Archive for the ‘Good Friends’ Category

‘Labour hero’ supposedly executed in NKorea

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Good Friends claims that a prestigious local politician has been executed for his bourgeois lifestyle…

(excerpt)  A cooperative farm chief who was once honoured by North Korea’s founding president has been publicly executed for starting a private farm to support his luxurious lifestyle, a South Korean aid group said Thursday.

The unidentified man — said to be a member of the national legislature — and two colleagues were put to death by firing squad on December 5 in Pyongsong City, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Pyongyang, the Good Friends group quoted sources as saying.

The farm chief, his accountant and the local county’s party secretary were accused of selling produce from an unauthorised farming operation to lead a luxurious lifestyle, said a newsletter from the group which provides aid to the hardline communist state.

The farm chief was accused of failing to register 196 acres (79 hectares) of farmland that had been cultivated over the past decade. He allegedly fed retired soldiers with the produce and used them as his private bodyguards.

The man “acted like a king” in Mundok County and had been deemed untouchable because of his status and the gang of retired soldiers who followed him everywhere, Good Friends said.

All those put to death were said to have lived in upmarket two-storey homes and driven illicit cars.

Read the whole story in the AFP here


The Dreams of North Korea’s Youth Is to Succeed as Merchants

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Daily NK
Park Hyun Min

The future dream of North Korea’s teenagers is no longer to become party leaders or soldiers, or even join the Party, but to become “merchants.”

Good Friends,” an aid organization for North Korea, said through “Today’s News on North Korea” No. 104 on the 27th, “Most of the elementary and senior middle school students nowadays, upon being asked what they would like to do post-graduation, say they would like to be merchants.”

The source relayed, “Many of their peers have stopped going to school and have started doing business. It is too burdensome for some students to attend school, so they sell noodles or vegetables by sticking around the jangmadang (markets) and contribute to their families’ livelihoods.”



The Number of Day Laborers Hired by Private Parties Increasing in North Korea

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin

The number of day labor jobs offered by private parties is gradually increasing in the North. Unlike those with full time jobs at State-run factories, individuals with day labor jobs work by the day.

According to inside sources and many defectors who came to the South earlier this year, individuals looking for day labor jobs normally work as gold miners, construction workers in cities, as luggage carriers for train passengers and maids.

In North Korea, these day laborers are called “Bulbulee (which means a person sweats for labor),” “Sakbari (which means a person waiting for wages)” or “Ilkkun (workers).” It is reported that there are day labor hiring centers in big cities and around the closed mining areas.

Daily laborers’ wages vary based on the type of work. Laborers working at gold mines are provided with housing and food and get paid 1,500 North Korean won per day. In the city construction sites, skilled laborers such as plasterers earn 2,000 won daily whereas unskilled laborers make less than 1,000 won. Daily laborers are making good money compared to factory workers whose average monthly wages fall between 3,000 and 5,000 won.

Kim Yong Chul (pseudonym), a defector who used to work as a day laborer at a mine in Hoichang of South Pyongan Province said, “Since 2004, day labor hiring centers started to appear in the jangmadang (market) of Hoichang. Employers hired young men and women in good health on the spot and took them to workplaces.” He used to work at a mine well-known across the country since the Japanese colonial period. Mr. Kim said, “Day laborers not only dug for gold but were also mobilized to build or fix houses for their employers.”

In Hoichang, there are some gold mines closed by the authorities that were thought to be tapped out. In the mid 1990s, some locals dug the mines again and made a great fortune. Years later, around 2003, these locals began looking out for workers and started hiring individuals from other provinces. Now the county has a great number of day laborers from various provinces working at mines.

Good Friends, the Seoul-based relief organization dedicated to North Korea, said in a recent report, “On October 23rd at around 10 A.M., a gold mine in Hoichang of South Pyongan Province collapsed, leaving three miners dead and two wounded.” In the North, private parties are banned from trading gold and pine mushrooms by law, and only the State can make these types of transactions. However, it is well known that many officials in charge of enforcing the ban frequently take bribes and allow those who pay them to dig for gold in closed mines.

Gold miners usually stay underground between 15 to 30 days each time they begin a mining operation. The miners dig up the ore, crush it using a machine called a Maguanggi (ore-polishing machine) and apply mercury to extract gold. The whole process is done in underground tunnels, and the processed gold is sold to gold dealers in Pyongsung and Sinuiju.

Individuals who run the crushing machine are laborers from other provinces, and most of them are females. With food and housing provided by their employer, they make 1,000 won daily. If they work year-round this way, they can earn decent money.

45-year-old Park Jong Moo (pseudonym) who came to the South this year said, “I earned 2,000 won per day when I worked as a plasterer, building a house for a man who made his money from trade in Chongjin City.”

Mr. Park’s son worked as a cargo porter at the Chongjin railway station. Since there were so many “Sakbari (referring to cargo porters working for daily wages)” at the station, competition among “Sakbari” was fierce. Normally, these porters made less than 1,000 won per day.

It is becoming popular among party cadres and the new wealth to have a maid who does housework and takes care of children. These people introduce the maid to their neighbors as a ‘distant relative’ because having a maid is unthinkable in the Socialist North. While performing maid services and getting paid for the work that she does, the maid pretends to be a family member and acts as if she is merely helping out with the housework.

A source inside the North said, “There was once a party official in Chongjin who employed a girl as a maid after having paid her parents. When the official was accused of having a maid, the official said she was a ‘relative.’”

Regarding the rise in day laborers, an expert on North Korea says, “Those North Koreans who made a fortune from mining or trade privately employ laborers to further expand their businesses…However, since the regime will never allow the rich to become too powerful, it will begin to regulate the employment activities of private parties at the proper time.”


North Korea’s Hyesan Jangmadang Prohibits Sale of Medical Products

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

An internal source conveyed on the 30th that due to an extreme decree which prohibits all sales of medical goods, the suffering of citizens has been increasing.

The source maintained that “In August, the sale of medical products was banned, and by the start of anti-socialism inspections in September, no medical products could be found in the jangmadang.”

The North Korean authorities have long since stated its position in prohibiting the sale of medical goods, saying that the sale of medical goods in the jangmadang is a show of democracy that undermines the national medical system. However, regulations usually never went beyond formalities.

Recently, however, anti-socialism inspections have been conducted on a large-scale in Yankang with the theme of “Abolishing capitalist trends in the market.” Medical products, which are mostly from China and South Korea, have been regulated more aggressively. Some have said that the authorities have strengthened regulations due to frequent incidences involving Chinese sub-standard medical products.”

With the harbinger of regulation of medical products, pharmaceutical vendors have sold medical products to their acquaintances on a limited basis. The price has increased significantly as well. Chinese-made aspirin, “Zhengtongbian”, which costs 20 North Korean won per pill, has hiked up to 30 won. A bottle of anti-diarrhea medicine has increased from 150 won to 300 won and penicillin from 120 to 200 won.

Especially the smuggling of Electrolyte Solution, used in IV’s to hydrate hospital patients, has stopped due to regulations, causing a jump in price.

From mid-August to the end of October, the anti-socialism inspections in Hyesan, Yankang were cooperatively conducted by the central Party, the Prosecutor’s Office, the National Security Agency and the People’s Safety Agency. Along with the strict regulation of cell phones, the market, and capitalist “corruption,” the medical goods ban has cast a heavy burden on the civilians.

“Good Friends” reported in October that “Thirty people have been incarcerated as a result of the anti-socialism inspections in Yankang since mid-August, and regulations have tightened.”

When the sale of medical products completely ceased in the markets, citizens and doctors who must treat their patients have been extremely disgruntled.

The source said, “People have to go to the homes of pharmacists in order to buy medicine, but they cannot if the pharmacists do not know them personally. The price has increased dramatically due to the regulations of medicinal products.”

“Even hospitals do not carry medicine and there is no way to procure them, even at doctors’ request.” Doctors have complained, saying “Are we supposed to just sit by and watch the sick people?”

A majority of medical products that could be found in the markets were Chinese-made contraband goods. In some cases, Party leaders or army hospital leaders have illegally procured medicine as well.

The source commented that when civilian discontent rose, the Party Municipal Committee explained the cause of the cease in sale of medical goods as, “In a socialist society, hospitals have guaranteed medical goods, but during this temporary time of suffering, some immoral people have hoarded the national medical supply and are making a profit.”


The North Korean Authorities Control Sales Items And Prices at Markets

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Sung Jin

It is reported that the North Korean authorities have been regulating Jangmadang (markets) by placing age limit on who can do business in the market and controlling sales items and prices.

45-year old Ahn Hyuk Jun said in an interview with DailyNK conducted on Wednesday, “A decree is posted at the entrance to many markets in Pyongyang that the state would control sales prices and the quantity of sales items.” Ahn, a resident of Pyongyang, came to Yanji, China on November 4th to visit his relatives.

Mr. Ahn said, “According to the decree, the state forbids merchants from bringing out more than 15 items for sale and selling more than 10 kg of sea products in the market.”

The decree is another controlling measure of markets adopted by the state. Previously, the state has conducted a campaign to fight anti-socialist trends appearing in many market places. Moreover, it has banned female merchants who are under the age of 39 from doing business in the market. In Pyongyang, the age limit is 49. It seems that North Korea has adopted a rather extreme measure as both the number of people engaged in business and products circulated in the markets continue to increase.

However, few merchants would follow the new measure which limits sales items and prices because they cannot make a profit that way. It is certain that the new decree would likely turn out futile.

Mr. Ahn said, “For example, the decree lowered the price for octopus from 3,700 won/kg to 2,200 won/kg, and the price for flatfish from 3,500/kg to 1,800/kg.”

Ahn said, “No one in the market would abide by the state decree at the risk of losing profit,” adding, “many merchants would bring out items for sale that are low in quality and matches the state-imposed price anyway. However, a real business is done in a clandestine manner.”

According to Ahn’s explanation, the real business is done as follows. Many merchants on their way to the market stop at neighboring households and unload their sales items. Then they pay the households to keep their items there. At the market, they bring out low-quality items on sales stand, and post a sign with a list of real sales items right next the stand.

When there are customers checking the list, merchants approach to them and begin bargaining. Once it is done, they both come out of the market and go the household where the merchant hands over the asked item to their customers.

Ahn said, “Overall, many markets of Pyongyang are stagnant due to the state regulation on market transactions.” He added, “Many Pyongyang citizens argue that the state, instead of distributing food, should allow them to do business in the market so that they can make a living.”

“There is a rumor that Kim Yong Il was appointed as the prime minister because he pledged to close all markets,” Ahn said, “Many people worry that a man who lacks knowledge about how money works is now in charge of the nation’s economy.”

Good Friends, the Seoul-based relief organization dedicated to North Korea also reported yesterday that the North Korean authorities have lately produced a great amount of lecture material which bans business activities across the country.

According to the lecture material, the authorities asserted that market transactions would destroy North Korea’s own socialism from within and facilitate the infiltration of capitalism into the society. They urged that the state should strengthen mass ideological training in order to educate the public about why it is important to place age limit on who can do business in the market.

As mentioned earlier, North Korea has banned females under the age of 39 from doing business in the market. There is a rumor that the state would increase the age limit to 45 at the end of this year.

In North Korea most working age females are forced to work at factory complexes. In Pyongsung of South Pyongan Province, the state sends out a dispatch to local females under the age of 30 in order to have them work at neighboring factory complexes. However, few would actually work at the designated complexes because many complexes already have enough workers. Even if they could get a position at factories, it is reported that those employed barely receive wages and food distribution.


The Number of Children Who Drop out of School Increases Due to Hardships

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

In North Korea where free education is espoused, the number of students dropping out of school due to economic issues has been continuously increasing.

An North Korean aid organization, Good Friends, said in an informational material distributed on the 31st of October, said, “In Wonsan, Kangwon Province, there are a lot of children who do not even get to attend elementary school. They stop out of school due to difficulties in living and follow their parents to the market or sustain an existence from digging medicinal herbs from mountains and fields.”

In the midst of such a reality where the students’ attendance rate is increasingly falling, the source relayed that “At such a rate, voices of complaint among some officials of Kangwon Province that have said that all of Kangwon Province will become illiterate are high.”

”When actually walking around the streets or in the market of Wonsan, one can easily meet children who are selling water. It is easier to meet children in the markets than in schools.”

The source also relayed, “In a high school in Pohang District in Chongjin, North Hamkyung Province, three objects worth 2,000 won per person, among the list of notebook, writing utensils, winter vest, belt, and winter socks, are required under the pretext of classroom decorations.”

”In elementary schools in Hoiryeong, 500g of sunflower seeds per person were collected for Kim Jong Il’s birthday preparation on February 16th of next year. In other regions, elementary schools and middle schools are collecting each kind of products and upper-levels students are required to bring 20kg of scrap iron, 4 strips of rabbit leather and 1kg of white peace seed and the lower-levels 500g of scrap-iron, 500g of peace seed and 200g of castor-bean.”

It added, “Students whose family situations are difficult cannot keep up with school education. The number of students who do not go to school due to the shortage of funding are increasing.”

Further, “teachers prefer children who come from well-to-do families and give up on the children from poor families. Before, teachers would visit the homes of every student and try to persuade the families to allow the children to return to school, but nowadays, no one takes that kind of an initiative.”

The source also revealed that starting last October, street beggars have been increasing in the vicinity of the Chongjin markets.

The source stated, “Around the market area, young beggars daily fighting for the food that the restaurants have thrown away can be seen daily. During the day, they ask for alms near the market or look for things to eat in the garbage dump and in the winter, since the weather is cold and there are no places to sleep, people gather near steel mills, so they end up being completely covered with dust and dirt.”


Economic doldrums, restrictions on hawking cost jobs in N. Korea: aid group

Friday, October 26th, 2007


North Koreans have been suffering from chronic job shortages due to worsening economic conditions and a recent move by North Korean authorities to limit the number of hawkers for fear of capitalism spreading in the isolated, communist state, an aid group said Friday.

The North has recently forbidden women under the age of 40 from selling merchandise on their own, Good Friends said in its latest newsletter. The previous age limit was 30.


Inside North Korea: A Report by Good Friends Chairman Venerable Pomnyun and Seungjoo Baek

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

pomnyun.jpgInside North Korea: A Report by Good Friends Chairman Venerable Pomnyun and Seungjoo Baek
SAIS US Korea Institute
September 19, 2007


For audio, click here. 

Chairman of the Good Friends Center for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees, the Venerable Pomnyun, briefed audience members at SAIS on current trends inside North Korea, including issues surrounding the current food crisis caused by the flooding, continuing health crisis, and the breakdown of the education system.

Good Friends, one of the largest Korea-based organizations providing humanitarian aid inside the D.P.R.K. and to refugees in Northern China, contributes some of the most accurate and timely reports on conditions inside North Korea. The Venerable Pomnyun visited Washington D.C. with a team of experts to discuss the on-going food shortage and proliferation of non-government controlled information. While here, they briefed Congress and held a day-long conference at CSIS.

Highlights of his comments (paraphrased, not direct quotes):

  • In contrast to the much lower number of famine deaths provided by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Pomnyun maintained the 3 million number claimed by Good Friends in the past.
  • He provided a short narrative of coping mechanisms people have adopted to stay afloat (selling and manufacturing in homes). Society is being sustained by activities that are still considered illegal.
  • He claims the food situation is getting worse, and he does not think the DPRK can resolve the situation on its own.  Now people buy all their food on the market.
  • He claims that people’s lives are not improving.
  • TB is on the increase along with other epidemics.  Since there is no electricity, water is not clean. 
  • He offered that there are four levels of hospitals: clinics at the town level, hospitals in cities and some towns, hospitals at province level, and specialist offices in the Pyongyang area.
  • Hospitals and clinics are not working at the city/province level.  The situation is better in Pyongyang hospitals.  The amount of international medical aid, however, is not enough for even the Pyongyang hospitals.
  • Medical aid is the second most needed good (after food).  People do not get medicines from the hospital, but from the markets.  With low salaries, however, medicines are difficult to afford.  [Because the institutional environment is still not supportive of entrepreneurship] there are qulaity problems with pharmaceuticals purchased at the markets.
  • The education system, though ‘free’ is not functioning well.  Due to the food shortage problem, students do not go to school.  Teachers also do not come to class.  The cost of education is being pushed back to students directly.  For example, students buy chalk for teachers.  As a result, however, poor students cannot attend school.  The rich students are hiring tutors, so we are seeing a market in private education emerge in the DPRK.
  • The DPRK is slowly moving to a private economic system.  Men who cannot get work are now jokingly referring to themselves as “guard dogs,” because they sit at home all day.
  • North Koreans do not trust the government or party.  People on their death beds are telling their children to trust their descendents, not the government.  People still spend much of their time trying to subsist, but these complaints will not become a political issue.  The political system is stable and will not collapse any time soon.

North Korea Farming Region Destroyed, So the Cost of Rice Increases

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Due to the flood damage which heavily affected the central region of North Korea last August, the next year’s price of rice has been putting an increasing burden among civilians.

Min Nam Su (pseudonym), a North Korean trader who has come to Dandong, China, said on the 15th, “In Hwanghae and South Pyongan Province this year, farming has been affected for the flood damage, so the price of rice has been showing signs of an increase. Currently in the Jangmadang (markets) in Shinuiju, 15kg of rice costs 25,000 North Korean won (KRW8,000, USD8.7).

“The farmlands in Hwanghae and South Pyongan have been completely submerged, so we were only able to look to farming in North Pyongan Province. It is obvious that they will be taken up for provisions for the People’s Army, so people who have money are already busy buying and hoarding rice.”

A majority of urban civilians are directly purchasing rice from the jangmadang, with the exception of Hwanghae and Pyongyang, after the breakdown of the provision system in North Korea. If the price of rice skyrockets, the livelihood of North Korean citizens will be directly affected.

It is possible that the rice aid from South Korea or international society, which will be distributed from the end of this month, may stabilize the price of rice.

Good Friends, beginning early this month, relayed through its newsletter, “Only when the rice aid comes in quickly will the overall price of rice decrease, no matter whose hands it falls into. It is difficult to buy a kg of rice for 1,700~1,900 won.”

Rice aid to North Korea flows in through Pyongyang, Nampo, or through Chongjin Harbor. The rice, after it goes to the People’s Army or large-city political employees, travels down a path of smuggling into the jangmadang. NGOs for North Korea estimate that the actual amount of rice allocated to civilians is around 30% of all the aided rice.

The North Korean authorities recently gave an instruction to factories and offices to guarantee six-months worth of food provisions to laborers, but the factories are reportedly in a difficult situation due to the rice shortage.

Mr. Min said, “From now on, 15kg of rice is supposed to hike up to 50,000 North Korean won (approx. USD17.4). In places like Yongcheon plain and Jungju plain, some farming has been well done, so the armies are mobilized and will do harvest. This year in particular, there will probably be a lot of thieves in farmlands.”

He said further, “The price of rice is supposed to have risen even more in Kaecheon, Suncheon, and Pyongsung in South Pyongan Province than in Shinuiju. There have been news that people are even coming from the Hwanghae region, which is a famous farming province, to North Pyongan to buy rice.”

Mr. Min said, “In early August, when the initial flood damage occurred, a kilogram of rice rose to 1,960 (approx. USD0.7) in the Shinuiju and in the second week of August, remained stable at 1,500 won (approx. USD0.52). It seems like the price of rice will continue to rise. But, the situation would change when the support is distributed to the civilians, but who expects that?”


North Korea, Illegal Sex Trafficking Prevention

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

Recently, it has been made known that sealed or closed-off rooms in up-scale restaurants and popular “karaokes” in North Korean provincial cities have been removed.

Since 2000, sex trafficking has rapidly increased at inns, saunas, spas, and karaoke bars in large provincial cities such as Shinuiju, Chongjin, and Hamheung.

In particular, corrupt businesses such as massage parlors and steam baths with the purpose of sex trafficking have proliferated, increasing incidents of solicitations in front of large-city stations and metaphoric advertisements, such as “flower” and “bed sales.”

Good Friends has released on the September Newsletter that after creating rooms in the basement of a restaurant in Wonsan, Kangwon Province and organizing young girls for prostitution and the owner of the restaurant and affiliates received maximum punishment such as the death penalty for forcing sexual trafficking.

After inspections and punishment, an inside source relayed that an order came down preventing operations of illicit rooms by karaoke and entertainment venues. Karaokes removed entrance and exit doors and restaurants enforced the opening of doors of each room. Due to such management, the number of guests has greatly decreased.

North Korean businessman Mr. Park, who is residing in Dandong, China, said in a phone conversation with DailyNK, “Most sealed or closed-off rooms in restaurants or karaoke bars of large provincial cities such as Shinuiju and Hamheung have mostly disappeared.”

Mr. Park said, “I would often use sealed rooms because I could talk about business and entertain guests while not worrying about the eyes of others. However, recently, the government gave an order to get rid of these rooms due to prostitution.”

Further, he said, “Field security agents are checking up on internal facilities by making rounds at restaurants and karaokes. If sealed-off or blocked-off rooms are still reported, the business has to be shut down and the owner is taken to the Security Agency.”

He said, “People who have money nowadays seek out upper-scale restaurants for sharing important businesses. The presence of female entertainers elevates the atmosphere, but in some cases, the women are forced to ‘serve’ them.”

However, Mr. Park said, “Even if the government gets rid of sealed rooms and dividers, it is difficult to remove the root of the problem because women want to continue making money, and such “popular” spots have already become established as a means of doing so.

Mr. Park also said, “In Shinuiju alone, sex trafficking is known to have spread significantly. Women who are sold have separately rented rooms and receive 10,000 won ($3.30) per night.”

A Chinese businessman Lio Jilong confirmed these details. He, who frequents Shinuiju for trade with North Korea, said, “Even when I went to Shinuiju at the end of August, restaurants with special (sealed-off) rooms and dividers were common, but they have all disappeared by now.”

He also expressed discontent, “With the exception of restaurants and karaokes, there are no places where one can discuss business; other restaurants have been harmed by prostitution in Chosun (North Korea).”

The North Korean government sent “first-offender” women engaging in prostitution to a “labor detention facility” for six months at the discretion of the security agency and “repeat-offenders” were punished to the second-degree by being sentenced to over a year.