GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No.123

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng


North Korea Today
123th Edition May 2008

People Died of Starvation in a Farming Village near Sariwon
Children of the Bongsan County Cooperative Farm Died of Hunger
Food Shortages and Endless Rumors
Food Price Temporarily Drops With Rumor of Importing South Korean Rice
Grain Price Chart of Major Cities on May 1st
Residents Living As Though In Stone Age at Nongpo Village in Saebyeol County
The Meal Service of Gilju Forestry Vocational School Stopped
Children Are Losing Their Vitality Because Of the Food Crisis
July 7th Munitions Factory Stopped the Rationing in Eunduk County
One-Month Amount of Food Was Distributed to Workers in Sangria (victory) Motor Plant Using the Party’s Fund
Entitled Senior Citizens were Angry about the Stoppage of Food Rationings
Bad Apple Crop in Pukchung County Last Year
Father Who Lent Public Funds to His Daughter Committed Suicide
Emphasizing Political Lessons of Missing People in Eunduk County
Ordinary People Are Wearing Sad Looks due to the State’s Order of Mobilization for Labor Day
“Opening 3000 is an Absolute Lie”
Planting Potatoes a Sign of Loyalty
Thief of the Thieves “A Flier above a Runner”
Mid April’s Lectures of Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) in Hamheung


People Died of Starvation in a Farming Village near Sariwon
There is very sad and pitiful news that farmers died of starvation in farming areas around Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province. The government is worried about the worst case scenario that more people will die of starvation because many farmers cannot keep their balance from starvation for several months and cannot work. Last April 29th, Sariwon residents did a tree-planting campaign in front of a statue. Many people at the venue of the movement seemed to feel uneasy and complained that this event is useless because there is a rumor that people died from hunger in suburban farming villages. Kim Ki-nam (39) in Sariwon stated, “Every day one or two people died in neighboring villages (Ri; village). We are very glad if there is an urgent measure to protect this situation.”

Children of the Bongsan County Cooperative Farm Died of Hunger
The Bongsan County Cooperative farm(협동농장), North Hwanghae Province encountered the worst case of the shortage of food. According to the farm’s officials, eight households of ten have already emptied their food. They currently make and eat gruel by mixing 70% of ground roots of rice plants and 30% of ground corn. To save the root as much as they can, they smash the dried roots of rice plants and make flour, then make gruel by adding a little amount of hardly acquired corn flour or other grains’ flour. For a long time they have been having this stuff that can never be called as food, so little children and old people are facing critical malnutrition problems and all kinds of disease. Even though there is not any open data or report about the number of victims, it is true that the mortality rate of children has drastically increased because it is not hard to hear the news in the morning that someone’s children died last night. On the other hand, an official of Pyongyang was very sad and stated, “Because Bongan County is the richest place in North Hwanghae Province, it is famous for its warm hospitality. The apple of this county is especially prim quality. Because such a once abundant county is suffering, it is needless to say other counties.”

Food Shortages and Endless Rumors
The shortage of food is getting worse and all kinds of rumors related to the food shortage are spreading among residents. A rumor that 2 hundred millions died worldwide of hunger is going around among its residents in Chungjin. Baek Kwang-hyun (44) described a rumor spreading among residents, “A computer specialist in Pyongyang expected that 2 hundred million people will die this year because the food price is going to increase worldwide.” In Nampo, a rumor “South Korea and the UN will send rice” goes around in markets of Nampo and seems to influence the price of rice a little bit. Many people said that if it is true, the rice price will be more stable and drop a bit, and they are busy talking about it and spreading it to other people. Because securing each day’s meal is the most important issue for every person, they have a tremendous interest in this rumor. When food is short and the demand is soaring, it is natural the price goes up; however, this rumor spread so rapidly among people who do not have the purchasing power because it is good news for them. On the other hand, there is a rumor that China will use the North Korean gymnastics team for the Beijing Olympic Games’ opening ceremony and give North Korea rice.

Food Price Temporarily Drops With Rumor of Importing South Korean Rice
Rice price soared up to 3,100 won around April 25th at Hamheung, but the price seems to have been temporarily stabilized around May 1st and 2nd. The government’s investigation on the price was going on and food which was gradually carried in through Sinuiju was distributed in some locations, such as Pyongyang, Pyongsung, and Kaesong. In addition to this situation, a rumor that South Korea and International Organizations will give aid in food around Nampo has spread over and influenced the price drop. Thus, the rice price which was upto 2,900 – 3,000 won has decreased to 2,000 won in Nampo and Sariwon, and the price has dropped around 2,200 to 2,300 won in the other places. An official stated that rice price has dropped a lot, but it will go up again soon or later.

Grain Price Chart of Major Cities on May 1st

(Unit: kg/North Korean Won)

Pyongyang

Wonsan

Sinuiju

Nampo

Sariwon


Rice

2,300-2,400

2,200-2,300

2,200

2,000

2,000


Corn

1,200

1,200

1,200

1,300

1,200



Residents Living As Though In Stone Age at Nongpo Village in Saebyeol County
It is still chilly even in May at Nongpo-Ri in Saebyeol County. People shiver while they are sleeping because it becomes cold at night. Even though the floor is as cold as ice, they cannot dream of heating. Residents said the coldness of the night is not a problem at all.
The real problem is that they cannot get firewood for cooking porridge let alone the stuff to make porridge. It is rare to find a house giving off a chimney smoke when the sky gets dark at Nongpo-ri as if it proves the words. Only three to four chimneys emit smokes for cooking. The residents are in seriously weak health condition as they sleep and get up on the cold floor at nothing but skin and bone from the malnutrition.

It is hard to tell apart the coal-black faced people from those of the beasts as they forget to wash their body and clean the house while suffering from hunger. Their body odor is unbearable. Ryum Yong-kwang (47) who is in trading said “Why would they have any energy left to wash themselves when they haven’t eaten food for a long time? Do you think they want to live like that? No! It’s like living in the Stone Age. It’s depressing to think about the prospect of their living like human again.” He was worried saying that the Nongpo-ri is not the only place with this type of condition.

The Meal Service of Gilju Forestry Vocational School Stopped
The meal service of Gilju Forest Vocational School(길주림업전문학교) in North Hamgyong Province has discontinued. The school has sent its students back to their homes after the school cannot provide meals because of lack of food. It means students should bring their meals from their home. Students of poor households are deeply concerned saying they are likely to drop out of school.

Children Are Losing Their Vitality Because Of the Food Crisis
Yong children are losing their vitality because of the food shortage. Especially the attentive span of students in lower grades has severely fallen. They do not seem to understand whatever they are taught. Lee Soo-young (55), a teacher in Bongsan County in North Hwanghae Province, said “Children in starvation cannot concentrate in class. Even though I scold and admonish students and give warnings to them, they will not listen to me with a jaundiced skeleton face. They should have had been funny and jubilant in their age. It is heart-breaking to look at them, who see me with vacant eyes without any energy. There are children having difficulties in shaking off the sleepiness from hunger. Some of them even cry without any particular reason. If they are asked about why, they say they are too hungry. Teacher Lee said “they cannot learn well in the starving reality regardless of their will to learn.” The condition of middle school students is not better. They are even mobilized to farming, dealt as ordinary adult laborers. Starving children are in double trouble – hunger and arduous farming work. People concerned about the children’s future in the educational aspect lamented “How can children learn well under the hard-working condition even though they are told to study with their weak calves whipped on.

July 7th Munitions Factory Stopped the Rationing in Eunduk County
The July 7th Factory workers have not been provided with any food since late February until now in early May in Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province. Poor people sustain their lives by eating porridge once a day and many workers are dying of starvation. Work attendance rates in factories have drastically fallen. The number of absentees is increasing even in the munitions factory because of the food shortage. If workers do not go to work, labor force leakage occurs immediately and munitions production is delayed. The factory management are visiting the absentees’ houses and admonishing them, saying “Even though we cannot get any food, munitions production should be continued.” So far it was normal that munitions factory workers can get the small amount of food rationing even though general factories and Public Enterprises stopped their food rationings. However, as the New Year began, the food rationings totally stopped. Some of the munitions factory workers solely depended on the food rationings, not think of doing business. They are now facing severe a food crisis. Some workers express the current situation as ‘on the verge of death.’

Meanwhile, Kaesong city distributed about 20-day amount of food, which can make people sustain for around one month when the food is cooked as porridge. Kaesong city is one of the few cities where food rationings continue; other cities such as Pyongyang and Hoeryung have received about one-month amount of food rationing.

One-Month Amount of Food Was Distributed to Workers in Sangria (victory) Motor Plant Using the Party’s Fund
Sangria (victory) Motor Plant in South Pyongan Province, the old name of which is Duchene Motor Plant, distributed a one-month amount of food to each worker using the Party’s fund. The plant has discontinued the production activity for a while because of the food problem. The plant has asked the Party for food several times with the recognition that the food crisis has the dangerous level. Finally, after a death caused by starvation, the plant was able to solve the urgent problem by using the Party’s fund following the direction of Chairman Kim Jong-Il.

Entitled Senior Citizens were Angry about the Stoppage of Food Rationings
A few days ago old people who are entitled to get food rationing and pension expressed their anger to the director of the distribution station in Danchun County in South Hamgyong Province after a long wait for food rationing. More than ten old people strongly complained about the stoppage of food rationing to the director saying “How can you treat us in this way, who toiled away and have only a few days to live?”,” Whose children can support their parent living in well enough condition?”, “Who should we believe and depend on if the nation does not have any concern in this issue?” These old people were core workers who got at least five medals for their distinguished work, so they can say without any reserve even to the director of the food station.

Bad Apple Crop in Pukchung County Last Year
It is known that Pukchung County in South Hamgyong Province, which is famous for its apple, suffers from last year’s bad apple crop. Normally, the reserved apples are supposed to be sold around this time for farming preparation and food preservation, but there are not many to sell this year. Moreover, whatever they have had been frozen or are rotten, so some immediate solutions are necessary to deal with the worsening quality of apples. Ko Kyung-chul (58) delivered the hardships of farms in Pukchung County saying “Over the last couple of years the apple crop was bad consecutively so the quantity of the reserved apples is pretty small. In addition, some of them were stolen, rotten and frozen because of the poor reservation condition. High level managers of the farms cannot find a way to solve the problem even though they have puzzled their brain over the solution and bent their brows. The main cause of the apple crop in Pukchung County is the shortage of fertilizer and auricular machines. Year by year the production rate of apples has fallen because there is no auricular machine to trim fruit trees and not enough fertilizer in due season.

Father Who Lent Public Funds to His Daughter Committed Suicide
A 51 year-old bookkeeper at an enterprise in Shinpo in South Hamgyung Province recently committed suicide. He lent 2,000,000 won out of the company funds to his married daughter in Onsung who wanted to start a butcher shop. The daughter lost all the money that she borrowed from her father; she was swindled in Chungjin. She was too ashamed to say the truth and thus initially told her father that she was robbed. Later, however, she confessed that she fell a victim to fraud within two months due to her ignorance of rampant fraud cases. Her father found no way to pay such a large amount of money back and he eventually committed suicide.

Emphasizing Political Lessons of Missing People in Eunduk County
The number of women who fled to China or suddenly vanished in Labor district (로동자구 지역) of Ohbong in Eunduk county, North Hamgyung Province has reached at fifteen within one month, from March to April, 2008. Mostly, they were women in poverty. Police officers and Eunduk county party members have begun to deliver lectures to Neighborhood Units, and the main points of lectures are as follows:
“It is an act of treason to abandon one’s own country and flee to China from temporary difficulties. Those who do not come to work due to food shortages, deteriorated by a recent rise in food prices, and go over to China are not only lazy but also deluded by capitalism. These people could never be a true model of our nation. We North Korean people should understand that such activities betray our great nation. Despite all the efforts of our dear leader, Chairman Kim to lead the people to a better life under the guidance of Military-First Revolution (선군혁명), some women who are not of sound mind not only harm our society but also ruin the reputation of Chairman Kim. They are now traitors to our great nation. We all must understand the current food crisis is only a passing phenomenon so devote ourselves to our own duty at work. And we should be awakened from the illusion of China and give our fealty to the nation and Chairman Kim Jong-Il.”

Meanwhile, National Security Agency and the police started investigating on households who fled to China from Eunduk County. And they also tightened the control over those who already went over to China as well as people who might attempt to escape to China.

Ordinary People Are Wearing Sad Looks due to the State’s Order of Mobilization for Labor Day
Enterprises and factories throughout the country held various events, such as sports games, singing competitions, and dance festivals, to celebrate May 1st, Labor Day. On the Chosun Central Television, everyone seemed to enjoy the holiday. In reality, however, people looked displeased. The day before the holiday, leaders of Neighborhood Units visited every household within each unit to encourage people to prepare special dishes and join on a group picnic. In fact, many people complained about the picnics. Kim Hye-ok (38), the head of Neighborhood Unit in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, mentioned that “Given the situation where rice prices are soaring and most residents hardly sustain their lives with diluted rice soup with limited and irregular income from their market activities, married women, who are not even heads of households, do not have time to prepare dishes and to go on a picnic. Literally speaking, they are not available both materially and mentally. People told me that holidays are big days for local traders as they usually have more customers. Thus, they have to go to markets to make money. As such, they resisted picnicking.” She continued to say, “Since it was an order from above, we could not but follow. As it is considered a part of making warm atmospheres (분위기 조성사업), I told people that it is an order to come out by 10:00 am and there will be no exception. Even I who delivered a forceful message to people are living with my husband and three daughters and making a bare living by making pillows. Do you think I really wanted to visit every household to force people to join a picnic?” and she sighed. Despite the fact that a number of events took place on May 1st, it was not as successful as the past in terms of the number of participants and atmosphere. Park Han-dong, a 52 year-old factory worker in Dukchun, South Pyongan Province, said that “no one could really enjoy this festive atmosphere due to their concerns about food.”

“Opening 3000 is an Absolute Lie”

North Korea has sent out propagandistic messages on “Opening 3000,” a North Korea policy of the new South Korean government through its national media outlets such as Chosun Central Television and lectures, targeting the public. “According to the new president of South Korea, they will provide 3,000 dollars per person if we give up our nuclear programs. This is a whopping lie to manipulate us. Lee Myung-bak and his followers are liars, swindlers, and barefaced robbers,” such harsh criticism on the South Korean government with abusive languages is continuously broadcast and delivered through lectures at various meetings.

Planting Potatoes a Sign of Loyalty
The North Korean Government began planting potatoes as a national policy to fight the shortage of food. North Hamgyung Province issued an order that each worker of every organization and enterprise should plant potatoes on 30 pyeons (a pyeon: 3.3058㎡). However, it is not easy to follow the order because it is a big burden for people to buy potato seeds pricing 1,200 won per kg. Furthermore, some locations have prohibited people from buying or selling the seeds at a market, so it is hard to get the seeds even if people have money. When higher units have received reports about this situation, they reopened a mobilization meeting. They firmly declared that planting potatoes is an order from Dear General (Kim Jong-Il) and people who do not follow the order are considered to be disloyalty the General. They threatened again that people who do not follow the order until the end are considered committing treason to him and will be punished. Ryum Cheol-jung (54) felt tight about this situation and frankly stated, “To avoid bitter and humiliating experiences, people in my company seem to follow the order. However, it is hard to get the seeds and furthermore we do not have money even though we can secure them. We are going to do our best to please them, but we have been troubled with this matter because it is not an easy one. I don’t know how to cultivate without seeds

Thief of the Thieves “A Flier above a Runner”
In the middle of April, funny and ridiculous robberies occurred one after another in Hoeryung. When Kim Kyung-cheol (60) living in Yeokjundong was returning from his younger brother’s house in Yoosundong and bringing 30 kg of corn on his bicycle, he urgently needed to answer the call of nature, so he left his bike on the street and went to a secluded place. At the same moment, a passer-by lad in his twenties saw the old man go away and stole the bike and corn and ran away to Hoeryung. Because the old Mr. Kim was robbed on a broad road in the daylight, he was very perplexed about this situation. He pulled up his pants in haste and held his belt to chase the guy and screamed for help, but it was useless. This lad who ran away to Hoeryung put down the corn from the bike and bargained with a traveler the corn’s price for a while. When he sold the corn, he found that he lost the bike. In a couple of days, when police officers arrested the bike thief and investigated him, they also uncovered the young man’s crime - stealing the old man’s bike and corn. With this incident, residents were astonished and stated that they can now understand the meaning of a metaphorical expression, “There is a flier above a runner.”

Mid April’s Lectures of Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) in Hamheung
Since April 20th, Hamheung has given lectures on the following topics:
1. Live revolutionarily and fight like Chosun’s women of Military First Policy!
2. People living in the border area, go dauntlessly forward with an all-out war against illegal crossing of the border!
3. The members of DWU! Follow the sublime idea of Dear Leader and rise next generations as excellent workers of the Military First Policy Era.

Good Friends: Center for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees
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