Former North Korean soldiers are grumbling as the government is forcing them to provide free farm labor as part of a strategy to increase agricultural production and lend support to rural provinces, sources in the country told RFA.
Every North Korean male must serve in the military seven years after high school, but the soldiers being discharged now enlisted when the minimum service time was 10 years. Many are angry that they are being ordered to get back to work after having already begun preparing for life after the military.
“The authorities made the decision at the 4th Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party at the end of December that they would deploy groups of discharged soldiers to farms,” an official from the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service Jan. 3.
“These are soldiers who were recently discharged at the end of 2021 or are just about to be discharged. Dissatisfaction is spreading among them,” the source said.
One group of 200 veterans who had been stationed in the city of Chongju on the province’s southern coast had already returned to their hometowns when they got the call, according to the source. Hundreds more in the city who were discharged in November and December are on standby for their own deployment.
“The reason why the authorities are placing veterans in the countryside at such a large scale is that the aging rural workforce is seen as the cause of the decrease in grain production,” the source said.
Most observers have however chalked up the decrease to natural disasters, a lack of fertilizer and modern machinery, and other issues related to the closure of the border with China two years ago due to the coronavirus.
A Dec. 2 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said North Korea now needs external food aid to meet its basic needs. The FAO said North Korea should have imported 1.06 million tons of grain between November 2020 and November 2021 to cover the gap between domestic production and demand, but trade with China has been on hold since January 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As the news of this new policy of mobilizing veterans spread, the source said bribery attempts by veterans trying to remove their names from the list of workers have also.
“In response, the Central Committee has warned against any deliberate act of evasion, … which would be regarded as an anti-party act to be severely punished. Many officials are nervous that they may be caught when they try to receive bribes,” the source said.
Reports are circulating that 140 recently discharged veterans in the northern province of Ryanggang are to be assigned to a potato farm in a rural county, a resident of the province’s largest city Hyesan told RFA.
“The Central Committee has instructed each farm to guarantee the living conditions and environment for the stability of the lives of the veterans, so even the farm owners have been very busy at the beginning of this year,” the second source said.
“The vets are really unhappy with the Central Committee’s order to deploy to rural areas. These soldiers left their hometowns as teenagers and devoted ten years to the military, but all they get in the end is another difficult and exhausting assignment to work in the countryside.”
Translated by Claire Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.