Kim Jong-un's plea for 'world class' ski resort in North Korea
North Korean leader calls for construction to be speeded up at 'world class' winter sports facility
Agence France-Presse in Seoul
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has issued a national appeal to speed up work on a "world class" ski resort, which is being built as rival South Korea prepares to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Describing the Masik Pass resort in the northeast of the impoverished country as a "gigantic patriotic work", Kim urged greater effort to complete the project, which features 110 kilometres of multi-level ski runs, a hotel, a heliport and cable cars. The ruling Workers' Party "remains unchanged in its resolution to build a world-class skiing ground within this year", Kim said in an official message.
The resort, which is being built by the military, will "provide the people and school youth and children with highly civilised and happy living conditions", he said.
When Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, died in December 2011 he left a country in dire economic straits - the result of a "military first" policy that fed a missile and nuclear programme at the expense of a malnourished population. Kim Jong-un has largely followed the same path, while paying lip service to a policy of military and economic development.
Despite a reported rise in staple food output, daily life for millions is an ongoing struggle with under-nutrition, according to a World Food Programme report.
In February, the UN resident co-ordinator in North Korea, Desiree Jongsma, said two-thirds of its 24 million population were chronically food insecure and nearly 28 per cent of children under five ill from malnutrition.
Kim paid a publicised "work guidance" visit to the Masik Pass resort last week and observers have offered a number of theories for why the resort has been made such a priority.
Some speculate that the North might consider making a late bid to co-host some events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will take place in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.
At the same time, it might be a genuine bid to boost tourism, which Pyongyang sees as a relatively risk-free way of earning much-needed foreign currency.