With the possibility that the linking of railways and roads between North and South Korea were discussed during a high-level inter-Korean meeting on June 1, there are reports that the North Korean authorities are taking efforts to reforest the areas around railroads in the country.
“A lot of people were mobilized recently following an order from the government to ‘reforest the areas around railways,’” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on May 31. “In Chongjin, people are being forced to plant two-meter high trees 10 meters apart from each other. They are finding it very difficult work to do.”
A source in South Hamgyong Province added that each workplace and inminban (neighborhood watch-like units) have their own quotas to fulfill. “In Hamhung, people are being told to plant young trees along the railway, even in areas where farming is being done,” she said.
This flurry of activity seems to be connected to the possibility that railways could be connected between the two Koreas if the inter-Korean relationship improves.
According to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, the high-level meeting held at the Peace House in Panmunjom on June 1 was attended by Kim Jong Ryul, the second vice-minister for South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and Kim Yoonhyuk, the vice-minister for North Korea’s Railways Ministry.
Some observers suggest that the North Korean regime expected an exchange of opinions with South Korea during the talks on the linkage of railways and roads on the Korean Peninsula’s eastern coast and measures to modernize the transportation systems. North Korea may be looking to “spruce up” its railways before allowing South Korean officials to inspect them.
In a related story, North Korea made efforts to improve the conditions of its railways (including the mobilization of North Korean citizens to find and install track ballast) before the shutdown of the country’s nuclear site on May 24, attended by foreign journalists.
Any plans to link the railways of the two Koreas, however, will be faced with numerous hurdles, and North Korea will likely focus on slowing the progress of such plans. The government would have to face significant opposition from segments of its population in regards to railway-related projects.
“Even farm managers are upset about planting trees on land that is used for agriculture given that the areas North Korea’s railway system runs through is mostly farmland,” said the South Hamgyong Province-based source.
“Some are even saying that given how scarce farmland is, letting such land go to waste to plant trees is ‘traitorous.’”
Some North Koreans believe that the reforesting of areas around the railways will only occur in special areas where Kim Jong Un’s private train runs through.
“It’s ridiculous to think that the state will reforest the areas around the entire railway system. The state will likely just plant a healthy row of trees around the railway used by Kim Jong Un’s private train in an effort to increase loyalty towards the regime,” the North Hamgyong Province-based source concluded.