GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 344 June 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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Workers at the Samsuk Apple Orchard Eat Food Meant for Pigs
Approx. One Third of the 6.18 Special Labor Brigade Members Suffer from Malnutrition
Members of the Special Labor Brigade Stole Food, Punished with Forced Labor
Apple Orchards and Pyongyang’s Policy of Food Self-sufficiency
Big Cut in Support for the Once-Popular Jagang Province Heechun Power Plant
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Workers at the Samsuk Apple Orchard Eat Food Meant for Pigs
The construction of new apple orchards in the Samsuk area near Pyongyang has reached its peak. Most of the workers mobilized to help with the construction are members of Special Labor Brigades from each Provincial Security Bureau, organized by the People’s Security Agency. Approximately 6,000 6.18 Special Labor Brigade workers began construction on the orchards on March 1. Since March, workers have torn down approximately 3,000 homes and turned paddies and dry fields into apple orchards. The first stage of the construction, the creation of 300 jungbo (a unit of land. 1 Jungbo is 2.45acres) of apple farms by April, has ended, and the second stage of construction began on May 1. Although the construction has been making progress, the food situation for the Special Labor Brigade workers has become increasingly difficult.

Fifty kilograms of raw corn with husks are distributed to each company as food. Because the corn is divided among 65-70 workers, each worker gets less than they would receive in rations during normal conditions. Due to the food shortage, cafeterias in the labor companies change corn to crushed maize, and then mix it with ground corncobs, corn husks, and even pig feed, all without carefully washing them. The final product resembles porridge, which becomes the workers’ meals.

Up until March, seasoned cabbage or white radish soup was provided for the workers along with the rest of their meal, but beginning in May, the food shortage became so severe that the workers had to live off of salt water. Because the corn porridge, which contains various animal feeds, has become the staple for the workers, the number of workers who have been suffering from malnutrition rapidly increased, leading to several deaths. In addition, some workers died of severe colds because of the very cold weather in the spring. Still other workers died of colitis due to indigestion. Approximately 20 workers in three battalions died in April.

During March, many workers managed to survive by eating the powdered popcorn and other foods their families gave while visiting them. Soon, even this source of sustenance dried up, as workers’ families began to suffer on their own. Despite these difficult circumstances, the work intensity has not decreased. Workers continue to be compelled to work until midnight. Due to malnutrition and the hard work, many workers are losing their lives even to small injuries.

Approx. One Third of the 6.18 Special Labor Brigade Members Suffer from Malnutrition
The month of April has brought a sudden increase in the number of malnutrition cases in every company of the 6.18 Special Labor Brigade. As of June, the number of Brigade members who have been suffering from malnutrition has risen to over one third of the total number of members. Approximately 20 out of the 70 workers in each company are weak due to malnutrition and cannot undertake more than 10 hours of physical labor a day. The sight of ill and malnourished workers makes for a somber mood in the Special Labor Brigade.

An increasing number of the Special Labor Brigade members have been refusing to work. Hunger causes many of them to search for private homes where they can acquire food. In cases where neighboring farms manage to provide bean sprouts and dried radish slices for the Brigade members, officers, such as the platoon and squad leaders, always take the food for themselves before the workers eat. Faced with a lack of food and leadership that refuses to care for them properly, Brigade members have no choice but to leave the construction sites in order to find something to eat.

Members of the Special Labor Brigade Stole Food, Punished with Forced Labor

On the evening of the May 29, 2010, eleven members of Special Labor Brigade belonging to Battalion 3, Squadron 2, ran away from their post after stealing 40 kg of crushed maize soaked in water, food that was meant for breakfast. They escaped to Pyongsung City, and then split up as they walked home. Their brigade unit requested local police stations to capture the fugitives. In the end, all eleven members were caught. Seven of the fugitives resisted being handed over to the brigade, including four who were members of the Labor Party. The Labor Party members received judgmental criticism and were ostracized from the party with an additional punishment of forced labor. The other three fugitives were turned over to the brigade without any special punishment because they were members of the Workshop Union.

As the number of deserters increases, officers in the Special Labor Brigade have intensified their ideological rhetoric, stating, “We cannot ignore the key mission because of temporary hardship. It is not easy to build our Strong and Prosperous Nation. But even as we expect further sacrifices, we will never retreat.” At the same time, the officers protested that the members of their brigade were at risk of dying from hunger, even going so far as to say that members of the brigade had never received sufficient support or reward for more than two years since they joined the army. A squad commander spoke about the sad reality of the brigade’s task. “People started dying even during the early stages of constructing the orchard. Completing the whole three-stage project will require more deaths and sacrifices.”

Although cities and counties have taken on non-tax burdens in order to support the work brigades, the majority of food and supplies they collected was allocated to the Heechun Power Generation Plant in Jagang Province, which had been given a higher national priority. With most of the extra support going to the power plant, little is left over for Samsuk District and the orchard construction project. Members of the brigade are forced to steal or beg food from private homes. Squeezed between the shortage of supplies and their own hunger, the number of fugitives continues to grow.

Apple Orchards and Pyongyang’s Policy of Food Self-sufficiency

The construction of an apple orchard at Samsuk, organized and led by the Fruit Bureau, is turning cornfields in Doduk and Kwangduk into apple farms. After receiving a report about the Italy’s apple crop and apple exports from an inspection team sent to study foreign countries’ agricultural products and agricultural exports, the Bureau decided to import apple seedlings from Italy, export the apple harvest, and enlarge the orchards.

Samsuk is famous for its apples. Doduk in particular has been known as one of the best places for growing apples. However, many apple orchards in Samduk were changed into cornfields or fields for other crops in order to fulfill Pyongyang’s policy of food self-sufficiency. The Fruit Bureau opposed this policy, but Samsuk was forced to relinquish all but a few apple orchards and to change other orchards into fields to produce food. The reaction to the recent report from the inspection team marks a reversal in Pyongyang’s policy toward Samsuk which resulted in construction work for the expansion of apple orchard to produce apples to be exported.

Big Cut in Support for the Once-Popular Jagang Province Heechun Power Plant

What has become of the Heechun power plant in Jagang Province? The power plant construction project had long received the highest priority from the government, but ever since the government revalued its currency, the resulting economic plunge has been affecting the power plant as well. The mobilized construction forces have had fluctuations in its food supply before, but rations of food and other necessities completely stopped for most workers during the month of March. Candies and biscuits produced in Pyongyang that used to be given to the workers three times a month haven’t been seen since February. The Support Bureau, after reporting the food shortage, ordered provisions of white rice to be made for the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th divisions, which were suffering to the greatest degree. But the support bureaus are refusing to provide unglutinous rice to the divisions, although they are known to have their own supply. From January to March, unglutinous rice and corn had been given out in a 50:50 ratio to the 1st-3rd divisions. Since April, when the economy weakened, the ratio has become 30:70. Seaweed and bean paste has been provided as well.

The current situation stands in stark contrast to last December when the Central Party and the Provincial parties were supporting construction of the power plant with all available resources, making sure that the workers were provided with sufficient supplies. Despite the drop in support, the Heechun power plant can still be said to receive the most privileges, especially when compared to other construction sites, where workers survive by eating corn porridge.

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