Authorities in North Korea have imposed travel restrictions and limited market hours as part of an annual mass mobilization for spring planting, leaving those who rely on daily trade struggling to support themselves, sources in the north of the country said.
Sources in Yanggang and North Hamgyong provinces said the restrictions were being implemented in accordance with May 3 instructions from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to focus efforts on supporting farms during the mobilization period, an annual nationwide drive in which students and government workers are sent to work on farms in a push to meet spring planting targets.
Residents have been forbidden permission to travel and markets have been forced to close during the daytime so that people are available for work in the fields, while security guards and civilian squads are on the watch to catch those trying to skip out on farm duties, they said.
“All travel has been prohibited out of support for the farms,” a source in North Hamgyong told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Travel certificates aren’t being issued unless the death of a family member or relative in another region is confirmed,” he said, adding that some people had been refused permission to travel to attend relatives’ weddings or birthday celebrations.
With nearly everyone expected to be out working in the farms, authorities have closed local markets for all but three hours in the evening, sources in Yanggang province said.
“The hours of operation, which from April 16 were 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., were again reduced by one hour from to 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on the instructions of the party,” a source in Yanggang said on May 12.
Security guards and civilian squads have been deployed in town streets to crack down on those who are not out in the fields, the source added.
Another source in Yanggang said restrictions on travel and market hours had been implemented according to orders from the Organization and Guidance Department of the ruling Workers' Party based on Kim Jong Un’s instructions to support farming efforts.
Other sources said merchants have complained that despite the shorter hours at the markets—which are normally open from morning to night—the tax for selling goods at markets has remained the same, leaving sellers hard pressed to cover the fee.
Others who rely on the markets for daily necessities have also have been suffering difficulties from the reduced hours, they said.
North Korean state media has in recent weeks exhorted citizens to show their loyalty to the country in the nationwide mobilization for farming, encouraging citizens to devote all their strength to this year’s rice-planting tasks.
Nearly everyone is expected to participate in work on the farms, from elementary school children and university students to enlisted men, state employees, and women’s union members.
Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.