Construction work on a concrete wall and high voltage lines along the Sino-North Korean border is reportedly running into trouble due to lack of supplies. Moreover, a source says the military is selling supplies they have received to buy food for soldiers working on the wall. 

A Daily NK source in Yanggang Province said Friday that the authorities have provided only 40% of the supplies needed to build the “bulletproof wall” and high voltage wires. “So many supplies need to be sent to different sectors of the people’s economy,” he said. “This means that the authorities aren’t properly supplying the construction work along the border.”

According to the source, the authorities have mobilized many soldiers from the military’s construction, engineering and roads bureaus to build the concrete wall and high voltage lines. Progress has been slow simply due to the lack of supplies. If the soldiers were properly supplied, they could carry out all their construction assignments, the source claimed. 

North Korea’s leadership has ordered that work on the wall and wires be completed by Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10. However, the source says with supplies not arriving according to plans, construction is moving even more slowly as work teams have to refashion the supplies they receive because they arrive so they can be used properly on the wall. 

“As there’s not enough food now, either, many soldiers are getting sent to military labor or reeducation camps for burglarizing civilian homes or, when they fail, beating people to death,” said the source. “They don’t start off intending to beat people to death, but most of those incidents happen when they get caught stealing and try to escape.

“Some soldiers are so weak from malnutrition due to lack of food that they are being put in military infirmaries when they try to escape [after being caught stealing], but are instead beaten to a pulp by civilians,” he added.

The source said the government should provide food to the soldiers mobilized under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19. It is utterly failing to do so, however, and the relevant provincial, city and county authorities are not taking charge. As a result, thin soldiers with bodies swollen from hunger are commonplace.

Meanwhile, commanders of the construction units mobilized for the effort will not even mention the word “rice,” fearing that they will needless court trouble if they ask their superiors for rice at a time when the entire nation is suffering from food shortages. Soldiers are surviving on barely a single meal made from arrowroot dug up from the hillsides, according to the source. 

North Korean soldiers seen constructing fences along the border last year. / Image: Daily NK

This being the case, military logistics departments responsible for providing food to the troops are secretly pilfering and selling the supplies they have received to buy food.

“Logistics officials who are tasked with feeding the troops have nothing, and they’re getting no help from either the localities or from Pyongyang. So they’re [selling] rebar, cement and sand and buying freshly harvested potatoes or corn to feed the soldiers,” said the source. “Nobody is coming to check, so they are secretly pilfering the supplies and using them to feed the troops.”

North Korea’s entrepreneurial class, or donju, are buying up most of the rebar, cement and sand the military is selling. These donju boast that they are “greatly profiting from buying them from the foolish and blockheaded military,” who are “ignorant of the market value of what they are selling.”

“The soldiers are now setting the prices at whatever the donju say they are,” said the source. “Having no other options, the military is selling the supplies at the quoted prices.”

In particular, the donju are reportedly making money by selling the supplies to local residential and industrial construction sites for two or three times the price for which they bought them. With the state telling local construction sites that they should secure supplies on their own in the name of “self-reliance,” supply managers are buying up the donju’s wares as soon as they appear.

Meanwhile, a special labor brigade dispatched by the Cabinet to certain border regions of Yanggang Province to speed up construction of the border wall and high voltage lines reportedly moved to the border region of North Hamgyong Province early this month.

“The Cabinet labor brigade sent to Huchang [Kimhyongjik], Sinpa [Kimjongsuk] and Samsu counties had no work to do because supplies failed to arrive for a while,” said the source. “Then suddenly a flood of supplies came in, and – working 18 hours a day in a ‘speed battle’ – they completed all the technical tasks required for the groundwork of the walls, while accounting for the particular topography of the region.” 

The source said that as the labor brigade moved to North Hamgyong Province, about 10% of its personnel were rotated out. Those replaced included people who were “ideologically suspect,” people suffering from diarrhea, and older people who were having a tough time doing the work.  

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to