This article is part of a series written by Daily NK journalist Kim Jeong Hun entitled “North Korea’s Secret Stories.”
In the early 2000s, members of the North Korean Naval Command’s 572nd Regiment and their families were suddenly forced to move to the former site of the Lee Jae Sun Military Academy outside of Pyongyang, which itself had been relocated to Chagang Province. The changes were reportedly enacted due to comments made by Kim Jong Il during his on-the-spot guidance of the Reconnaissance Bureau.
The North Korean Naval Command encompasses the East and West Sea Fleets and plays a similar role to that of the navy’s general staff department. Therefore, its previous, prominent location in the Seopo-3 neighborhood of the Hyungjaesan District on the outskirts of Pyongyang allowed for convenient transportation downtown.
According to a Daily NK source inside North Korea, the location was chosen by Kim Il Sung himself and became a point of pride as an “immutable site” within the North Korean navy.
However, with Kim Jong Il’s new directive, such sentiment quickly evaporated. During on-the-spot guidance of the Reconnaissance Bureau, now known as the Reconnaissance General Bureau, Kim asked its director to choose a new location for the Bureau closer to the party’s headquarters and the United Front Department.
The director suggested that the Naval Command site would be a good given its location, and Kim Jong Il readily agreed. Kim appeared to have a strong desire to have the Reconnaissance Bureau—in charge of espionage operations in South Korea—near him.
Kim delivered direct orders for the Naval Command to be relocated to the site of the Lee Jae Sun Military Academy and for the Reconnaissance Bureau to be relocated, in turn, to the site of the Naval Command. The move of the two organizations took place over the period of a year from 2001 to 2002.
With these orders, personnel of both organizations were forced to move with their families for a second time.
The move began with the Naval Command relocating to the site of the Lee Jae Sun Military Academy. Naturally, the operation was conducted covertly at night rather than during the day in order to prevent residents from learning about the move and to avoid being observed by enemy satellites.
North Korean military authorities reportedly mobilized a special police squad of the People’s Army to assist in the relocation of the Naval Command. Here, “special police squad” refers to a task force that utilizes military light utility vehicles, typically indicated by a red five-cornered star inside a red circle before the license plate number.
In spite of this special treatment from Kim Jong Il, the overall demeanor of the Naval Command’s leaders and their families on the first day of the move was miserable. This was because they ostensibly felt “cast out to the outskirts of town.”
The backlash from the wives was particularly pronounced. Since most of the women were members of the elite, they regarded the move as a blow to their pride.
The wives said that they were very upset about having to move such a long way to Hyungjaesan District after living in downtown Pyongyang and questioned how they could be told to move even farther to Ryongsong District. After the women communicated their disapproval, their husbands were compelled to commute rather than moving their families outright. As a result, Hyungjaesan District’s Seopo commuter buses reportedly remain running to this day.
However, there was still conflict between the members of the Naval Command who did not relocate and the Reconnaissance Bureau, which did.
The Reconnaissance Bureau personnel primarily took issue with the lack of housing on base. They even engaged in personal attacks, claiming that there is “a problem with the Navy’s attitude regarding the enforcement of the General’s [Kim Jong Il] orders,” and furthermore, they labelled the Naval Command “incompetents lacking the ability to conduct real combat.”
The naval personnel also took a tough stance. They reportedly visited the Reconnaissance Bureau, which had slandered them, and instigated a fistfight. In the end, the violence only abated after the political and security sections of the two units intervened. Afterwards, the Reconnaissance Bureau reportedly stated that they “sympathize with the Naval Command’s feelings regarding being forced out to a rural area” and proceeded to request an expansion of housing options.
After the completion of the move and calming of tensions, Kim Jong Il reportedly visited members of the Naval Command on May 1, 2002 and provided “consolation” by taking a commemorative photo.
*Translated by Serena Gregory
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