[imText1]It was recently revealed that 8 members of the 6.3 Youth Storming Party died, 7 out of starvation and 1 in a fire in the past two months at the Bidan Island embankment construction site at the mouth of the Yalu River.
Kim Chul Wook (pseudo name), a North Korean defector to China met with the DailyNK reporter in Dandong, China and testified, “1,000 people from the 6.3 Youth Storming Party were sent to the Bidan Island Embankment construction site at the end April, and between mid-May to mid-July, seven members of the party died due to malnutrition and one died of fire on a tent.”
Bidan Island is located in Shindo-gun of North Pyongan province, and the entire island makes a county (-gun) with over 20,000 residents. When the Shinuiju Special County Plan was proposed, Bidan Island was mentioned as one of the importance locations supporting Shinuiju.
The 6.3 Youth Storming Party was sent to the construction site for the building of a embank at the mount of the Yalu River where the water overflows every summer along the field of reeds of 1.8km.
The following is the interview with Kim Chul Wook.
– Was there any loss of life during the construction?
The 6.3 Youth Storming Party was sent at the end of April, and it was mid-May when a person died for the first time. He died due to illness of weakening (malnutrition).
– Do not people who have illness of weakening allowed to return home?
At the time, it was almost immediately after the construction started, so even the people who were about to die due to the illness of weakening were not returned home. The reason was that if there are people returning home at the beginning of the construction, the rest of the team will be influenced.
– How many dying people did you see in person at the site?
Until I defected, they were seven in total who died of the illness of weakening. And at the beginning of June, there was a fire set on the tents and one person who could not come out died in the fire.
– Is there any compensation for the people died?
There is no such thing as compensation. The families of the people who died came and took back the corpse of the dead. The person who died in the burning tent was conferred of the title, “Hero.” They reported that there was a fire set on the tents and he ran into the tents to bring back the picture of the Commander (Kim Jong Il). The other members complained a lot and talked among themselves that while he (the dead) was alive they didn’t even feed him and now he’s dead they call him a hero.
– How did you become a member of the 6.3 Youth Storming Party?
My home town is 00-gun of North Pyongan province. Last year, my father and mother went out on a boat for fishing and were disappeared. This spring, my grandmother passed away. The captain of the fishing boat where I worked died too, so I could not go out for fishing anymore. Since I did not have any family and I could not work, I volunteered to join the 6.3. Storming Party. They said they would give us at least food to eat if we joined.
No Compensation, Forced Labor, Hunger
– Are all the members of the Storming Party volunteers?
No, there are people who volunteered like me, but a lot of them were drafted from each county among the people who had nothing to do. The workers who could not pay tax or the unemployed wandering around were forced to join the Party.
– What is the task given to the Storming Party?
The 6.3 Youth Storming Party’s given task was to construct an embankment of 1.8 km on the east side of Bidan Island.
– How many were there?
There are six companies and all together there are about 1,000 members. Each compound was divided by your hometown, and because my hometown was 00-gun so I belonged to 00-company.
– What was the planned date for the completion of the construction?
The date set for completion was October 10, the day of establishment of the Worker’s Party, but I do not know if it is possible. There is no machine and everything has to be done by human labor.
– Do you receive wage?
There is no wage. Only that they provide food and lodging. For the first three days, they gave us a lot of food. After the third day, they gave us about three spoons of steamed rice for a meal with no side dish. They did not even give us salted soup and they gave us what was called pickled vegetables, but it was inedible.
– It would have caused a lot of complaints.
They did complain, but all they got in return was violence. They beat people with squared scantlings. Later, beating occurred frequently. They beat up the members for complaining, for not working hard, for talking back, for many reasons we were beat up so many times.
Seven People Died of Malnutrition in Two Months
– The members would be trying to return.
Once you are in the Storming Party, you can never quit and you can only return home when the task is completed. In principle, the 6.3 Youth Storming Party can return home after the embankment construction is completed. You cannot even escape. The patrols at the work site always patrol so you cannot go anywhere but the work sites and the sleeping place. When I worked in Bidan Island, I never had a chance to talk to the residents living in Bidan Island. It was almost a prison.
– What’s the day’s schedule for the members?
They wake up at 6am and eat breakfast, at 6:50 they gather to and receive orders for the day’s work, and work from 7am to 12pm for the morning. At 12pm they take lunch and rest a little, and from 2pm to 6pm we work again. From 6pm to 8pm we receive education and training courses, and talk about the day’s work at 8pm. Dinner is at 9:30pm. After dinner, we can sleep from 10:30pm.
Escape from Hunger and Forced Labor to China
– How did you escape?
July 11 I escaped with another person in our company on a boat we stole from Bidan Island and crossed over the Yalu River. In the Bidan Island, there are patrols that guard the coasts and there are also coast guards, but luckily we easily shook them off. Since I worked on a boat since I was little, I am familiar with the waterways.
– How did you make a living in China?
Once I came to China, I received help from a Chinese fisher I used to do crab trade with. I worked where they crack open clams, and they gave me food in return. After few days, he told me to return back to North Korea, so I received 10 Yuan and left his place. I looked for places where there are a lot of people during the day and during the night I followed lights and I ended up in Dandong.
Owning Personal Boat is Possible for the People with Money
– What did you do before you joined the Storming Party?
In fact, after I graduated from the People’s School (elementary school) I didn’t go to the middle school. At first I worked on a small boat. Then I worked on a boat of 80 horse power and then on a ship of 120 horse power. The captain I worked with took a good care of me and he took me around from first boat I took to the last boat I took.
– Is it possible for children to work on a boat?
It did not matter when I worked on small boat, but from the 80 horse power boat on, I needed middle school diploma because you have to register as an official fisher. Since I enrolled the school but never attended, I didn’t have diploma. The captain gave some money and they immediately made a diploma for me. The level of education does not matter for you to work on a boat. You can take care of everything if you have money.
– What was the organ of registry for the boat of the captain?
In the paper, it was written as registered as a boat of 4.25 base, but actually it was a personal boat. If you could secure the base and the checkpoints where they take care of entrance of the boat, you could always use your own boat to catch fish. Securing the base and checkpoints means you can pay and get away. Although it may not be accurate, I am sure more than half of the fishing boats work like this. There were boats without having secured a base but had false registration on a checkpoint, and that was the kind of boat I worked for. That’s why you call the owner of the boat “captain.”
Fishes Do Not Starve
– How was fishing?
Where I mostly worked was 00 port located in 00-gun. What we mostly caught was crabs. Crab trade with China made a good business so later the captain bought a 120 horse power ship. Although I worked on a boat because it was hard to make a living, it was quite interesting to fish. The wage was usually given by rice when I worked in small boats.
Where we caught many crabs and made a good trade, the amount of rice increased, but when it didn’t make a good business, the amount of rice decreased. But I was never hungry. The basic food and lodging was taken care of at the boat. Then when the boat changed to 80 horse power boat, the captain gave us other things than rice. I received bean oil, sugar and cookies.
– How much money did you receive when you worked on the big ship?
When I worked on the 120 horse power ship, I received my wage in money rather than in rice and food. I received 3,000 won. Apart from that I also received rice and other foods from time to time and I used to sell them in the market. Including the money I made from selling the food, I think I made about 6,000 won altogether. It was a good time. I could buy cookies or candies to take when I visited my friends and although it wasn’t much, I could send rice to the family.
– Are there still people starving to death in North Korea?
Are you just asking to be assured? Sometimes they do not starve to death, but they die due to the illness of weakening (malnutrition). Before I joined the Storming Party and stayed doing nothing in my hometown, I used to hear of someone who died of the illness of weakening pretty often.
– How’s living compare to the past?
It is more difficult than the time of the ‘March of Suffering.’ Those who have money are better off now than the time of the ‘March of Suffering,’ but those who do not have money are much worse off. I don’t know why. The living situation became worse since last year.