Gas stations closed without explanation for a few days late in August in a North Korean province bordering China, sparking concerns over possible austerity drills and causing prices to double when sales finally resumed, sources in the region said.
Speaking to RFA’s Korean Service, residents of North Hamgyong province said that the province’s densely-populated Chongjin city was especially hard hit, causing widespread confusion and fears of imminent war.
“Gas stations throughout Ranam, Songpyon, Sunam, Pohang, Sinam, and Chongam districts were all closed,” one source told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Gas prices then doubled, and it was chaos.”
Travel was made particularly difficult in parts of Chongjin not served by trains, buses, or other public transportation, he said.
“There was a rumor for a long time that the gas supply would be cut, but no one expected the stations would be closed all at once,” the source said, adding that speculation quickly spread that gas sales had ended because of international tensions over North Korea’s illicit nuclear and missile programs.
“Gas stations are regarded as state-run organizations, with some controlled by the military and others by the Daesong General Bureau of Office 39 of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party,” the source said.
“The Seungri Chemical Factory in Rason city alone is known to have more than a million tons of fuel oil which it imported from Russia, so I don’t understand why the state created this situation,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a second source in North Hamgyong said that when gas sales stopped, “residents were frightened because they thought a war was about to break out.”
“Their fears were relieved when sales resumed shortly afterward. But then the gas prices skyrocketed,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
Many now think that the brief interruption in gas sales may have been a fuel-saving drill conducted by the state to prepare for the impact of reduced fuel imports under harsh new U.N. sanctions punishing North Korea for its nuclear program, sources said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney