Foreign diplomats in North Korea have been received by North Korea’s anticipated leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace as people paid their respects to Kim Jong-il, a British diplomat in Pyongyang said Tuesday.
Barnaby Jones, first secretary at the British Embassy in Pyongyang said he joined other foreign diplomats on invitation from the Pyongyang, government at the mausoleum in the North Korean capital where the deceased leader was laid out.
“Kim Jong-un was receiving diplomats and representatives of international organizations at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace,” said Jones, describing the mood in the North Korean capital as “subdued but calm.”
Jones spoke to some repoters in Seoul via telephone from the U.K. Embassy at the Munsu-dong Diplomatic Compound to report on the death of the 69-year-old communist leader.
He said that embassy staff had no word between Kim’s heart attack on a train early on Saturday and the announcement of the death via North Korean national media Monday, saying that the news had surprised the international community there.
“Our local staff at the embassy were also surprised and there was nothing to suggest before we heard the news on Monday at midday here that anything had changed,” he said.
“We have been out on the streets of Pyongyang closely monitoring the situation since the news first broke. North Koreans are in a state of mourning and we have seen people paying their respects at landmarks across the city. While subdued, the situation here is calm and people are carrying out their normal daily business. There is a normal amount of traffic on the streets though many shops and restaurants are currently closed.”
Jones, the recently arrived charge d’affaires at the U.K.’s Pyongyang embassy, said his staff had contacted British nationals living in Pyongyang and asked them to monitor news, and issued British Foreign Office advice to remain respectful to North Koreans during the time of mourning.
“Our first priority is the safety of British nationals in Pyongyang,” he said.
“In terms of what we have seen on the streets we have seen groups of schoolchildren going to and from locations where they have been standing in front of monuments or murals of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il, as well as other groups of people. At the biggest monuments or the biggest locations where people can stand those groups get much, much larger.
“In most places across the city I would say that we are not seeing crowds, we are seeing large groups and it is all very orderly.”
A period of official mourning is now underway in North Korea for Kim Jong-il, whose funeral will be held on Dec. 28.
By Kirsty Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org