32 Chinese tourists dead in North Korea coach crash
Four North Koreans also killed in accident in North Hwanghae province at night
Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Korean officials travelling with them have been killed in a road accident in North Korea, China’s foreign ministry said.
The accident happened on Sunday night in North Hwanghae, a province that borders the demilitarised zone with South Korea, the ministry said in a statement on Monday morning.
“The Chinese embassy in North Korea was informed by [North Korea] that a serious traffic accident occurred in North Korea’s North Hwanghae province at night, causing a serious number of deaths and injuries to Chinese tourists. Details are currently being verified,” the statement said.
Ministry spokesman Lu Kang later confirmed that 32 Chinese were killed and two were injured, and staff from the Chinese embassy in North Korea went immediately to the scene.
“We are investigating the cause,” Lu said.
China’s National Health Commission also sent an emergency medical team with equipment and medication to North Korea.
The ministry did not identify the casualties but sources from Chinese companies organising trips to North Korea said they could be representatives from Chinese tour operators on an inspection trip.
The sources also said the crash occurred on the Reunification Highway, connecting Pyongyang with the southern city of Kaesong.
The highway is a key route into the demilitarised zone, where the inter-Korea summit will take place. Two other sources said there had been roadworks on the highway in preparation for the summit.
Rubio Chan Shing-kwan, co-founder of Hong Kong tour company Glo Travel, said the highway was better maintained than roads in other parts of North Korea.
Chan and a Beijing-based tour operator also said it was unusual for the crash to occur at night because their tours from Kaesong to Pyongyang would generally arrive in the capital by around 5pm.
Chan, whose company started tours to North Korea in 2014, said Kaesong was a common stop because it had been the capital of the Koryo dynasty, which came to power about 1,000 years ago.
He also said Chinese travel companies had been told by the Chinese authorities to suspend all packages involving train trips from Dandong to Pyongyang.
As a result, travellers on Glo Travel’s packages would instead depart China on flights from Shenyang, Chan said.
But Beijing-based Koryo Tours’ general manager Simon Cockerell said its tours were not affected and travellers could continue to take either the train from Dandong or a flight from Beijing.
A tour operator in Dandong said: “We aren’t affected because these days very few tours have been organised to North Korea. It’s low season.”
The ministries of culture and tourism and transport could not be reached for comment.
China’s tourism authority does not publish a breakdown of the number of Chinese visitors to North Korea.
However, the number travelling from Dandong in the Chinese province of Liaoning rose to 580,000 in the second half of 2016, according to state-run China News Service.
Chinese tourists make up most of the tourists travelling to North Korea.
Additional reporting by Reuters