North Korean authorities have reportedly expelled around 30 discharged North Korean military officers and their families to areas outside of the capital city. A source recently told Daily NK that the authorities stripped the discharged officers of their Pyongyang residence privileges because they engaged in “inappropriate speech and behavior” while conducting business activities in markets.

“Roughly 30 discharged officers and their families from different areas of Pyongyang were sent to areas outside of the city, making for a total of more than 100 people,” a Daily NK source in Pyongyang reported last Tuesday. “The Central Committee received reports that some of the military officers that engaged in business activities displayed problematic speech and ideas. Officers who had engaged in particularly problematic behavior received orders to move to areas outside of the city.” 

According to the source, Jo Yong Won enacted a proposal to establish Pyongyang as a “city worthy of its status of a revolutionary capital” as his first project after being appointed as secretary of the Party’s Central Committee during the first session of the Eighth Central Committee in January of this year. Jo ordered Pyongyang’s party committee and Department 8 of the Ministry of Social Security to identify and investigate people who had lost their Pyongyang residence permits or lived in Pyongyang illegally.

Jo also ordered an investigation into whether discharged officers in Pyongyang were being properly looked after in accordance with the “Act regarding the Guarantee of Living Conditions for Discharged Military Officers,” which was enacted last year. The act aims to resolve some of the difficulties faced by discharged officers in Pyongyang.

After Jo gave his order, inminban (people’s unit) leaders reported on the activities of discharged military officers. The reports included descriptions of discharged officers clashing with market managers while doing business in markets.

In early March, the municipal people’s committee’s commerce department ordered market managers to increase their own numbers by recruiting discharged soldiers with party membership as part of efforts to strengthen control over local markets. However, a portion of the market managers reportedly experienced conflict with some of the new hires. The former officers allegedly looked down on market managers, who had typically served as low-ranking soldiers during their military service, and did not follow their instructions or rules. 

The Central Committee eventually received a report of the situation and responded by issuing an order to the city’s district party officials and market management offices to closely examine the behavior of discharged officers working as market managers. The officials submitted reports which described in detail the behavior of discharged officers with particularly serious ideological problems and poor behavior, the source explained.

Mirae Scientists’ Street in Pyongyang. / Image: Ryugyong

Many of the former military officers have conducted small business activities in local markets because they lacked sufficient income after leaving military service. Some lamented their situation, complaining that “serving longer in the military just made [them] into outcasts” and that “in the end, they have to go to the markets to make money.” They also openly grumbled that the government’s treatment of discharged officers had deteriorated since the songun (military-first) era.

“During the songun era, discharged officers received preferential treatment like better jobs, new houses, and the guarantee of rations and money in the case of food shortages in their households,” the source said. “[The officers] don’t get these benefits anymore, so they started to complain…It was mentioned in a report to the Central Committee that former military officers were openly complaining about an order not to gather for drinks in groups because of the [COVID-19] pandemic.”

In response, the Central Committee stated: “Making anti-Party statements like these indicates that [the discharged officers] have some ideological problems, especially considering they are making a perfectly acceptable living while sitting in market stalls and selling things.” The committee ultimately expelled approximately 30 discharged officers accused of particularly egregious behavior to areas outside of Pyongyang. They also ordered the exiled officers to give their houses to discharged officers who had maintained good ideological attitudes in the face of hardship.

“The Pyongyang People’s Committee Executive Bureau gave the officers an order to ‘deploy to the provinces under Party mandate,’” the source explained. “The authorities sent officers and their wives to cities in central [North Korea] if both spouses were from Pyongyang. However, if even one of the spouses was originally from an area outside the capital city, the authorities sent them both to provinces where they have the most relatives, excluding the four border provinces [North Pyongan Province, Chagang Province, Yanggang Province, and North Hamgyong Province].”

Discharged officers who resisted the order to move outside the city were labeled as “rebellious elements” and were “exiled” to farms deep in the mountains and far from Pyongyang. The authorities worried that they might try to sneak back into Pyongyang if their children continue to live there, so they ended up expelling their entire families.

“The discharged officers who complied with the instructions to move outside the city received a grace period which permitted them to stay in Pyongyang until the end of the month,” the source explained. “Those who resisted had to pack their bags in the middle of the night and were forcefully expelled in the second week of March. The authorities confiscated [the expelled officers’] illegal cell phones and only allowed them to bring official cell phones registered under their own names.”

Switching the phones means that the North Korean authorities will continue to monitor their phone calls. The source said that the measure clearly shows that the authorities intend to intercept any and all complaints or criticism about the party’s actions.

When talking among themselves, discharged officers in Pyongyang reportedly said that “There is no real difference between ‘being dispatched to areas outside the city’ and being ‘expelled.’ Whether they are being ‘dispatched’ or ‘expelled,’ they have to live in the provinces either way, so they’re all [effectively] being expelled… [The expelled officers] didn’t just get kicked out of the party – they essentially received a permanent sentence of forced labor and ideological education.”

According to the source, some discharged officers are clicking their tongues and lamenting that their situation is the “expulsion” equivalent of the “Great Ethnic Migration,” a euphemistic expression referring to the mass movement of ethnic Koreans from Japan in the 1960s. 

*Translated by S & J

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to