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
0

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.”


More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

Updated 15 min 34 sec ago
0

More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

  • Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday
  • The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban

DURBAN: At least 60 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have fled their homes after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides along South Africa’s eastern coast, authorities said on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province. Flooding also killed at least three people in neighboring Eastern Cape province, state broadcaster SABC said.
The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban. Multiple dwellings collapsed in mudslides, said Robert McKenzie, a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services spokesman.
Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday.
Victor da Silva, a resident of the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to evacuate before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
“On Monday, the water was just crazy. And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining,” Da Silva said. “And then an hour and a half later, everything poof (vanished) because the rain just hasn’t stopped.
Authorities in southern Tanzania ordered evacuations of residents from low-lying areas and the closure of schools and offices ahead of landfall of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth on neighboring Mozambique’s coast on Thursday.
“We’ve decided to evacuate all residents of valleys and other low-lying areas and we advise them to seek refuge at public spaces,” Mtwara regional commissioner Gelasius Byakanwa, told reporters.
Johan Fourie said he fled his home in Amanzimtoti, Kwazulu-Natal, just before part of it collapsed.
“I nearly lost my life, and my neighbor, I believe, is in hospital,” Fourie told eNCA television.
The region had been hit by heavy rains for days, but authorities did not foresee the extent of the downpour late on Monday, said Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
“As a result, there was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people,” Mabaso said.
Some people were swept away by the water, he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday and was expected in the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” he said.
Last week, 13 people were killed during an Easter service in KwaZulu-Natal when a church wall collapsed after days of heavy rains and strong winds.