North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Yonpo Greenhouse Farm on Feb. 18. (Rodong Sinmun-News1)

With North Korean authorities continuing to push the construction of Yonpo Greenhouse Farm despite the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, the government has recently begun efforts to expand the number of construction workers at the site. 

The government has claimed the increase in workers is aimed at completing the construction ahead of the Oct. 10 deadline, but some people are saying that the authorities are trying to replace a large number of civilian and military workers who have come down with fevers. 

According to a Daily NK source in South Hamgyong Province on Thursday, the general construction headquarters at the Yonpo Greenhouse Farm construction site received a joint directive from the Cabinet and Ministry of Defense in late May. 

The order called on the headquarters to more than double the number of construction personnel at the site.

The order stressed that the directive followed a “decision by the party” to “achieve victory in the great battle against the disease and in the battle to protect socialism” and “to complete construction of the Yonpo Greenhouse Farm before Party Foundation Day [Oct. 10].”

After receiving the order, the general construction headquarters passed it along to various teams on the site, instructing them to discuss the matter for an hour after dinner and then move forward with more than doubling the number of military and civilian construction personnel at the site. 

According to the source, propaganda from the military construction commanders and the political departments of the construction headquarters of labor brigades at the site are calling on workers to accept the order and complete the construction before the deadline, calling them to “take on the role of flag bearer of the era, take the lead in driving off the impediment of the infectious disease blocking our way, and give conviction in victory and courage to the party members and workers who have come together for the great battle against the disease.”

The order suggests that the authorities intend to head off any negative impact the country’s heavy-handed quarantine policies may have on economic plans, while also demonstrating confidence that they can control and manage the COVID-19 outbreak.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the Yonpo Greenhouse Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province on Feb. 18. Calling for the project to be completed by Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10, Kim called on workers to wage a “fierce construction battle” with “extreme resolution and supervision beyond that shown in the Chungpyong area construction project [in North Hamgyong Province].” 

Many North Koreans, however, have another explanation for why the authorities have handed down the order. 

The source said that because the authorities have pushed forward with the Yonpo project as scheduled despite nationwide lockdowns, many of the military and civilian personnel working in “construction labor brigades” at the site have been moved to temporary quarantine wards after coming down with fevers. 

In fact, North Korea is currently pushing a broader project to build a large-scale “agricultural zone” in Hamju. Aside from the Yonpo Greenhouse Farm, the complex would include housing for about 1,000 families, a school, cultural center and general service facilities.

“The crux of the problem is that workers aren’t getting the aggregate, steel and wood required for the construction work, and the lack of state support is a problem,” the source said. “People say that the plan to double the number of workers is a solution disconnected with actual conditions at the site.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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