North Korean military authorities have delayed the discharges of soldiers at the end of their service periods who are engaged in restoration efforts in South Hamgyong Province’s Gomdok region, Daily NK has learned.  

Originally scheduled to be discharged this past autumn, the soldiers will now be discharged in the spring of next year. This latest order suggests that North Korea is trying to minimize changes in military personnel mobilized for recovery efforts in the region as part of efforts to “normalize” operations in Gomdok, one of the country’s most important centers of production.  

NOT ENOUGH PERSONNEL TO HELP OUT

A military source in North Korea told Daily NK on Friday that the “[Enlisted] Rank Recruitment Department” – an organization part of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces responsible for conscripting, deploying and discharging enlisted soldiers – handed down the delay order two weeks ago to administrators of units deployed to Gomdok.

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the order instructed the administrators to delay the discharge of the soldiers from October – as originally scheduled – to February. “The reason seems to be that there aren’t enough army, navy and air force personnel mobilized for the ‘battle’ to restore the Gomdok Mine,” the source speculated. 

North Korean military authorities decided to delay the discharge of these soldiers until next spring to prevent “a vacuum” of military technicians in Gomdok, the source said. 

North Korea’s military typically carries out discharges of soldiers who have completed their service periods twice a year, in the spring and fall. Soldiers at the end of their service periods deployed to restoration efforts in Gomdok were not discharged in the autumn as usual; instead, they were tasked with completing four or five months of additional service. 

Having deployed military personnel to Gangwon Province and South Hamgyong Province – areas that were battered this year by rains and typhoons – North Korea recently declared an “80-day battle” to complete restoration efforts by the end of the year. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Gomdok immediately after Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10 to observe the recovery efforts and offer guidance on construction activities.

A North Korean broadcast showing a KCTV journalist reporting on Typhoon Maysak in Hamhung. / Image: Yonhap

According to the source, North Korea faces difficulties completing restoration work in these areas by the Eighth Party Congress with existing personnel. “Ultimately, the authorities opted to take the unusual measure of delaying the discharges of soldiers at the end of their service periods as part of efforts to satisfy the appeal [needs] of the Party,” he said.  

The source also pointed out that soldiers who have been given admission to “central universities” have been exempted from serving more time.

SOLDIERS WORRY ABOUT FUTURE DEPLOYMENTS

The Enlisted Rank Recruitment Department has reportedly ruled out any further delays in the discharge of soldiers deployed to Gomdok in the spring. Rank-and-file soldiers, however, believe that they will have to “wait and see” whether they will really be discharged next year. Their concerns are based on the fact that, despite being at the end of their service periods, they had already been pulled off work in rural areas and in mine construction to help restoration efforts in Gomdok.

In fact, there is speculation among the soldiers that they could be redeployed as a group to mines in Gomdok, Yongyang and Daehung to replace miners who have been injured or killed in mine accidents. 

“Soldiers from powerful and wealthy families are considering making backdoor deals to get papers that will prevent them from getting caught up in a possible group deployment next year,” said the source. “But soldiers who left behind poor, older parents in their hometowns will have no choice but to waste their lives in the mines if that is what happens.”

Meanwhile, the source said that with the authorities focusing on the restoration of the storm-battered Gomdok region, production at Gomdok Mine is expected to return to normal by the time the Eighth Party Congress is held early next year. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.