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North Koreans Circumventing Burial Ban

Posted January. 26, 2006 03:03,   


Mrs. Oh had been too sick to venture outside. But she struggled hard to overcome her illness and went on living life. The other day, however, she stopped eating and died. She killed herself.

A few days ago, her son had told her to go somewhere else when his girlfriend comes over to visit. Oh was shocked and devastated.

She was buried without a tombstone or a mound by her husband, Choi, in violation of North Korean law.

Last year, Cheong-jin authorities banned burials altogether and announced a directive calling for the cremation of dead bodies because there are too many graveyards and too few trees. A similar rule took effect in Pyongyang in 2004.

The 2002 directive was to reduce the size of burial mounds and to make tombs as low as possible. Three years later, the directive banning burials was handed down, and the only crematory in Cheong-jin began operating again. It costs 90,000 North Korean won (about 30 dollars) for one cremation. There is no charnel. The burned bone powder is put in a jar and is given to bereaved family members.

Grim rumors began to spread in Cheong-jin soon afterwards.

“Three dead bodies are cremated at a time,” was one rumor. “Worms came out of the jars,” was another.

Older citizens became frustrated. “This is the wrong time to die,” one senior citizen said. “My son, I want to be buried underground.”

There are solutions to this dilemma, however. Cremation is compulsory only in large cities.

One can rent a car to move dead bodies and bury them in rural areas. However, it costs over 100,000 won to move a body the distance between Seoul and Suwon. The average wage of a worker is 2,000-3,000 won. It is also difficult to pay a visit to one’s ancestors’ graves this way.

It is also possible to bury dead bodies near the mountains by bribing forest conservancy officials. However, the Choi family has little money. They are scraping by on about 2,000 won a day from Choi’s business, his daughter’s daily wages, and their daily rations. The only choice left for them was a secret burial at night.