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North Korea officials take turns visiting fertilizer factory

North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae (C) visits the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory on Wednesday, according to state media. Photo by KCNA
North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae (C) visits the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory on Wednesday, according to state media. Photo by KCNA

Feb. 6 (UPI) -- North Korea's top-ranking officials have been visiting the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory since late January, according to state media on Thursday.

Premier Kim Jae Ryong, Vice Chairman of the State Commission Pak Pong Ju and Choe Ryong Hae, the first vice chairman of the State Commission, visited the factory on different dates since the beginning of the year.

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The top officials' visits to the plant come after Kim Jong Un made an appearance at the factory in early January. The factory could be of symbolic importance for the regime. Kim Jong Un had said during his visit the factory is "one of the most significant targets of the Party among economic initiatives to be carried out in 2020."

The series of visits of different officials to the same factory is "unprecedented," according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

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Construction at the plant reportedly began in 2017. The factory was nearing completion in January when Kim Jong Un made his visit, according to South Korean press reports.

The regime could be turning its attention to agriculture in a time of heavy sanctions. On Wednesday, Korean Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun called on readers to "support socialism with rice harvests."

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In photographs of the visits, North Korean officials were seen without face masks, despite a recent declaration of a national emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak in China.

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Behind the scenes, top North Korean bureaucrats could be concerned about the spread of the virus.

Pyongyang foreign ministry official Kim Son Gyong has canceled his trip to the Munich Security Conference, scheduled for Feb. 14-16 in Germany, South Korean news service EDaily reported Thursday.

A South Korean government source said the decision may have been influenced by the ongoing epidemic, which has reached Germany and other parts of Europe.

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