Daily NK snapshots from North Korea

Rising theft of corn from farms

In rural areas of South Pyongan Province, there has been a recent rise in the theft of corn from collective farms. Farmers are expressing concerns that “there will be nothing left when it’s time to harvest the crops given how widespread the thefts have been.” Although the so-called corn thieves are thought to mostly be laborers from nearby coal mines and peasant farmers without enough food, there have been incidents of soldiers being caught and detained for stealing corn as well.

One such soldier explained that his squadron only provides cornmeal powder for meals and that military officers will often visit civilian households to exchange their cornmeal powder for corn rice. The soldier told Daily NK that “immediately after receiving new recruit training and being deployed, soldiers eat with the squadron. However, two to three years after enlisting, eighty percent of soldiers say that they can’t eat the squadron’s food anymore and will try to obtain food from civilian households by any means possible. Once autumn arrives, they siphon off corn from the farms and store it at the civilian households they have been visiting, returning every so often to eat the corn.”

Entire family arrested on suspicion of spying

The entire family of a North Korean broker who worked in the Sino-DPRK border region has been arrested on suspicion of leaking classified documents to the South Korean National Intelligence Service. His extravagant spending habits caught the attention of North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), and his family was placed under special surveillance.

Although several arrest attempts were hindered by the broker’s close relationship with a political director in the MSS, the family was exposed when an outside party bypassed the MSS to deliver evidence of their wrongdoing directly to a higher-ranking organization — the Provincial MSS Intelligence Division. Following the investigation currently underway, it appears likely that the family will be sent to a political prison camp. As they have been charged with the relatively serious crime of ‘subversion against the state’ for consorting with the enemy, they may be sentenced to life in prison even with a lenient sentence.

No casualties reported in Onsong County flooding

Although recent flooding throughout Onsong County in North Hamgyong Province has affected some roads and stand-alone houses in the Tumen River Basin, internal sources report that the situation is under control. Despite North Korean state media having issued special warnings, sources note that the circumstances are entirely different from the floods of 2016, which resulted in the collapse of apartment buildings and a significant number of casualties. In contrast, the recent flooding has only led to the momentary closure of some roads, with no human casualties and no significant damage sustained to farms. The authorities are, however, conducting emergency inspections of mud roads that have collapsed in various places. Moreover, orders have been issued to repair sections of factories, businesses, and farms. It is expected that citizens will be mobilized to collect rocks for repair work.

Privatization of shops in Samjiyon apartment complex

The North Korean authorities have authorized the operation of state-owned shops by individuals in a shopping district on the first floor of a newly built apartment complex in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province. In addition to using their personal funds to acquire inventory to conduct business and provide fees to the state, the shopkeepers are paying 1000 yuan in monthly rent until their businesses gain solid footing. Although it is seen as inevitable that the shops be operated by individuals — given that it is difficult to operate shops through the national supply chain– they are afforded considerable preferential treatment on the pretext of being state-owned shops.

For this reason, there has been speculation that the true objective for privatizing the shops was to procure materials necessary for the Samjiyon construction project; it has been said that the shops’ deposits and income are being redirected for this purpose. Sources within North Korea added that procurement has become difficult due to international sanctions, and thus the progress of the Samjiyon project has stagnated. One source told Daily NK that  the “authorities are able to conduct trade by having the shops individually exchange the necessary goods with Chinese traders.”

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