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Belfast man's fears that North Korea may use tourists as shields

By Rachel Martin

A Belfast man who has worked extensively in North Korea says visitors currently in the country fear they may be prevented from leaving - or used as collateral - in the growing cold war with the United States.

As tensions continue to rise on the Korean Peninsula, Chris Kelly (30) has revealed a place apart.

He has visited North Korea around 25 times over the two-year period he worked as an Asian region tour guide.

Based in Bejing in China, his job involved working with mainly American, Australian, British and Irish tourists, and showing them countries in the region, including North Korea.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Kelly said there were concerns that visitors would be used as a deterrent against a US attack.

"There are also concerns that foreigners may not be allowed to leave the city (Pyongyang)," he said.

"A plane of journalists leaving the country after covering the celebrations was delayed by between 10 to 12 hours. There were fears that they may have wanted to use them as a protective shield," he explained.

Mr Kelly went on to describe how the people of North Korea perceive their country.

"The people genuinely believe they have the best army in the world and that any other country would be insane to even try to attack them," he said.

"A lot of people living in the country have had military training, and that takes between seven to nine years to complete."

Mr Kelly also claimed that the recent elaborate weapons show was in the planning long before Donald Trump was elected US President. Tensions between the two countries have escalated, with North Korean officials warning that their army is on "maximum alert" following a visit to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea by US Vice President Mike Pence.

Images of a weekend parade showing the communist country's military hardware, including what appeared to be long-range ballistic missiles, were broadcast around the globe as journalists were invited to the parade organised to celebrate the 105th birthday of late founding leader and "eternal president" Kim Il-sung. As part of the pomp and ceremony, troops, missile launchers and armoured vehicles were paraded through Kim Il Sung Square in the capital Pyongyang.

Mr Kelly said: "The weapons shows are quite a frequent occurrence. There are a lot of public holidays and they would often hold displays like this to celebrate. I had heard about the plans for a big weapons show about a year ago, but the timing is quite interesting. I'm not sure if it's convenient or inconvenient for North Korea but it certainly allows them to send a big message out to the world and show the kind of weapons they have got.

"Underlying tensions between the US and North Korea have always been high but I think that before, when Obama was President, he was seen as being quite a rational person who preferred to talk things over. This is the first time a US President has talked about 'launching strikes'."

Choe Ryong Hae, a close aide to leader Kim Jong-un, told the packed square: "If the United States wages reckless provocation against us, our revolutionary power will instantly counter with annihilating strike."

Mr Kelly added: "I think people forget when they talk about air strikes that there are a lot of ordinary people on the ground living in the cities, who have absolutely no say in what's happening, who will be affected."

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