GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 391, February 23, 2011

[“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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Less than 150g for a Meal in Divisions of 1st Corps
Less than 300g of Food a Day in Training Stations of the 3rd Corps
How has the Amount of Rations for Enlisted Soldiers Changed?
"Corn Rice is not Technically Rice"
"I can Stand the Cold Weather, but not Hunger," Soldiers in Chulwon County
New Recruits Suffer as their Cotton Clothes are taken away
Effort to Save Malnourished Soldier Lead to His Death
Members of Huge “Underground Railroad” Organization Arrested in Jilin Province
“Although the General Ordered the Defectors to be well Fed and Dressed”
Defectors, Pointed Fingers at, but Treated Differently once they Earned Money

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Less than 150g for a Meal in Divisions of 1st Corps
The 46th and 47th Divisions of the 1st Corps in Kiawah County, Kingdom Province are distributing less than 150g of corn per meal for each person currently. According to a high ranking officer in the 46th Division, the food from China coming through the Wonsan Port was distributed to each military camp. It was supposed to provide provisions for the month of February. The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces alleged that they distributed this amount, but the actual amount the camps received was much less than that. This is because transportation fees were deducted and high ranking officers took their own shares as the food proceeded down each level of divisions, brigades, battalions, companies and platoons.

The provision was purportedly 150g of corn, but the unshelled corn was not even processed. As the shortage of provisions prolongs even sideline works are difficult to perform, let alone training programs. The Kingdom Province has a small number of civilians and a concentration of military camps. It is said, “Kingdom Province has more soldiers than civilians. It is hard to get food even by robbery. Food being stolen three to four times a year is common as the number of soldiers who steal is high. There is no more food left to steal even if one tries to.” According to health records of soldiers at a company in Kingdom Province, the weaklings amount up to 30% of the infantrymen. An army doctor expressed a concern about the number of soldiers having malnutrition, saying that 38 out of 100 soldiers were unable to participate in training due to malnutrition.

Less than 300g of Food a Day in Training Stations of the 3rd Corps
Several training stations do not give out even 300g of corn a day to divisions of the 3rd corps, which was assigned to defend the capital area including Pyongyang. Even 400~500g of corn cannot protect soldiers from malnutrition owing to the nutritionally imbalanced meals. The 4.25 (April 25th) and 9.1 (September 1st) training centers in Singe and Seoheung County in North Hwanghae Province stopped winter trainings due to an increase in soldiers who had malnutrition. If the food condition improves, they sporadically resume training but only as a formal act to report to the upper division. According to military officials in North Hwanghae Province and Kangwon Province, food conditions in army bases seem to be worse than that of the Arduous March. Although there is no statistics available, psychological pressures and anxiety levels of the military appear to be heightened significantly. One official in Seoheung County says “in this time of confrontation with South Korea, the food conditions in the military also reflect the widening gap between the poor and the rich.” The statement implies that there is a significant imbalance of army provision supplies between the army bases that are actually engaged in the national defense and the ones that are not.

How has the Amount of Rations for Enlisted Soldiers Changed?
How much do ordinary soldiers receive for a day’s rations? Except for Special Forces, rations for enlisted men are 700~800g of milled rice per day. Since the year of 2000, soldiers have received imported rice or unmilled rice for 4 to 5 months per year and corn for the remaining months when the food situation was adequate. Although a 60kg bag of unrefined rice produces approximately 45kg of rice after processing, only 70% of the original amount, the soldiers could still eat half-and-half rice (half-rice and half-maze). When the food shortage worsened however, milled rice was gradually replaced by corn and the amount of rations was reduced to 500~600g, which is a 20% decrease. The soldiers used to receive crushed corn, but currently they receive corn on the cob. They need to mill the whole corn to make crushed corn or corn noodles.

After North Korea was hit by flood damages in 2006, the food situation has deteriorated and No. 2 rice (a wartime reserve) was released to some civilians in 2007, which barely spared provisions for the military. The soldiers had suffered from hunger and malnutrition despite three meals a day, and they then rarely had two meals a day. It was a lucky day if they ate a steamed corn meal. At other times, one of the two meals had to be corn noodles, or in a worse case, only 1 or 2 ears of corn or a few potatoes.
Traditional breadbasket areas such as Hwanghae Province, which usually produced provisions for the military, experienced severe flooding for two consecutive years. This resulted in an emergency situation to secure food for soldiers. External conditions also worsened rapidly. With the new administration in office, South Korea has stopped humanitarian aid. The cost of grain in the international market soared and China banned food exports to North Korea. Without enough reserved rice, the North Korean government issued an order to secure seeds as provisions for soldiers in March 2008. The number of malnourished soldiers increased in each unit and the food situation did not improve even slightly in 2009.

In military units based in Seoheung County, Pyongsan County, Shin-gye County in North Hwanghae Province, food distribution was delayed or the quality of the distributed food was very poor. Some officers did not receive rations for their families and had to send their wives and children to their parents-in-law. During the lean spring season, enlisted men had to survive on 150g of steamed corn meal in the morning and only ten potatoes for lunch and supper. Consequently, 500 to 600g of daily rations became meaningless.
Last year floods ravaged the whole country. As of February 2011, some training camps in South Hwanghae Province could barely provide soldiers with 300g of rations a day. Considering that the military used to stock food in the winter, it is unusual to encounter news about food shortages in the military this winter. Therefore, it has been assumed that last year’s crop yield did not even suffice to provide for military provisions.

“Corn Rice is not Technically Rice.”
South Koreans call 200g of rice “a bowl of rice.” Someone could mistakenly say that North Koreans are eating three normal meals a day just from simply looking at the amount of the grain they’re eating; which is 500g to 600g. But one thing to remember is that there is little other supplement to go along with the rice. A salt soup with few strands of cabbage floating around is all they have. Another factor to consider is the type of the grain. A bowl in which rice and corn were mixed in 5:5 ratio, a bowl with just corn, corn noodle and corn gruels each have different amounts of calories.

A common misconception that people have about rice mixed with corn is that it is healthier than eating regular white rice. First of all, finely chopped and boiled corn cannot be considered a nutritious meal. Corn lacks an essential type of Vitamin B3 called niacin, so if one’s intake of the corn is overpowering, he or she can contract pellagra, a disease that causes skin problems, diarrhea, and mental disorder. It is undisputable that white rice is superior to corn in terms of calories and nutrition. North Koreans say that a spoonful of white rice is more filling than a bowl of corn rice. “Corn rice is technically not even rice. But as for now, we would be happy to eat just that until our stomachs are full,” said the people.

“I can Stand the Cold Weather, but not Hunger,” Soldiers in Chulwon County
The ranks in the 10th Regiment, the 5th Division, the 5th Corps, stationed in Chulwon County in Kangwon Province say, “I can stand the cold weather but I just can’t stand hunger.” Each unit did farming as side-work but the crops are far short of the necessary amount for a full provision. Soldiers who spent 7 to 8 years in the military and are now used to the food shortage are suffering. And for rookies with less than a year of experience the hardship is much more severe. For those who managed to eat steamed corn meal at home, it is so much of distress. During the summer, they would be able to steal vegetables or fruit from a nearby farm to feed themselves, but the situation is so much worse in the winter.

Military officers and noncommissioned officers who established some relationship with farm households nearby can manage to obtain some food from them, but the enlisted do not have many options. Some soldiers end up stealing their colleagues’ padded clothes (winter uniform) and exchange them for sweet potatoes or steamed corn meals from civilians. In the 2nd Company, the 10th Regiment, a new soldier who was enlisted this year left while on duty and traded his padded shoes (winter shoes) for five loaves of bread from a civilian. The incident was reported to the head office and the soldier was beaten harshly by the officers. Then the man ran away after a few days in Winter Training only to be arrested near Wonsan city in Kangwon Province.

New Recruits Suffer as their Cotton Clothes are taken away
It is hard for newly recruited soldiers to hold on to their new cotton clothes as officers forcibly switch them with their old clothes. These old clothes are so tattered and worn out that soldiers find it better off to wear summer clothes. There have been numerous cases in which soldiers were sent off to the military hospital with frostbite after standing watch in the cold winter night wearing summer uniforms. The officers usually sell the cotton clothes they have stolen to the market, or choose to wear them. Police stations have tried to regulate the selling of military supplies for this reason. Police confiscate any military supply they see at the market including cotton clothes, winter uniforms, summer uniforms, gloves and hats. Some civilians even take off their cotton clothes and give them to the soldiers who are wearing summer uniforms.

Effort to Save Malnourished Soldier Leads to His Death
North Korean soldiers suffering from severe cases of malnutrition are being compulsorily sent home to receive medical treatment. Few parents have been spared the chest-splitting pain of witnessing the return of a son on the verge of death. Witnessing this, some parents have reportedly spewed obscenities to the officers who have brought their sons home, saying that the military was the cause of their son’s condition. In other cases, parents have made an appeal to their local government office. After becoming too weak to continue his duties, Lee Myeong Ho, a soldier based in Ichon-gun, Kangwon province, was sent home during the middle of February to recover, but a bout of binge eating soon cost him his life. Upset over the transformation of their son into a walking skeleton and desperate to nurse him back to health, Lee’s parents had fed their son in an effort to increase his strength. This effort, however, soon become the main cause of his death.

Lee’s parents should have regulated how much food he ate, but Lee regained his appetite soon after he began eating fatty foods. This sudden return of appetite led him to eat much more than he had been eating normally and, after suffering from a three-day long bout of diarrhea, he died. Officers of the Military Mobilization Department who came out to investigate his death expressed their condolences, saying they were ‘sorry’ for the loss. However, the family, who had had their son sent back home from the military all skin and bones, would not accept this, screaming, “First my son is sent back from the army half dead and then nobody comes to check on him. I ask you, who now in their right mind would send their son to the military? There is no war on and it doesn’t make sense that a soldier should die during peacetime. Not to mention that soldiers are dying because they can’t get enough to eat! How unbelievable is that? Is this really the military of our great general?” Normally, expressing one’s opinion like this would be viewed as politically motivated and grave consequences would soon follow. However, this time, officials did not press the issue. This was most likely because they knew that the cause of the outburst came from the pain of grieving parents who had lost a son.

A doctor at a military hospital explained the poor medical conditions in North Korean military hospitals, saying, “Starving people tend to suffer from diarrhea while showing signs of dehydration, and it is important not to give them food. Sufferers should instead be given a saline solution or intravenous infusion to help their stomach recover its ability to function normally. An intravenous infusion is usually all it takes to survive, but this kind of treatment is nonexistent at military hospitals here. The absence of measures like these is most likely the cause of death of a soldier who suffers from diarrhea.”

Members of Huge “Underground Railroad” Organization Arrested in Jilin Province Members of a massive broker organization helping North Korean citizens escape the country were reported to have been arrested in Jilin province, China, on December 6th of last year. Twelve Chinese-Koreans who had been running the organization were arrested and sentenced to either indefinite terms of imprisonment or re-education following a joint operation by units in Yunnan province and three North-eastern provinces. Three South Korean citizens were arrested and are currently under investigation. A total of sixty-eight North Korean defectors were arrested and forcibly sent back to North Korea by the end of January. This large-scale arrest was the culmination of an effort by local authorities over the past year to track the activities of more than 110 different people who had been providing a wide-range of assistance to defectors by providing directions, means of transport, places to hide, or aiding defectors’ escape to Thailand. Members of North Korea’s National Security Agency infiltrated the organization disguised as defectors, and operatives working for the Chinese State Security Department masqueraded as brokers. Among those arrested included North Korean citizens with passports who had entered China to visit family members. These individuals were arrested along with other North Koreans on their way to South Korea, but were released because they were in possession of a passport. Those North Koreans without passports were unconditionally sent back to North Korea for ‘re-education’.

“Although the General Ordered the Defectors to be well Fed and Dressed”
It has been heard that China and North Korea have been taking care of the North Korean defector issues prior to the start of all-out trades between China and North Korea. The searching for North Korean defectors and compulsory repatriation have been reinforced in Yeonkil, Longjing, Hwaryong, and Tumen in China. In the middle of last January, one ethnic Korean woman, who came from Wangchung-hyun, Paekcho-gu in Jilin-sheng and had been married for 13 years, was arrested by border military soldiers in Hunchun. Not to mention that the husband and other family members were totally shocked, residents in the village felt sad because the baby was looking for his (or her) mom. It’s also been heard that the military soldiers in border areas drop in without advance notice, even in the villages where the officials overlooked the defector issues. Therefore, North Korean ethnic women hiding their identity now live in fear of being caught. Lee Myong-ok (alias), who lived in Musan, stated that, “It is known that the General ordered the defectors to China to be well fed and dressed and their lives to be ensured. However, in reality, Chinese government seemed to be asked to catch North Korean defectors and the border area soldiers have been arresting those defectors extensively.”

Defectors, Pointed Fingers at, but Treated Differently once they Earned Money
Not only are the lives of defectors miserable, but also the lives of the families they leave behind. North Korean defectors who cross the border river have countlessly increased due to the illusion and expectation about China since the March to the Hardship. The fervent increase had subsided for some time. However, the number seems to have begun to increase again recently. It is true that many people succeeded in crossing the river and settling in China or other countries. However, it is also true that many people were forcibly repatriated and confined to re-education camps. The family members of defectors who went to South Korea or other countries were deported to a remote countryside. In the case that the defectors were imprisoned in re-education camp, the family members had to take great pains to support the imprisoned member. The family members of defectors suffer from the contempt of village residents. Lee Cheol (alias, 16 years) lives in Hoeryong in North Hamkyong Province and his mother is in prison in Chunkuri re-education camp. His mother and sister crossed the river in the border area but his mother got caught and was returned. People in his school and village pointed fingers at him - naming him the son of a defector. His mother had run a business carrying bundles on her back covering Chungjin and Onsung. However, his family fell into a huge debt and his household became destitute. His mother and sister went over China to improve their deteriorating situation but this labeled them defectors. Lee Cheol, who was left alone, stayed at relatives’ house in Hoeryong and went to school. He could not hold his head up because of the condemnation from teachers and friends. In the meantime, he parted with close friends and had to move out of his relative’s house. This is how he got into the kkotjebi group. While he was picking up food from the street hanging around markets or railway stations, he used to visit his mother in re-education camp to give her powdered popcorn; which was exchanged with stolen farm corn that he and his kkotjebi friends took. However, he had to return without seeing his mother several times because his clothes looked so ugly and the officials did not allow him to meet with her mother. Last fall, he was able to receive some money via someone who got the money from his sister who went over to China. When he returned to school with new clothes on, the attitudes of teachers and students, who had picked on him and acted harshly before, completely changed. Mr. Lee had to sneer at people who changed their attitude at the smell of the money. Although he owned some money, his future is not that bright. He is highly likely to be placed on a farm or remote coal mines because he is a son of an ex-convict.
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