This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Driven by hunger onset by food shortages caused by lack of supplies and corruption, North Korean soldiers stationed in the countryside are resorting to stealing from civilian homes, sources say.
Residents whose homes have been looted have little recourse other than to report the crime to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, but the military seems to be ignoring the problem.
“An increasing number of soldiers are breaking into civilian homes recently,” said a source from Kangwon province to RFA’s Korean Service on Wednesday.
“They are in the middle of the winter training period, where they have strict rules to keep, but soldiers are able to sneak out at night when their superiors are not watching and break into homes or threshing floors at farms,” the source said.
“The soldiers get hungry because the bases don’t provide enough food,” said the source, adding, “It’s the young guys, the new recruits that are suffering the worst starvation and malnutrition.”
The problem is acute in mountainous Kangwon province, an area that which borders South Korea and is difficult to deliver supplies to.
“Starving soldiers will break into civilian homes and public facilities, and they even break into military homes,” said the source.
“There have been reports of thefts coming in every single day from civilians, so the military officials are scrambling to deal with the situation,” the source said.
Central Committee orders to boost military living standards and make military commanders responsible for problems arising from looting have gone unheeded amid dire conditions on the bases.
“The reality is that the military doesn’t have enough supplies. They are short on rice for soldiers so there’s no way they’ll stop them from stealing,” said the source.
”Military commanders are in a very awkward situation,” the source added.
Soldiers perished along with civilians when North Korea suffered severe food shortages in the mid-1990s that claimed as many as a million lives in the country of 23 million people and left children stunted from malnutrition. The U.N. Says one in five North Koreans face food insecurity.
A Japanese media report in 2017 cited multiple sources in North Korea as saying the state’s neglect had forced families to provide food for children serving in the military.
There were more than 1.3 million North Korean active military personnel in 2018, according to figures published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Another source, from South Pyongan province, said that corruption is also part of the problem.
“The authorities send official orders every day for military commanders, instructing them to feed their soldiers better,” the source said.
“If they don’t improve the quality of the food [they are feeding their men], they will be harshly punished, but there’s no way to do this if military officials don’t stop stealing all the supplies [before they are delivered to the soldiers].
The source added, “Military training hours have been extended but there aren’t enough supplies for the intense training.”
It is very difficult for the soldiers to survive the cold winter weather in this situation,” said that source.
“How can we have a strong military power if they are going to completely ignore the situation on the ground, demanding only a clear focus on intensive training and leaving the commanders high and dry, making them take responsibility for everything?”
Reported by Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.