Mystery surrounds explosion in North Korean town on Chinese border

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Video obtained by The Associated Press shows plumes of black smoke rising from a North Korean town near the border with China amid reports that deadly explosions occurred there earlier this week.There has been no official word from North Korea or China on what happened in the North Korean city of Hyesan on Monday. But South Korean media and outside watch groups reported that gas explosions in a residential area left dozens of people dead or injured. The AP could not independently confirm the reports.

Video acquired by AP shows orange flames and black smoke billowing into the sky from Hyesan as loud sounds resembling an explosion are heard. A few people can be seen watching the scene from the Chinese side of the border.

The video was provided by Wang Bo, a travel agent who said he shot it from a park in the Chinese border town of Changbai.

“I just saw explosions and there were a lot of spectators looking in that direction. We don’t know why there were explosions, ”Wang said.

Wang, who said he had visited Hyesan before, said the explosions occurred not far from the orphanage and the town’s tourist office.

Many Chinese border towns are very close to North Korea, separated only by the river border.

Wang said of Binjiang Park in Changbai, where he shot the video, “in the summer, we can see North Koreans swimming in the river, and in the winter, people can walk on the frozen Yalu River.”

The Associated Press verified the location after reviewing other tourist videos of the park showing the same structures and lights. Other videos of the reported explosions circulated on Chinese and South Korean social media.

Officials from both Koreas not confirming any event

In Seoul, the South Korean spy agency and the Unification Ministry, which manages relations with North Korea, said they could not immediately confirm the reported explosions. Still, Unification Ministry spokesman Yoh Sangkey told reporters he felt sorry for any losses.

The Seoul-based Daily NK, which specializes in reporting on North Korea, quoted unidentified sources in North Korea on Wednesday as saying the explosions killed 15 people and the death toll could rise. He previously reported that gasoline stored in a house in Hyesan ignited and caused a nearby liquefied petroleum gas cylinder to explode, causing chain explosions of gas cylinders attached to other houses.

Other South Korean media have published similar reports. Ahn Kyung-su, a researcher, said one of his sources of North Korean refugees in South Korea told him that she heard from her relative in Hyesan about the blasts reported during a conversation telephone Tuesday.

North Korean state media, which rarely acknowledge fatal accidents in the country, did not comment on the reported explosions.

But in 2017, state media reported that six people died when a mine roof collapsed. In 2014, state media reported that government officials had apologized for the collapse of a building under construction in the capital Pyongyang.

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