North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently ordered his Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to “screen all foreign embassies in Pyongyang” to identify and “temporarily deport” any diplomats displaying suspicious symptoms related to the Wuhan coronavirus, Daily NK has learned.

“Starting today, MFA employees and medical workers went to the embassies of each country in Pyongyang and started medical examinations,” a source in North Korea told Daily NK on Feb. 4. 

It is virtually unprecedented for a country to “temporarily deport” foreign embassy staff for the purposes of stopping the spread of an infectious disease. Kim has reportedly even threatened MFA staff unable to implement his orders properly will face punishment.

According to the source, MFA officials acted as soon as they received the order from Kim last week. They immediately began contacting foreign embassies in Pyongyang to clarify whether they would be open to carrying out tests on their diplomats for the virus. After receiving confirmation that the embassies would cooperate, the North Korean authorities told each embassy that “health inspections will be carried out in early February.”

BREAKING INTERNATIONAL LAW? 

According to international law, foreign embassies and diplomatic residences are treated as the sovereign territory of the relevant country, and outsiders cannot enter without getting permission.

North Korea’s MFA has justified requests for entry by its health workers on the grounds of protecting its own people from the spread of the coronavirus. However, rumors are circulating in North Korea that the MFA has unilaterally decided on the date and methods of the examinations before announcing them to each embassy.

Indeed, Daily NK sources reported that Kim told the MFA that “Embassies and diplomatic residences should be examined irrespective of location.” This has meant that inspections are to be carried out not only in Pyongyang’s Taedonggang District Diplomatic Compound, where most foreign embassies are located, but also in Moranbong District, where the Chinese embassy compound is located, and Pyongyang’s Central District, where the Russian embassy is situated.

Kim’s orders have stipulated that each and every embassy and diplomatic residence employee, as well as all family members, must undergo health examinations, Daily NK sources reported. 

After Kim handed down his order, the MFA organized a task force made up of approximately 40 members. This reportedly included members of the Central Hospital and Central Epidemic Prevention Center who are tasked with determining whether their patients are infected.

“The MFA has created three inspection small groups each consisting of 12-13 members. Each group has been assigned to a different district,” one Daily NK source explained.

“It looks like the two groups assigned to the Chinese and Russian embassies will merge with the rest in the Taedonggang District Diplomatic Compound after their respective inspections finish,” the source added. 

The source further explained that North Korean authorities plan to send anyone with suspicious symptoms or any confirmed cases of the coronavirus back to their home country temporarily. 

In short, diplomats with symptoms will not merely be quarantined but deported and allowed to return only when the threat of an outbreak has subsided. The source added that North Korean authorities plan to deal with any foreign embassies that reject temporary deportations by implementing a lifetime ban on the relevant diplomats from ever returning to the country.

THE BUCK STOPS WITH THE MFA

Kim has reportedly warned that MFA staff who fail to temporarily deport foreign diplomats with suspicious symptoms or definite cases of coronavirus infections will face administrative punishment. 

“MFA employees will take responsibility for failing to work properly for the sovereignty of the nation and the safety of people,” one Daily NK source said. 

“If troubles arise with foreign embassy employees, Kim has essentially said that this would be the fault of MFA workers unable to properly manage the embassies. Such employees should be prepared to face punishment at the arty, administrative, and legal levels,” the source added.

Kim also reportedly rebuked the leadership of the MFA for failing to take proactive measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in North Korea, telling them that “This is a problem that the MFA should have acted on before I had a need to get involved.”

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