N Korea slaps travel ban on officials

Three days after the defection of one of its most senior cadres, North Korea has banned officials from travelling abroad, which will further set back efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

Despite food and fuel shortages, the atmosphere in Pyongyang was calm, diplomats and United Nations officials said. Celebrations for the 55th birthday of the "Dear Leader", Kim Jong Il, will go ahead as planned this weekend but the cancellation of several official trips suggests a battening down of hatches after the defection of Hwang Jang Yop, a senior adviser to Mr Kim.

Western officials in Pyongyang said North Korean officials travelling to Peking were reportedly ordered off their train just before the Chinese border, and a foreign ministry delegation responsible for reconstruction of areas damaged by floods also had overseas travel plans cancelled. "It's got to be a hell of shock, to have someone of that seniority and stature go walkabout," said a Western diplomat in Seoul yesterday. "They must have to figure that if they can't trust him, who can they trust?"

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, met his South Korean counterpart, Yoo Chong Ha, in Singapore yesterday to discuss the defection of Mr Hwang, who turned up at Seoul's embassy in Peking last Wednesday with a North Korean businessman. The defection leaves the Chinese in the position of having to choose between their Cold War comrades and their business partners in the South.

South Korea has asked to take Mr Hwang to Seoul, where he is expected to be able to provide unprecedented insights into the military, economic and political secrets of Pyongyang. But Pyongyang insists he has been kidnapped by the South, and demanded his return.

The drama and the apparent North Korean travel ban have imperilled an initiative to hold peace talks with China, the United States and the Koreas. A preparatory briefing was scheduled for last month but the defection makes it less likely than ever that Pyongyang will be coaxed out of its diplomatic cocoon.

More alarmingly, the crisis may jeopardise a programme aimed at defusing North Korea's suspected nuclear- weapons programme. Work was due to begin soon on building light-water reactors to replace older Soviet models but these plans are in question too.

Mr Kim's birthday is the greatest of Korea's national holidays. "I have been here during two or three of these crises before," said a UN official in Pyongyang, "and the city is always calm. But we have food shortages, power cuts and only a few hours' water a day. The outlook is not good."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
food + drinkClue: You'll either love them or you'll hate them
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
News
newsIf you're India's Narendra Modi, it seems the answer is a pinstripe suit emblazoned with your own name
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project