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N. Korea mulls selling houses to foreigners in economic zone: report

All Headlines 14:55 August 31, 2012

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- North Korea plans to sell houses to foreigners in a joint economic zone under development with China in the far northeast when major construction is completed late next year, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper reported Friday.

The project to build the International Commerce and Trade Center and other infrastructure has been underway since April in Rason, jointly funded by the North's trade firm and a Chinese real estate development company.

"The International Commerce and Trade Center and other buildings will be completed by October next year," the Chosun Sinbo's report datelined Rason said. "Residence houses will be sold to foreigners."

Rason was designated a special economic zone in 1991, seeking to become a potential hub for international transportation, trade and tourism in the world's most isolated nation. It has been governed by a separate set of laws and rules giving local officials more autonomy. About 110 foreign companies, most from China, have invested in the area, according to the newspaper.

Analysts say the latest move illustrates Pyongyang's efforts to attract foreign investment, as the centrally-controlled communist state has not before disclosed plans to sell houses, defined as state assets, to foreigners.

"There were cases in which North Korea allowed foreigners to invest in factories and commerce centers, but no official case of home sales has been reported," said Im Eul-chul, a research professor at Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. "It can be seen as (the North) making another step forward in its efforts to attract foreign investment."

Other infrastructure and transportation projects have been well under way to give easier access to foreign investors, the paper said.

The Chosun Sinbo said the construction of a railway that links Russia's far eastern border town of Khasan and Rajin Port in Rason, the North's major ice-free harbor border, will be completed in October.

China will provide electricity to Rason by early next year, build a new highway linking China's border city of Yanji and Rason and build piers at Rajin Port, the newspaper reported.

In the city with a population of 200,000, nearly 10 percent of people have cell phones and use 100 Mbp-level Internet connections, it added.

Facing chronic food shortages because of international sanctions over its nuclear program, Pyongyang has shown signs of economic reform under the untested young leader Kim Jong-un.

Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of Kim, visited Beijing earlier this month to forge deals to develop economic zones in Rason and Hwanggumphyong and expand bilateral economic ties.


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