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Monday, 6 November, 2000, 14:20 GMT
North Korea buys English brewery
Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il [R]: Keen to open up to West
Communist North Korea has bought a traditional English brewery in a 1.5m deal.

The world's most secret state plans to re-use equipment from the Ushers plant in Wiltshire to build a giant new brewery on the outskirts of its capital Pyongyang.

Beer
Ushers was famous for traditional ales

Workmen are already dismantling the Trowbridge plant. It will be shipped to impoverished North Korea early next year.

The news comes just weeks after Britain announced it wanted to open formal diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

The deal has been arranged by Thomas Hardy Holdings, which acquired the Ushers plant after its brewing operation closed earlier this year.

Peter Ward, director of Thomas Hardy Holdings, estimated the entire project would cost North Korea in the region of 10m.

Keg beer

Mr Ward told BBC News Online the brewery would be producing keg beer, suggesting it was for the domestic market rather than export.

Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong-il: Rumoured to be fond of a tipple

Ushers, which began brewing in 1824, was most famous for its regional ales such as Best Bitter and Founders.

But Mr Ward said he believed the North Koreans would be producing lager.

The 1.5m sale was signed in August with a German agent contracted by North Korea.

Mr Ward said at least one British company had already been approached about reassembling the 500,000-barrel brewery in Pyongyang next year.

Famine

North Korea has remained isolated from the West since the Korean peninsula split in two more than five decades ago.

But famine and economic ruin have pushed Pyongyang to begin opening up to the outside world.

There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity since June, when the two Korean leaders met for a historic summit in Pyongyang and agreed to ease hostilities on the peninsula.

During the summit Kim Jong-il cracked jokes about his rumoured fondness for a tipple and how he was "a better drinker" than his South Korean counterpart Kim Dae-jung.

Last month Britain, Germany and Spain announced they would push for official ties with Pyongyang.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
UK and North Korea forge ties
23 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pyongyang reaches out
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Kim Jong-il
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
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