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Radio Free Asia

North Korea Sends 10-Year Military Vets to Mines and Building Sites Right After Discharge

2021-04-29 -- North Korea is mobilizing recently discharged soldiers to toil away in coal mines and construction sites right after they have completed their grueling mandatory 10-year stint in the military, sources in the country told RFA.

As it is still technically at war with prosperous South Korea, North Korea makes every male serve 10 years in the armed forces after finishing high school, and life in the North's military involves a lot more than combat training.

Soldiers are used as laborers for government projects or to harvest crops, with some even sent to work abroad to earn badly needed foreign currency for the country's chronically empty coffers. The military recently has also been told to solve its own supply and food shortages, forcing soldiers to turn to their families for food and funds for their decade-long military stint.

After giving the best years of their youth, soldiers in the past could expect to be awarded with membership in the ruling Korean Workers' Party and all the opportunities it provides, such as better jobs, housing and schooling. In recent years though, the party has raised the bar for membership, much to the dismay of the soldiers.

But now, the government is sending the soldiers to do manual labor right after they've been discharged. Like all government jobs, these ex-soldiers are paid very low wages and must still rely on their families for support.

A resident of North Hamgyong province, in the country's northeast, told RFA's Korean Service that the demobbed soldiers were very unhappy to learn they were to be put to work this month.

"They already dedicated their golden youth to the country, by completing their military service, but they are being forced to sacrifice again," the source said.

"Dissatisfaction among the discharged soldiers is quite high… These guys joined the military right out of high school at the age of 17. After serving a full 10-years they can't just return home because they must go work in coal mines and construction sites.

The source said that two coal mines in the province had discharged soldiers toiling away in work crews numbering in the hundreds to thousands.

"The Highest Dignity has told us 'Young people should be the main character of the era and they should be on the battle line in full force,'" the source said, using an honorific term for the country's leader Kim Jong Un.

"This is why the authorities dispatched the discharged soldiers to the worksites. The veterans are furious, asking if their reward for 10 long years of hard work and sacrifice is just more work," the source said.

To add insult to injury, the authorities are manipulating the truth by saying that the 10-year vets are volunteering to work in the mines, according to the source.

"The authorities even reported that the discharged soldiers held a rally because they wanted so badly to be dispatched to do backbreaking work," said the source.

"Since Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011, the military has not been well fed, and people even say that parents who have to support their children in the military are serving alongside them. Their military service was that hard. After 10 years of sacrifice, they are putting a great burden on the dispatched soldiers. Where on earth can they go to complain?"

Another source, a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang, confirmed to RFA Tuesday that discharged soldiers were sent back to work there too.

"Complaints are mounting among the discharged soldiers and the residents. The soldiers aren't allowed to go home and must report to their assigned workplace in coal mines and construction sites," said the second source.

"Parents who had been looking forward to the end of their child's 10-year military service are lamenting the news that their kids are being dispatched as soon as they are discharged from the military. They say that many of the worksites are even worse than what they faced in the military because some of them have unresolved shelter and food shortages," the second source said.

The second source said that not all soldiers will be put to work when they are discharged.

"Some of the children of powerful officials and those who come from rich families can get recommendations for college admissions, so only the children of ordinary people will be sent to work," the second source said.

"There are no volunteers in the mines or construction sites, but the authorities have been spreading propaganda saying these patriotic young people want to contribute to socialist construction, even though they are being forced," said the second source.

According to the source, prior to their discharge, the soldiers are ordered to attend rallies and make petitions, begging to volunteer.

"At the rally, they shout out loud that they wish to be dispatched, attesting to the revolutionary spirit of their youth, and that their only desire is to carry out the decisions of the party leaders. But none of them truly want to volunteer for such hard labor."

According to a Nov. 2020 report by the New York-based Council on Foreign relations the North Korean military is the world's fourth largest, with 1.3 million personnel.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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