North Korean soldiers
North Korean soldiers walking near Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

North Koreans with private plots of farmland are facing increased instances of theft by soldiers charged with harvesting food for military bases, Daily NK has learned. 

Facing a pandemic of stealing by soldiers, North Korean authorities strengthened military regulations at the start of the rice-planting season this year to prevent the theft of food and other items from private residences, including farmland maintained by civilians. 

Despite these efforts, Daily NK sources based in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, say that the measures appear to be having little effect. 

“Soldiers assigned to farm plots of land owned by the military in Chongjin are stealing corn or peppers on private plots of farmland maintained by local civilians,” a source based in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Sunday. Daily NK reported previously that Chongjin has long faced a rash of thefts, with sources even saying that the city is “swarming with thieves.” 

The majority of soldiers who were assigned to work on farmland in Chongjin and its environs have rejoined their units after weeding the military-owned fields. Soldiers with just a year left in their military service have remained in the fields to maintain the crops. 

Daily NK sources in Chongjin said that soldiers who will soon be discharged from the military steal crops from private plots to earn money to use once they return to society, not because they are hungry.

Soldiers sneak onto private plots of land to steal peppers, corn and other produce to sell in local markets, one of the sources added.

Some soldiers take oxcarts to transport peppers or corn while the farm workers are working on collective farms or during the middle of the night. Even if plot owners discover the soldiers and attempt to stop them, the soldiers nonchalantly take away what they have stolen. Daily NK sources said that soldiers may even use violence against farmers who try to stop them from leaving with their loot.  

“Soldiers at the end of their military service fear nothing. They will take their stolen corn back home, steam it, and sell them to merchants at local markets for high prices,” one of the sources told Daily NK. 

Importantly, soldiers do not take from the state-run collective farms; they only steal crops from plots managed by individual farmers. This is because soldiers would face trouble from their superiors if collective farm managers make a complaint. Daily NK sources said that soldiers are taking advantage of the fact that any complaint submitted to the local police regarding theft from a privately-owned plot would not lead to a proper investigation or any penalties for the thieves. 

This all means that most victims of theft are farmers working at collective farms. Farmers manage their own plots of farmland because their yearly allotment of food from state-run farms is generally not enough to survive on. Farmers not only face a smaller harvest due to the thefts, but also have little recourse to get their stolen crops back. Those brave enough to visit military bases to protest the theft of their crops are simply told they are forbidden to enter the premises.  

“The soldiers don’t feel any guilt for harming innocent civilians,” one Daily NK source said. “They are only interested in whether they have enough money to survive on after their military discharge and even exchange tips about which regions are best to steal from.” 

*Translated by Violet Kim

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