Life on the ground in North Korea as rocket is launched

Thumb_angus-walker
The rocket in North Korea ahead of its launch
The rocket in North Korea ahead of its launch Photo:

"You're in Korea now, be careful what you say". The warning was being repeated for my benefit by my minder. He said words like 'dictatorship' and 'regime' would not be acceptable. This is my second assignment to North Korea, or Korea, as the officials here refer to it. The maps show a unified country ruled by Pyongyang. I am back trying to balance the needs for independent reporting with the restrictions we are under.

"Please don't leave the hotel without me, for your own safety" added Mr Lee. "Why" I said "is it dangerous in Pyongyang?". "No, it's just that you might get lost and there are lots of groups of people moving around..." It would be difficult to just walk out of our hotel, the building is on a small island in the middle of the river which runs through the North Korean capital. We are effectively surrounded by a moat. Unlike most hotels in the world there isn't a queue of cabs waiting to take visitors to see the sights. Instead there's a fleet of coaches. The hotel is full, more than a hundred media crews, we are just one of three from the UK. Then there are hundreds of international North Korean supporters, among them young Russian students and elderly Japanese communists here for the celebrations.

Last night I could hear the sounds of military units rehearsing for their grand parade to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country's eternal President. Floodlights lit up the main square in a city that was mainly in darkness. There is limited power despite the absolute power of the leadership.

We've been told we will be taken to the Great Study Hall of the People later today. What we won't be shown is how ordinary people live, outside the showcase capital. The idea of the authorities is that we are here to report what we are shown.

Compared to my last visit in October 2010 I can see changes in the capital. There's more traffic and I saw new American vehicles on the road. There is a lot of building work going on and yet what's striking about the construction sites is the lack of machinery, most work seems to be being done by lots of hands. I saw the same on the road from the airport, lots of work in the bare fields, I didn't see a tractor. This the busy spring planting season.