This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korean authorities have distributed food supplies for a year to law enforcement and other security agencies in a move to shore up loyalty to the regime at a time of general shortages across the country, North Korean sources say.
Beginning in April, food deliveries made to members of the national police and state security forces stationed along the border with China, an official in Hyesan city in Ryanggang province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The food distributions to the police and security agencies were carried out nationwide, despite the country’s difficult food situation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The amounts of food distributed have varied depending on the status of the units receiving them, the official added.
“But in general, the Public Security Department was given 200 kilograms of corn and 40 kilograms of unpolished rice to distribute per person, while the State Security Department was given 220 kilogram of corn and 80 kilograms of rice per person,” RFA’s source said.
Around 50 percent of each individual distribution was then provided for family members separately, the source said.
Already given priority as “special agencies” for distributions of food, North Korean police and security agencies had previously been given 15 or even 20 days’ worth of food at a time, the official said. “However, this year more was distributed in the name of giving them their portion for the entire year.”
Another reason for this year’s larger distribution is that police and other security forces working along the border, now blockaded to prevent the spread of COVID-19, typically supplement their meagre pay by taking smugglers’ bribes, and are now facing hardships.
“So this can be said to be support from the authorities,” the source said.
The source added that members of the agencies now receiving their full year’s allotment of food will likely sell some in the local markets rather than store them for months and risk spoilage, and will then use the money they get to purchase necessities including food later on.
‘Sharing stolen food’
An official in Chagang province, also bordering China, told RFA that full-year distributions of food had already been made in March to local ruling-party organizations, with the party’s Central Committee pretending that the grain had been produced on land specially leased by the state.
“In fact, they were getting food meant for the country’s people, but they kept their mouths shut, feeling they were sharing stolen food,” he said.
“It is the ordinary people who really need the grain,” the source said. “And many have become angry when they hear about the distributions, saying that many in the party organizations and security groups, especially the officials, don’t even appreciate what they’re getting.”
Many North Korean families are now running low on food and struggling to get by when much of the grain from last year’s harvest has already been eaten and this year’s crop is still ripening in the fields, RFA’s source said.
“This distribution by authorities of food only to the workers of organizations responsible for controlling residents and protecting the regime is an action against the people, and only strengthens the dictatorship regardless of the people’s suffering,” the official said.
Serious food crisis
Food insecurity has plagued a significant segment of North Korea’s 23 million people for decades.
U.N Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana warned in a report in March that the closure of the Sino-Korean border and restrictions on the movement of people could bring on a “serious food crisis.”
“Deaths by starvation have been reported, as has an increase in the number of children and elderly people who have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them,” said the report.
RFA reported earlier this month that North Korean authorities were warning residents to prepare for economic difficulties as bad as the 1994-1998 famine which killed millions, as much as 10 percent of the population by some estimates.
Kim Jong Un was quoted in state media in April as saying the country faced grim challenges.
“Improving the people’s living standards … even in the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedentedly numerous challenges depends on the role played by the cells, the grassroots organizations of the party,” Kim said during an opening speech at a meeting of cell secretaries of the ruling Workers’ Party.