Amid the push to finish the Pyongyang General Hospital by Oct. 10, North Korea has been sending senior citizens and students into a mine in Chagang Province to obtain resources for the hospital’s construction, Daily NK has learned. 

“In early July, the Cabinet and Central Committee ordered Sijung Mine in Chagang Province to produce 10 tons of calcium with processed gemstone powder for the hospital project,” a source in Chagang Province told Daily NK on Tuesday. “The mine is currently operating at full capacity, with laborers working in 22 hour shifts every day under the supervision of the mine’s management.” 

Sijung Mine, which is located in Sijung County, contains limestone and is famous for its deposits of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a critical resource for making cement. 

According to the source, however, the government’s order to mine calcium carbonate is aimed at making “acrylic water-based paint,” not cement. Acrylic water-based paint, promoted as “North Korean-made,” is a finishing for interiors and exteriors on North Korean buildings. Calcium carbonate is one of the main ingredients for this paint. 

The Rodong Sinmun reported recently that exterior tiling work on the hospital took place in late August. With a lot of progress already made on the hospital’s construction, finishings are needed more urgently than cement and the authorities are under pressure to acquire as much raw material as possible to make the finishings.

“The mine’s party committee is ordering all families to come out and work [in the mine],” the source said. “Laborers, staff and officials along with one member of their families have to work for a total of four hours each [in the mine].” 

The system in place allows workers to receive wages based on how much they have achieved during a set period of time. Daily NK was unable to confirm, however, whether those mobilized into the mine have actually received proper amounts of payment. 

Everyone, including senior citizens aged 75 or less, is required to work in the mine, the source said, noting that the official retirement age in North Korea is 60 but that the criteria changes for “state-related projects.” 

“Elderly people with poor eyesight who can’t even walk properly are worried they are effectively being called in to their own funeral,” the source said. “[They] are very upset and cursing the officials in charge.”

Students are also being mobilized into the mine, according to the source. 

“Schools in Sijung Village have ordered students from different grades at local elementary, middle and high schools to ‘process piles of stones’ and other tasks during the vacation period,” the source said. Based on this report, it appears the authorities are mobilizing all able-bodied people in the area to take part in the mining activities. 

“The provincial and county party committees have said the work will continue until early October,” the source said, adding that locals have been told to “be absolutely prepared.” This suggests that locals will continue to be mobilized into the mines right up until Oct. 10, the deadline for the completion of the hospital. 

According to the source, laborers have complained about the poor working conditions and their inability to make a living. 

“People need to tend to their own plots of land with fertilizer to survive, but they are being mobilized here and there instead,” the source said. “To add insult to injury, people forced to work in the mine are struggling because they are not able to acquire enough food.”

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.