Mass food poisoning at military training camp for new recruits

North Korean soldiers in Sakju County, North Pyongan Provinc
North Korean soldiers in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

A significant number of new recruits at a Military Mobilization Department-run training camp in Pyongsong, South Pyongyan Province fell ill from food poisoning in early April, local sources report.

“Around 150 students mobilized from surrounding cities and counties fell ill after eating food provided by the training camp,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK, reporting that “the city’s hospitals were overflowing with patients.”

In North Korea, mass recruitment of soldiers takes place in March and April. Students aged 16 to 17 years old who are required to serve in the military first gather at the provincial Military Mobilization Department and are sent to live at training camps. The recruits remain at the training camps, each of which can accommodate around 500 people, until they are assigned to their units.

The food poisoning outbreak occurred with a fresh batch of recruits living at one of these training camps, said the source. The recruits fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea after eating food provided at the camp.

Food poisoning symptoms generally include stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, food poisoning may cause breathing problems, loss of consciousness, and even death.

The severity of this recent incident is underlined by the fact that it occurred at a military facility serving large amounts of food. The possibility remains that many other new recruits came into contact with contaminated food.

“Generally, food poisoning symptoms reside after a short time, but people who are chronically malnourished have more difficulty recovering,” said a separate source in South Pyongan Province. “Some have parents who buy them vitamins from the markets to help improve their health, but most don’t and were hit pretty hard.”

As news of the incident spread to local residents, parents with children in the military have become increasingly worried over the health of their children, according to the source.

“There are parents who are in tears every day just thinking about how their kids are suffering,” he said.

“They won’t be able to see them for 10 years (the duration of military service in North Korea). Parents are faced with emotional distress because their children often enter the military in poor health in the first place.”