A North Korean man who felled a tree in an area designated for slogan-inscribed trees in August has been sentenced to a correctional labor camp for five years, Daily NK learned on Wednesday.
The man, who is a miner in the city of Kumdok, South Hamgyong Province, cut down the free for firewood, according to a Daily NK source based in the province.
The tree the miner cut down did not have an inscription on it, the source added.
Daily NK sources in the area have confirmed that the area with slogan-inscribed Korean larch trees is located over two kilometers away from a residential area in Kumdok. A forest management official later found the stump of the tree the man had cut down and alerted local security and police officials. Their investigation led to the arrest of the man.
Sources say that investigators found tracks left by the miner as he hauled the tree to the bottom of the mountain, and after conducting a search of houses in the area, located the tree at the man’s house.
North Korea considers so-called “slogan trees” in the area to be national treasures that are “revolutionary legacies” of Korea’s anti-Japanese guerrillas. North Korean defectors have told Daily NK that anyone who cuts down a slogan tree is put to death along with three generations of their family.
Efforts to restore the inscribed trees began in the 1980s. In 1986, Kim Il Sung visited the Mt. Paektu area and ordered local officials to locate slogan trees in Milyang, Kim’s alleged birth place. As efforts spread throughout the country to find the inscribed trees, some were “discovered” in various places, including on the North Korean side of the Sino-North Korean border and even in Pyongyang, including in the city’s Mangyongdae District and on Mt. Taesong.
The inscriptions on the trees include phrases expressing hope for Korea’s independence, but also include praises of Kim Il Sung as a great leader. Some inscriptions even celebrate the birth of Kim Jong Il on Mt. Paektu and claim that on that day a bright lodestar (a kwangmyongsong) appeared in the sky.
To preserve the inscribed trees, the regime has protected them with high-quality glass imported from abroad. Greenhouses filled with argon gas have been erected around the trees to protect them from the elements.
Slogan trees do appear to face other dangers. Daily NK reported in 2010 that dozens of slogan trees were destroyed in a fire North Korean authorities reportedly attributed to arson.
Even the areas surrounding the trees have been designated as “revolutionary historical sites.” Guards are stationed in these areas, and sprinklers and firebreaks across dozens of meters ensure protection from bush fires. Ordinary North Koreans are unable to enter these areas. Sources in the country suggest that tens to hundreds of thousands of US dollars are required to maintain just one inscribed tree.
The destruction of North Korea’s forests, however, has led to more frequent incidents of ordinary people entering these slogan tree zones to cut down trees for firewood. These illegal woodcutters enter the zones during rainy or stormy weather armed with an ax or saw to prevent sounds of their work from alerting the guards, another Daily NK source in South Hamgyong Province said.
Guards and forest management officials charged with protecting these areas face heavy punishment if any trees are cut down. While investigators typically make great efforts to find the culprits, this is not always easy.
The source said that given the seriousness of cutting down trees in such an area, North Korean officials handed down a five year sentence to the miner as an example to others.
“The punishment is aimed at showing people that even cutting down a regular tree in an area with inscribed trees will lead to serious consequences,” the source added.
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