Authorities in North Korea are preparing to tear down more than 200 houses in a northern province to make way for a memorial statue in honor of late dictator Kim Jong Il, kicking up a storm among residents who fear they will be left in the cold without alternative accommodation, residents in the area said.
Plans are afoot to build the “Eternal Tower” in North Hamkyung Province’s Hoeryong city in early April, one of many memorials announced since Kim’s death in December, including a bronze statue of him unveiled in Pyongyang ahead of his 70th birthday on Thursday, sources said.
More than 200 houses in the Osanduk-dong area of Hoeryong, the birthplace of Kim’s mother and former First Lady Kim Jong Suk, will be demolished to make way for the tower that will be surrounded by a park and other facilities in a bid to attract North Koreans to what is now a largely secluded area, sources told RFA, citing local residents.
The residents oppose the construction of the “Eternal Tower,” saying that Kim, accused of blatant human rights abuses during his 17-year rule under which thousands perished in a famine, is tormenting people even in death, according to the sources.
Hoeryong authorities have assured residents that new apartments will be built for them within two years, but did not specify when the alternate housing will be assigned to them or where they will be constructed, the sources said.
Some residents fear that the promised apartments will not be ready within that period as the city authorities prepare to tear down their houses by the end of March and start construction of the memorial in early April, the sources said.
They noted that even though Kim had ordered top priority for the construction of a food avenue project that included the popular Hoeryong Noodle Restaurant during a 2009 visit to his mother’s home city, it took nearly three years for it to be completed.
The late leader’s “Eternal Tower” will be situated near a museum dedicated to his mother.
The city authorities believe that when Kim’s memorial is built with a modern park in remote Osanduk-dong, people will flock there and other historical buildings for Kim Jong Suk will also benefit, the sources said.
Kim died suddenly of a heart attack on Dec. 17 at age 69 and was succeeded by his young and inexperienced son, Kim Jong Un.
On Thursday, a military parade presided over by new leader Kim Jong Un was held outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace to mark what would have been Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthday. Kim Jong Il's embalmed body lay in state inside Kumsusan Palace while his father Kim Il Sung's body is already on display there.
The marble-lined palace, Kim Il Sung’s former official residence, was turned into a mausoleum after his death. The renovation, thought to have cost over U.S. $100 million, was carried out while North Koreans suffered a famine during the 1990s.
The Kims have ruled North Korea since its inception in 1948 following the division of the Korean peninsula into the communist-backed North and the U.S.-allied South. Kim Il Sung remains the country's "Eternal President" even after his death in 1994.
Reported by Sung Hui-moon for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Min-Kyung Kang. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.