North Korean Soldiers, Farmers in Conflict Over Harvest

korea-north-farms-07082015.jpg Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.

Hostility is growing between farmers and soldiers in a North Korean province bordering China, with soldiers raiding farms to seize crops and farmers selling portions of their harvests set aside for military use in order to pay the costs of fertilizers, sources say.

Emboldened by government policy giving the military preference in resource distribution, North Korean soldiers are now behaving less like the country’s protector and more like “a punitive force,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The people are suffering immeasurably under the regime’s Military First policy,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The farmers are helpless against the looting.”

Soldiers now carry out frequent nighttime raids against farmers’ stores, taking as much as they can of harvested crops, he said, adding, “Some cooperative farm members standing guard have begged to be tied up in order to avoid being blamed later on for what has been lost.”

“The military should be protecting the people, but instead are taking away their property,” he said.

“Their raids to seize the farmers’ precious crops are like the raids of a punitive force suppressing a rebellion.”

'Forced into crime'

Meanwhile, in North Hamgyong’s Cheongjin city, the head of a cooperative farm’s management committee  was dismissed from his post, and members of his staff jailed, after they sold 200 kilograms of corn intended for military use in order to pay the costs of earlier farming, another source said.

“He used the crops he stole from the military provision in order to pay for the fertilizer and pesticides they had purchased in the spring, as well as for the meals for volunteers,” the source said.

The committee head was then discharged from his post, and staff members sentenced to prison terms of 15 years, for their role in the theft, he said.

“Farmers are now criticizing the authorities, and are angry at being forced to become criminals after slaving away in the fields, he said.

Civilian animosity against North Korea’s military is now “extremely high both in the cities and rural towns because of a series of incidents involving soldiers,” the source said.

Harvests in North Korea are meanwhile expected to miss targets this season after authorities ordered a rush on construction projects ahead of celebrations marking the 70th anniversary in October of the founding of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party, according to sources inside the country.

Farmers were mobilized to join crews racing to complete a host of projects ahead of the Oct. 10 events and were unable to fully harvest their crops, sources in North Hamgyong said.

In order to avoid punishment, collective farms in the province reported the harvests complete, though they were still well short of their goal, one source said.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service.  Translated by Hee Jung Yang. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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