Google Maps N.Korean Prison Camps, Nuke Site

Google has added a wealth of detail to its map of North Korea, including the Yongybyon nuclear facility and the Hoeryong concentration camp.

"For a long time, one of the largest places with limited map data has been North Korea. But today we are changing that," said Jayanth Mysore at Google Map Maker. "As a result, the world can access maps of North Korea that offer much more information and detail than before."

Google says the map is the fruit of years of work. Map Maker is an open system where users provide data on roads, buildings, stores and other geographical information, which is verified or corrected by other users. It has around 1.5 billion users from some 200 countries.

The map was updated using mainly satellite images as well as analogue data compiled by ordinary users living outside of North Korea, Google said.

Previously the Google map only showed the names of the capital Pyongyang and a few other cities, while the rest of the country was left blank.

The updated map shows streets, subway stations, hotels, hospitals, shopping centers, plazas and sports stadiums. The latest map even shows the locations of the Yanggak Golf Course and the Okryugwan restaurant, which is famous for cold buckwheat noodles. But the only cities other than Pyongyang shown on the map are Sinuiju and Hamheung, while most parts of the impoverished country remain blank.

But the map also identifies nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, and the secret political prison camps in Yodok, Hwangsong and Pukchang are clearly labeled "gulag." The map of the Heoryong camp even identifies a guard house and various factories where inmates are forced to work.

The update comes a few weeks after Google chairman Eric Schmidt visited North Korea. There is speculation that Google plans to pursue business opportunities in North Korea with the start of the mapping service, or that Schmidt reached some sort of deal with North Koreans during his visit.

Google has not responded to such speculation, saying merely that the new map would be of interest to many in South Korea who still have relatives in North Korea. It added the map will be continually updated.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 30, 2013 10:06 KST