From Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited one of the sites of his ambitious project to build 50,000 new homes in Pyongyang for the second time in a week and, according to state media, called for a renewed boost for residential development Thursday.

Kim’s focus on domestic economic affairs comes just a week after North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan, underscoring advances in its weapons program and increasing pressure on the United States.

Last week the head of state laid the foundation stone for 10,000 new apartments in the capital Pyongyang, despite economic crises that have brought other major construction projects to a standstill.

KCNA reported that Kim emphasized the importance of housing construction and identified it as one of the pressing issues to improve citizens’ living standards.

“There must be strict supervision of every construction process, construction materials must be saved in every way with high demand, accidents of all kinds must be prevented and excellent construction experience must be introduced …” Kim said, according to KCNA.

The head of state announced in January an ambitious new plan for the next five years aimed at developing the North Korean economy.

However, the projects face major challenges, including international nuclear sanctions and ballistic missile programs.

North Korea’s drastic measures to contain COVID-19 have exacerbated human rights abuses and economic hardships for its citizens, including reports of hunger, according to the United Nations.

While North Korea has yet to officially report confirmed coronavirus cases, many experts doubt that the north, which borders China and South Korea, has not detected any infections.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Sam Holmes)