Cargo truck rolls over in Ryanggang Province, killing 21

A truck transporting coal and a servi-cha transporting people from Musan Mine. Image: Daily NK Photo Archive

A cargo truck heading to a construction site in Samjiyon-gun, Ryanggang Province, rolled over on June 3, killing 21 people, Daily NK has learned from sources in North Korea.

“A vehicle from North Hwanghae Province heading to a construction site in Samjiyon flipped over on a mountain road heading toward Hwajon-ryong (peak), Hyesan City, killing 21 people,” said a Ryanggang province-based source on June 4.

“Men in the truck leaped out as the vehicle flipped over, but many women and children were killed in their seats.”

The driver of the vehicle was heading toward the construction site with food and construction materials for workers.

Hwajon Peak is the site of frequent traffic accidents and this most recent incident appears to be due to driver error. The incident was made more egregious because the driver appeared to have taken bribes to transport people.

Included among those who were on the truck was the commander of the military force that protects Kim Jong Un’s Samjiyon special residence and his fiance. They were riding the truck on the way to their engagement party. His fiance was killed immediately while he was reportedly severely injured.

“The commander’s parents were waiting for them to arrive at the engagement party,” said the source. “He held his fiance’s corpse and cried out that he would die along with her.”

A separate source in Ryanggang Province who confirmed the incident added that despite the death of his fiance and severe injuries to his shoulders and legs, the commander called up the headquarters of Kim Jong Un’s protective service in Samjiyon and alerted them to the accident.

The protective service headquarters in Samjiyon reacted quickly to the news. They immediately alerted the Party committee in Ryanggang Province, and Ryanggang Province Party Chairman Ri Sang Won visited the accident site along with other Party officials.

There were, however, no real measures that could be taken at the “appallingly gruesome” accident site. The Ryanggang Province Party chairman could do little but report the accident to his superiors.

Kim Jong Un reportedly became enraged upon hearing of the incident, after learning that drivers of state-owned vehicles were receiving bribes to transport people and goods, in a system long-known as “servi-cha.” The practice is now so widespread that it is no longer the target of crackdowns and is considered akin to a public-private venture.

“Kim Jong Un ordered that all privately-run companies taking bribes to transport people illegally were to be completely shut down and that those who were found to have taken money should be immediately punished,” the additional source explained.

However, the servi-cha system is such an integral component of North Korea’s logistics and transportation infrastructure that such rhetoric is unlikely to materialize into anything actionable.

Kim Jong Un also reportedly ordered that the state would bear the costs of the victims’ funerals in a gesture to show affection toward those who were killed, but which both sources see as a bid to increase his own stature as the leader of a “normal state.”

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's defector journalists.