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US Student Puts North Korea on Map With Google Earth

The computer mapping tool, Google Earth, is being used to build a database about one of the world's most secretive nations. The North Korean version of the online satellite map has been created by a doctoral student in the U.S. state of Virginia. The map includes details on everything from political prisons to a fried chicken restaurant.

Those with a desire to see North Korea have often travelled to the South Korean side of the de-militarized zone to take a peek across the border.

But now their curiosity can be satisfied by looking from above.

Curtis Melvin is a doctoral student of economics at George Mason University in Virginia. "Google earth is an impressive piece of software that lets us draft satellite images directly onto a sphere," he said. "So we can look anywhere around the world, just by spinning the world around."

The Google Earth map of North Korea has very few roads or landmarks labeled. But Melvin has made his own version of Google Earth for the country. He's been adding information, sourcing data from maps, books and the Internet.

"North Korea is a very mysterious place and the people who've been there always want to see more and it's just not possible. And with this technology we're really able to capture many people's experiences and bring it together in one place," Melvin explains.

The small file, which can be installed on top of Google Earth, has been downloaded by more than 50,000 people.

Some North Korea watchers are in regular contact, helping him identify unknown sites.

North Korea blogger Joshua Stanton has been sending information on political prisons.
"You can see the places where prisoners say terrible things have happened. You can see the fences, the coal mines and the barracks where people live," North Korea blogger Joshua Stanton explains. He has been sending information on political prisons. "You can't deny these things and fail to react with these things if they are real."

After exploring the site, a group of North Korean defectors have now promised to gather data from their community.

Melvin says this will provide a more complex picture of life in the North than those images often promoted by the state itself.