Economy

N. Korea drafts in students for building work

This July 10, 2011 picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (centre) inspecting the commodity exhibition at the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 in Pyongyang. North Korea has ordered university students to down their pens and help in an ambitious project to build 100,000 new homes in the capital Pyongyang. AFP
This July 10, 2011 picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (centre) inspecting the commodity exhibition at the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 in Pyongyang. North Korea has ordered university students to down their pens and help in an ambitious project to build 100,000 new homes in the capital Pyongyang. AFP 

SEOUL, Monday

North Korea has ordered university students to down their pens and help in an ambitious project to build 100,000 new homes in the capital Pyongyang, a report said Monday.

The secretive state's communist rulers mobilised students and soldiers after the project, planned for completion in April next year, ran badly behind schedule because of lack of funds and building materials, reports said.

A measly 500 homes were completed by June, a South Korean government official said last month.

To give the scheme a much-needed boost, university students in big cities received a "socialist construction mobilisation order" in mid-June to work at construction sites in the capital, said Daily NK, a Seoul-based Internet newspaper run by defectors.

"I hear that they will be at the construction site for at least two months or more," a source in Pyongyang was quoted as saying.

The order did not lead to a nationwide shutdown of universities but the mobilisation could easily be extended, the report said.

South Korean newspapers have said another grand project to re-pave and landscape the road to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace -- which contains Kim Il-Sung's embalmed body -- was completed in April.

The new housing is supposed to be ready for April next year, when the impoverished country marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim, its late founding president.

North Korea, which suffers severe food shortages, has vowed to build "a great, powerful and prosperous" socialist state by then to mark the occasion.

It has also been repairing a 23-metre (76-foot) Kim Il-Sung statue and planned to build 77-storey apartment buildings for the privileged elite in Mansudae district, which the statue overlooks, reports said.

The mobilised students and soldiers are reportedly working primarily on construction in neighbourhoods where major public works idolising the Kim family are to be found, Daily NK said.

The North's powerful National Defence Commission, chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, issued an order on April 1 that the project should be completed by April 15 next year.

But there has been widespread scepticism with many North Koreans saying it would not be done even by 2017, Daily NK said.