SEOUL: Senior North Korean officials have publicly apologised for an “unimaginable” accident at an apartment construction site, state media said, a rare admission of culpability by the secretive hardline state.
South Korean officials said the incident involved the collapse of a 23-storey apartment building in Pyongyang’s Pyongchon district, which already had close to 100 families in residence.
It is extremely unusual for the North to report negative news of this type, and its official KCNA news agency also reported equally rare apologies from top officials.
Leader Kim Jong-un “sat up all night, feeling painful” after being told about the accident, the agency said yesterday.
The accident happened last Tuesday and was the result of “irresponsible” supervision by officials in charge of construction.
An intensive operation had been mounted to rescue survivors and treat the wounded, it said.
It did not give a figure for the number of dead or injured but said the accident left Pyongyang citizens “greatly shocked”.
The agency carried lengthy public apologies by senior officials including the Minister of People’s Security, Choe Pu-il.
“(Choe) repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident,” it said.
A South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident involved the collapse of a 23-storey apartment complex.
“It is common in North Korea that people move into a new apartment building before construction officially ends,” the official said.
The official said 92 families were believed to be living in the collapsed building, and the final death toll was likely to be “considerable”.
Among those making a public apology were Kim Su-gil, chief secretary of the city committee of the ruling Workers’ Party.
He said the president had “instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs and command the rescue operation”.
The state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper also published yesterday a rare photo of an unidentified official bowing deeply in apology towards hundreds of people who gathered at what appeared to be a construction site.
The North in 2009 announced plans to build 100,000 new high-rise apartments in three districts of its showpiece capital to mark the 2012 anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung, the late grandfather of the current leader.
The project went ahead despite chronic food shortages elsewhere in the impoverished nation.
In July 2011, a South Korean news outlet reported that students and soldiers had been drafted in to help complete the projects on time, after delays caused by shortages of funds and building materials.
About 2.5 million people – mostly the ruling elite or those considered politically trustworthy – are believed to live in Pyongyang.
They enjoy priority access to electricity, food and other goods and services.
The secretive nation has rarely made public the details – especially death tolls – of major accidents.
But in one exceptional case, the North announced in April 2004 a massive train explosion in the northwestern county of Ryongchon had left 154 – including dozens of schoolchildren – dead and some 1,300 injured.
The accident – caused by damaged electric wires – devastated many nearby towns, prompting Pyongyang to make a rare plea for help from the international community. — AFP