June 12, 2018 12:20
In a rare encounter with the international press, three North Koreans mingled briefly with a Chosun Ilbo reporter in an elevator at the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore.
The hotel was North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's temporary home as he prepared for his historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, remaining cooped up in his suite form most of the day.
Standing behind a woman in a black skirt and jacket were two tall men. The woman wore a photo ID on a necklace, while all three had lapel pins with the faces of North Korea's nation founder Kim Il-sung and former leader Kim Jong-il.
When the reporter asked, "Are you going down," the woman replied in fluent English, "What floor are you going to?" When the reported said, "First floor," the woman said, "The first floor button has already been pressed."
A Western couple who got on the elevator on the fifth floor recognized the North Koreans and wished them a successful trip. The woman smiled and said "thank you." That was the extent of their interaction with the general public apart from Kim waving at some excited onlookers from his car.
Members of his entourage swarmed all around the hotel but largely looked tense and kept themselves to themselves. North Korean bodyguards prowled the hotel grounds on Sunday night and were overheard saying how "slowly time passes."
But when one hotel guest tried to talk to them, they waved their hands and scuttled off. Middle-aged North Korean diplomats fell quickly silent when they spotted other Korean speakers.
Kim ate his meals in his suite, apparently food brought with him from Pyongyang to be on the safe side.
All other North Korean delegates including Kim's right-hand man Kim Yong-chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho used the hotel's buffet and Chinese restaurants.
North Korean officials were also cautious not to have their photos taken by outsiders. After Kim arrived at the St. Regis on Sunday afternoon, one to three bodyguards were stationed around the clock at a metal detector in the lobby and another two in front of the elevator on the first floor.
When Kim entered the hotel, more than 40 bodyguards surrounded him while the perimeter was guarded by Singaporean police.
Hotel staff and Singaporean government officials warned others at the hotel not to take any photos of North Korean delegates, let alone Kim Jong-un.
One Japanese journalist who was sending a text message on his smartphone in the lobby was kicked out immediately.
A Chosun Ilbo reporter was blocked from entering the hotel two hours before the arrival of the North Korean leader on Sunday because he was carrying a camera. After haggling for more than an hour, the reporter was allowed up to his room, but could not leave for another hour.
Security relaxed marginally on Monday, and reporters were allowed to approach North Korean officials as they went to and from working-level talks with U.S. officials. Hotel staff did not try to stop them from taking pictures with their smartphones.
There were rumors that Kim told hotel staff not to let his presence be an inconvenience to other hotel guests.
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