North Korea Today No. 95

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today
95th Edition October 2007

Harvest Season, Rice Price Gradually Going Down
As the harvest time begins in October, the price of rice which had been skyrocketed has started to fall. Now, the rice is sold at 1,300-1,400 won per a kilogram while it was sold at 1,700-1,800 won per kilogram before. In the case of Sinuiju신의주, the wholesale price of rice which had been 25,000 won per 15 Kg (1,600 won per kilogram) at the beginning of October has gone down to 20,000 won per 15 Kg (1,300 won per kilogram). The citizens of Sinuiju are happy about this price drop, and expect the price would continue to fall down to 17,000 won. The value of the US dollar which had been 330,000 won has fallen to 327,000 won since Oct. 17th. The value of the Chinese currency ‘Yuan’ has fallen to 43,800 won from 44,500 won per 100 dollars.

Farmers Busy Pocketing Harvested produce
It is at the peak of harvesting crops in most agricultural districts nationwide. As the crop production is low as the result of last year’s flood disaster, farmers began to pocket the little they harvested. Some farmers dig holes in the fields, bury maize and rice there, and sneak them into their homes at night.

The local police, without any notice, searched a work unit작업반 - consisting of about 90people - of a farm in Chulsan county철산군, North Pyongan Province평안북도, where farmers were busy harvesting crops around lunchtime. The police confiscated 260 kg of rice as a result of this search and found an average of 500 kg of rice disappear per work unit per day. Normally there are about 10 work units in each farm, this means about 5MT(metric tons) of rice are missing everyday.

As more rice is missing, less rice will be distributed back to farmers, especially those farmers who can not steal crops will be most affected. However, farmers are complaining that they have never been provided with crops as promised by the government and there is no way to pay back their food borrowed in spring unless they steal the crops at harvesttime.

Ban on Landline Telephones
After the ban on cell phone use, people will not be able to use landline telephones as well. Following Sariwon사리원, Hamheung함흥, and Pyongyang평양, Sinuiju신의주 has announced that from Oct. 15th, it would prohibit the use of wire telephones to prevent trades and circulation of information. In the North Hamgyung Province함경북도, it is announced that from this month, landline telephones work only within some designated cities. Thus, people cannot make long distance calls without government’s permission. Even the Party officials have limited access to telephone use depending on their rank.

The North Korean authority is explaining that these measures have been taken to prevent trades and information leakage. The government criticises that merchants leaking the prices in the markets to deal more effectively by using landline telephones, and blames that it destroys the socialist system. Moreover, they blame the merchants as collecting information and distributing them nationwide by using telephones.

Women in their 30s cannot trade at a market
In addition to women in their 20s, women in their 30s cannot trade at a market any more because the government decided to prohibit women under 40 from running small businesses at the market. Last month the government banned trading in themarket for young women under 30. As a result, the Ministry of Labour of each cities and counties in North Korea bewildered about the unexpected extra labour capacity. With the order from the high authority of the Party, chairpersons of city councils were told to allow these women to work at factories without any condition. This decision has caused much trouble at factories and companies. They complained about this decision because they cannot pay the new workers let alone current employees. They say that they do not even have enough work to run the business.

Troubles with creating jobs for women under 40
Regulation banning trade for women under 40years of age at the market, every local government of North Korea has difficulty creating jobs for women in their 20s or 30s. In Sinuiju, the local government began to make certificates of women labor dispatch and send them to factories, such as textile companies. But, it is a problem because companies strongly complain about the decision. Hamheung함흥 issued a certificate for the extra women workers to work in the factory, but it temporarily stopped the certificate because of the strong objection from the factories. Women under 40 who have traded in the market to meet their family’s basic needs do not have anything to make money. Now they cannot support even themselves. Because of this situation, many women in their 20s or 30s are extremely disappointed.

Increase in the Border Crossing
Onsung온성 and Hamheung함흥 recently has fortified the border security between North Korea and China because the number of people fleeing is increasing. Everyday the number of people has been counted at a residential meeting, but there are still people leaving. A couple of days ago, entire members of two families disappeared and two female merchants at the same town fled. On the very next day of the incident, a rich female merchant ran away with her entire family. The police and the border patrols of the national intelligence are intensely watching the runaways. When Dooman River두만강 is frozen in winter, the number of refugees will increase substantially. Some residents say, “Because young women cannot trade at a market, there are no jobs to make money, or the government does not give rations, we starve to death. When we know we would die anyway (either killed by punishment or die from starvation), trying to flee is better rather than waiting for a day of starving to death.” They continued that the punishment of those who flee is very severe, but the number of people who are fleeing is not going to reduce.

Frequent accidents from Chinese Pharmaceutical products
Similar accidents have happened consecutively in Sinuiju among those who used Chinese medicine that was sold on the market. A male college student who was 24 years old died right after he took Chinese medicine for a headache he had on October 5th. He complained about a stomach ache and bleeding not long after taking the medicine, however; he died while receiving emergency treatment in the hospital. An autopsy has shown that there were some holes in his stomach. A local doctor in Siniju said, “Because some people sell cheap Chinese medicine to make a good profit, they take several lives away every month”. On October 15th, the same hospital encountered an old man facing the same situation, but fortunately they were able to save his life with surgery.

Sinuiju begins to examine Chinese food products
The body of a student in the Sinuiju Medical School was discovered three days after death. Examination results revealed that he died after eating tainted Chinese food products. This incident triggered an across the board examination of food products coming into North Korea from Dandong, PRChina. Among the products examined were ramen, gum, cookies, sausage, milk, candy, etc. with much of the food products examined failing to pass muster. There has been a country-wide problem with distribution of sub-standard food products. Although the immediate vicinity of Pyongyang평양 does have tight control, the rest of the country is defenseless.

Hoeryung City evict homeless
In anticipation of the 90th birthday anniversary of Kim Jung-Sook김정숙[1], the Hoeryung회령 City Council at the meeting on the October 1, 2007 has decreed that all city buildings, factories, and public buildings must be cleaned and all construction finished using all resources and methods necessary before the winter cold arrived. Such clean-up is especially due to the expected arrival of central officials for the 90th anniversary celebrations. Approximately 100 homeless families who have been living in warehouses have been forcibly evicted. Officials working for the city council have been making inspection rounds of warehouses and ordering the dwellers out. The collective farms that own the warehouses have also ordered the dwellers out. The dwellers have been threatened with fines and other punitive measures.

When the dwellers protested en masse this past October 3, 2007, the security officials cut off all the electrical wires into the warehouses. They also demolished the roofs and flooring of the houses. The slightest hint of resistance brought about few days of confinement in prisons with forced examination of ideology and cultivation education. The officials simply told them to go live together elsewhere or live with relatives in other regions.

[1] Kim Jung-Il’s mother and Kim Il-Sung’s first wife

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