Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province
Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. (Daily NK)

Several houses burned down in Myongchon County, in North Hamgyong Province, in early March, Daily NK has learned. The county branch of the Ministry of Social Security, however, faces criticism for arresting an innocent man in his 60s and interrogating him instead of the people actually responsible for the fire.

“Early last month, eight private residences burned down in a fire in Myongchon County that killed or injured several people. But the county branch of the Ministry of Social Security has done nothing about the people responsible for the fire and instead brought in an unrelated security guard for interrogation, provoking outrage from the locals,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday.

According to the source, the fire broke out at a warehouse that was storing gasoline and diesel and spread to houses behind the warehouse.

“The warehouse wasn’t a fuel depot designed to store gasoline or diesel. Small-time restaurateurs and shopkeepers in the county had been illegally storing a considerable amount of fuel there that they intended to sell,” the source explained.

“They were buying up fuel instead of focusing on their main businesses because they’d been having trouble running their stores and restaurants since last year and were facing pressure to meet [quotas] under the state plan,” the source said.

The fuel business is not feasible to enter alone because of the large amount of money required, so a group of ten or so restaurateurs and shopkeepers pooled their funds and smuggled in gasoline and diesel from Kilju and Chongjin, according to the source. 

The fire broke out during the course of their illegal fuel retail business, and all the businesspeople involved, as well as the security guard at the warehouse, were arrested by the county branch of the Ministry of Social Security, he added. 

But since the county was in no position to help the people left destitute by the fire, the Ministry of Social Security agreed that the businesspeople involved would only have to do six months of unpaid labor provided that they built houses for the victims and compensated them for their lost furnishings.

In the end, the entire blame for the fire fell on the shoulders of the 67-year-old security guard at the warehouse, who is hard of hearing. The source said the guard was arrested and is being interrogated by the Ministry of Social Security, which has accused him of causing the fire by smoking while on guard duty, despite a lack of definite evidence.

But locals familiar with the entire situation are reportedly angry at the authorities for their cynical behavior — locking up and interrogating an innocent old man while letting the lawbreakers essentially go free.

“Since Mar. 10, the businesspeople who were actually responsible for the incident have been put to work rebuilding houses at the site of the fire,” the source said.

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

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Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.