Bustle then quiet along North Korean border

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Bustle then quiet along North Korean border

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DANDONG, China - Security along the border here, a bustling Chinese city across the Yalu River from the North, has been tight in the aftermath of Kim Jong-il’s death as North Koreans rushed back home.

Traffic on the border surged on Monday, when Kim’s death was announced, with trains and ferries fully booked and the streets of Dandong filled with anxious North Koreans returning to their country.

North Korean restaurants in the area were closed, and Dandong travel agencies stopped trips to Sinuiju, a North Korean city on the other side of the river.

By Tuesday, North Korea appeared to have asked its citizens in China to return to the country, while Chinese residing in the North have been crossing back to Dandong.

But while border security has been tightened, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary on Tuesday, at least on the surface.

Along the river, people were taking photographs and a steady stream of trucks rumbled their way into Dandong across the border.

Traffic was sparse on the bridge that connects the two countries. A North Korea cargo truck was laden with bouquets of flowers instead of its usual haul of Chinese goods as it passed through Dandong customs, which reopened after it was briefly shut down on Monday.

“There are a lot of people who appear to be North Korean agents buying up flowers in Dandong,” a Dandong trader said. “It’s to the point where we can’t sell more because we don’t have enough. The Dandong flower market is in a boom.”

North Korea has also allowed Chinese citizens in its country to return home, with businesses in the country at a current standstill because of their leader’s demise. “From the afternoon of the 20th, Chinese employed in North Korea have been allowed to leave the country,” said a Dandong resident, adding that vehicles carrying them have been crossing the bridge into the Chinese city.

Later that day in the afternoon, the same truck seen entering North Korea came back across into Dandong, and a train carrying coal was also spotted crossing the border.

“It’s a day-to-day sight for cars that enter the North in the morning to come out in the afternoon,” a Dandong resident said. “It’s an indicator that traffic between North Korea and China will become a regular again.”

But from the riverbanks of Dandong looking into the North, the country seemed desolate.

“Usually at this time, you are able to see people from the town out and about, but since Monday, no one can be seen,” another Dandong resident said, adding that it appeared North Korean citizens along the border are refraining from going out to mourn.

A Chinese man rowing a boat shook his head. “Usually, I converse with North Koreans without any restraint, but today there seems to be hostility.”


By Han Woo-duk, Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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