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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
A wall that has long blocked public access to North Korea’s unfinished Ryugyong Hotel has recently been demolished, a July photo obtained by NK News shows, suggesting a resumption of construction at the decades-stalled project.
The wall, which for years blocked a boulevard north of the Potong Bridge from the main entrance of the Ryugyong Hotel, was removed sometime during the past month, analysis of Planet Labs satellite imagery of the area shows.
“It could be a sign that more work is about to begin,” said Simon Cockerell, General Manager at the Beijing-based Koryo Tours. “(Though) I haven’t seen any heavy construction going on at the site for ages.”
The removal of the wall – which previously carried a sign stating “Move forward to final victory!” – opens access from the boulevard to a large size concrete bridge that was completed as part of works to glaze the hotel between 2009-2011.
The glazing and access route expansion works took place two decades after construction of the concrete skeleton of the building completely stalled in the late 1980s.
“Since the glass cladding was added though it’s not possible to see from outside if work has been continuing on inside,” Cockerell added.
Long-term residents of Pyongyang told NK News on Thursday they had not been provided any reason by local authorities for the demolition of the wall, which will make it much easier to access the front of the hotel building.
But adjacent to the concrete access route to the Ryugyong hotel two apartment buildings have recently been completed, meaning the removal of the wall could, however, be intended to provide better road access to residents moving into the buildings.
A March-dated photo album uploaded by NK News shows construction progress to have been more or less totally stalled surrounding the Ryugyong, though landscape gardening in front of the building appeared well maintained.
Limited signs of renewed construction at the hotel were observable when lights in at least three rooms were spotted at night last October.
The development, captured in video exclusively obtained by NK News, was notable because there had been no sign of construction or occupancy at the iconic structure since window panes and a telecommunications mast were installed in 2011.
A regular visitor to North Korea told NK Pro at the time that a private jet belonging to Orascom, which visited Pyongyang in November, likely carrying Egyptian CEO Naguib Sawiris, might have been there to discuss the future of the building.
“Apparently (he’s there) for a visit to the Ryugyong to see about working on that again,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of speaking to media.
Orascom, the Egyptian majority shareholder of North Korea’s Koryolink cellphone network, was obliged to add window panes to the concrete structure as part of its deal to enter the DPRK telecommunications sector in 2008.
The firm was suspected of having spent millions on the building, but photos released by the Beijing-based Koryo Tours agency showed in 2012 that the structure was still empty, without fixtures or furnishings visible.
Luxury hotel company Kempinski announced in 2012 that it would be opening a small hotel at the top of the building, but it pulled out in early 2013, stating to NK News that “market entry is not currently possible”.
North Korean officials previously claimed the building would eventually contain the country’s premier restaurants, hotel accommodation, apartments, and business facilities.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News