Secret video provides glimpse of North Korean local market

Special to World
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

SEOUL — An all-points bulletin has been ordered for the arrest of North Korean defectors in three northeastern provinces of China, according to Chinese security sources in Yanji and Tumen.

The massive round-up order was prompted after North Korean authorities found out about a secret video allegedly taped of a relatively affluent local market at Haesan, North Hamgyong province and smuggled out in September. The tape was taken by a North Korean citizen who frequently traveled to China, according to the Network to Democratize North Korea (NK Net) officials in Seoul.

NK Net, an NGO group dedicated to democratizing North Korea, said that the man who took the video was aided by a Japanese NGO with which it works in close coordination.

Independent sources confirmed that North Korean defectors in hiding were fleeing to locations deeper inside China even to the Cambodian and Burmese border villages to avoid arrest.

The video was like a time-machine trip with scenes resembling life in South Korea’s post-war 1950s. Peddlers, mostly women both young and old, sat on hardboard or cloth on both sides of a narrow and dirty alley. There was no single permanent shop structure and not even a table to put things on. The peddlers were using umbrellas to shade the sun. On the mat, however, were surprisingly varied items for sale: persimmons, apples, fish, potatoes, clothes, kitchenware, grains and meat.

The most surprising items were the 20kgs and 40kgs rice bags with the letters "Republic of Korea" clearly visible. On it a hand-written sign read “Honam (South Korea’s southwestern provinces) rice: 190 won per one kilo.” Beijing rice was 170 won per kilo.

Sources at NK Net said that those who were selling rice from South Korea were the most well-to-do peddlers. “They must have connections to get the supply of rice from South Korea. And they get it almost free because the supplier must have stolen it from the aid materials sent by South Korea,” the sources said.

“They don’t care any more if the R.O.K. sign is seen on the bag. Everybody now knows their compatriots in the South are rich.”

North Korea officially recognized open local markets since July last year as a part of its economic reform measures.

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