These photographs show how seriously North Korea is taking its apartment tragedy


A handout photo by the North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on 18 May 2014 provided by Yonhap News Agency (YNA) shows a North Korean official (L) bowing in apology to citizens over an apartment building collapse at a construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea (EPA/RODONG SINMUN /HANDOUT )

North Korea is not a country known for openly acknowledging its faults and mistakes. That reputation is one of the reasons that the North Korean state's response to an apartment building collapse in Pyongyang is so remarkable.

As my colleague Chico Harlen pointed out at the weekend, state news agency KCNA was the first media outlet to acknowledge the collapse of the building, which South Korean news agencies have suggested contained 92 households.

The KCNA report on the tragedy was remarkably direct in appointing blame, stating that "the construction of an apartment house was not done properly and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner." Photographs from Sunday show officials profusely apologizing to mourning relatives.


In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea grieve during a gathering in the capital where senior officials apologized and took responsibility. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

The building collapse, which took place on May 13 but wasn't reported until Sunday, appears to be a rare event in the capital city of Pyongyang. It's a big deal, however, for the North Korean leadership: Experts say that Kim Jong-un has tied his reputation to the North Korea's construction boom and he may well be in damage control mode now.


In this Saturday, May 17, 2014 photo, North Korean officials stand among the families of victims of an accident at an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea, during a gathering in the capital where senior officials apologized and took responsibility.  (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

The KCNA report explicitly named a number of officials who were apparently to blame, and added that Kim Jong-un had "sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident, 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 to recover from the damage as early as possible."


This May 17, 2014 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 18, 2014 shows a construction division officer (top) apologizing to residents following May 13 serious accident in the construction site of an apartment house in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang. AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS REPUBLIC OF KOREA

It makes for awkward reading in the light of North Korean state media's coverage of the recent South Korean ferry disaster. Earlier this month, a KCNA commentary had said that South Korean President Park Geun Hye was "wholly responsible" for the sinking of the Sewol ferry disaster. "This accident was, in a nutshell, the most terrible tragic man-made disaster caused by the Park Geun Hye regime's unpopular rule, incompetence and irresponsibility," the news agency wrote.

On Monday, one day after the tragedy was first acknowledged, there appeared to be no follow up stories on the KCNA Web site.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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