Order to collect scrap iron causes disarray

In order to prepare for the 7th Party
Congress, North Korea is in the midst of a self-proclaimed “70-Day Battle,” a
propaganda campaign to mobilize its citizens and accelerate projects and
initiatives. Most recently, this includes a directive obliging young students
and factory laborers to collect scrap iron for steel mills to produce
high-tensile steel.

A source in South Pyongan Province told
Daily NK on April 8 that as a result of the order, specifically targeting
elementary to university level students as well as factory workers, some are
resorting to burglarizing and looting factories to fulfill their scrap metal
quotas.  

Sources in North Pyongan Province, Ryanggang Province, and North and South Hamgyong Provinces reported the same developments in their respective regions.

“Young
students are breaking into factories in the middle of the night to steal the
iron components from equipment and building structures. Because of this,
scuffles have broken out. There are even stories emerging of students being
severely beaten by security guards posted at the factories.”

“These security guards,” the source went
on, “are made up of discharged soldiers and they are known for their propensity
to capture and brutally attack male and female students who try to strip the
factories. There are also a number of reports of security guards in various
places detaining the students until their parents arrive to pick them up.”

The source added, “There have been reports
of furious family members arriving at the factories and tussling with the
security guards after seeing how severely their children were beaten. Some of
the parents have even sought out school authorities and complained, ‘If you
order the kids to go and collect iron, how do you think they’re going to get
it?’ The parents have also criticized such orders for being tantamount to
encouraging their children to steal.” Many parents have made special requests
to their district Party representatives to exempt their children from the iron
mandate.

This directive is not the first of its
kind. The regime has historically ordered its citizens to collect iron on an
annual basis in a bid to compensate for material shortages. Authorities
typically demand 20 kg of scrap iron from each person, with slight adjustments
based on age. But many residents have evidently run out of options for
obtaining further scrap metal, with some having no choice but to contribute
their own kitchen utensils and equipment.

This year is said to be the most difficult
yet, due to the additional requirements needed for the first Party Congress in
36 years, slated for May. Iron quotas have been raised, and strict punishments
announced if these goals are not met. This, in turn, has driven a surge in
illicit behavior as citizens run out of viable options.

The recent order stipulates a requirement
for higher grade iron, and so people are beginning to steal strollers and car
parts that are left unattended in the street. There are even stories of people
breaking into parked train carriages and dismantling the metal luggage racks so
as to fulfill their quota. Consequently, he said, “residents are
calling the iron directive an ‘order to steal.’”  

“We’re always told about war [by the
authorities]. War is on its way! But clearly, if the country is this
desperate for iron, there is no way we could fight a war,” the source said,
citing sentiments discreetly voiced by residents among themselves.

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