North Korean coal ship
A North Korean ship full of coal sits at a dock near Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, in June of 2018. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea may use a portion of the foreign currency earned through smuggling coal overseas on uniforms for its military, Daily NK has learned.

“Trucks loaded with North Korean coal continue to speed off to Nampo Port,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK on Tuesday. “[North Korea] is forbidden from exporting coal [because of international sanctions], but at the moment they are exporting it illegally.”

“The coal is on its way to China,” the source continued, adding, “The party authorized coal exports to pay for Korean People’s Army (KPA) uniforms.”

If the sale of coal is for KPA uniforms, it is highly likely that the coal enterprises under the control of the military were involved in the coal smuggling.

The KPA controls and manages coal mines and earns enormous sums of foreign currency through its role in the export of coal, iron ore, copper, nickel, and zinc.

The KPA’s income from foreign currency reportedly dropped dramatically following the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2371 in 2017, and the subsequent ban of all coal exports.

It is unclear whether the military will actually use the foreign currency earned through illegal coal exports to provide its soldiers with uniforms. Nonetheless, it appears the funds will nonetheless go towards funding the military in some way. 

“The claim that they will use the foreign currency earned from illegal coal exports on uniforms for the KPA is likely just a pretext to use the money for something else,” according to a North Korean defector interviewed by Daily NK. “The military has been unable to earn foreign currency because of the sanctions against North Korea, so beyond uniforms, they have a lot of other expenses related to maintaining the organization.” 

Daily NK recently reported that trucks loaded with North Korean coal continue to be seen heading towards Nampo Port, effectively the base for all coal exports. Daily NK sources have reported that cargo vessels have been departing Nampo Port and unloading their cargo at Huludao Port in China’s Liaoning province.

“The Songgari region in Kangdong County produces a lot of high-calorie coal, and there are countless numbers of trucks coming out of that region daily,” said the Pyongyang-based source. “With coal exports resuming after a hiatus, the areas by the mines have gotten busy again.”

*Translated by Violet Kim

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