North warns foreign envoys of using SNS

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North warns foreign envoys of using SNS

North Korea appears to have tightened controls on information on its domestic developments as the clock ticks down to its self-imposed year’s end deadline for its nuclear negotiations with Washington.

Suggestive of such measures are the reduced social media activities of Western diplomats in the country, namely British ambassador Colin Crooks and Swedish ambassador Joachim Bergstrom - both of who used to regularly use social media to relay information about their lives in Pyongyang.

According to a Voice of America (VOA) report from Nov. 22, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warned foreign envoys on its soil to refrain from using social media, claiming such activities threatened its internal security. The report said the order may have been a response to an earlier VOA report from Nov. 2 that said Crooks and Bergstrom’s social media posts have effectively played the role of press reports in a country with near absolute control over information flow.

When the two Koreas held a football match in Pyongyang on Oct. 15 - a game that North Korea controversially refused to broadcast or grant foreign media access to - the ambassadors posted video footage and photographs that allowed South Koreans a glimpse of how the match unfolded.

Crooks also visited the North’s Mount Kumgang in late October, shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un instructed that all South Korean facilities be cleared from the mountain resort, posting photographs of people, scenery and infrastructure in the area. Yet since mid-November, both envoys have significantly cut back on posting on social media, with only 9 posts from Crooks and none from Bergstrom since Nov. 9.

As much as it has scaled up efforts to contain news about its domestic affairs, Pyongyang’s state media has been especially vocal with respect to international issues, mainly those concerning foreign responses to its military activities.

On Saturday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a statement in the name of a vice director of Japanese affairs at Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry that called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an “underwit” and “perfect imbecile” for incorrectly asserting the North’s weapons test on Thursday involved a ballistic missile.

Replete with derogatory expressions, the statement said Abe was groveling to the United States by condemning the test as a grave threat to the international community when it actually involved a multiple launch rocket system, as evidenced by photographs from the KCNA. Two projectiles were fired on Thursday from Yeonpo, South Hamgyong Province, according to the South Korean military, which did not make a determination as to whether the rockets were ballistic missiles.

“Abe may see what a real ballistic missile is in the not distant future and under his nose,” the statement read, in what may have been a threat to launch a medium- or long-range missile.

With Pyongyang remaining at a stalemate in its denuclearization negotiations with Washington, evidence suggests a long-range missile test - possibly involving intercontinental ballistic missiles - could indeed be in the works if no deal is reached by the end of this year.

A high-ranking South Korean official told the JoongAng Ilbo Friday that Seoul had detected activities showing renovations to missile-related facilities in Tongchang-ri - a rocket launch site in North Pyongan Province which the regime tore down last year as a gesture to reflect its intention to denuclearize. According to Aircraft Spots, a Twitter account that tracks military aircraft worldwide, a U.S. Lockheed U-2S plane flew approximately 15 kilometers (9 miles) in the airspace over the Korean Peninsula on Saturday in what appears to have been an attempt to gather strategic aerial reconnaissance in the wake of the North’s most recent weapons test.

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