GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 380, December 8, 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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Three Drug Trafficking Rings Busted in North Hamgyong Province

Three Reasons Why Drug Dealing Couldn’t Be Stopped

“Drugs are like alcohol or tobacco.”

First Phase of Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant Construction Completed

Theft Problems Involving Special Labor Brigade Members of Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant

The Story of a Laborer and His Wife at Chungjin Port

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Three Drug Trafficking Rings Busted in North Hamgyong Province

Back in September and October 2010, the North Hamgyong Province National Security Agency had busted three drug trafficking rings after extensive two-month long investigations into patterns of drug production and trafficking. In early September a major transit route was tracked down first. Agents intercepted a car transporting drugs from Chungjin to Musan at the Gomoo mountain checkpoint. They seized 3 Kilograms of drugs and arrested the driver and carriers. The police raided two locations, a drug manufacturing place in Chungjin and a trafficking location in Musan using the information obtained from the interrogation of the driver and carriers. The other drug trafficking ring was arrested in Onsung County. They were smuggling 1 Kilogram of drugs into China by bribing a border security guard. In the beginning of October, a woman in her 40’s from Chungjin was arrested at the Namyang Customs office by an enforcement agent who noticed her awkward walking as she was trying to smuggle 400g of drugs hidden in her body. Her arrest was led to arrest of drug producers as well as the people who sold the drugs to her. Since the majority of the drugs produced in North Korea are smuggled into China, the North Korean government is facing strong reactions from China. While China is cracking down on drug smuggling into their own country it is asking North Korea to exercise strong drug enforcement. North Korea has agreed to do so to lessen the chance of causing diplomatic friction between the two countries.

Three Reasons Why Drug Dealing Couldn’t Be Stopped

Although the North Korean government has been undertaking serious actions to deal with the widespread drug dealing as a serious criminal offense, drug addiction problem is rapidly rising. A National Security agent in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong province, mentioned three reasons for the rising drug addiction. First, people don’t know how dangerous these drugs can be. The use of narcotics is higher among men than women and geographically higher in the countryside than in urban areas. They consider “Ice” (methamphetamine) as a means to treat sickness. A number of myths surround the use of ‘ice’. Some say that it cures headaches, colitis, stomach ulcers, and digestion problems that could not be treated by any other medicines. Others say that it makes them feel happy and gets rid of fatigue from economic burdens. Doctors warn that a small amount of this drug as medicine can become addictive as bigger doses are necessary to feel the effect. Although it gives temporary pain relief, it can cause serious mental illnesses in the long run. However North Koreans can’t afford to think about the long term consequences. They need to have the drugs as a substitute for the significant shortages of medicines. Secondly, drug trafficking, although risky, has a high profit margin. To drug dealers, there is no reason to give up such a highly profitable business. As long as they don’t get caught, they can make a significant amount of money. Even if they get caught and arrested, they can be bailed out by paying bribes unless it’s a “making an example” arrest. Thirdly, drug traffickers are protected by local party officials, national security agents and police officers and not easily get caught because the profit is split with them.
The increase in the number of patients in mental hospitals also confirms the fact that the enforcement on drug trafficking is not effective at all. In Hamheung city, known as the drug production capital, the number of mentally ill patients caused by drug use has increased by an average of 100 patients per month in 2010, compared to an average of 40-50 per month in 2007, 50-60 per month in 2008, and 80-90 per month in 2009. The ever-increasing levels of punishment for drug crime ranging from re-education, life imprisonment, to capital punishment is an indication of difficulties of drug enforcement activities.

“Drugs are like alcohol or tobacco.”

Drug usage among North Korean youths is becoming increasingly common. Chul Lim, a student at Chungjin College of Mining in North Hamgyong Province said that “youths are abusing drugs so much that it is becoming almost as frequent as drinking or smoking.” His dorm buddies, for instance, use drugs to relieve homesick and stress. When asked how students afforded drugs when they could hardly afford food, he answered that many of them become drug dealers. Not only do they sell drugs to their peers, but keep some of the drugs for themselves. They also lie to their families that they need additional money for living expenses and ask them to send some. One parent even reported to the school because his son’s demands for additional money were becoming unusually frequent. Some parents even withdraw their children from the schools. The School and the Security Departments have noted this problem and have been educating students about the dangers of drug abuse, but such efforts have not proven to be effective.

First Phase of Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant Construction Completed

On September 30th, First Phase construction of the Baekdu Mountain Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant, located in the Chunsoo Labor District in Baekam County, Ryanggang Province, was completed. There was a celebration for the successful completion of the first phase, but the dam construction did not receive a good evaluation. The Seodoosoo River was contained with a dam, but due to some leakage, it was suggested that the gate be repaired. The Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant is one of the major construction projects, so its progress is directly reported to Chairman Kim Jong-Il. The Central Party had issued the directive saying, "In order to promote economic development and resolve the electricity problems, each province must dispatch a special labor brigade to the construction site to carry out the job." Accordingly, each province mobilized a special labor brigade Unit and provided labor forces. Although it was one of the national projects that received nationwide support, the workers suffered a great deal due to lack of materials and supplies. In March, the food supply was suspended, wreaking havoc. Even after the food supply was resumed, a shortage persisted. To tackle the problem, the provinces of South Hwanghae, South Pyongan, and South Hamgyong reduced the amount of food for each meal, and for the month of June, they distributed only two meals a day.
As the situation worsened, officials in charge of construction convened an emergency meeting of the Support Bureau of the provinces and reported the situation to the Central Party. The Central Party, in turn, summoned the General Secretaries and Chiefs of the People's Committee of each city and province and strongly encouraged them to fully commit to the guaranteed food supply to the special labor brigade units at the Sungoon Power Plant. Nevertheless, due to prevailing serious food shortage, there were few local parties that could provide food for the brigade. They could only show meager support to avoid reprimands. As the food shortage continued, the regiment of commando units issued a clandestine instruction to their relative battalion to “illegally organize Support Bureaus and secure food supply," which was viewed as authorization to steal from the neighborhood farms. Stealing had been going on for some time, and farms had filed complaints even to the regiment level, but this instruction was deemed equivalent to an approval of action by the battalions. In this way, the unit was able to live through the summer.

Theft Problems Involving Special Labor Brigade Members of Sungoon Chungnyun Power Plant

The Backam County, Ryangang Province is having difficult times due to problems caused by special labor brigade unit members at Sungoon Chungnyun power plant construction site in Baekdu Mountain. As the food shortage worsened, the members organized themselves into groups of 5-6 men and stole from vacant houses in nearby villages. The thieves were extremely active this past May and June, but the situation has somewhat improved by this harvest season. The First Battalion of the North Hwanghae Regiment sent their commando unit members to periodically supply food to the Yupyung Labor District. Several members wore masks and stole as a group. The district’s residents knew who the group members were, but could not protest strongly. The residents had no recourse even when they filed reports at the Police Station, for the Regiment denied them, saying "What evidence do you have that the masked thieves are members of our commando unit?" Some commando unit members went further to Yeonsa County, and got caught. Six members stole from vacant houses in the Shinyang Labor District in Yeonsa County, but got caught while they were selling the stolen items in the Yeonsa-eup market. They were transported to the Yeonsa County Police department and tried at the County court, and received re-education sentences.

The Story of a Laborer and His Wife at Chungjin Port

Jang ,Kyu-man is a resident of Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, and a worker at Port Chungjin. His two daughters have been wedded off, and now it is just him and his wife, trying to make a living together. “There is not much work available at the port. Nearly half of the port has ceased to run,” said Jang. This means that there is neither fixed wage nor fixed ration. Whereas the government vests a lot of importance on the Gimchaek Steel Mill, and its workers receive regular rations, the Port is for the most part neglected. Its workers eventually turn to paddling and roam about the city with a bagful of squids and seaweeds for sale. They ride bicycles to places farther away. Jang smiled brightly as he said that their second hand bike is their most prized possession. “During squid seasons I can earn money by drying, wrapping, and transporting squids. In the spring we go to the mountains and look for vegetables to eat. In the fall, we go around collecting tree branches and weeds to be used for firewood since we can’t afford coal.
We are too poor to start a business of our own, so we are trying to find any paying job,” he said. “Sometimes our daughters send us money,” Jang continued, “and we are so grateful and proud of them for thinking of our welfare when they must also be having a hard time. He added, “We grow worried that we might become ill as we age and not be able to work. But for now, my wife and I are healthy, and that is all I can ask for.”

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