North Korean workers rebel against orders to work at the Samjiyon construction site

Kim Jong Un on a site visit to the Samjiyon construction site in April 2019
Kim Jong Un on a site visit to the Samjiyon construction site in April 2019. Image: Rodong Sinmun

A group of workers ordered to North Korea’s banner construction project site in Samjiyon county without advanced notice have refused to comply with the directive, putting the authorities on the back foot, sources in the region report.

“The Party Committee in Kimjongsuk County gathered plasterers from local factories and told them they were going to take part in repairs of buildings in the area,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK.

“Then, party committee members told the assembled workers that they would be sent to Samjiyon as a shock brigade, placed them on a truck and tried to send all 25 of them off to the construction site. The plasterers didn’t just go along with it. They refused to take part in the forced mobilization and jumped off the truck at a hill near Mintang Station.”

In October 2018, Kim Jong Un ordered that the Samjiyon construction project to be finished in October 2020 – the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) – rather than 2021, and officials have increased the number of workers on the construction site accordingly. Officials are also forcing local residents to provide materials and even money to help pay for the construction project.

Workers at the site are facing very poor working conditions, suffering from the cold in temporary dwellings and even starvation, according to an additional source in Ryanggang Province.

“Workers at the site are complaining about being fed and there’s a lot more who have run away,” he said.

“Everyone knows what the conditions are there, so who’d want to go? The Party Committee in Kimjongsuk County understood this, which is why they resorted to extreme measures to send the plasterers to the site.”

Samjiyon has deep political importance to the regime and is home to Mt. Paektu, where Kim Il Sung was said to have fought the Japanese, and Milyong, Kim Jong Il’s birthplace. Kim Jong Un has visited the area in and around every important political event. He visited the area right before his uncle Jang Song Thaek was executed at the end of 2013, a month before the first US-North Korean summit last July, and even last August in the lead-up to the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.

Kim visited the area about a month after the US-North Korean summit in Hanoi and emphasized “self-sufficiency,” saying that the “Samjiyon modernization project is a fierce class struggle and political struggle against the enemies trying to block our path.” His visit was seen by some as an attempt to rally his people after the failure of the Hanoi summit.

In contrast to Kim’s thinking, North Koreans are expressing discontent over the forced mobilizations and financial burdens they are carrying due to the project.

“Wealthy people pay bribes to avoid working at the project site,” said the source. “Only poor people are being mobilized so there’s a lot of discontent toward the project.”

As for the plasterers who avoided dispatch to the project site, the “Party Committee head rebuked them for disloyalty to the Suryong (Supreme Leader) and Party and ordered them to be mobilized to work on the farms,” he said.

“But the workers are ignoring the order, saying they’ll only go work on the farms if they get paid.”

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