more than 200 anti-Pyongyang protesters waved South Korean and US flags, banged drums and held signs saying “Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell.” They denounced the South Korean government’s decision to allow the visit.
“How can a murderer who killed 46 sailors on the Cheonan warship can be invited, protected and defended? This is the state of what the Republic of Korea has become,” one protester shouted into a mic, referring to South Korea’s formal name
The protesters also hung a sign that read: “We are against Pyongyang Olympics: fallen into the propaganda of the terrorist Kim Jong Un’s brutal regime.”
There were no major clashes.
At the opening ceremony earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong sat in the same VIP box with Moon and US Vice President Mike Pence, creating some awkward moments. Though Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the US team, he remained seated when the athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a “unification” flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim’s sister’s hand.
Pence’s office claimed afterward that the North had pulled out of a planned meeting at the last minute.
The North’s state-run news agency ran a story Sunday quoting a “spokesman for the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee” as saying that Pence insulted Kim’s sister with his hard-line rhetoric after returning to the US and “we will never have face-to-face talks with them even after 100 years or 200 years.”


Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

Updated 50 min 13 sec ago
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Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.
Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”
The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday.
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.
Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.
“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.
The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.
The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”
In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.
“I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”
Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.
“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.