The World’s First Interview with a Current North Korean Soldier

[imText1]On July 22, The DailyNK, for the first time in the world, obtained a video clip that contains an interview with a North Korean soldier currently on duty.

The interview was conducted in the beginning of May in the train from Chongjin, North Hamkyong province, to Shinuiju. It was taken by Kim Man Chul, a North Korean democratization activist who provided the video clip to RENK, a North Korean human rights organization based in Japan.

● Still cuts from the Video Clip

▲ Inside of the train from Chungjin to Shinuiju. Trains used to be full in North Korea, but after the high increase of price and the “fixed seat policy,” people who do business prefer to take freight trains illegally rather than taking passenger train legally but complicatedly. Consequently, passenger trains are half empty now. It is seen that a female train crew walking on the aisle is trying to check on passenger tickets and traveler’s permit. (photo : RENK)

▲ Civilians loading baggage. Most of them are traveling for their business, and are rushing to go aboard. (photo : RENK)

▲ One of the People’s Army officer says “military is first” and is cutting in line. The person in blue uniform is a station staff, but cannot stop the officer. (photo : RENK)

▲ A soldier ordered to return home due to the malnutrition. His rank is clearly shown on his uniform as the lowest rank. (photo : RENK)

※ If you want to use these photos, please write expressly source of photos as RENK

The rank of the soldier Kim Man Chul interviewed is the lowest one. North Korean trains have separate cart for civilian passengers and the military and while the military can aboard whichever cart they desire to, the civilians can only travel on the civilian cart. The interview was possible because there were not more seats left in the military cart and the soldier rode on the civilian cart.

He was a soldier who was suffering from malnutrition, who was ordered to return home for a certain period of time to recover. Currently it has been known that many soldiers have been returning home for malnutrition. The interviewee was at the age of 19 and from Kangkye of Jagang Province. He said he had been interned at a hospital for 2-3 years since he joined the military, but because he could not receive adequate treatment (nutrition) he is returning to home, where his sister is living, for his recovery.

When our interviewer asks, “Have you eaten?” the low rank soldier answers, “Even if I did eat, I cannot digest. My intestines do not work.” Mere exchange of few words reveals how serious is the malnutrition that low rank North Korean soldiers may be suffering.

Furthermore, the soldier tells about the good situation inside the military, “In the compound we do not even have pickled food, and when we have salt, we put it in our pocket to eat alone.”

Then by telling the interview that after his recovery he would rather not return to the military, we discover that the soldier’s remarks confirms the experts analysis on the weakening of the morale in the North Korean military from the lower ranks.

The following is the main part of the conversation contained in the video clip.

▲Kim : Have you eaten?
▲Soldier : Even if I did eat, I cannot digest. My intestines do not work.

▲ Kim : You are in the military. Why are you returning home instead of to the compound?
▲Soldier : They do not even have pickled foods (in the military). We carry around salt in our pocket to eat and even that we do it in secret.

▲Kim : Can you return to the military service with an unhealthy body like this?
▲Soldier : If I don’t return…….(meaning that he would rather not return to the military)

The video clip is about 90 minutes long in its entirety and includes scenes of other soldiers returning home due to malnutrition and tuberculosis. The soldier stays sitting down not on a bed set but a fixed sit without any facial expression until the conversation starts.

The North Korean military extended the length of the service after the decrease of population due to the food crisis of 1995~1998 where three million people deceased of starvation. After 2003, they changed the recruiting system, from a volunteer system to an obligatory system.

The required age of entrance is 16 (high-middle school grade 4), height 148cm, and weight 48kg.

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