North hard at work on Cup stadiums

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North hard at work on Cup stadiums

When North Korean national football players take the field against the Ivory Coast in their final Group G match in the 2010 International Football Association’s World Cup in South Africa, they will be playing at a stadium their compatriots helped build.

South Korean sources said yesterday North Korean laborers are helping to put the finishing touch on stadiums across South Africa ahead of the World Cup, which will kick off in June.

“North Koreans have been put to work on four to five stadiums that require renovation, including Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, where the opening and closing ceremonies, plus the final will be staged,” a source said. “There are an estimated 1,000 North Koreans there.”

One such stadium is Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. The North will face the Ivory Coast on June 25 in this 43,500-seat stadium.

The South African government has slated 12 billion rand, or $1.6 billion, for 10 stadiums in nine different cities, and North Korean laborers are expected to reap tens of thousands of dollars for their job.

“During the Kim Il Sung era, North Korea built football stadiums and even presidential halls in African nations,” recalled Lim Il, a North Korean defector who used to work for a construction company in the North. “Perhaps such experience helped secure the South African job.”

North Korea and South Africa established formal diplomatic ties in August 1998. This is their first major personnel exchange since then. It is not yet clear if the workers in South Africa will return home upon completing the World Cup work or will be dispatched to other construction projects.

Helping South Africa can be interpreted as an attempt to earn some much-needed foreign capital. North Korea has up to 30,000 laborers in China, Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. Last September, North Korea sent nearly 50 workers from the state-run Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang to construct the 160-foot, $27-million statue depicting a family rising from a volcano in Senegal.

One South Korean government official said, “The North government will likely demand loyalty from those workers and collect their wages to add to their foreign currency reserve.”

Financial and arms trade embargoes imposed on Pyongyang appear to have stifled cash inflow to the North.

By Lee Young-jong []
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