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Controversy stalks the North Korean community

Controversy stalks the North Korean community

Siem Reap is home to North Korea’s first overseas museum, a $15 million tribute to Angkor set in a Khmer-style building which is not yet open to the public.

Last year, our sister newspaper The Phnom Penh Post was the first media outlet to see the interior which houses hundreds of paintings by North Korean artists and a floor-to-ceiling panorama of the Angkor temple complex.

Although construction began in August 2011, the doors have still not opened and the car park has not been built.

The operations manager, who gave his name only as Kim, said the museum would open in three or four months, and blamed the delay on the unfinished car park and ticketing booth.

But sources within the South Korean community say the slow progress is due to the plan to build an information centre about the temples, which has caused a rift with the Apsara authority, which manages the complex.

But then controversy constantly surrounds the North Korean community in Siem Reap. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, there has been an uneasy peace between North and South.

In 2010, tension increased between the two communities in Siem Reap after a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean navy ship near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border. More than 40 sailors were killed.

At the time, there was friction between South Korean expatriates and North Korean overseas workers, including dozens of engineers involved in the development of the Panorama Museum.

According to a local businessman, the chairman of the Korean Association placed a banner in front of Pyongyang Restaurant saying: ‘Eat the cold noodles and they will come back as a bullet.’

“There were no guests at all in the restaurant,” said the businessman. “The South Koreans didn’t go, and they tried to attract Japanese and Chinese but they couldn’t open.”

In the end, the restaurant was closed down for six months until the diplomatic fallout started to subside.

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