Residents of the North Korean capital Pyongyang are living in fear after construction workers on a major national project in the area have resorted to violent robberies to get enough money to feed themselves, sources in the city told RFA.
Pyongyang, North Korea’s largest city with a population of about 3 million, suffers from a severe housing shortage. The country’s leader Kim Jong Un promised at ruling Korean Workers’ Party congress in January, to alleviate the shortage with 50,000 new houses by the end of 2025, including 10,000 in 2021.
Construction began almost immediately after the announcement, with organizers utilizing the military to provide special brigades of laborers called storm troopers.
By day they work long grueling hours to try to complete the project in time, but at night, some of the poorly fed workers take to stealing and violence, and people living near the construction area say they are fearful that they could be the next victims, the sources said.
“A few days ago, some storm troopers who left the construction site in Soryong-dong assaulted and robbed a woman, taking everything valuable,” a resident of Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service May 7.
“In another incident, storm troopers beat up a man on the streets of Hyuam-dong and stole all the cash he had. The victims went to see the construction officials and protested in tears, but no action was taken, and assaults and robberies continued to happen,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
According to the source, houses near the railroad tracks in the city’s Soryong-dong were demolished to make way for the new homes. Residents who must pass through the area travel in groups of four or five to avoid the roving bands of hungry workers.
“The authorities are steadfast sticking to the important task of completing the 10,000 homes in the first year, so they can achieve the goals laid out in the party congress, but they ignore the robbery situation, so resident complaints are increasing day by day,” the source said.
Another source, also a Pyongyang resident, confirmed May 8 that robberies and murders were happening close to construction areas.
“Recently in Hyuam-dong a resident who was passing by a construction site was murdered. Police say he was robbed while riding his bicycle and lost his life,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“On Labor Day, May 1, as people gathered to celebrate the holiday, a resident who was out with his friends late at night returned home alone. He was found dead the next day near the construction site and this shocked the residents,” said the second source.
The second source said the victim was a man in his 50s who was originally from the area.
“He had been displaced by the construction project, so he was temporarily staying at his brother’s house not too far away. Even though he heard the stories about the frequent robberies, he still went alone,” said the second source.
“The Highest Dignity has said that constructing 10,000 new houses in Pyongyang is like fighting a war of creation,” the second source said, using an honorific term to refer to Kim Jong Un.
The source said that media is focusing its propaganda on the national project every day.
“But because some of the young construction workers are so hungry that they have resorted to becoming robbers, the people are saying it is more like a war with the robbers.”
In addition to not keeping their workers sufficiently fed, construction managers are foregoing safety standards due to the pressure of making their 10,000-house quota.
RFA reported in April that about 20 storm troopers died due to an electrical fire in their on-site workers’ barracks. Because they are overworked, even the one assigned to night watch at the time of the fire fell asleep, allowing the fire to consume the whole building.
Reported by Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.