North Korea has placed a strategic industrial defense zone within the administrative district of Pyongyang so missile technicians and researchers can have access to the better benefits enjoyed by those who reside in the capital, sources inside the country said.
Panghyon town, part of Kusong city in North Pyongan province, was incorporated into the administrative district of Pyongyang on Feb. 10, they said.
Panghyon, which sits more than 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the capital, is home to a defense industrial zone with an aircraft factory and airfield near which North Korea test-fired what it claimed was its first intercontinental ballistic missile in July. The missile was airborne for 40 minutes before falling into the Sea of Japan, also known as East Sea.
“Panghyon in Kusong city is the area where the second economy’s industry is concentrated, including missile-related research, development, and parts manufacturing,” a resident of North Pyongan who recently visited China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The Panghyon area is a prohibited zone where visitors from other towns and even Kusong residents can’t get close to without permission,” said the source who requested anonymity.
“Kusong was a county in the past, and it used to be underdeveloped,” he said. “It is very unusual for Panghyon to be transferred separately to the administrative district of Pyongayng.”
It appears as though North Korean officials have given Panghyon special treatment by allowing its researchers and technicians to become Pyongyang residents rather than residents of small towns in other areas, said a second source from North Pyongan province, who declined to be named.
“Most of the researchers and technicians are originally from Pyongyang, so they [officials] probably took measures to secure special benefits for them, including food distribution, by registering them as Pyongyang residents,” he said.
Despite the collapse of the nationwide food distribution system in North Korea, the government continues to provide monthly rations to Pyongyang residents and allows them to travel anywhere in the country except to the border areas of Chagang province, Rason city, and Kaesong city, sources said.
Panghyon is not the first town to be placed under the administrative auspices of Pyongyang, the source said.
Myohyangsan in North Pyongan’s province’s Hyangsan county where the International Friendship Exhibition Hall — a large museum complex displaying gifts presented to former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from various foreign dignitaries — and Kim Il Sung’s vacation home are located, was transferred to the administrative district of Pyongyang city in the past, he said.
“I recall the Myohyangsan area had been transferred when Kim Jong Il was in power [1994-2011],” the source said. “It was transferred to Moranbong district in Pyongyang.”
Commercial satellite imagery indicated “new activity” in the area of the Panghyon Aircraft Factory, the country’s main aircraft production, repair, and research facility, in June 2017, according to a report by 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Washington-based Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
One trail had been lengthened into a 900-meter-long (2,953-foot-long) dirt road that led to a newly excavated position approximately 20 meters (66 feet) in diameter on the south side of a hill, which was used by current leader Kim Jong Un as an observation position for the July 4, 2017, missile launch, the report said.
A second trail was also improved and led to a newly graded circular area approximately 85 meters (279 feet) in diameter on which a concrete launch pad was created and subsequently used for the missile test, it said.
The concrete launch pad is larger than those at other North Korean launch sites, including the Iha-ri Driver Training and Test Facility north of Kusong, the Kalma Ballistic Missile Test Site on the shores of the East Sea in Wonsan, Kangwon province, and the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground on the east coast, the report said.
The launch pad “is large enough to handle all transporter-erector-launchers [TELs] or mobile-erector-launchers [MELs] known, or believed, to be in North Korea’s Strategic Force inventory,” the report said. “This may be an indicator that the site could be used for future research, test and development launches.”
North Korea has been reeling from harsh international sanctions imposed in 2017 and earlier this year to intensify pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and missile programs, especially following what the North said was a successful launch in November of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a "super-large heavy warhead" capable of striking the continental United States.
Current sanctions imposed by the United Nations to cut off funds for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs prohibit the country from exporting coal, iron, seafood, and other goods, and restrict imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.
In December, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution targeting North Korea’s oil imports, shipping companies, and foreign labor in a bid to disrupt the country’s energy supply.
Two months later, the U.S. announced new restrictions on nearly 60 ships and maritime transport companies registered in North Korea and other countries including China, in an effort to stop the North from evading U.N. restricting oil imports and coal exports.
Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.