Thursday, March 31, 2011

North Korea Today No. 394, March 16, 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.]


Honored Soldiers in Soonchun Die of Starvation

Buyoon Laborers District, the Poorest Area in Chungjin

Interview with a Central Party Official about Food Shortages in North Korea

An Official in Pyongyang, “Possibility of Collapse? Rubbish!”


Honored Soldiers in Soonchun Die of Starvation

Seven employees of a daily necessities factory died of starvation in Soonchun, South Pyongan Province this January. Three out of the seven were unable to work for more than 10 days because they had nothing to eat, and finally starved to death. All were honored soldiers with physical disabilities sustained during their military service. Since the food supply is not sufficient, the honored soldiers have not been given their guaranteed provisions. Their physical impairment prevents them from pursuing conventional business opportunities. Without government aid, they are unable to support themselves. Although they were conferred the title of “honored soldiers,” they have starved to death without any financial support or provisions from the Party since their deployment into factories.

Kim Hyunchul (Alias), a resident of Soobook-dong expressed that he and his wife have been living hand to mouth, just getting by with his wife’s retail of Chinese general merchandise. Kim was pronounced an honored soldier ten years ago, when his left leg was injured in a coalmine during his military duty. During the first few years, the Party accommodated his special needs by providing food aid. After being deployed in a daily necessities factory, however, the food provisions have been few and far between. Kim has yet to hear from the provision agencies since the factory has not been running well.

Since there are no wages or provisions under Kim’s name, Kim’s wife must assume the burden as the head of household. Once there was a time when she made sufficient money, but ever since the currency reform, they have been deploring the loss of their entire fortune. An entire day’s worth of selling merchandise in the market only earns 1,800 to 2,000 North Korean Won. This amount of money cannot purchase even one kilogram of rice. Buying rice becomes out of the question, and the people have been eating corn and corn noodles. The elementary school that Kim’s third- and fourth-grade children attend has been pressuring the students to pay for firewood and coals.

The Neighboring Units insisted on the Kims to pay for farmyard manure assignment almost every day. Kim conveyed his burden and pain, stating, “I am not shameless enough to request disability benefits. It is too greedy of me to ask for special treatment in this nationwide destitute condition. My hope is rather that nobody requests money from me. I cannot pay all the charges with my wife’s earnings. The seed money for my business has been decreasing. I have no idea how to make ends meet. At the present rate, I am concerned that I will run out of the seed money before April this year. If the government doesn’t want its people to die of hunger, it should leave us alone. Otherwise, we will have to follow in the footsteps of the people who’ve already died.” At the same time, Kim noted that he was lucky to have his wife support him. He expressed his remorse for the other honored soldiers, who would be fated to starve unless they found work on the side, or had wives who could support them.

Buyoon Laborers District, the Poorest Area in Chungjin

Residents of the Buyoon Laborers District, Chungjin in North Hamkyong Province have stated that they are living in “the poorest and most pitiful area in Chungjin.” The Buyoon District is located in barren highland, and the only major crops they manage to grow on the small patches of farmland is potato and small amounts of millet, bean, and maize. The potatoes are small in size because they are grown in a barren field. Potatoes have become a staple food, as they are the most produced crop in the region. There are no special products that could sell in the market, and most residents lack experience in doing business. Poverty has been the consequence. Those who consider market business resort to selling livestock such as geese, chickens, and ducks, at best. Most households are in difficult situations, and hence, their meals are plain and poor. They make ends meet by eating brewer’s grains and lees, or tofu settlings.

People who are working in factories are no better off than others. They have not been paid a single penny since last year. There are numerous workplaces in which people have not received even one kilogram of provisions. In the Buyoon District this past January, among the deceased were seven elderly men and five laborers who died of hunger. Although there are those who died from natural causes or disease, the majority starved to death over several days. Chung Taesan (Alias) residing in Buyoon 1 dong recommended his daughters to cross the border, for there were no food provisions to be had even on February 16th (the birthday of Kim Jong-il), one of the biggest holidays. There are no lingering grains for him to scrape out of his rice jar. With heartfelt fatherly love, Chung told his daughters, “There is no way but to die of hunger, no matter how hard you struggle to survive. If we have to die anyway, it might be better to die after experiencing eating heartily at least once in life. You have to survive after crossing the border.” Despite their father’s earnest request, Chung’s daughters were not able to cross the border. Crossing the border requires some amount of financial ability. Those who are extremely poor, like Chung, wonder whether a world where “even dogs live on rice as in China” could really exist. There are residents who cannot finish their words, confessing, “The current difficulties are different from last year’s. People are practically starving to death. It seems like—that—I—waiting for my death.” The hardship faced by the Buyoon District residents is just barely managed, one day to the next.

Interview with a Central Party Official about Food Shortages in North Korea

[The following is an excerpt from an interview of a North Korean Central Party official concerning the current food shortages in the country.]

Question (Q): Tell me about the current food shortage situation in North Korea.

Answer (A): This year’s food shortage is the worst we have seen in the last couple of years. It is worse than the Arduous March (the massive famine in the 1990s). All in all, the government has provided only about one month’s worth of food from the time of the meeting of party representatives in Pyongyang last year to February 16th of this year. Food shortages claimed lives from spring of 2008, but now in January people are dying from the cold. The cold has even killed those without any financial difficulties, and one can only imagine the situation of those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. Supplies of food for families of members of the Security Department and police force have been cut. Food supplies are only given to the officials themselves, and in very small amounts. This is the case anywhere you go, whether it be Ryanggang province, Jagang province or North Hamgyong Province. Food has not been supplied since the summer of last year and this has forced members of these families to cross over into China. Interrogations of women (who were forcibly returned to North Korea) show that in many cases, they had a brother who worked at a police station or the head of the household was a security agent.

Q: I am not understanding how even people without any financial issues could be freezing to death.

A: Let me provide you with an example. This year people working for the overseas representatives made numerous trips particularly into Pyongyang. Their explanation for this was that they had to set up funerals for their parents. Their parents had died because of the cold. These older people lived in apartment complexes and because they had trouble going up and down the stairs to their apartments they were forced to stay in rooms where the heating did not work. The parents of these (privileged) people were unable to receive any food from the government from January to the third of February. However, because they received money from their children living overseas they did have food. Their houses were stocked with milled rice and flour, so they didn’t have any trouble eating. Their children would promise to send an electric pad from overseas, but the pads were useless because there was no electricity. One person I know went to his parent’s house and when he saw that electricity was provided only two hours a day, he said that it was no wonder his mother had frozen to death. Given that this is happening in financially well-off households, it is not hard to imagine the situation in households where there is no food.

Q: How did the food shortage become so severe?

A: This is the result of a succession of food shortages that occurred in 2007, 2008 and 2009. On top of that, the negative effects of the recent currency reform have made the situation even worse. The whole country, form Hwanghae Province to Hamgyong Province, is suffering, but South Hamgyong, Gangwon and Hwanghae Provinces are suffering the most. I had thought that South Pyongan Province would be spared, but the most recent farming season there was a disaster. There was hardly anything to harvest after the end of the fall last year. Now North Koreans are saying that while the 1990s was the Arduous March, the most difficult period from 2006 to 2007 and 2008 would be called the More Arduous March, and the period right now is like the Super Arduous March.

Q: In the end is this all because of the damage done by floods recently?

A: The damage done by floods last year was severe. There were few cases of human fatalities, but plenty of damage done to crops. However, this is not the whole story. I mentioned this before, but the situation has gotten worse over a period of several years with floods in 2007 and 2008 and then the currency reform in 2009. In my opinion, the biggest factor has been the currency reform, which has simply stolen the money out of people’s pockets. Remember how many people died in January of last year. Their deaths were not a result of lack of food but because they had no money to buy food at the market.

Flood damage increased last year in the middle of all this. The damage done to military rice farms in South and North Hwanghae Provinces was especially severe. When it seemed like the harvest for military rice was not possible the government announced they would not require it. This was an attempt to gain the support of the local people and the trust of the party. Farmers were ecstatic at the news, but the government attempt to solve the issue by bringing in rice from China was not successful. Due to the fact that China doesn’t tend to provide large amounts of rice all at one time but provides it in small amounts spread out over a longer period, the military food shortage was more or less brought on by the North Korea government itself.

Q: How serious is the food situation for the military?

A: There is no food for the military right now. People starved to death last year and they are still starving. It’s been really serious. However, the difference between before and now is that there is no food even for the military. After the Party Representatives’ Meeting, we had confidence that we would be able to address the food shortage for the military by a new diplomatic approach. As I’ve said before, by not collecting military provisions, we thought we could take a burden off the struggling citizens while we save the face of Kim Jong Un. Due to the low agricultural yield last year, the provisions were directly distributed to farmers, and they got food rations for more than 6 months. But the collection of military provisions was resumed nationwide at the beginning of January this year due to the shortage, and minimum 2-3 months to maximum 4-5 months’ worth of the grains was forcibly collected for the military. Farmers were still okay until now because at least they had some amount of food, but not anymore. Now, they’re also starving as well.

The shortage of military provisions was partially addressed by steady food supply from foreign countries until February 16. Rice was imported by the government through trade and other grains like corn and flour were supplied by trade representatives in foreign countries through China. More than 60% of the grain supplies are corn and the rest are rice and flour. This fulfills the need of the military although it’s still not enough. The problem is, there is no way out for the starving citizens.

Q: Outsiders foresee that unrest could happen if people are growing increasingly discontent.

A: There will be a few people running away to China, but not as many as before. Also, police stations and government buildings won’t be attacked. Internally the society is not as unstable as outsiders may think. Of course people complain about government officials and get into fights with police officers, but it’s like fights among family members. If someone reviles the fighting family, who do you think they will fight again - their own family or the man reviling at them? We are not that foolish. It’s true that people are discontent due to the long-lasting food and economic crisis, but it’s not like what outsiders think.

As the relationship with South Korea is getting tenser, enforcement is getting heavier. When we had an amicable relationship with South Korea, we were able to travel around freely and do business even though it was illegal, but now we can’t do anything. We barely hear news since we are not allowed to travel. The market is no longer active, and we no longer hear what’s going on in other areas. Not only is the enforcement tightened because of the succession, but also because South Korea releases false stories in the news.

Q: It’s understood that citizens may not care unless the hardship is directly related with their personal survival. But we’ve heard that even mid-level officials are increasingly discontent.

A: That’s true. Officials, who used to get rations without any problems, have been anxious since the family ration was cut off last year. It’s true that the communist ideology has degenerated among them, but it’s also not like what outsiders think. It can be seen as an ideological degeneration based on their non-communist behaviors in order to survive, but it’s not fair to say that their patriotism and loyalty have disappeared. Even if they are told to be role models and patriotic, their priority is to ensure their and their families’ survival, regardless of whether the nation makes a political alliance with the U.S. or China. They don’t take responsibility or action unless it would give them benefits. It surely indicates that they are less patriotic, but it doesn’t mean that they would turn against their own country. Those are entirely different matters.

Q: What is the prospect for the current situation?

A: The periodic ration has been cut off even in Pyongyang, except for rations for party officials. Many farmers died from hunger in 2008, and now laborers are again barely surviving. Before the currency reform, workers in cities lived off their small businesses, but they lost most of their money after the currency reform. People with foreign currencies weren’t impacted by the currency reform, but people who had local currency lost their life savings. It will take a long time to recover. Laborers residing in the cities, if they can’t find an extra job, will have a difficult time. This situation is very similar to the Arduous March. Deaths from starvation occurred in the cities first at that time as well. Of course some people will survive by utilizing their resources and lessons from the previous experiences, but I think many people will die from hunger during the spring lean months from April to June if the situation continues. Before this tragedy occurs, the government will try to receive investments on equipments from China and address the food issue.

An Official in Pyongyang, “Possibility of Collapse? Rubbish!”

An official from a major unit in Pyongyang was asked, “There are people who are waiting for the collapse of North Korea. What do you think?” He was startled at the term ‘collapse’, and said not to mention such rubbish. Previously, he has been critical of the North Korean government’s policies, but still he could not bring himself to countenance the word ‘collapse’. When asked for his thoughts, he said that the following was the general opinion of mid-ranking officials. However, it should be noted that it is only his personal opinion. Stated below is his story:

“Our Republic did not collapse at the time of Arduous March even though millions of people died. It is not going to collapse this time even if two or three million people die, just like the last time. Even if it does collapse, it will happen fifty or a hundred years from now. No matter how difficult the situation is, it is not going to collapse now, because the fate of the mid-ranking officials is connected to the leadership. Moreover, China does not want us to collapse. That is why our government has become so closely tied to China. Still, the question is whether the new leadership can be trusted. People are watching how Kim Jong-un, the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, deals with the food problem. The next 3-5 years will be critical. In the past, the mid-ranking officials earned money or imported goods into North Korea by trading but now these officials will not take any risks, even though relationships have been formed in China. That’s to say, they do not fully trust the new leadership yet. In the past, there were also incidents where mid-ranking officials who worked hard and became well-off ended up being executed.

The traders are not as before. It is hard to believe that the traders do not have 10,000 or 20,000 dollars. But now, they are reluctant to contribute to state funds, no matter how much it is urged. If 5,000 yuan is demanded for the allotment of army provisions, they just pay the exact amount. They try not to pay more than required, and not to give the impression that they are paying it easily. Even if they have money to pay, they pretend to have borrowed the money from various places. This is because they have seen how other loyal trade officers who successfully completed the task have been praised initially, but always stabbed in the back. They have been repeatedly exploited and purged after earning foreign money, so their sense of loyalty has progressively disappeared. The mid-ranking officials and trade officers used to take care of all expenses, such as the construction of Heechun Power Plant, or the construction of residential houses in Pyongyang. With regards to the current shortage of army provisions, or the distribution problems in Pyongyang, the issues could be easily resolved by the capabilities, or financial capacity, of the Overseas Representatives. However, they will not sacrifice themselves anymore to support national policy. People distrust the leadership. Now, the government has to intervene directly to take care of army provisions.

The experience of Park Nam-ki, director of the Planning and Financial Department, reflects this situation. A director of Financial Department is like a teacher to the traders, but Park died a wrongful death for following instructions from above. People do not come forward to volunteer because they will be harmed if they offer the money that they have earned. The patriotism of these people is required for the new leadership to solve the food problem, but they will never be able to mobilize the people if they work as they did in the past. Too much blood has been shed already so no one will come forward. Branding these behaviors as anti-socialist, and only tightening regulations, may be viewed as the lack of intention to solve the problem on the leadership’s part.

The new leadership must establish a system for stabilizing the people’s living standards. Regardless of whether the General continues to lead the way, or if the leadership is completely changed, we may be able to live on for another 3 years if we are completely subservient to China and sell every mine, land and port. China holds the attitude of “I will only act once you have proved your goodwill”, so we will try everything we can to show our sincerity.

The mid-ranking officials will welcome whatever changes are necessary to secure the lives of their children and themselves. It does not matter whether the changes are in the direction of China or the United States. However, South Korea is not an option. (Their) safety will not be guaranteed if they choose South Korea. China is the current target, and so they follow. They will not have any problems if they follow what the Central Party has chosen. The Republic zealously advocates unification but in truth, it does not want it right now. Our concern is about the next 3-5 years, and our most urgent priorities are national security and resolution of the food problem. South Korea is merely a stepping stone to the United States, and is not our main target.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

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.]
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


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.

Prices in Sinuiju Market (2022)

Feb. 1, 2022 Feb. 14, 2022 Feb. 21, 2022 Mar. 3, 2022 Mar. 15, 2022 Apr. 14, 2022 May 06, 2022 100 USD  495,000 560,000 665,000 720,000 675,...