Kim Sung Min, the North Korean defector who works for the Free North Korea Broadcasting (Free NK) as a director, claimed that Kim Jong Il had lost control on the grave corruption in the North Korean army. This corruption is believed to have been caused by severe economic depression. It is worth noting that on the October 27th of this year, Mr. Kim opposed Han Sung Yul, the North Korean associate ambassador to the UN. In the House of Representatives of the U.S., he held up the signboard which meant that it was inevitable to overthrow Kim Jong Il regime for peace in the Korean peninsula. Mr. Kim was a captain when he escaped from the North.
Mr. Kim’s claim will appear in his contribution to the Collection of Data to be published by the upcoming Seoul Summit: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea conference. He also mentioned that according to recent North Korean defectors’ testimonies, corruption in the military had already been out of control even though Kim Jong Il had made many visits to various military units concerning morals.
The following is the summary of Mr. Kim’s contribution titled “The North Korean Army’s Today and Yesterday” in the Q and A format for the sake of presenting topic by topic.
Q: The population of North Korea has decreased severely since the 90s due to its economic depression. Has there been a change in the number of the North Korean army?
A: It has been reported that the North Korean military force is 1.18 million. But 10-30 must be subtracted from every company that is supposed to be consisted of 120 soldiers. This is due to the temporary discharges for health problems caused by malnutrition.
Q: How is the condition of military supplies in North Korea?
A: Goods are insufficient in the army. The supplies are appropriated by officers and sergeants. Rice and clothes are frequently drained away. Soldiers must supply themselves with soaps, toothbrushes, and toothpastes.
Q: I heard fuel and medicine are in need too.
A: Soldiers have no means to protect themselves even when they are exposed to contamination because they are not provided with gas masks and medicine. Military hospitals are not provided with vaccines, and thus they will not be able to act accordingly when there are epidemic outbreaks. Since fuel is not supplied, even high-ranking officers go to a black market to buy it for their cars. Drivers cannot be fully trained due to the lack of both gas and food.
Q: How are side dishes provided?
A: Soldiers have to take care of them all by themselves. Hence in the summer it became their duty to raise greens and watch them lest they be stolen. Because coal is insufficient, wood is now the main fuel for heating. It is not uncommon to see officers bribe to be assigned a mountain area for gathering wood.
Q: Is the tension between veteran soldiers and officers serious?
A: It is much more serious than in the South Korean army. Veteran soldiers treat young officers as kids. The term of service is very long and soldiers do not have prospects. They enjoy appropriating part of subordinate solders’ supply so that they may take them home when the term ends.
Q: Do the soldiers sometimes take leaves?
A: You will not believe that there is no leave for the 10 year period of the service. But it’s true for those that achieve heroic merits such as brilliant vigilance and brave protection of the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during a fire.
Q: But we see many soldiers on the photos released by the media.
A: They are children of the Party’s executive officers, returning solders with various diseases, or traveling soldiers on business. Since the mid 80s the word ‘leave’ has no longer been used, and soldiers take an official trip for a leave. Official trips are permitted mostly to satisfy daily needs.
Q: Are there prostitutes looking for soldiers?
A: The North Korean administration denies the existence of prostitution, but it prevails around army camps. North Koreans refer to prostitution as “buhwa” meaning inappropriate sexual intercourse. The order that “buhwa” be eliminated from the army had been issued before, because prostitution near army camps posed many problems. Prostitutes whisper to soldiers to buy flowers or beds to expose their identities. They are out on the streets mostly to feed their family.
Q: There has been a report about the problems caused by drinking in North Korea.
A: The drinking problems in army camps are serious. Soldiers take drinks even to guard posts. Some soldiers killed civilians because they were drunk. For example, in 1998, soldiers from the 9th division of the 2nd Corps raped and killed two women. To that end, Kim Jong Il as the Supreme Commander ordered that drinking be eradicated from the army, and the People’s Army made an oath and pledged in regards to the matter.
Q: Does beating in the army occur frequently?
A: Beating is common in the North Korean army. Many committed suicides because of it. According to the testimony by Kim Yong Il (pseudonym for his protection), who fled the North after he had worked for the Military Security Agency, eight mass suicides occurred during 2001, and 130 soldiers were killed because of them. Among the 130 soldiers, 67 killed themselves with their own rifles. He said it is possible for the number to be cut down.
Q: Are there many deserters?
A: There were 1000 deserters in 1999 according to the memorandums distributed among commanders. It seems that most of them hide out in the North. If they are captured, they will be taken to labor camps in the army, and crippled or killed with hard forced labor.
Q: How do soldiers make a living when they are discharged?
A: The North Korean authorities want them to work hard and contribute to the economic development, but they tend to learn easier ways to make money. Virtually all goods that are traded in markets in the North are from the People’s Army. Everything including food, clothes, oil, and you name it, are drained out of the army. Antiques, gold, silver and other precious goods are delivered across the Sino-Korean border by large-scale business men with the help of soldiers.
Kim Sung Min served for 10 years in the North Korean army from 1978. After college graduation, he returned to the army to work as a writer for propaganda from 1991. He is the chairperson for the Association of the North Korean Defectors.