No Traffic Laws in North Korea, Accident Inevitable

[imText1]Recently, there has been a noticeable decrease of vehicles on the streets in North Korea due to the increase of the oil price. Although North Korean cars run by burning woods, woods cannot run the foreign cars, so the military illegally sells oil to the “oil sellers” at a high price. The recent price of oil per 1kg is known to be about 1,500 North Korean won (oil is sold in kilos in North Korea, 1kg of gasoline is about 1.5 liters).

Freight Trucks, the Means of Transportation for the Common People

The economy is already bad, and the increase in oil price made the sellers to do their businesses. Since there are no taxis or buses, people have to travel by train. However, it is difficult to obtain a travel permit, which is necessary to take a train.

After the 7.1. Economic Management Improvement Act in 2002, price of train tickets skyrocketed. Even those who have permits take train. In order to travel from Musan to Pyongyang, the train ticket costs about 15,000 North Korean won. That is such a high price considering that the monthly wage for an average worker in North Korea is 2,500won to 3,000 won.

For that reason the people without any choice use freight trucks to travel in search of food or goods for their businesses. It costs about 300 won to 500 won from Huiryeong to Chungjin per person without any luggage, but one luggage is considered as one person. Therefore you have to pay 300won per luggage in addition.

The People’s Army Turn into Robbers When They See Freight Trucks

The number one enemy for those who ride freight truck is the soldiers. After the serious food crisis, the hungry military often stop the freight trucks with force and loot the belongings of the people. There are also civilians who wear military clothes to be able to rob. They pretend to be soldiers and move around in groups, stop vehicles running, and loot goods on these trucks.

In 1998s when the food crisis was very serious, we heard rumors every morning such as “people were robbed in Anju” or “people were looted in Suncheon.”

Then Kim Jong Il’s order came down in March, 1998. “Those who stop the car in the middle of the road could be driven over.” After the order came down, all the cadres or drivers of any sorts drove their vehicles without any fear.

For that reason, there were many people killed by attempting to stop the freight trucks. Among those who died, there were soldiers, robbers who pretended to be soldiers, and also the common people who tried to get a ride. By one sentence from Kim Jong Il, a war started between “the military and the freight trucks.”

For course there were some soldiers stopping the running vehicles to do their job. However, most of them were those off the duty if not, escaped soldiers. The legal way to stop the vehicles is by wearing armbands, which the military postmen or military guards usually wear.

Escaped soldiers wear armbands and wait on the high slopes. When the vehicles slow down to climb up, they stop the vehicle and ride them demanding, “The Commander (Kim Jong Il)’s army wishes to ride this car, what do you have to say?” They drive the vehicles to wherever they wish to go, take all belongs on the vehicle. Sometimes they make the drivers to do some work. Of course, when drivers or riders resist, they are harshly beat up.

Increase of the Number of Accidents Thanks to the Commander’s Order

March 1999, I was on my way to Pyongyang. I was to take a ride from Gaechon to Pyongyang . There were three some soldiers wearing armbands waiting. Behind there were few people waiting to take a ride once the car is stopped. After a moment, we could see a seven ton Chinese truck called “East Wind” from the far.

When the soldiers stopped the truck, it slowed down and came closer to the crowd. One of the soldiers tried to move closer to the driver, and the people, thinking they will be able to get on the trucks once it stops, got ready to jump on the truck. However, once it passed the crowd in slow motion, it started to speed up again and ran away. The soldier who was close to the driver jumped on the door to stop the driver and grabbed the knob. If the solider opens the door, the driver was to be serious beat up.

The driver who was nervous opened the door still speeding up. The soldier who grabbed the door knob fell down screaming to the ground but unfortunately, the back tiers of the truck ran over his legs. However, the truck did not even slow down. There were two more people on the truck beside the driver whom by appearance looked as the party cadres. The person right beside the driver looked back and yelled at the driver to speed up more.

The soldier wounded fell unconscious, but “East Wind” disappeared at a full speed. Even if the soldier stopped the car, the driver would have said, “All I did was to follow the Commander’s order.” Although the wounded soldier would have been taken to the military hospital by the other soldiers with him, I wonder if his legs were treated to be normal again considering the medical level in North Korea at the time.

According to the recently came North Korean defectors, the transportation situation in North Korea is even more difficult now. As less the means of transportation, more the roads are lawless. Since the Commander’s thoughtless order is added on to the already difficult situation, big and small accidents continuously occur.

Questions or comments about this article? Contact us at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.