GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 156

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


North Korea Today 156th Edition July 2008

“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”


UN Inspection Team Visits Yeonsa County
A Father Kills His Children and Commits Suicide Because of Starvation
Dying from a Cold is Dying from Starvation
Arrest for Passing the News of the Suffering
Punishments for the Absent Miners
Sanghwa Mine Workers, “I’m too hungry to work”


UN Inspection Team Visits Yeonsa County
On June 17, an UN inspection team visited Yeonsa County(연사군) in North Hamgyong Province, spending about 2 hours observing the area. Prior to the visit, the county repeatedly ordered its residents, “Since this UN inspection team is coming here to investigate the food shortage crisis, all residents must man their post and show how diligently all the farmers and helpers are working in the fields. Everyone inside the county boundary must come out and work in the fields. Every single person who still has breath must show up!” So, on that day, even elderly people who could not work and those who can barely move came out and sat around many roadsides and fields. One local official said, “We wanted to show that the residents were responsive to the Party’s wish – that all people are engaged in the “farming battle” – and that the crisis is not as serious as it has been reported in the outside world.”

The Yeonsa County Party officials told the residents to answer in the following way if they were approached by the UN inspectors, “You can tell them that we are experiencing a food shortage problem; but you must explain that you have the will to overcome this crisis.” There is a rumor going around that when the inspection team submits its report to the UN, there is a possibility that several tens of thousands of tons of food aid will arrive. Actually the Party told the residents in an attempt to encourage them, “Five hundred thousand tons of food will be here from the United States shortly,” the Party then began to distribute corn. As a result, residents cooperated with the Party even though it was hard for them to follow the directive, motivated as they were by the possibility that the food crisis would soon end. Before they left, six UN inspectors looked closely at the fields and their conditions, met with two families who had been prepped by the Party, and visited a school and observed the students in their classes.

A Father Kills His Children and Commits Suicide Because of Starvation
At a collective farm in Ryongyeon County of South Hwanghae Province, a father, unable to win over starvation, killed his 5 and 8-year-old sons and committed suicide by hanging himself. Tired of hunger, he thought death was a better route. There have been an increasing number of deaths from starvation in North Hwanghae Province. However, there are more starving people than any other area in Ryongyeon, Oongjin, Jangyeon, Anack, and Taetan County. These areas are, at this time, the most difficult places to live in.

Dying from a Cold is Dying from Starvation
This June, unlike any other year, many people have caught a cold due to the unusually low temperatures. These people are dying from a cold while suffering from malnutrition. Jung Changmin (43) of Sungchun County of North Pyongan Province says, “It doesn’t make sense that people die from a cold. They die from starvation rather than the cold. Even a simple cold, not a serious disease, kills people. ” He suggests that malnutrition has weakened immune systems.

Arrest for Passing the News of the Suffering
In Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, people are being arrested for sharing news about the food crisis in other regions of the country. In early June, Kim Hyuk Chul (age 51), who had come from Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, was arrested. While he was visiting his sister in Chungjin to get some food, he secretly told her the dire situation in South Hwanghae Province and all the terrible things he had witnessed on the way there. He warned her not to tell the news to anyone. Mr. Kim then left with a little bit of cash and corn. After a few days, on June 12, his sister’s entire family was arrested and taken to a police station. At the station, they saw Kim Hyuk Cul, who had been beaten severely. At first the family tried to deny that they had ever heard the news of people in the other areas dying of starvation. But under cross-examination with information extracted from Mr. Kim, the family revealed that they knew about the news. Police officers are trying to figure out who else knows about the situation in South Hwanghae Province.

Punishments for the Absent Miners
As scores of miners from Sanghwa Mine in Onsung County, North Hamgyung Province prolonged their absence from work, the government began to crack down on them. Shin Pahn Chul (age 54) got 3 months in a Labor Discipline Center for his absence from the mine and for farming work in a “small field.” Choi Ryong-hak (age 37) received a similar punishment for submitting a fake medical certificate. As the number of miners being arrested increases, the frustration level of mining workers has risen. Kim Kwang-chul (42) expressed his frustration and feeling of hopelessness: “There is no freedom to choose your own job. No freedom to resign from a current job. Wage is in name only; if they don’t give us any food while expecting us to work, how can we live? When we try anything to feed our hungry children, they call us anti-socialists and now hand out these punishments. We can’t live like this any longer. What grave crimes have we committed? What is the difference between us and criminals who are serving life imprisonment? This is just too much to take.”

Sanghwa Mine Workers, “I’m too hungry to work”
Sanghwa Mine in Onsung County, North Hamgoung Province, has been operating at a glacial pace since the “season of spring poverty” (춘궁기철) began. Because of daily power outages, the mine’s operations had already been limited. But once the cessation period for farming hit the area, many miners stop showing up for work. The mine relies on a large quantity of human labor to make up for its deficiency in technology and equipment. As a result, the increasing absences have led to a sharp drop in the mine’s output. Those who are in charge of the mine have been going around to find the absent miners, trying in vain to persuade them to come back to work. To each miner’s family per month, the government has been rationing out 10 kg of corn. 10kg of corn is far short of the amount needed for a family to survive for a month. Even if the miner ate only 1kg of corn per day, it would not be enough to survive, so strenuous is his job. The miners say, “I am too hungry and weak to handle any hard labor.” When he was asked, Ko Sung-gil (age 47) blurted out, “Think about it, you work all day without seeing a glimpse of sunlight and don’t even make enough to buy 1kg of corn. You pack a lunch and bring it to work a couple of times a month, by then you’ve exhausted your ration. We don’t have the energy to continue coming to work, so what motivation do we have left?



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