Problems have broken out in the Yeonpoong area of Hyesan after a decree from Kim Jong Eun began to cause problems.
In mid-August an order came down ordering that all the roofing in the area be made the same height. Problems have been caused because, unlike the original plan, the responsibility for the cost of the renovations has now been passed on to the residents.
One source told The Daily NK on Monday, “In the middle of last month the government ordered all the areas around Yeonpoong Market to be done up. The officials dispatched to oversee the work said they were sent on orders which came from the Youth Captain after he saw the lagging Yeonpoong area on the news.”
The problem from the regime’s perspective is that the Yeonpoong area is so close to China that it can be seen easily from the Lujiang area of Changbai. This part of the Sino-North Korean border is delineated by a 15m wide stretch of the Yalu River, thus making a place which Chinese tourists also often visit to take a look at their neighbor. Because it is easy to get close up footage of North Korea from here, it also often appears in news reports on the current state of affairs in the country.
Yet Yeonpoong is dense with shabby old housing that it evokes images of the old South Korean hillside villages constructed by people coming to Seoul at the very dawn of its economic revolution. This is because it is an ideal place from which to run a market business and/or smuggle goods in from China.
And as the population has grown, so the price of a house has grown along with it. An average single story house in Hyesan sells for the equivalent of $2500-3000, but in the Yeonpoong area it is closer to $4500-5000.
Those who moved in hoping for a better life built an array of different housing styles, creating something of a shanty town. The fact that this image of North Korea was available to Chinese tourists and media apparently made Kim Jong Eun intervene.
According to the source, when Kim first handed down the order the Party was supposed to be covering the costs, but a short while after construction started, citizens were ordered to pay for renovations out of their own savings.
“Because the state said they were going to do it, to a man we knocked down ceilings and walls, but then all of a sudden they started saying we have to pay for it ourselves, making everyone confused,” said the source.
“People with enough money have been able to tile their roofs, but those without have been living the last twenty days in houses completely open to the elements.”
Public discontent has grown further since the people heard rumor that the renovations were being undertaken with funds from the UN.
“Six inspectors from the UN arrived in North Korea on the 22nd to check the construction,” the source claimed.
“People are criticizing the state for proclaiming that the construction they are doing with donated funds from the UN is some sort of act of benevolence.”
The source also revealed that the government is undertaking housing construction projects nationwide using funds donated by UNICEF specifically for flood recovery work in North Pyongan and Hwanghae Provinces.
“The state itself is a bunch of thieves, so even the UN can’t trust them and sent this inspection team, no?” the source suggested.
However, he also added ruefully, “We trusted thieves and knocked down our homes; we are so stupid.”