GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 171

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


North Korea Today 171st 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.”


(Image by Google Earth)

Fifteen-Day Rations Supplied at Chungjin Munitions Factory at the End of June
“It is Scary to Imagine Hanging On until Next Year”
The Story of Mr. Cha Byung-chul’s Family’s Struggle for Survival
Prolonged Food Shortage Draws Intellectual Classes into Trade
An Explosion at the Fighter Bomber Airfield in Euiju County
A Commuter Train Derailment in Chungjin City


Fifteen-Day Rations Supplied at Chungjin Munitions Factory at the End of June

(Image by Google Earth)

At a munitions factory in the Booyoon area of Chungjin in North Hamgyong Province, the number of workers reporting for work has decreased with each passing day. The factory, which makes electrical parts used in artillery forces, has lost employees since it stopped providing a food ration. Lim Hwa-soo (age 54), who works at this factory says, “Our factory makes semi-finished products and sends them to a factory in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province where the finished products are made to be sent to military bases. However, what is the point of going to work if you do not receive any rations? At least you can get something to eat when you do small-lot farming. Who would go to work at a factory which does not provide food to eat?” As Lim explained, many workers do not show up for work even when faced with the threat of answering to the rule enforcement unit. It has reached the point where the factory director and the party secretary are going out in person to bring in workers. On June 28, a fifteen-day portion of food was distributed to workers only because a high-level military base in the rear front sent five tons of corn. Since the beginning of July, the factory has been persuading employees to show up for work with the promise of the new food rations.

In the meantime, the Security Headquarters prosecuted two workers at munitions factory 2 because they stole semi-finished goods and sold them. After being charged with the crime of stealing war materiel, they were sentenced and sent to prison.

“It is Scary to Imagine Hanging On until Next Year”
Hwanghae Province, North Pyongan Province, South Hamgyong Province, North Hamgyong Province, Jagang Province, Ryanggang Province, and others throughout the nation report that they are in an extremely difficult situation. Hwanghae Province and Kangwon Province are known to currently have the highest number of casualties. The famine has progressed to the point where you can see several dead people a day as you walk through the streets. Trade merchants and mid-level officials are deeply concerned, saying, “If it goes on like this, something will happen within the year.”

The Story of Mr. Cha Byung-chul’s Family’s Struggle for Survival
Mr. Cha Byung-chul, who lives in the Poongin Worker’s Division (Rodongja-gu), Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province, has been living on social security benefits after having his left leg amputated in an accident at Poongin mine. He has a wife, an elder son who attended Chungjin Teacher’s College, and a younger son who has not talked since birth for unknown reasons. Mr. Cha had been working hard on a small field to feed his family while enduring the pain of losing a leg. Later, he even moved to the mountains to collect wild vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms so that he could sell them. Providing money for college for his son was a big burden, as tuition is more than 100,000 won per month. No matter what it took, he wanted his elder son to finish college. So, he used to send whatever money he could gather, although it was far less than 100,000 won. He would have been able to feed his family for six months if he stored the corn and potatoes from the small field. However, he sold them in order to pay for his son’s college expenses.

(Image by Google Earth)

After long and arduous thinking, Mr. Cha bought broken batteries attached to safety helmets at a very cheap price, turned them into lanterns, and started to resell them. More and more people wanted to buy his goods. The business was so successful that he made more than 300,000 won in a single month. As his income rose, he was able to pay for his son’s college expenses, and the family life became stable. However, he became poisoned with toxic material when he disassembled and reassembled the batteries with bare hands, as he did not use any protective gear. As a result, he became ill, with swelling in his whole body, worsening headaches, and severe pain in his eyes since the end of May. After suffering for ten days, he lost sight in both eyes.

Although he was able to see a doctor at the Province Hospital in Chungjin with the help of relatives and friends here and there, he was told that there is no effective cure for poisoning by toxic material. Mr. Cha is consumed by grief and cries everyday at home. His son dropped out of college and returned home last June. Nowadays, his elder son is doing the farm work with his mother, while taking care of his ailing father and handicapped younger brother. His elder son had to give up his dream of becoming a teacher, which was his dream since he was very young. His younger brother who went to a special education school also returned home because he could not overcome his condition at the school. As a result of Mr. Cha’s misfortune, both children have been forced to drop out of school. 41-year-old Kwak Hyun-mie, who lives in the same neighborhood unit, protested “The reality in North Korea is that we cannot even provide a good education for our children regardless of how hard we work. The children cannot fulfill their desire to learn due to hardships at home. The frequently aired slogans of ‘nothing to envy, heaven for learning, and a paradise on earth’ disappeared from TV and broadcasting long ago.”

Prolonged Food Shortage Draws Intellectual Classes into Trade
Those who have never worked in a commercial trade before are getting into business, as food shortage problems show no sign of ending in the near future. There are an increasing number of cases where researchers at research institutes, teachers who were told repeatedly by the authorities to stay focused on their duty, and physicians are entering commercial trade in the inner regions, such as Hwanghae Province and Pyongan Province. The former scholars and professionals are trying everything they can to quit their job, restrained as they are by restrictions imposed by their employers. While doctors at the hospital are making money by selling medicine in the market or to pharmacies, illegal manufacturing of medicine by pharmacology students is becoming more prevalent. Among pharmacology students, graduating seniors are not attending their classes. Instead, they are manufacturing medicine in their boarding rooms, putting them in glass capsules to make them look like genuine, and selling them in the market and to wholesalers of medicine. The drugs most often produced and sold by students are 5% or 25% injections of Camphor, Thiameturon, and Morphine. While students had previously hid their operations or been ashamed of their black market activities, they now engage in business openly. They either utilize their social network or provide bribes on a regular basis in order to maintain friendly relationships with the security agents and high-level authorities who could shut down their business.

An Explosion at the Fighter Bomber Airfield in Euiju County
On the afternoon of July 2, 2008, an explosion occurred at the fighter-bomber airfield in the Heungnam area of Euiju County in North Pyongan Province. The fire took place when an airplane oil truck came out of fuel oil storage for aviation training. The fire was due to the careless handling of the truck by the oil storage workers. The oil truck driver died at the scene, while the oil storage workers received burns. The aviation training plans and the overall flight-training schedule for the aviation headquarters and the Department of General Staff were cancelled. At the time of accident, there was an enormous explosive sound and black smoke rose quickly into the sky, as if bombs were exploding in a real war.

A Commuter Train Derailment in Chungjin City
On the afternoon of July 4, a commuter train from the Chungjin Station of Chungjin City in North Hamgyong Province to Bangjin-dong in Chungam District flew off the rails near the Raksan Station. The link connecting passenger cars suddenly failed, leading to an accident in which a number of passengers were injured. Of the estimated ten passengers who were hurt, the injuries ranged from minor bruises to traumatic external wounds. Since the railroad authorities currently have no plan to deal with the injuries, the injured and their families worry greatly about the hospital bills. After the accident, the blocked railway resulted in further damage, as train service could not be resumed for six hours.



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