From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
For Sale: Korean Land Near DMZ. Watch Your Step.
By NORIMITSU ONISHI / October 5, 2007
”There are now three people who are interested in buying this land,”
said Lee Heung-bok, a real estate agent, standing atop a hill and
waving with his left hand at some 57 acres of pristine river and green
mountains inhabited by wild black boars.
”One person is interested in building a golf course,” he added.
”Not right now, of course, but sometime in the future.”
”A golf course will take more than 10 years,” said the potential
buyer, Park Jae-yong, standing next to Mr. Lee and holding a newspaper
over his head against the midday sun’s glare. ”Right now, even if we
build a golf course, nobody would be able to come in here anyway.”
Yigil is a farming village by the demilitarized zone dividing South
Korea from North Korea. It lies inside what is called the Civilian
Control Zone, an area extending some 10 miles south of the DMZ and
restricted to residents and soldiers. Others must get passes to enter
the zone, where the military has restricted construction to low-lying
Barricades flank the zone’s main roads, built in such a way that they
can be made to collapse and slow down invading North Korean tanks.
Hanging on barbed wire alongside many forested areas are red-and-
orange triangular signs warning about land mines. Yigil lies so close
to North Korea that a tunnel leading from the North to the South, dug
by North Korean soldiers, was discovered nearby in 1975.
Despite all that, warming ties between South and North Korea have been
drawing speculators like Mr. Park to Yigil and other villages here in
the middle of the peninsula. In the last three years, prices have
risen so much that agents and locals here say even areas with land
mines have doubled or tripled in value. Land next to the DMZ may fetch
only $9,200 per acre — cheap by the standards of South Korea’s real
estate bubble — but it could not even be given away a few years ago,
real estate agents say.
Prices may rise further after the summit meeting between leaders of
the two Koreas. Interest in land just south of the DMZ increased after
the first such meeting in 2000, as the threat of war diminished and
South Korea adopted a policy of engaging the North economically and
Agents and officials here say that buyers considering land for country
houses or other developments are looking outside the Civilian Control
Zone. Land inside the zone, where building is still restricted by the
military, is drawing speculators.
”Some have bought land-mined areas for a cheap price, de-mined them
and resold them for a profit,” said Kim Young-sun, a real estate
specialist at Chorwon County, which includes Yigil as well as other
villages in and outside the zone.
Mr. Lee, the real estate agent, said some speculators were also buying
land inside the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ itself, paying the equivalent of
$1,300 an acre to the title holders.
”It’s so cheap,” Mr. Lee said. ”But it’s a recent phenomenon. There
is the expectation that one day there will be reunification.”
The site of one of the Korean War’s fiercest battles, much of Chorwon
was a no man’s land until the government sent 150 war veterans here in
1967, telling them that if they de-mined the land, they could keep
some of it.
”We just did the work with shovels,” said Yoo Chul-hoon, 70, one of
the original 150 and a resident of Daema, a village a few miles west
”Many people were maimed by the land mines,” said Mr. Yoo, who lost
part of his right leg while clearing a mine. ”At one point, we were
burying two people a day.”
Many of the prewar owners eventually returned to villages in and
outside the zone and reclaimed their land. But the cold war kept
development away and land prices down.
Although the two Koreas remain officially at war, the 2000 summit
meeting fundamentally changed the South’s perception of the North from
cold war enemy to an estranged relative who needed to be coaxed into
behaving well. The North Korean nuclear crisis, though still
unresolved, has not shaken that perception, or reined in rising land
prices just south of the DMZ.
”The proximity to North Korea was in fact a positive factor,” said
Rheu Jee-seuk, 50, a resident of Seoul who bought a 15-acre plot just
outside the Civilian Control Zone last year. ”The nature is untouched
here, and there’s almost no development because the area’s so close to
He added, ”A threat from North Korea is not an issue.”
Mr. Rheu has started building a country home on his land and now grows
cabbage and other vegetables there. With relations with the North
improving, the South has loosened restrictions inside the Civilian
Control Zone, a mostly agricultural area. The zone’s southern border
has been brought closer to the DMZ, effectively shrinking the zone;
local officials and residents are pressing Seoul to make it even
smaller so that they can develop businesses in the freed-up space.
On the hill here overlooking the 57-acre land up for sale, Mr. Park,
the potential buyer, said he owned land north of Seoul but was not
”familiar with this place.”
”I heard there might be good land here,” said Mr. Park, 77, who said
he owned a fertilizer company.
Asked whether he was nervous about possibly buying land — at 21 cents
per square foot, or double its price five years ago — just two miles
south of the DMZ, Mr. Park waved his hand. ”Even if we don’t reunify,
as long as we can have traffic between the two Koreas, it will be all
right,” he said.
He dismissed the idea of building a golf course here.
”Maybe an inn, then?” said Mr. Lee, the real estate agent.
”Yes,” Mr. Park said, looking up and squinting into the sun’s glare,
”that’s a little more realistic.”
The following are hints for a smooth and productive business trip to
RESPECT: As in any country treat your hosts with respect and they will
do the same to you, more importantly if hosted by a government body.
DON’T: Make remarks about the former or current leaders, tackle a
middle ranking cadre on the nuclear issue or make fun of the countries
economic system backwardness. Many things are obvious to the educated,
internationally travelled men and women who are your guides and hosts.
HEALTH: There is fly-out medical cover from Pyongyang covered by SOS
Asia. If caught sick in Pyongyang the foreigner’s clinic in the
Munsudong embassy district has doctors and nurses who speak English,
with the pharmacy in the Koryo Hotel having most basic medicines.
CRIME: Pyongyang is probably the safest city in the world.
MONEY: ATMs aren’t available and getting a quick inbound T/T via Trade
Bank is not easy, so take cash but not US dollars, and credit cards
not issued in the USA. And remember to have enough money for the MPV
or Benz you have been riding around in all week.
TORCH: Blackouts are less frequent now but still happen during
business meetings in the evening.
CAMERA: You can take photos of almost anything, but always ask first,
and try to avoid taking photos of things old, broken, and obviously
embarrassing. The street market traders may not appreciate being
photographed handling bundles of money.
MOBILE: Foreign visitors must temporarily surrender mobile phones at
customs on arrival in DPRK, stored in numbered velvet bags unmolested.
IDD: Outbound phone call’s can be made to most countries, although
expensive. AT&T and similar phone cards don’t work, so faxes save
cost. The best solution is send the office a fax on arrival with the
room number and ask them to call the room at a fixed time every day.
LAPTOP: Business centres are limited, so rely on your laptop (power-
point presentations), ideally with a small portable printer and all
necessary computing accessories.
EMAIL: Dialing out from a hotel room to a server in Hong Kong or
Beijing frustrating. A three way phone connector plus two short cords
are required, with one of the wires open ended to wrap round the bare
wire room line, sometimes data lines are automatically cut off after
one minute. Alternatively the PIC (opposite the Chongbo Centre Hotel
and under the famous pyramid) can allow you some Internet access.
Exactly how much and with how much privacy seems to vary from visit to
DINING: Pyongyang now many hard currency restaurants, mainly Korean-
Japanese fare. Try the Stamp Restaurant near the Koryo, and the
Japanese restaurant behind the ice-rink. The old diplomatic club
offers cold Russian salads and Arab music, while the Minjok Shiktang
provides dancing and singing. The 3rd Floor Koryo Hotel restaurant has
a large menu of exotic delegation foods including British shepherd’s
pie, which is pre-ordered.
STIR-CRAZY: Even a short stay in Pyongyang can be wearing for those
used to freedom, convenience, and the normality or other Asian
Capitals. A book, an mpeg player, or asking your guide for a trip to
the golf course, park, Karaoke place or the new diplomatic club or
circus can help. Also note that most people leave Pyongyang feeling
drained, and in need of a day off.