South Korean floods carry a new threat

A deep freight train rumble struck South Korea's capital as a series of landslides engulfed entire villages. Screams resounded from buildings as they were dragged down mud rivers. Drivers scrambled to their car roofs as entire portions of the highway were swept away.

Relentless rains have crippled the region, with some reports placing the death toll at 67. Thousands of police officers, firefighters and soldiers are scrambling to aid victims and search for potential survivors. But in some areas, rescue missions have been stalled due to another potential disaster: landmines. Between 1999 and 2006, the South Korean military dug up mines from the Korean War on Wumyeon Mountain in southern Seoul, but ten could not be located. Residents have been warned that these land mines could have been knocked loose by floods and debris. Authorities hope that a concrete wall resting near the mountain will hold back the missing mines.

While an army official told reporters that the lost ammunition posed no real danger, as the grenades are stored in wooden boxes and the mines are detached from their fuses, similar instances have resulted in deaths in the region. In 2010, floods carried a North Korean landmine into a river close to the border. Two South Korean men, who were fishing in the area, came across the mine. One instantly died, the other was wounded. Officials reported more than 30 mines had been swept into South Korea.  The Demilitarized Zone -- the two and a half miles dividing North and South Korea --  is littered with mines. Many unsuspecting villagers have come across the deadly weapons, losing arms, legs and, sometimes, their lives.

Both North and South Korea experience an annual rainy season, but this year's rains have proven to be the worst in a century. North Korea's widespread deforestation makes it even more vulnerable, with few trees to stop the powerful landslides. Aid and supplies have been distributed quickly around Seoul, but rescuers expressed concern over potential electrocution in flooded parking lots and construction sites. Over 4,500 people have been driven from their homes.

The water bombs, as some are calling the pounding rain storms, have stopped for now, but here's hoping the real explosives won't bear their ugly heads. 

YANG HOE-SEONG/AFP/Getty Images; PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images; JANG SEUNG-YOON/AFP/Getty Images; Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images; JANG SEUNG-YOON/AFP/Getty Images


Israel and South Sudan announce full diplomatic ties

The world's newest state -- South Sudan -- and Israel today established full diplomatic relations and will soon exchange ambassadors. The move was not a surprise. South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar said two weeks ago that his country would have "relations with all the Arab and Muslim countries and even with Israel." And a delegation of Israeli officials recently visited the African nation's capital, Juba, to hold talks with officials there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially recognized the new country a week before the U.N. voted to make it the 193rd state to be admitted to the world body, earlier this month. "We wish it success," Netanyahu said at the time. "It is a peace-seeking country and we would be happy to cooperate with it in order to ensure its development and prosperity."

Israel, which has no relations with northern Sudan, has promised South Sudan economic help -- something it is in need of.

The Jewish state sees Africa as important diplomatic territory and has been offering economic aid and lucrative business deals in recent years -- including arms and agriculture -- in an attempt to counter Iran's growing clout on the continent. The effort is partially about votes in the U.N. -- Africa has 54 now. Iran has been trying to extend its outreach to African states like Senegal and Nigeria in an effort to counter its growing isolation in the West.

"This isn't likely to take the form of an auction-like bidding contest, but increased financial diplomacy by both the suitors, including targeted investments and aid projects designed to curry favor," Eurasia Group's Philippe de Pontet told Reuters last year.

Israel has another reason for wanting to establish ties with the new country. In recent years it has been flooded with thousands of refugees from Sudan -- people fleeing strife in both Darfur and South Sudan. They sneak into Israel through Egypt and have stirred debate about whether the country should be more or less welcoming. Already, since the announcement of new ties, the country's interior minister, Eli Yishai, has called on Israel to begin negotiations with South Sudan to return the refugees.

(In the image above, Sudanese refugees living in Tel Aviv celebrate independence on July 10.)

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