A museum operated by North Korea in northern Cambodia appears to have suspended operations ahead of a looming UN ban requiring member states to repatriate DPRK citizens earning money overseas, NK News has learned.
The $10 million Grand Panorama Museum, located near the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex in the resort town of Siem Reap, opened in 2015, and had been tied to North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP), a UN-sanctioned group responsible for exporting architectural and artistic projects.
While initially described as having been donated by the DPRK as a gesture of friendship to a country with which it has long enjoyed close ties, it was later revealed to be jointly run by North Koreans and local colleagues.
But a visit to the museum by a source last week revealed the museum is now closed, with a sign at the site under the name of museum Chief Executive Office Ri Kyong Il informing visitors that, as of November 25, it had “suspend[ed] business operation immediately and temporarily.”
“Had a good look around from all sides, looks pretty much shut,” the source who visited the site told NK News. “A local guide stopped me to say it’s closed, when I asked more questions, he said he couldn’t speak English.”
The closure, at least temporarily, of the museum comes amid what appears to be a broader shuttering of DPRK-run businesses, suggesting pressure from international sanctions may be pushing some establishments to — at least temporarily — scale down their work.
“Pyongyang Traditional Restaurant” in the capital of Phnom Penh, for example, is now closed, with local staff informing NK News‘s source that it was no longer open.
Also apparently closed for the time being is the nearby “Sunrise” restaurant, once touted as a “sleeker” alternative to the more traditional North Korean restaurants seen far more commonly abroad.
“Guys around told me that they closed two months ago,” the source told NK News, with photos showing a sign on the door informing visitors of a “renovation in progress until further notice.”
But there remain signs suggesting that, despite the nominal suspension of operations, some of the restaurants continue to serve clientele and remain operational.
Staff at the “Sunrise,” for example, reportedly said a branch of the restaurant remained operational in Sihanoukville in the country’s southwest.
One such restaurant — Siem Reap’s “Pyongyang Restaurant” — appeared to be closed from the outside, but was in fact still fully operational.
“Looks boarded up from outside, was trying to get in for a few minutes and was taken in from a side,” the source said, adding that up to ten North Korean waitresses were still working at the restaurant.
The fate of the other North Korean-run restaurants in Cambodia is unknown, and NK News’s source was unable to confirm whether Pyongyang Unhasu, also in Phnom Penh, remains open for business.
Cambodia and North Korea have in recent years developed something of a complex relationship, with Phnom Penh often appearing torn between the long-term close ties between the two countries — rooted in a historical friendship between the DPRK’s founding President Kim Il Sung and longtime Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk — and its responsibility to enforce UN sanctions.
While Phnom Penh has on paper stated that it intends to enforce those measures, the country is yet to submit a report to the UN regarding its implementation of sanctions against North Korea.
The UN has also reported in previous years on the possibly illicit trade ties between the two countries and Cambodia’s providing flags of convenience to DPRK shipping vessels.
The two countries in recent months have committed to closer ties in the future.
North Korean vice foreign minister Ri Kil Song visited Cambodia during a tour of southeast Asia last month, meeting with foreign minister Prak Sokhonn and inviting him to visit Pyongyang.
Cambodian MFA spokesperson Koy Kuong reportedly said in a briefing after the meeting that the country’s diplomatic ties with North Korea remained strong but that its “trade relations were modest,” according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Edited by Jacob Fromer
Featured image: NK News