Afforestation Causing Social Conflict

[imText1]Changchun, China — The North Korean authorities, under the pretext of protecting newly planted forests, have started a crackdown on people who cut trees from mountainsides, inciting resistance from civilians.

In order to revitalize mountains, many of which have suffered years of soil degradation and loss, the authorities have started removing terraced paddy fields and are planting young trees in their place.

An inside source noted on the 28th that, in some regions, when the owners of paddy fields uproot the young trees, National Security Agents track down and punish them.

A Yangkang Province source who spoke with the Daily NK explained more, “There have been incidents as a result, such as that of a man in his sixties wielding a sickle against a forestry guard while descending from a mountain in the Sunghu-dong of Hyesan. As a result, the forestry guard was hurt and the elderly man was viciously beaten.”

According to the source, Im Jung Gun (62), who lives in Sunghu-dong, was stopped by a guard on his way down a mountain where he had been collecting grass.

Im, who has no money to buy firewood, had been surviving the winter over the last few years by gathering abandoned corn stalks and grass.

When the guard began to scatter the bundles of grass which he had carefully tied, Im objected, apparently asking, “Do you really have to do this?”

The forest guard, who then bore a grudge against Im, “fined” him 1,500 won for the discovery of a pine tree branch among the grasses and demanded his signature of consent.

But Im claimed, “I made a mistake because my eyesight is not so good.” However, the guard continued to demand that he take responsibility.

Enraged by this, Im began to swing his sickle at the guard and inflicted a light wound on his shoulder.

As soon as he realized that the guard’s arm was hurt, however, he dropped the sickle and tried to nurse the wound.

But almost immediately the wounded guard began to violently beat Im.

He stepped on Im and beat his head. People who saw the incident nearby tried to restrain the guard, but to no avail. It was not until the surrounding youths intervened to stop the guard that the fight came to a halt.

However, Im lost consciousness and was moved to a hospital in Hyesan. He remains in an unconscious state.

Regarding the incident, Im’s wife and daughter filed a lawsuit with the provincial Party bureau, but they simply held Im accountable. Furthermore, his son was hauled to the police station for the crime of causing a commotion after he went to the Forest Management Office to find the guilty guard’s boss.

While relaying this story, the source noted a general trend, “A fierce battle has been taking place between civilians shearing grass on mountainsides and forest guards charged with protecting it. Young seedlings have been planted as a part of the movement to produce more firewood, but the people cutting grass have been receiving criticism for intentionally cutting down the trees as well.”

Additionally, “Those who have had their private mountainous fields taken away by authorities have tried to regain their property by chopping down the young trees officials had planted last spring. However, forest guards must bear the responsibility of any missing seedlings, so fights have ensued on a daily basis.”

The North Korean authorities have instructed the People’s Safety Agency to lead inspections to prevent the secret felling of the trees not only in cities, but also in distant places that can only be reached via vehicles.

The source stated, “Even if one obtains a logging permit from the Forestry Management Office, if a felled tree is not marked with a private seal, then it is automatically confiscated by the authorities.”

Finally, he pointed out, “Presently in the Hyesan Market, the price for a cubic meter of wood is 30,000 won, but to endure a winter, eight cubic meters need to be felled. Moreover, to keep warm, approximately 12 cubic meters is needed. Consequently, some elderly people freeze to death in their homes during the winter.”