(Formats headline, no change to text)
By James Pearson
SEOUL, Sept 25 Dozens of European cyclists
rolled into the North Korean port town of Rajin this week for
the last leg of a rare two-stage race from China to North Korea.
Clad in skin-tight shiny outfits and accompanied by a fleet
of support cars, the 47 cyclists from Sweden, Germany and more
than 10 other countries rode from China to the Wonjong border
crossing to take on the 50-km (31-mile) road into Rajin.
Such free-wheeling travel by foreigners is unusual in North
Korea, a reclusive and isolated state under international
sanctions for nuclear and missile tests.
"They were really good bike roads, some of the best roads
you can have for biking," Gaavert Waag, manager of Nordic Ways -
the events company behind the race - told Reuters by telephone.
"We wanted to do something that was nearly impossible to
do," he said. "They stopped all the traffic for us. Not that
they have much traffic but they closed all the roads for our
Labourers from China, North Korea's closest ally, finished
work on the main road between Rajin and the border last year in
a Chinese-backed effort to upgrade a dusty track into a
functioning trade route.
Rajin is one of two towns that make up the Rajin-Songbon, or
Rason, special economic zone in the northeast corner of North
Korea. Both Russia and China have access to Rajin as a port and
have invested in updating infrastructure.
The cycling race follows Sunday's completion of a
Russian-operated train line that links Rason with the Russian
Far East town of Khasan, part of a more ambitious plan to build
a railway from Europe to Asia.
First designated a special economic zone in the mid 1990s,
Rason is popular among ethnic Korean Chinese businessmen looking
to set up small factories and take advantage of cheap labour.
In recent years, the area has become a popular destination
for Western Christian missionaries wanting to start social
projects such as bakeries and orphanages from which to conduct
their evangelical work.
Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who had been working as a
Christian missionary in China and North Korea, was arrested at
the Wonjong border crossing near Rason last year.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Robert Birsel)