North Korean soldiers aim their weapons toward images of South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin (left) and a US soldier during a training exercise last week. Photograph: AFP
In the light of growing tensions between North and South Korea, officials from the Ministry of Labour will head to Seoul on Thursday for a weeklong visit to inform Cambodian workers on emergency evacuation procedures.
“An estimated 25,000 Cambodians, a figure that includes roughly 5,000 illegal workers, are employed in South Korea.
“I will go on April 11 and meet with the South Korea Ministry of Labour to become informed about the security situation. Then I am going to see around 2,000 Cambodian workers. We can share personal information about how to evacuate them,” said Heng Sour, general director at the Ministry of Labour’s overseas training unit told the Post yesterday.
“Please be informed that until this time, no countries have recalled their workers, but they have put them on notice. We also are preparing,” he added.
Speculation has been mounting that North Korea will launch some sort of provocative action in coming days – an arms test or a missile launch – after weeks of bellicose threats against the South and the United States.
The ministry is drawing up theoretical evacuation plans for about 8,000 workers in and around Seoul, should threat of a strike grow imminent. The group would be sent to Busan, in the south, and then flown or shipped to safer locales.
“What we care about is being able to hire charter flights from Busan to Japan or China. If we rely on flights from Busan to Cambodia … they will be halted if there are problems. We cannot travel far and have to find a country to stop over in in order to ensure the worker’s safety. This is what we will discuss should a problem happen,” said Sour.
The plan has been worked on with other ministry officials, as well as one minister and a deputy prime minister, though Sour declined to provide their names.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has termed North Korea’s threats “a war of words”, and has said there are no plans yet in place to evacuate Cambodians.
“Though there are tensions in the Korean peninsula, actions have not been taken yet for those workers there seeing as it is still a war of words,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong.
“Workers, students, our people in South Korea still do their business as usual,” he said.
While none have yet complied, on Friday, Pyongyang warned foreign embassies and organisations to remove their staff by April 10, saying they would be unable to guarantee their safety thereafter.
More Cambodians work in South Korea than in any other nation save neighbouring Thailand, according to the Labour Ministry.
“Compared with countries in Southeast Asia, none can provide as high a salary or as good working conditions as South Korea,” noted Sour.
In Chungnam province, about 100 kilometres south of Seoul, 29-year-old Min Romny, a Cambodian fruit picker, said he wasn’t particularly concerned about the threats from the North.
“No Cambodian officers have come yet to where I work to explain, but I have heard Thailand and Vietnam are prepared to evacuate their people if war occurs. But I believe there is no war. North Korea is just showing off its weapons. I think nothing could happen,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REUTERS