North Korea’s Ninth Corps is quickly sending large numbers of their soldiers home on so-called “grain leave,” Daily NK has learned. 

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Thursday, a source in North Hamgyong Province said soldiers “with financial means” affiliated with the military unit have gone on leave “on the condition that they bring back grain needed by the unit.”

North Korea has long allowed officers and enlisted personnel to leave for 10 to 20 days to obtain supplies for their units. Ninth Corps soldiers who have recently gone on leave are expected to dedicate 10 to 20 days to their “mission” before returning to base.

In early May, an order handed down by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pointed out that “soldiers are in a perilous state of nutrition” and directed military units to ensure that “soldiers be given at least one bean-based meal a day [such as pureed soybeans or soy milk].” 

This was essentially a warning from the country’s supreme leader that “commanders who fail to feed [soldiers] beans will be punished without mercy.” Naturally, this lit a fire under military corps commanders with woefully insufficient stores of beans.

Soldiers marching during the Party Foundation Day military parade on Oct. 10, 2020. / Image: KCNA

Following the order, the logistics department of the Ninth Corps began choosing soldiers who were relatively well-off, and the unit’s general staff immediately issued travel orders to the chosen personnel.

The soldiers who received the travel orders were directed to conduct unspecified “duties,” which showed the urgency among corps commanders about not getting caught in an inspection. 

“Before, they usually called it ‘bean leave,’ but this time, they called it ‘grain leave,’” said the source. “The soldiers have been tasked with bringing back beans if they can. If they can’t, they have been told to bring back an appropriate amount of rice or corn.”

Each soldier was told to bring back 300 kilograms of beans. Military authorities also stressed that the soldiers must return to their units 10 to 14 days before the start of the military’s summer military exercises (July 1). 

In short, ordinary soldiers and their families are being forced to bring back a lot of food to their units in a short period of time.

There is speculation that most of the burden of obtaining the food will fall on the residents of soldiers’ hometowns. There is also the chance that many soldiers will turn to theft when they find their “mission” impossible to complete through more conventional means.

There are continuing signs that the country’s economic difficulties due to COVID-19 have deeply impacted North Korea’s military, which is one of the backbones of the regime. 

Daily NK recently reported that North Korean authorities ordered the establishment of convalescent hospitals to treat soldiers suffering from malnutrition, which military authorities worry could lead to desertions and other lapses in military discipline.

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