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North Korea to open its doors

The border between North and South Korea: One of the last Cold War hotspots
The border between North and South Korea: One of the last Cold War hotspots  

Staff and wires

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea has said it will open the isolated, hunger-stricken country for joint ventures and cooperation with other countries and international organizations.

North Korean Premier Hong Song Nam made a careful call for reform in a report to the North's annual rubber-stamp legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, which was convened to discuss the government's 2002 budget and policies.

"The main thrust of this year's economic construction is to make full preparations for technical improvement and modernization of the national economy as a whole while readjusting the country's economic foundations in keeping with the practical demand," Hong said.

North Korea needs to "improve trade and economic cooperation and widely conduct joint ventures and collaboration with different countries and international organizations," he added, on the eve of a visit to both Koreas by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Such statements are a marked departure from the North's ruling philosophy of juche, or "self-reliance," which had guided the country of 22 million people into diplomatic isolation and led to a famine that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since the mid-1990s.

There were no visible signs of the parliamentary session in the streets of Pyongyang, which were filled with thousands of people rehearsing mass gymnastics routines to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-song next month.

In recent years, North Korea has opened diplomatic ties with a series of European and other countries and called for more foreign trade while guarding its totalitarian regime from outside criticism.

In a fresh spurt of diplomacy, the two Koreas agreed on Monday to resume talks aimed at boosting peace on the peninsula.

The two Koreas have not signed a peace treaty since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Their border is sealed and heavily armed.

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North Korea's economy shrank sharply after the collapse of the former Soviet Union stripped it of key trade partners and aid providers.

The problem has been aggravated by consecutive years of bad weather since 1995, forcing the country to depend on outside handouts to feed its people.

Adding to the country's woes, U.S. President George W. Bush has called North Korea part of an "axis of evil," accusing the communist country of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea also remains on the U.S. State Department's list of countries deemed supportive of terrorism.

Such a labeling bars North Korea from benefiting from cheap loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions.


Also Wednesday, North Korea's finance minister, Mun Il Bong, proposed a 2002 budget of roughly $10 billion, a 2.3 percent increase from last year, said the North's official Korean Central News Agency, monitored in Seoul.

North Korea has a million-strong army
North Korea has a million-strong army  

Hong called for "energetic efforts" in agriculture and said the country needed to "perk up" a range of industries including mining, power, metal, railways and chemicals.

Of the budget, 42 percent will be used to modernize the country's mining, agriculture, power and metal industries and improve railways.

The North's central government will allocate 14.4 percent of the budget, or $1.46 billion, to its 1.1 million-member military. This is the same proportion as last year's budget.

With about one in every 20 people in uniform, North Korea has the world's fifth-biggest army. The million-strong force is more than half again as big as the military in the South, which has twice as many people and economy 30 times larger.

Many North Korean military units run their own farms and factories to earn cash and supply their own food.




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