The consensus among North Korea watchers (myself included) was that Camp 18 had been closed sometime in the late 2000s (between 2006 and 2011). The coal mine located inside the camp, the Pongchang District Coal Mine (봉창지구탄광), was even featured on North Korean television on 2011-1-3, 2012-2-27, and 2012-10-20.
Recent satellite imagery of the camp featured on Google Earth (2016-3-30), however, indicates that a new prison camp has been opened on the site of the former prison sometime between 2013 and 2015. If a new prison camp has been been opened, it’s name and administrative classification remain a mystery, though I post some evidence and speculation below for your consideration….
New Security Perimeter
A new security perimeter has been built around the former Camp 18, and it is not built along the same path as the old Camp 18 security perimeter.
Pictured Above (Google Earth): The outlines of the new prison camp security perimeter (in yellow) and various historical security perimeters associated with Camp 18 (in black)
The difference between the security perimeter of the old Camp 18 and the new prison camp can be most clearly seen along the eastern and norther edges of the camp. Camp 18 had a security perimeter along the norther border, and remnants of it still remain, but the new prison camp does not yet appear to have a northern border (other than the Taedong River).
The new security perimeter appears to be composed of two barbed-wire fences held up by concrete posts.
The new security perimeter has five new guard posts along the mountain ridge and two new security checkpoints, one at each of the two transit points. The eastern security checkpoint appears to be the main entrance. The southern mountainous checkpoint appears to be for delivery of coal to the “famous” 2.8 Jikdong Youth Coal Mine Mine (2.8직동 청년 탄광) located outside the security perimeter.
Pictured Above (Google Earth: 2016-3-30): Security perimeter of prison camp (yellow line), five guard posts (yellow points), two transit checkpoints (red points), roads in/out of the camp (blue lines)
Here is a closeup of the new guard post at 39.546986°, 126.018297°. It was built between 2013-10-1 and 2015-4-4. You can also see the barbed wire perimeter running next to it.
There is also a guard post on the bridge that links the area with Camp 14, but this checkpoint appears to be a remnant of the former Camp 18.
New Guard Barracks?
There also appears to be five new facilities that could serve as guard barracks scattered around the camp.
The guard facilities/barracks are located here: 1. 39.536004°, 126.051207° 2. 39.521812°, 126.079342° 3. 39.579655°, 126.080485° 4. 39.593158°, 126.115249° 5. 39.576379°, 126.131835°
The five facilities are very similar in construction. Here is a closeup of the facility that lies at the main entrance to the new prison camp:
A substantial amount of housing was razed in the camp between 2013 and 2016, which would support the idea that “innocent” people were moved out of the camp perimeter (possibly to eastern neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) or Tukjang Youth Coal Mine (득장청년탄관) which have both seen substantial housing growth starting in 2011). It is possible that once the “innocents” were moved to the neighboring coal mines, the Pongchang Coal Mine in the former Camp 18 could return to the exclusive use of prison labor.
In image above areas where houses were destroyed are outlined in red.
Below are images from neighboring Myonghak Coal Mine (명학탄광) which saw a housing boom starting in 2011. Were these people being removed from former Camp 18?
By 2014, this new housing construction appeared to be complete.
Immortality Tower Removed
The “immortality tower” that is present in the vast majority of villages, factory complexes, and mining complexes has been removed.
The monument was torn down sometime after 2013-10-1. By contrast, the immortality towers were added when Camp 22 was closed in Hoeryong.
It is possible that the nearby Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il monuments are also being torn down, but I need more imagery to confirm.
Did Camp 18 merge with Camp 14?
Pictured below is the ferry that goes between Camp 14 and former Camp 18. It was built sometime between 2007 and 2011 (sorry, not much imagery here). Coordinates: 39.589340°, 126.077555°.
The fact that a ferry appears to be operational between the two prison camps, coupled with the observation that the new camp has no northern perimeter (and that they have always been connected by railway and temporary road), supports the hypothesis that the Camp 18 area may have been taken over by Camp 14. The history of the relationship between Camp 14 and Camp 18 is complicated, but there is also some historical precedent.
If this is a new prison camp, and I believe the evidence shows this is plausible, it will be the second in the Kim Jong-un era. I spotted the first new prison facility of the Kim Jong-un era in January 2013 on the north west side of Camp 14. Its official name and administrative classification remain a mystery.
Let the debate begin…