Drugs Fuel Work Surge at North Korean Building Site

2016-08-04
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Buildings in North Korea's capital Pyongyang are shown at night in a file photo.
Buildings in North Korea's capital Pyongyang are shown at night in a file photo.
Robert Harding World Imagery

Driven by growing pressure to complete a showcase construction project on schedule, project managers at a building site in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang are openly supplying their exhausted work force with powerful methamphetamines called “ice,” North Korean sources say.

And this has led to the appearance in the tightly controlled state of graffiti mocking production slogans, with some proclaiming “Pyongyang speed is drug speed” and others demeaning workers in North Korean construction battalions as “drug troops,” sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

The writings, which were discovered on July 27 in an unfinished building littered with bottles and cigarette butts, are being treated as a political offense, with police officers in Pyongyang now actively searching for those responsible, one source in North Jagang province said.

“Investigators are warning construction workers that they will be severely punished for further incidents of this kind,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a symbolic rebuke of international sanctions imposed for nuclear weapons tests, North Korea is forging ahead with the massive construction scheme, drafting thousands of city residents to labor on the project till late at night under harsh conditions, sources said in earlier reports.

The construction of apartment blocks and other public buildings on Pyongyang’s Ryomyung Street has pulled in “hundreds of thousands” of workers from the capital city alone, with others brought in from other provinces, one source told RFA.

“[They] are undergoing terrible sufferings in their work,” the source said.

'Pointless' to report


Officials in charge of the project are pushing workers hard to finish frame construction on the buildings, which include a 70-story high-rise apartment building and at least 60 other structures, before the weather gets too cold, sources said.

“Project managers are now openly providing drugs to construction workers so that they will work faster,” RFA’s source in North Jaggang said.

A source in Yanggang Province told RFA that construction officials had “pointlessly” played up the graffiti’s significance by reporting it to the police, though.

“There is already a lot of graffiti with obscene content at construction sites or in public restrooms, and even if this graffiti was political in its tone, the best way to handle the incident would have been to cover it over and move on,” he said.

More serious cases of graffiti attacking national leader Kim Jong Un were reported earlier this year in Yanggang, “and residents were required for a while to provide handwriting samples,” he said.

“Now, officials ignore a fair amount of graffiti because of this traumatic experience,” he said.

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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