Tuesday August 20, 2019
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Koreas to Pledge Road, Rail Links on Divided Peninsula

Biegun also said in Seoul last week that Washington was willing to discuss trust-building initiatives with Pyongyang

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Korea, Enemy
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018. VOA

A South Korean delegation left for North Korea on Wednesday to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for reconnecting roads and railways across the divided peninsula despite stalled denuclearization talks.

A nine-car special train carrying 100 South Koreans, including officials and five people born in the North, was seen leaving Seoul railway station early in the morning for a two-hour journey to the North’s border city of Kaesong.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, agreed to hold the ceremony by the end of this year when they met at their third summit, in Pyongyang in September.

Concerns arose that the train and other materials being brought into the North for the ceremony could breach various sanctions imposed on the isolated regime over its nuclear weapons program, but the U.N. Security Council reportedly granted a waiver for the event.

Seoul stressed that the ceremony would not herald the start of actual work on reconnecting and modernizing road and rail links between the Koreas — which remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.

Expression of intent

The event is a mere “expression of a commitment” to the projects, a South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman said, adding that construction would depend on “progress on the North’s denuclearization and circumstances concerning sanctions.”

The two sides wrapped up their joint railway and road inspections for the projects this month.

South Korea has set aside $620,000 for the endeavor.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island, in Singapore, June. 12, 2018.

The ceremony comes as the United States ramps up efforts to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Following a rapid rapprochement earlier this year that culminated in a historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim, progress has stalled with both sides accusing each other of dragging their feet and acting in bad faith.

Critics say North Korea has made no concrete commitments and is unlikely to surrender its atomic arsenal, while Washington’s policy of maintaining pressure through isolation and sanctions has left Pyongyang seething.

Trump said Monday that he was “looking forward” to his second summit with Kim, which Washington says may take place early next year.

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He tweeted the statement after he was briefed by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, who wrapped up a three-day trip to Seoul on Saturday.

Travel ban

Biegun said last week that the United States will be more lenient in enforcing its blanket ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to the totalitarian state when dealing with aid workers, a goodwill gesture as Trump seeks a fresh summit.

The Trump administration has generally refused to let U.S. aid groups operate in North Korea, seeking to both maximize pressure on Pyongyang and ensure the safety of Americans.

Biegun also said in Seoul last week that Washington was willing to discuss trust-building initiatives with Pyongyang.

Senior transport officials from Russia, China and Mongolia as well as several foreign ambassadors to South Korea will attend Wednesday’s ceremony, the South’s Unification Ministry said. (VOA)

Next Story

To Exploit Mothers as Labor, North Korea is Reintroducing A Policy of Offering Free Preschool

Many North Koreans view childcare as a necessity, especially in the cities. But the North Korean government has attempted to assert full control over that as well.

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Children
Children attend class at Kyungsang Kindergarten in Pyongyang, North Korea. RFA

 North Korea is reintroducing a policy of offering free preschool classes to its rural citizens over a 10-day period in spring. But sources say the move is not out of benevolence—it is to prevent mothers from using their young children as an excuse to get out of being mobilized as farm labor ahead of the spring planting season.

The program, first introduced in the 1960s, has always been about the mobilization of mothers. In years past, local childcare centers were open to the public between the first and 11th day of the month that coincides with planting season.

Local markets are also closed during the same period. But most of the preschools had been shut down due to lack of funding or as a result of the widespread famine and series of economic crises between 1994 and 1998, now called the March of Suffering.

Estimates have put the death toll from starvation over the four-year period in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions.

Local sources told RFA’s Korean Service that the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party has ordered the reopening of the preschools this year, but many of the rural collective farms are having difficulty complying with the order because funding has not been restored.

 

“Ten-day preschool is coming back to a collective farm here in Yongchon county for the first time in 20 years. It will open later this month,” said a source from North Pyongan province.

The source said that the reason for the resumption of the program is to get the mothers of young children to do farm work. But many of the mothers who in the past have used childcare as an excuse to get out of planting were in fact working in family businesses on the sly.

“County authorities have told each town’s party committees to bring back preschools, but since there’s a lack of funds some of the farms are having difficulty with it,” the source said.

“If they are having a hard time getting oil and grease for farming tools, how are they expected to repair the crumbling preschool buildings and remodel their interiors?” said the source.

The source said that despite the difficulty, two of the preschools in the county have managed to reopen, but only because they are the most likely areas to be audited by higher authorities.

farming
“A high-ranking official at the farms told the workers that if they leave their children at the preschool, there will be deductions from their fall allotment even for the food their children eat [while there,]” the source said. Pixabay

“[Only] the preschools in Yangso-ri and Tongshin-ri [have been restored.],” said the source. Ri denotes a small village or hamlet in Korean.

“Farm laborers are concentrated in those areas and there’s also the major road connecting Pyongyang and Sinuiju running nearby, so the Central Committee can come by to inspect at a moment’s notice.”

But the source also revealed that those two preschools needed alternative funding sources, as the government is not footing the bill.

“The military authorities collected money from the residents and helped the collective farms restore [the preschools,]” said the source.

While in other countries, the announcement of free childcare services would result in jubilation among parents, the source said this was not the case when a town meeting was called in Yangso-ri to inform the people.

“They told the workers that a daycare center and a preschool will be open for a 10-day period, and that they could leave their kids between the ages of 1 and 7 there to focus on their farming work. Then they threatened [the mothers] saying that they plan to document all child related absences. This created a very unfriendly atmosphere,” said the source.

Meanwhile, a source from South Pyongan province said that the sudden order to reopen preschools without funding them is making the collective farms scramble to do so. But unlike the case in North Pyongan, the source said the farms in South Pyongan are instead docking the pay of farm workers.

“Since the government isn’t providing any food or money [for the preschools,] the collective farms decided to deduct a certain amount of ‘operational funds’ from the fall ‘allotment’ of the farm workers. The workers have expressed their opposition to the decision,” said the source.

This deduction will apparently be more for parents who utilize the preschools, according to the source.

“A high-ranking official at the farms told the workers that if they leave their children at the preschool, there will be deductions from their fall allotment even for the food their children eat [while there,]” the source said.

school
An RFA article published in 2014 described how in an effort to ‘standardize the state education system’ the regime ordered the immediate closure of all privately run day care facilities, deeming them illegal. Pixabay

“[The workers] are resentful of the authorities, saying that [the policy] is meant to keep young women work in the farms, and to be able to justify treating them as if they were slaves.”

Many North Koreans view childcare as a necessity, especially in the cities. But the North Korean government has attempted to assert full control over that as well.

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An RFA article published in 2014 described how in an effort to ‘standardize the state education system’ the regime ordered the immediate closure of all privately run day care facilities, deeming them illegal.

But in that case as well, the state had been unable to adequately distribute food and fuel to the schools starting in the 1990s, leaving the schools unfit to accommodate small children, according to sources. (RFA)