GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 333 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]
Even Distributing Unpaid Salaries does not Improve Living Conditions

[Food]
At Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek City, Starvation Means High Absenteeism
Military Units in Kangseo County Clash with Farmers

[Economy]
Ministry of the Metal and Industry Instructed “to Procure Food by Melting the Pig Iron and Selling the Cast Iron Products”
Growing Worker Starvation at Steel Mill and No Clear Solutions
Mill Decides to Barter Chinese Fertilizer with Hoeryong City in Return for Rice
Corn Trade with Gimchaek Steel Mill Leaves Little Left for Locals in Hoeryong

[Politics]
National Border Area, All out Inspection of Border Areas in February
Superior Officers Will Be Punished Upon the Occurrence of Defection

[Society]
Gimchaek Steel Mill, Number of Theft of Coke Increased Rapidly
Man’s Attempt to Support His Widowed Mother by Stealing Charcoal Results in Death

[Women/Children/Education]
Haeju City to Distribute War Reserve Supplies to Aid Kkotjebis

[Accidents]
High Fever Spreading at Jeongurrie Reeducation Center in Hoeryong and the Death Toll Keep Rising

[Editorial]
Cries and Lamentations Reverberate Across the Nation – Help is Urgently Needed!
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[Hot Topics]
Even Distributing Unpaid Salaries does not Improve Living Conditions
Factories and enterprises throughout the country have been distributing unpaid living expenses (salaries) to workers during the month of February. Workers in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province said that receiving salaries immediately after the currency exchange in November and December of 2009 was significant, because the amounts were converted at a rate of 100 won of the old currency to 1 won in new currency. After hearing that they would actually receive wages, workers enthusiastically showed up to work on their own accord. Before the resumption of wage payment, workers would have to be incited to return to work and would not show up unless compelled to do so. In hopes of earning higher wages, workers even began to offer bribes and tried to get as much work as possible, including those jobs they avoided earlier that require physical hardship and have greater risk.
With average prices increasing over 10-fold these days and the NKW’s value falling, even the new salaries do not significantly improve workers’ livelihood. Workers who received a payment for living expenses prior to New Year’s Day lamented, “We are not sure if they paid us to celebrate the New Year, but this is certainly not enough for New Year’s Day and we are not sure if it’s even enough to buy a decent meal.”

[Food]
At Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek City, Starvation Means High Absenteeism
A month after the new currency was instituted, there is a significant decrease in the attendance rate at Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek City, North Hamgyong Province. Households that were barely making a living are starving to death amid the current economic difficulties, another reason for lower attendance. There were only about 10 absences per workplace in early January, but these days about half of all employees fail to report for work. They no longer consider showing up for work to be a concern because they are starving to death. The party secretary of the Party Committee at Sungjin Steel United Enterprise holds meetings twice a week in order to increase worker’s attendance, but workers say, “These meetings are ineffective and a waste of time, as long as the food problem remains unsolved.”

Military Units in Kangseo County Clash with Farmers
In Kangseo County, South Pyongan Province, 6,500 tons of rice were earmarked for army provisions this year and subsequently provided to nearby military units. Most of the food was delivered to the new army divisions within the 3rd Corps, including the reserve forces division, the 9.1 training camp, and the antiaircraft artillery regiments. However, there are often disputes between support bureau officers and local grain enterprise workers concerning the moisture content of the received army provisions. Military units demand more rice, saying that the added moisture should not be counted toward the overall weight. Local grain enterprises refuse to subtract the moisture content. As the dispute intensified, high ranking officers of the support bureau raised the issue with their superiors, who immediately reported the problem to the corps headquarters. Corps headquarters subsequently discussed this issue with party officials of the South Pyongan Province Grain Administration Department. Officials from the province asserted that “Because of last year’s poor harvest, we could not provide any provisions to our people, even if they were starving to death. Honoring the military first policy, we are supplying provisions to the military units first, so please accept them as they are without disputing the moisture content.” Corps headquarters settled the issue by accepting the Province Officials’ recommendation. However, small disputes still occur in the field between military officers and the farmers.

[Economy]
Ministry of the Metal and Industry Instructed “to procure food by melting the pig iron and selling the cast iron products”
Ministry of the metal and industry promulgated the food related order to each province because several steel mill workers died of hunger during the last couple of months. The order instructed that “steel mills must resume food rationing by selling the cast iron products made by melting the pig iron to China.” Moreover, the order further instructed that they must receive rice – not money – when selling the products to China. The reason is to prevent the misuse of thus received money to some other purposes and to ensure not to sell the cast iron products if China does not give rice (China is recently controlling the rice). Unfortunately, the order was not effective since many Chinese companies could give money but not rice because of the permit issue. As a result, planned holiday food rationing by selling the cast iron products did not happen. Steel mill workers were highly disappointed because they expected to receive some provisions on 2.16 holiday.

Growing Worker Starvation at Steel Mill and No Clear Solutions
The Gimchaek Steel Mill in ChungJin City of North Hamgyong Province is facing difficulty proceeding with the first step of achieving the goals stated at the joint-editorial starting in March. Subsequent to the currency reform which took place late last year, they are unable to pay wages causing a shortage of laborers at the mill. They are desperately searching for a means to settle the food crisis after laborers have begun to starve to death as of mid-January. One worker at the Mill spoke his mind, “The standards of living for laborers are unutterable and many people are starving to death everyday. Upon their death, the Support Bureau of the Public Enterprises just provides funeral commodities, corn noodles, a few kilograms of rice and five liters of liquor” and stated that there are currently no concrete measures to solve the problems.

Mill Decides to Barter Chinese Fertilizer with Hoeryong City in Return for Rice
Gimchaek Steel Mill faced with the dire crisis of laborers starving to death has been denied the option of bartering steel with a trading partner in China in return for food as an industry policy. After much consideration, the Mill has struck a deal in which the Chinese trading partner provides Hoeryong city fertilizer and plastic covers and the Hoeryong City chairman of the Farm Management Council provide corns to the mill. Consequently, from February 12th to the 13th, they were able to secure 18 vehicles carrying the fertilizer. The Mill has been striving to get the food to its starving work force, committed to saving as many lives as possible. The vehicles available and the costs associated with the transport of the crops are being evaluated because the crops must be transported from each of the farms in Hoeryong. The food must arrive within two weeks in order to supply the food to its laborers efficiently. However, there is a concern that due to the rise in transportation costs there may be a restriction on the number of vehicles that can be used for this operation, otherwise ox carts may be used instead. The Support Bureau employees said that “It is impossible to cut the transportation time further, despite the desperate situation of the laborers,” and expressed a strong will to try their best.

Corn Trade with Gimchaek Steel Mill Leaves Little Left for Locals in Hoeryong
Hoeryong City has been distributing the fertilizer received from the Gimchaek Steel Mill to collective farms in its jurisdiction. The amount of corn handed to Gimchaek is proportional to the amount of fertilizer received, but the food supply given to Gimchaek amounts to one to two months of food reserved for the local residents. Residents have been complaining that the fraudulent report of the Party workers claimed that it met the 2009 crop production standards, seven thousand tons of grains are taken as army provisions, and now the barter with Gimchaek Steel Mill would cut further into their shares. The City Party and the People’s Council have been conferencing for measures to overcome the distribution issue, but there has been no fitting solution.

[Politics]
National Border Area, All out Inspection of Border Areas in February
The Central Party planned on January 27th that since the “National Border Area of North Hamgyong Province is the area where the number of defecting family is the largest, a more concentrated inspection will be starting in February.” Consequently, the Province Party of North Hamgyong Province is planning the inspection with the safety department and guards when the ice begins to melt starting from February 1st to the end of the month. A village in the vicinity of National Border Area is inspected everyday. Each night, the number of family members is checked, and if one is missing, they are investigated thoroughly and investigated again the next day. If the number of family members increases, the family would have to go to Police Station and get scrutinized whether they have evidence or not. The family can come back when all the questions are answered.

Superior Officers Will Be Punished Upon the Occurrence of Defection
Starting this year, if there is a defector in a factory or public enterprise, superior officers such as the party secretary of the public enterprise or the administrative manager will be punished. If there are many cases of defection, the party secretary of the relevant region and the factory manager will be discharged. Such a policy was brought into effect on January 4th of this year for the first time and was emphasized again on February 4th at the plenary meeting of each city and county party. The Central Party stated that the ideological work must be done more thoroughly in order to prevent the defection of the workers, and delivered an instruction to reinforce the role of the primary party secretary of the public enterprise. In addition, it emphasized that the national party cell secretaries and the field party must make sure that a defection would not occur among the members of the cell party (i.e. Workshop Union and the Youth Union) by summoning them to the workplace every day to arouse the ideological mind so they would not have any fantasies about China.
Kim Yong-Il, who works at the Automatic Production Unit of the ‘January 17’ Factory in Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province, was arrested while crossing the river on January 15th and was repatriated to North Korea. The City Party told the primary party secretary of the factory that he will be punished as he takes the responsibility for not properly educating the workers. On February 3rd, Huh Yong-Su, a worker at the Transportation Unit crossed the river followed by his wife and daughter who were captured. As the Huh Yong-Su Case occurs in addition to the Kim Yong-Il Case, the Organization Department of the City Party called the party secretary of the public enterprise and the secretary of the Transportation Unit and reprimanded them saying, “Take the joint responsibility as you mismanaged the education and the livelihood of the workers.” The primary party secretary of this factory has already received the first warning from the Party so he will not be able to avoid the discharge this time. In the afternoon of the following day, February 5th, the City Party called upon the officers of safety organizations and conducted an emergency meeting to prevent the "crimes" of defection. The City Party decided to temporarily organize a security patrol and inspect the living conditions and the ideological mindset of the workers in every factory and public enterprise in Hoeryong City starting with the ‘January 17’ Factory. This work is to identify those who are likely to defect. Namely, people who are suspected of at least one drug transaction or people who use a mobile phone are expected to be placed under scrutiny.

[Society]
Gimchaek Steel Mill, Number of Theft of Cokes Increased Rapidly

As the result of the difficulty of obtaining food, coke stealing has increased to a great extent at the Gimchaek Steel mill. This is because laborers try to solve the lack of provisions by selling the stolen cokes (solid fuel used in furnace). Cokes stealing is not the newest incident in the mill, but during the latest two months after the currency exchange, about 40% of laborers strive to live by selling raw materials. Although the atmosphere of the mill was filled with high spirit when Kim Jong-Il visited the mill last December and encouraged production of Juche steels, the death of starving laborers a few days after disturbed the order of the steel mill. There are an increased number of laborers who were arrested while selling stolen coke at a market and were interrogated at the Police Station for days.

Man’s Attempt to Support His Widowed Mother by Stealing Cokes Results in Death
Kim Younsik (20 years old), working at steel casting workplace in Gimchaek Steel mill in Chungjin, lived with his widowed mother and barely escaped starvation because of his mother’s business in the market. However, the business was no longer feasible after the currency exchange, and without the Steel Mill distributing rations, Mr. Kim and his mother survived on 1 kg of corn noodles for one and a half day. Finally, Mr. Kim began stealing cokes from the Steel Mill in order to provide food for himself and his mother. He sold 1kg of cokes for 500 won and bought ground corn to cook thin gruel. On February 12, 2010, Mr. Kim was stealing cokes along with three other colleagues when he was caught. As he attempted to escape over the frozen Sungchun River, the ice cracked and he fell into the icy water. Although his colleagues tried to save him, they could not do anything due to the darkness. At 10 a.m. the next day, police officers and the primary party officials recovered Mr. Kim’s body and his backpack full of cokes. His mother, who arrived after receiving the news, wept over her son’s body. Many people who were going to the market for the Lunar New Year celebration stopped to watch. Laborers who heard Mr. Kim’s news were angry. Kim Soochan (alias), who works at the Steel Mill, condemned government, saying “the Party, while ordering us to produce more Steel, is never concerned about our living and working conditions. The hard truth is that hunger pushes us to steal charcoal from the mill, so we end up losing our lives in the cold river with nobody left to take care of our mothers.” The bystanders also blamed government for the unfortunate situation, saying “Currency reform is no help to us. Instead we feel more aggrieved for them.”

[Women/Children/Education]
Haeju City to Distribute War Reserve Supplies to Aid Kkotjebis

Haeju City in the South Hwanghae Province held a meeting to prepare measures as the number of Kkotjebis increased rapidly recently. As it becomes more difficult to obtain food after the currency exchange, more families are selling all their belonging for rice and becoming Kkotjebis. While Kkotjebis were primarily children in the past, more adult Kkotjebis can be seen. As the number of Kkotjebis around train stations and markets increase, the city party reported to the provincial party that they could no longer handle it with the city’s welfare institutions and provisions. As deaths from starvation are on the rise not only in Haeju City but in other cities as well, Hwanghae Provincial Party decided to distribute war reserve supplies. However, the provincial party officials say reserve supplies are not enough to save the Kkotjebis and other desperate households. It was reported that more than five people have died of hunger every day for the last ten days. Jung Il-sun (alias), who went to the market to sell his VCR, said, “my family might become Kkotjebis soon because things have been so bad.” He said in tears, “I exchanged my old Hitachi color television for 18kg of corn noodles last month. I don’t think my VCR would be worth 5kg of corn noodles. I hate buying at a high price and selling at a low price, but getting something to eat is more important than anything else right now.” It is easy to see people like Mr. Jung who bring their home appliances to the market to bargain for food. It is happening not only in Haeju City but also in other major markets nationwide such as Pyongsung, Soonchun, Wonsan and Hamheung.

[Accidents]
High Fever Spreading at Jeongurrie Reeducation Center in Hoeryong and the Death Toll Keep Rising

Since January 10, high fever is spreading at Jeongurrie reeducation center In Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province. As a result, female inmates are dying one by one. Since February 5, the death toll has further increased so that five people on average (and up to 7 or 8 people) are dying every day. Male inmates are also dying, but female casualties are overwhelmingly large because there are 4.5 times more female inmates than the male ones; namely, female inmates are approaching 4,500 people while male inmates are about 1,100 people.
Since December of last year, people rarely visit them due to economic distress; in fact, there are virtually no visitors because of the H1N1 alert. As a result, the immunity of the inmates has further deteriorated. So far, they have received food and medicine from their families. However, since the supplies were disrupted, their bodies became weaker because of malnutrition and cold room temperature. Interior of the reeducation center has been dirty as ever and thus inmates are prone to a variety of diseases; recently, many people are dying because of the contagious flu. Currently, sick people are just waiting to be dead because they do not receive treatment. The reeducation center does not take any preventive action although inmates are dying in large numbers. They just set up a crematory and burn dead bodies to ashes in mass. The crematory facilities are old so that smell from crematoriums spread to surrounding areas everyday. People living in the nearby town smell the stink of death everyday and experience dread; most importantly, they shudder at the feeling of repulsion that they really do not want to live in this country.

[Editorial]
Cries and Lamentations Reverberate Across the Nation – Help is Urgently Needed!
Two biggest holidays in North Korea, the lunar New Year and February 16 holiday, are over. The authorities tried their best to boost the celebrating mood for the holidays, but the cries and lamentations still rock the whole nation. It seems that the leaders of North Korea turn deaf ears to the miserable cries of people facing the end of their lives.
Millions have died from starvation since the Arduous March, but the external aid and peoples' determination helped them get through the hardship only a short while ago. Now, however, due to failure of the authorities, valuable lives are being lost again. In the beginning of year 2010, there has been continuous news about the starvation not only from the infertile provinces of North and South Hamgyong and Kangwon but also from the bread basket provinces of North and South Hwanghae and North and South Pyoungan. The news is more shocking because death by starvation is occurring outside the period of "bori gogae," critical period in spring when the stored grains run out and new crop of barley not yet harvested.
The revaluation of currency was done under the pretext to improve the livelihood of people. It in fact had helped farmers who could not do any work due to hunger when the (government) distributed money up to 15,000 won per person. In a way, it had ended up handing over the pain to the city laborers who have not regularly received wages and ration. The result was, contrary to the Central Party's intention to induce economic development and to stabilize people's livelihood, exacerbated chaos in society and deprivation of the means to make a living, and it pushed people to death.
There is a hope though. The cabinet issued an apology about the chaos brought upon by the exchange of currency and decided that the banning of market activities will be completely lifted and any control should be stopped. If the (government) boldly admit its failures like this, there will surely follow a new start. Now is the time to stop harassing people with unrealistic policies derived from idealism, and to start implementing policies for the welfare of the people.
In order to overcome the current crisis of food shortage, the North Korean government should disclose the food situation and seek humanitarian aid from the international community. On the other hand, the international community and NGOs should not just wait for the North Korea's request for aid but to actively find out the extent of the food crisis and extend their aids. The media that deals with the news from North should also tell the situation vividly and in detail to solicit the attention of international community and to encourage humanitarian aids. The South Korean government and civilian organizations should provide food and medicine first over any other item. At present, immediate delivery of one ton of food is worth many times over the verbal guarantee to supply hundred-thousand tons of food under certain conditions. Hunger, malnutrition, infectious disease, tuberculosis, H1N1, etc. are going around in vicious circle and threaten the lives of North Koreans. Speedy humanitarian aids from the international community, South Korean government, and civilian organizations are urgently needed.

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