This image shows the former sites of removed cemeteries in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province. Imagery=WorldView-2 (© 2024 Maxar, U.S.G. Plus)

North Korean authorities have recently ordered the removal of burial sites as part of reforestation efforts. A review of satellite imagery shows the destruction of large cemeteries in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province.

According to several sources in North Korea, orders were issued in late March to local people’s committees around the company to eliminate cemeteries located on hills and mountains by December of this year.

The decision was made jointly by four key bodies in the ruling apparatus: the Central Committee, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Social Security, and the Cabinet.

The orders also state that in the future the dead will be cremated rather than buried, and their ashes will either be stored in a columbarium or scattered over the rivers and hills.

North Koreans, who tend to be highly superstitious, believe that ancestral burial sites must not be disturbed carelessly or indiscriminately. Therefore, gravesites are only moved at certain times, a source told Daily NK.

“The Central Committee has ordered that the graves be removed from the hills by the end of the year and replaced with trees or government facilities if necessary. Since the graves cannot be dug up at any time, but only around Chungmyung Day [in the spring] and Chuseok [in the fall], there is not much time [to carry out the orders],” the source said.

After receiving these orders, North Koreans have reportedly been working on grave removals since Chungmyung Day, which fell in early April.

High-resolution imagery recently taken by a Maxar satellite shows that a number of mounds have been removed from a large cemetery in the city of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province.

In a satellite image taken in November 2022, a cemetery in Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, is full of graves, but a recently taken satellite image shows that a considerable number of the burial mounds and tombstones have been removed. Left image=WorldView-3 (©2022 Maxar, U.S.G. Plus); right image= WorldView-2 (©2024 Maxar, U.S.G. Plus)

The mounds and gravestones are visible in a satellite image taken in November 2022, but are not visible in a satellite image taken on May 14. The mounds have been flattened, and the area is covered with grass and newly planted trees.

Interestingly, the cemetery in question is believed to have been one of the mass burial sites for ROK and UN troops killed during the Korean War, based on testimony from defectors.

But another source in North Korea told Daily NK: “It wouldn’t really make sense to erect individual tombstones for a mass grave of enemy soldiers. There is a mass grave for enemy soldiers somewhere, but I don’t know where it is. The mass grave in Kaechon is for ordinary people.”

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