GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

.

North Korea Today No. 423 October 5, 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.]
__________________________________________________________
[Intro] Two Pieces of Corn Cake Wet with Tears
Pyongyang in Jeopardy Due to Low Crop Yield
Overseas Representative Officials in the Mood for Giving up
Starving Army-Thieves Are Running Rampant
Aftershock of “Storm Corps” Inspection around National Border Area Continues
Mere Two Corn Cakes at Farewell Party for Discharged Soldier
__________________________________________________________
[Intro] Two Pieces of Corn Cake Wet with Tears
A large number of people regardless of their position high or low lost their jobs following the clampdown by the so-called “Storm Corps.” In Hoeryong, one young soldier was caught because he was in possession of a cell phone. After his early discharge, the soldier’s colleagues had wanted to buy him some food before he left, but they had no money to do so. All they could come up with were two pieces of corn cake, obtained after explaining their situation to a local seller. Only a couple years ago, these border-area soldiers would have been able to head to a bulgogi joint and eat whatever they desired, but now they have trouble even obtaining two pieces of corn cake.

With the onset of the autumn harvest season, farming villages are suffering from the high rate of stealing committed by soldiers. The government continues to order that rice for the military must be secured before all else, but soldiers find themselves always with too little to eat. In the past, this autumn harvest season would provide an opportunity for soldiers to steal food, but low-ranking soldiers have already begun a cold and hungry winter. More starving soldiers mean more difficulties for regular people. The vicious cycle is playing out again this year.


Pyongyang in Jeopardy Due to Low Crop Yield
This year’s estimated crop yield is very low to the extent that people won’t be able to get through this winter. Although importing of food has been active in Pyongyang, the food inflow to rural areas has reduced compared to the past years. One of Pyongyang city party officials said, “Due to the low crop yield this year and the priority food distribution given to the military, little food is being supplied in Pyongyang. Since imported food is not reaching the civilians, the food prices are expected to rise in the future.” At the end of September, rice and corn prices went up from 2,300 to 2,600 and from 1,400 to 1,700 NKW per Kilogram, respectively. With the sudden drop in rice harvest after the flood rice merchants predict that the rice price will go up beyond 3,000 NKW/Kg by December.

Pyongyang has planned to make more efforts for securing foods this fall. One of the city officials stated that “A large number of people started to die since January last winter due to an extreme cold weather on top of food shortage. As they were unable to secure food, distribution of food to civilians had to be suspended completely and in March the food assigned to lower-ranked officials ran out. Later, in June even the party officials’ families did not receive food distribution. It will be a serious disaster if there is no food ration next year. Moreover, next year is the grand opening year for the Strong and Prosperous Nation. The food ration to all must be resumed by the Day of the Sun (which refers to April 15th, the birthday of Kim Il Sung). Whatever it takes we urgently need food for this winter.”

Some people in the rural area near Pyongyang worry saying, “Since this is harvest season nobody is dying of hunger, but the situation is as hard as spring lean season. The condition in the city would be harder because there is no food in the rural farming area. There would be another food crisis this winter.” People are very pessimistic when it comes to getting through this winter as they have not much harvest from farming fields.

Pyongyang has no choice but to rely on the Ministry of Foreign Trade, which is completely dedicated itself to importing of food. The Ministry of Foreign Trade has secured 50,000 tons of foods until the end September which is not even close to their goal of 500,000 tons. The closing date for the food import goal has been pushed back until the end of October, but it is unclear what percentage of the goal can be achieved by then.


Overseas Representative Officials in the Mood for Giving up
The plan of securing 50,000 tons of food by the end of October is not going as planned. The Ministry of Foreign Trade has run out of funds to import food. The officials of Overseas Representative Offices who are at the forefront of the business are struggling with a series of food procurement task assigned to them. The deadline to submit the food task to government, which traditionally fell on February 16, a North Korean holiday, was moved up several months forward this year. By coincidence they were also facing the Ministry–wide inspection, and every official at the Offices did their best to procure assigned amount of food in an atmosphere of terror. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them failed. Although the government continuously threatened to summon the officials back home if they fail to meet the requirements of the food procurement task, an increasing number of officials are giving up on the assignment. A Central Party official said, “Less than half of the officials would be able to complete the food procurement task, even with a death threat. So far, 100,000 tons of food has been secured from abroad – 50,000 tons of the food procured until last September and another 50,000 tons pledged by Russia.” The official added that a part of the 100,000 tons was already distributed. He seemed unsure as to whether the rest of 400,000 tons of food can be secured.

Ironically, the officials at the Offices feel at ease about the hopeless prospect of the food task. They say that they would be worried if they are the only few who could not achieve the goal. The failure is pervasive virtually across all offices. Moreover, the realignments already took place following an inspection of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. One official said that “Those who were supposed to be fired have been fired already. Since a vast majority failed in the food task, government can’t punish all of us. I expect the consequence of the failure will be no more than admonishment or reprimand. I am still running around to fulfill the food task despite having no prospect of progress. I can defend myself against any possible accusation of a lack of loyalty. November can’t come soon enough.” As of last September, (the progress in the food task includes: ) 10% of the officials at the Offices exceeded their assigned goal for the food task; 20% of them achieved nothing; and about 70% of them had either secured one or two tones of food or paid money equivalent to that amount of food.


Starving Army-Thieves Are Running Rampant
“Procure food that can last until next summer.” This is the instruction that the People’s Defense Ministry has handed down the affiliated trading companies. According to the projection that this year’s domestic production is not sufficient for securing of military provision, the overseas representatives and trading companies are being pressed to act urgently. That seems like preparing for the future, but the food shortage is the real, bigger problem right now. Needless to say, from the Gangwon Province, which is the soldiers’ last choice to go, to the border areas, the soldiers’ first preference for deployment, the situation for the troops is not good. Since it is harvest season, three meals are somehow provided daily; however the quantity is barely sufficient to avoid hunger.

On September 25th, soldiers raided citizens’ residences right after their military inspection was over. If it was [the pattern of] a couple of soldiers robbing in the past, now, groups of 5-6 soldiers get together and swoop down. They take everything away including beans, potatoes, corn, and even grain, cattle, chickens, and ducks by raiding each house. Anticipating a clamor by citizens and a destruction of the civil-military relationship, soldiers hide their identity by wearing the uniform inside-out or wearing [civilian] clothes while they’re stealing.

In September, Yoosun-dong in Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province had approximately 50 reports of theft by soldiers over a period of 3 weeks. The Choi, Geum-chul (alias) couple had a frightful incident in the early morning of September 24th. Mr. Choi’s wife who has sensitive hearing first woke up because of a noise coming from the kitchen. First, she heard clinking sound of bowl followed by the loud noise of a chicken that has been bred in the kitchen flapping its wings. Instantly she got out of bed with her husband after waking him up and saw a group of thieves rapidly running away with a chicken and a bag of corn. At the very moment of trying to follow them yelling, the couple were fallen by blows to their heads. A neighbor, startled by the noise in middle of the night, came to check and immediately took them to the hospital. The husband is still unconscious due to a concussion, and the wife woke up a day after the incident. The wife did not know exactly how many there were because it was very dark; however, she said they were several well-built males. She assumed that the thieves were soldiers. People just believe that any groups of thieves are soldiers now because the soldier thieves are running rampant.

An army private Kim Byungok (alias), who actually has stolen from civilian homes, says that, since it is corn harvest time, during the day he spots bags of corn or loose corn being dried on the floor and steals them with other soldiers at night. These days, people can not leave their houses even during the day because of this problem, and they take turns sleeping or can not have sleep well at night. Some households keep candles


Aftershock of “Storm Corps” Inspection around National Border Area Continues
A “Storm Corps” inspection team particularly cracked down on illegal activities like border-crossing, smuggling, human trafficking, drug exchanges against the military and officials around this region. In North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang Province, and North Pyongan Province, thousands of people had to suffer because they were on the inspection list. The number of people who were put on public trial reached hundreds in each province. It was a widespread crackdown following the order of “people who are crossing the border, guiding the border crossing, and smuggling should be eradicated.” On August 20th, Central Party inspection team was additionally dispatched to the national border areas. Through this process, border patrols, high-rank officials and security guards were imprisoned in large numbers. Most of them were sentenced heavily as they were charged with cell phone use, border-crossing, brokering of defecting, and having a connection in South Korea. This could include doing errands and leniency over crossing connected with defection brokering. If there is any contact information of Chinese merchants found in the inspection, they ask for collaboration of Chinese security department. In turn, Chinese inspection also collaborates with North Korea in case their nationals are related with brokering, drug smuggling and other illegal activities. Border area inspection is getting tighter. Some residents who have done some illegal activities ran away into inner cities such as Pyongsung in South Pyongan Province and Hamheung in South Hamgyong Province. There are also a sizable number of people who defected to China. Law officers watched out for them and even recommended escaping strongly as they worried about being implicated with illegal activities once the perpetrators are arrested.


Mere Two Corn Cakes at Farewell Party for Discharged Soldier
After the crackdown by the so called “Storm corps” the atmosphere at the border area, where every soldier wanted to be placed, seems like a faded glory. Ahn, Ghi-nam (alias) who used to serve in the military at Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, recently had a dishonorable discharge. He was caught with a mobile phone during the crackdown. Although the charge was not brought on political ground he was given the punishment of dishonorable discharge. Feeling sorry for a comrade who was given early discharge his friends in the military base tried to hold a farewell party for him at a restaurant in Yoosun.

It was a restaurant that sells corn cakes, but the owner refused to serve unless they paid in cash first because they owed him more than 100,000 NKW for the food they have eaten on credit. Ahn’s friends promised that they would take over the debt and begged the owner for the food saying they simply cannot let their friend go without feeding him for the last time. Finally, they were able to get two pieces of corn cake. At the sight of emaciated young people who should be at the peak of their time the owner could not refuse all the way. Uttering, “I am burning the cash again” to himself with a deep sigh, the owner gave away a bottle of liquor in addition to the cakes. Two pieces of corn cake was not much for 5-6 soldiers, but he was persuaded by the pleading of the soldiers who wanted to feed their friend who was leaving.

The owner, Ms. Suh, Hyang-soon (alias) said, “I was determined not to serve food on credit, but I couldn’t be too callous when I saw tears in their eyes. I have my own children too. I would feel the pains as well if my children were not getting food somewhere. I would like to give more food, but I am in a bad situation myself. No matter how many corn cakes I sell the sales are mostly on credit and it doesn’t help much. I am doing this business on borrowed money, but the soldiers get food on credit and they run away when they are discharged. In the old days discharged solders had a farewell party at a bulgogi restaurant or bought boxes of liquor from a store for that. They used to have a lot of money when discharged through illegal practices such as taking bribery for river-crossing. Soldiers must be having a very difficult time these days since they are even begging for corn cakes.” There are numerous people like Ms. Suh, who found themselves unable to recover the money from the soldiers who ate on credit.

No comments:

Share It