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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
At least 10,000 soldiers are working on a project to refurbish North Korea’s May Day Stadium, the largest capacity venue in the world, a source in Pyongyang has told NK News.
The soldiers, who the source said may be among the same to have recently built North Korea’s controversial Masik-ryong ski resort, are working and living in temporary accommodation at the stadium, with scores of “primitive barracks” visible around the circumference of the venue.
Although it is unclear when the renovation program will be complete, it is thought that North Korea’s Arirrang Mass Games – which usually take place at the stadium – were cancelled in 2014 for reasons related to the construction work.
Kim Jong Un visited the May Day stadium in September 2013 and instructed that it be refurbished to include more comfortable seats and to bring its artificial turf up to “international standard.” Weeks before, the United Nations urgently appealed for $98 million to meet “critical humanitarian needs” for the remainder of 2013.
“Over the last few years, the DPRK has spent millions of dollars and countless man hours renovating facilities that date as far back as the 1950s. Though Kim Jong Il launched the program as part of the 2012 Kangsong taeguk policy, Kim Jong Un has continued the effort, focusing primarily on sports and entertainment facilities,” North Korea satellite imagery expert Curtis Melvin told NK News on Wednesday.
North Korean military personnel are often called to work on major state construction projects, though little is known about their working conditions.
“This stadium remodelling is another misspend –and slavery work by all these soldiers,” the source who provided the photos said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The establishing of new facilities or renovation of existing ones in Pyongyang has been a theme in many of Kim Jong Un’s public appearances over the past year. Other projects have included the Masik Ryong Ski resort, Munsu water-park, Mirim horse riding club, 3-D Rythmic Cinema and Video Games Room, Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, and Sinphyong Kumgang Scenic Beauty Resort.
“Defectors are invariably negative about their former homeland spending absurd sums on vanity projects. They remember the 90s all too well, when the routinization of charisma called upon the state to spend an estimated $500 million on extending and expanding the Kumsusan Palace,” Chris Green, International Affairs Editor at the Daily NK told NK News in September, when the refurbishment of the May Day stadium was ordered.
Long-time North Korea watcher Andrei Lankov in September told NK News that the May Day stadium reconstruction program showed that Kim was out of touch with the country’s “far more pressing needs,” such as food shortages.
The May Day stadium was completed in May 1989, shortly after South Korea hosted the 1988 Olympic Games.
Main picture: NK News