Recently discharged North Korean soldiers are being sent to work in a copper mine but are fleeing harsh conditions there, sometimes looting as they go, according to North Korean sources.
The soldiers, part of a larger group of 450, were ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to work in the mine in North Korea’s Yanggang Province and in a nearby potato farm, sources said.
“A lot of discharged soldiers dispatched to work at the Hyesan Youth Copper Mine have fled their homes in the area, stealing and running away with copper and machinery,” said a resident of Yanggang Province, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Out of 150 former soldiers sent to the mine, only about 50 report to work on a daily basis,” the source said.
He added that work at the mine has been hampered by the resulting labor shortage, already complicated by the mine’s aging original workforce, and that central authorities have reportedly issued an order “to find the fugitive discharged soldiers and return them to their workplaces.”
Though former soldiers assigned to work at the mine are issued food rations and paid a monthly salary, they find it impossible to live on those allowances alone, and many give in to despair, the source said.
A second North Korean source living near the mine said, “One already has to spend 10 long, hard years in the military. How can these former soldiers be asked to work in a mine after they’re discharged?”
“I would be so upset that I’d find it impossible to work,” he said, adding that the wives of some of the men had already fled ahead of their husbands.
With winter approaching, and with the availability of daily necessities in question, soldiers were increasingly abandoning their homes near the mine and returning to their hometowns to live with parents or siblings, sources said.
Housing facilities near the mine were quickly emptying, the sources added.
Similar work conditions were reported at the “October the Fifth” collective farm in nearby Paekam-gun, where 300 soldiers from the original group of 450 had been sent.
More to be assigned
Sources said that the original group were all that could be sent following a year-long delay after Kim Jong Il pledged that 1,300 former soldiers would be assigned to the farm and mine.
Now, as more of these men flee their work, more discharged soldiers will have to be sent in their place, sources said.
North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world, with an estimated active-duty military force of up to 1.2 million personnel, compared to about 680,000 in the South, according to U.S. government estimates.
Military spending is estimated at as much as a quarter of the reclusive nuclear-armed country’s annual output, with up to 20 percent of men ages 17 to 54 in the regular armed forces.
Reported by Moon Sung Hwi for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written in English by Richard Finney.