Order to collect scrap iron causes disarray

Choi Song Min  |  2016-04-11 17:07
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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 theyre 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.  

Were 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.

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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