A photo of Hoeryong taken in 2013 (Raymond Cunningham, Flickr, Creative Commons)

Amid reports of people dying of starvation in North Korea, disease control officials in Hoeryong cremated about 20 dead bodies in late May.

“A corpse processing team with the city’s emergency anti-epidemic command has been processing the bodies of people who died due to starvation along with those who had been under quarantine,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday.

He said that the cremation of the corpses occurred amid circumstances where people have been “unable to earn a daily living and the economy is in tough shape due to lockdown measures.” 

Households with people under quarantine are unable to leave their homes, but the local authorities have given them little assistance apart from occasional visits — ordered by the emergency anti-epidemic command — by the heads of inminban [people’s units], neighborhood doctors and quarantine officers, the source said. 

Moreover, quarantined families in rough economic straits are quietly starving to death, receiving no state support and unable to put together money or rice. Starvation deaths are occurring even among people in comparatively better economic situations, he added. 

Rather than offering assistance, the city is telling locals to refrain from petitioning the party for help, instructing them to rely on “self-reliance” to solve their difficulties and to avoid reporting problems faced by individual families to the authorities.

In particular, the city’s authorities are stressing that it is up to inminban to resolve the issue of starving families.

Amid all of this, the corpse processing team of the city’s emergency anti-epidemic command burned about 20 bodies in a temporary crematorium in a mountain valley behind one of the city’s hospitals on May 29.

The source said bereaved families were unable to accompany the corpse processing team because it processes collected bodies in accordance with the country’s “emergency quarantine law.” The remains were returned to the families only after they were cremated. 

Even though the Ministry of State Security has stepped in to silence rumors about the cremations, word has still gotten out through bereaved families, the source said. 

“People feel uneasy because they are unsure whether the people who died did so from disease or from starvation,” he added. 

Meanwhile, some people in Hoeryong are committing all sorts of crimes to acquire food, according to the source. 

He told Daily NK that the city’s police are focusing their investigations on murder, anti-state crimes and anti-socialist and non-socialist behavior, having made an internal decision to give ordinary economic crimes committed out of hunger a pass, at least for the time being.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.