North Korean forces increasingly manned by women soldiers

Special to World
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SEOUL — Increasing numbers of women are being deployed in North Korea’s military, according to defectors who recently arrived in South Korea.

North Korean women soldiers march in a massive military parade. Katsumi Kasahara/AP
Kim Ok-Hee, 28, a former instructor at North Korea’s so-called 4.25 boot camp, told the NK Daily last week that women were being deployed in frontline units. Women now represent more than 10 percent of the entire North Korean People's Army, she said.

“Most of the artillery units along the North Korean coasts are manned with women and there are independent women’s regiments and more women battalions,” Kim said.

Propaganda songs have been written to attract more women into the coastal artillery units, Kim said. Women fighters now guard nearly all tunnels and bridges.

Thousands of male soldiers starved to death or deserted their posts during the great famine of 1990s, North Korea watchers here said. Female soldiers have filled the vacancies.

Kim recalled that in 1997, about a dozen of her junior high school classmates volunteered for the military. Their parents supported their decision, reasoning that they would at least avoid starving to death in the military.

“Usually, a squadron of women soldiers armed with 14.5-mm automatic artillery is guarding the tunnels and in case of long tunnels, a squadron each is deployed at both ends,” she said.

South Korea’s recent Defense White Paper estimated the size of North Korea’s People’s Army at 1.17 million soldiers.

Kim served at the 4.25 boot camp, a mechanized division whose mission is to guard the coasts of South and North Pyongan Provinces against the infiltration by enemy paratroopers during a crisis.

The boot camp had five regiments and each regiment had a women infantry battalion consisting of tanks and artilleries, Kim said. Even in North Korea's supposedly egalitarian society, women with good looks or family influence are deployed at more desirable postings, such as medical units, while others end up in artillery units, she said.

Choi Young-Il, 38, who served as a maintenance mechanic in the North Korean air force, said that women began to be deployed in his units around 1998. He said women now constitute more than 10 percent of the People’s Army.

“In my unit, all the pilots for IL-28 bombers were women and many women were pilots for the AN-2, which Kim Jong-Il boasted as a more deadly weapon than nuclear bombs,” Choi said.

But most of these women were weak and suffering from malnutrition when he last saw them.

“It was miserable to watch women pilots collecting withered cabbage leaves from the field,” he said.

Copyright © 2007 East West Services, Inc.

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