GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 330 February 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics]
Cabinet Minister “Error on Price of Goods Contributed to Chaos”
Titular Proclamation to Prohibit all Foreign Goods
Ministry of Trade Proclaims, “All trading companies must collect food, no exceptions.”

[Food]
In Chungjin city, “Very few people eat rice, most of them eat porridge.”

[Economy]
North Hamgyong Province Permits Market Operation Tacitly
“Do Not Regulate Food”, the Provincial Party of North Hamgyong Province Instructs

[Politics]
Choi Kwangchul’s Arrest Tops the List of Drug Cases in 2009

[Society]
Residents of N. Pyongan Province Express Surging Discontent at Secretary of Provincial Party

[Women/Children/Education]
Three Students from Ryunbong Middle School in Soonchun Died from H1N1
Kkotjebies Drastically Increase in Soonam Market, Chungjin
No Counter Measures for Increasing Number of Kkotjebi in Kimchaek city

[Accidents]
A Beaten Retired Military Officer for Stealing Rice from Nampo Harbor Got a Fortune Thanks to His Wife
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[Hot Topics]
Cabinet Minister “Error on Price of Goods Contributed to Chaos”
At the meeting held for the major officials for Pyongyang City People’s Council, the Cabinet Minister Kim Youngil apologized and said, “From the time we adopted new currency exchange to the beginning of the year, sales price at the national store were incorrectly established and that led to confusion and insecurity for people’s lives.” It was an expression of apology for increasing burden of living after the new currency reformation. He also stressed, “We will for sure solve our food problem within this year so let’s unite at the core of the party and follow the general’s leadership.” However, the residents gave cold shoulder to the news. Some residents turned their nose up and said, “Believe in tomorrow again? How can we trust them? Do you really think reducing price would solve this problem?” Han Jungok (alias), a resident from Pyongyang Sunkyo District commented, “A 30 won worth facial soap costs 160 won at market place. What difference does it make if they lower the price? Businesses are closed and shops do not have enough supplies.”, and pointed out the problem with the shortage of goods.

Titular Proclamation to Prohibit all Foreign Goods
Proclamation that was announced last December 28 to prohibit all foreign good is known to exist only in name. A Central Party Official informed, “Money traders detained at every province police department, city and county police station starting mid January were released on January 29”. Also, Pyongyang foreign exchange shops that could not carry foreign currency are now allowed. Some members of the Party are suggesting that policy to prohibit foreign good failed. This is based on the assessment that foreign good are still circulating among residents and there are severe side effects such as soaring price after prohibition. Cabinet officials are forecasting different outcomes for foreign currency prohibition proclamation. A cabinet official said, “Cabinet members argued that citizens are faced with harsh living condition because enterprises suffered large loss and fatigue after ban on all foreign currency. The government might have announced proclamation too early.” He argued, “We cannot cancel the announced proclamation but legal validity might fade. Their original purpose to control foreign currency is likely to be voided.”

Ministry of Trade Proclaims, “All trading companies must collect food, no exceptions.”
On January 27th, Cabinet and Trade Ministry officials held a meeting on the food situation. The main message of the meeting, while restructuring of trading companies is ongoing, was that “all remaining trading companies must unconditionally collect food at least starting from February.” It was a strong message declaring that there should be no company that could not collect food. Currently, all food coming into Nampo harbor is going to boot camps, rail authority trains, athletic organizations, and support bureaus of security authorities. It is reported that no ration plan in place for the general population yet. Meanwhile, most of the restaurants that belong to Social Feeding and Clothing Care Center in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province are closed because there are no customers. Some open restaurants are having difficulties because of skyrocketing food and side dish price. Other state-run stores are closed as well due to lack of sellable goods because they received quite a setback caused by the restructuring of trading companies near North Korea – China national border area.

[Food]
In Chungjin city, “Very few people eat rice, most of them eat porridge.”

Residents survey results show that very few households in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, eat rice and most of them barely manage to live with porridge. Number of people who go to the market is shrinking everyday because they do not have money. In Ranam district, some people eat acorn or wine porridge because they do not have anything else to eat. Other people wait in front of tofu stores even before they grind beans, in order to first get bean-curd dregs; they want to make porridge by mixing the bean-curd dregs with corn. The remaining people sell their household goods to eat food and if that runs out, they even sell their houses at fire-sale price. In Gimchaek Steel mill that does not have adequate food provision support system, increasing number of workers cannot go to work due to swollen face and body. Nine workers died of starvation between the middle and the end of January; there are more households where family members died of hunger. Workers in Gimchaek Steel mill eat acorns that they saved last year, and households that occasionally eat bean-curd dregs are considered rich.

[Economy]
North Hamgyong Province Permits Market Operation Tacitly
In North Hamgyong Province, the general market, which was ordered to close down starting this year, has resumed business. The provincial party approved its operation tacitly because of the aftermath of the currency reform: the rice price skyrocketed, the food situation worsened, and some people died of hunger. However, market business did not rev up shortly. Although food salespeople tried to buy foodstuffs from Saebyul, Onsung, and Hoeryong and sell in Chungjin, they couldn't make it since each city and county cracked down on outflow of food. In Onsung, North Hamgyong Province, where there are a lot of corn farms, crack down was enforced at the forestry patrol station to prevent outflow of foodstuffs around Sambong district. In Saebyeol County, the 6th Ryonggye-ri Patrol station, and in Hoeryong city, the 10th Pungsan-ri Patrol station has been enforcing the crackdown.

“Do Not Regulate Food”, the Provincial Party of North Hamgyong Province Instructs
Although peddling by citizens had tacit approval from the government, food regulations continued, and the people expressed a wide range of complaints such as, “The government took all of the people’s money through currency exchange, and it is even regulating food peddling now although it cannot solve the food problem. What should we do? How can there be a food in the market if every city and county is regulating the food to prevent food from being taken out of the region?”

The complaints were especially fierce from residents in Chungjin City, which is the most densely populated area in North Hamgyong Province. Some Primary Party members of the district office in Sabongdong, Songpyong Division have even filed a complaint to the Provincial Party saying, “People did not receive food rations, but since the food is not circulated as a result of the food regulation, it is difficult to buy food even if a person has money.”

After the provincial party's leading secretary verified facts on January 30th, he told the commander of the provincial police station, “In order to resolve the national food problem, no household should perish from hunger. Every city and county must get rid of the food regulation posts.” In the morning of February 1st, he telephoned the leading secretaries of the city and county parties such as Onsung, Saebyul and Hoeryong and ordered the removal of the food regulation posts. The main instruction stated that “there should not be any food regulation at all so the people can buy and sell food.” Once the regulation was lifted, food peddlers welcomed the move saying, “This action taken by the provincial party to remove the food regulation made it easier to do business.” However, regulations still apply for wealthy people doing business inside their trucks with a bundle of money. It is known that the provincial party deregulated the food control because people were starving due to the sharp increase of food prices.

[Politics]
Choi Kwangchul’s Arrest Tops the List of Drug Cases in 2009

Choi Kwangchul’s arrest in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province stands the biggest case of the year 2009 for both the governmental crackdown on drug and the evaluation of enforcement. Choi, originally from Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province, was a notorious drug trafficker in Sapo area. Though caught several times, he was always released by bribing officials.

When he was arrested in 2003, the charges were so serious that officials could not let it pass. He had to leave Hamheung and settle down in Osandukdong, Hoeryong. For 7 years since he moved in to Hoeryong, he has taken a role of a middleman who buys drugs from the family members of police officers and the wives of city officials in Hamheung, Chungjin, and Hoeryong, and sells them to Chinese drug merchants. He had maintained his business by bribing officials, but finally got arrested on August 10 last year because the 150-day battle inspection was so strict. Through interrogation on Choi Kwangchul, the Police found out that 110 were involved in the drug manufacturing and trafficking in Hoeryong, Gimchaek, Chungjin, and Hamheung city: 50 in Hoeryong, 20 in Gimchaek, 30 in Chungjin, and 15 in Hamheung. Of the 50 accomplices, Hoeryong city sent 30 aggravated felons to Province police station and detained the rest of them in city police station. The aggravated felons were imprisoned by trial at Province police station. Choi Kwangchul, as a principal, was sentenced with the maximum penalty. All of the aggravated felons who were transferred to Province police station were laymen. None of them were family of City official or law enforcement official.

[Society]
Residents of N. Pyongan Province Express Surging Discontent at Secretary of Provincial Party

The North Pyongan residents’ disapproval of the Secretary of the Provincial Party is rapidly increasing. This is due to the recent difficulties with the province’s food supply and the increase in non-tax contributions. Furthermore, rumors have been spreading about the conversation the Secretary had at the Central Party Meeting. As a result, the public sentiment is turning bitter. Byung-Duk Kang (alias) of Sinuiju of North Pyongan Province commented on the spreading rumor, stating, “It is said that the General (Kim Jong-il) asked the Secretary of each State about the livelihood of the residents after the currency exchange. Only the Secretaries of Jagang and North Hwanghae Province truthfully expressed that 70% of the people are experiencing a level of suffering similar to that of the Arduous March. When questioned about what steps would be taken, our Secretary (of North Pyongan) lied and said that every household was given 25kg of rice and 5kg of soybean oil. The General, expressing grievance, then said that, “As life in the state of North Pyongan seems tolerable, the provinces that require more assistance should be provided with the extra supplies of food.” Hae-Shim Jung (alias) complained that, “Thanks to Old Pyung-Hae Kim (Secretary of Provincial Party), North Pyonagan needs to help provide food for other provinces.” This begs the question, “where else would the supplies come from but from the helpless citizens?” People enraged by the actions of Pyung-Hae Kim call him ‘Stupid Pyung-Hae’.”

[Women/Children/Education]
Three Students from Ryunbong Middle School in Soonchun Died from H1N1

On January 29th in Soonchun City, South Pyongan Province, 3 students at Ryunbong Middle School died from H1N1. Despite the deaths, classes are still in session. The Education Department of the City Party is trying to determine who is infected with the HiN1 and who has the regular flu, and checking the attendance of the students. On the other hand, many parents are keeping their students at home because the school is not taking any steps to quarantine the infected students even after the deaths. Even though the Emergency Disease Prevention Control Center is providing domestically produced vaccine, parents feel that is not good enough to prevent infection. As attendance rate drops, the school authorities of Ryunbong Middle School called a meeting with the parents and stressed the importance of caring for student’s health and raising the attendance rate.

Kkotjebies Drastically Increase in Soonam Market, Chungjin
After the currency exchange, the number of Kkotjebi is increasing in markets of North Hamgyong Province including Soonam Market in Chungjin and other markets in Ranam, Shinam, and Songpyong divisions. Especially, there are more Kkotjebies under the age of 10 than elder Kkotjebies. The reason for the increased number of young Kkotjebies is that starving households are increasing. Myung Geum Lee (alias), running a business in Soonam Market said that Kkotjebies are increasing since “a lot of households die due to starvation and some families are broken and so wandering around mountains.” The young Kkotjebies have more difficult days for the especially inclement winter season this year.

No Counter Measures for Increasing Number of Kkotjebi in Gimchaek city
In Gimchaek city of Northern Hamgyong Province, the number of kkotjebi is noticeably increasing especially near markets and public areas such as train stations. According to merchants, the number of homeless children with no means of food or shelter has significantly increased after the currency exchange. Some of them even have the H1N1 flu as well as normal seasonal cold and other sicknesses. However, they are receiving absolutely no medical treatments. The City Party and the police officials of Gimchaek city said, “As more citizens are going broke and starving, the number of children living on the streets is fast growing”. Although they all agree that measures should be taken to solve the problem, no solution has been made so far.

[Accidents]
A Beaten Retired Military Officer for Stealing Rice from Nampo Harbor Got a Fortune Thanks to His Wife
On January 25, a retired officer tried to steal rice at Nampo Harbor, Nampo City of South Pyongan Province got caught and beaten severely by Security Agents and lost consciousness. He was detected by Security Agents guarding this area, and was taken to a storehouse to be interrogated. Although he was released for the fact that he only made an attempt to steal, he had already been beaten a lot and collapsed around the rear gate. Fishermen coming back from their work found him and took him to an emergency room. He had to received an operation immediately because his organs nearly burst with the brutal beating.

Four months after his retirement he was assigned to a job at a factory, but he was temporarily staying at a room next to a pigsty inside the factory because he did not find any place to live. His wife was worried about expenses for her husband’s operations and treatments, so she wrote a detailed letter about their situation. She wrote the letter to seek help from the Party saying, “My husband who served military for 26 years during the period of Military First Policy did not find any ways to feed his family after his retirement. Because he did not want to let his family starve to death, he tried to steal some rice. He was beaten brutally and now he is in a very critical situation.” His wife went to the front gate of the Provincial Party building of South Pyongan Province in Pyongsung City rather than going to the Nampo City Party. After waiting all day in front of the gate to meet the Organization Secretary of the Provincial Party, she blocked his vehicle and gave him the letter. The secretary read her letter and let officials of the Provincial Party read it and he ordered the Security Agency of Nampo Harbor to compensate him for the beating. He also ordered the Party to provide the victim with a house, medicine, and food by saying, “It is wrong to beat a person severely without any evidence of theft. It is understandable that the retired officer was put in a situation where he had to resort to an illegal act because of the economic difficulties after the retirement.” With this news, residents of Nampo City envied him and said, “Due to the beating, he received one of the best apartments in Nampo and received medicine and food from the City Party and Nampo Harbor Security Agency. The misfortune turned into a fortune.”
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