Unification Church launches auto venture in North Korea

UPI/October 26, 2000

The South Korean government has allowed the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church to build a car-assembly plant in North Korea, officials said Thursday.

Pyongwha (Peace) Automobile Co., the automotive arm of Unification Church, was allowed to invest $54 million in an assembly line in North Korea's western port of Nampo, said an official at the Unification Ministry, which orchestrates South Korea's policy toward the North.

Pyongwha, which had won approval of its initial $6.66 million investment, broke ground last February on the $300 million car-assembly venture.

The church-owned carmaker concluded an agreement last year with North Korea's state-owned Ryongbong Corp., under which 10,000 Fiat models will be assembled annually for domestic and overseas markets. It also plans to repair and modify 4,500 second hand cars at the factory, aiming to export them to China, Mongolia and Siberia. The joint venture was the biggest manufacturing investment so far in the impoverished communist state. North Korea has only about 3,000 cars on the road, most of which come from Japan. "North Korea could be a profitable market in the future," a Pyongwha official said.

The Unification Church founded in April last year Pyongwha Automobile for the project in North Korea. The firm will hold a 70 percent stake in the joint venture for cash investment, while the North's Ryongbong owns the other 30 percent for offering land.

The car factory is part of the church's campaign in North Korea launched in 1991 when the Rev. Moon met with the country's founding leader Kim Il-sung. Kim died in 1994, but his son and power successor Kim Jong-il has maintained ties with Moon. In February, Kim sent rare wild ginseng to Moon, along with a message congratulating him on his 80th birthday.

The Unification Church has played a role in promoting reconciliation between the two Koreas by organizing a performance tour in the South by the North's art troupe ahead of the historic inter-Korean summit in June. It runs a hotel, a restaurant and a construction-material trading company in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

The church was established in 1954 by Moon. Moon has established a number of publications worldwide, including the Washington Times newspaper, that are owned and operated by News World Communications Inc., which also owns United Press International.

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