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Money makes anything possible in N. Korean army, DMZ defector says

Money makes anything possible in N. Korean army, DMZ defector says

Posted July. 06, 2020 07:30,   

Updated July. 06, 2020 07:30


Roh Cheol-min (20), who defected North Korea in December 2017 while he was serving in the army at the demilitarized zone, has disclosed pervasive corruption in the North Korean army, referring to it as “a lawless area where money makes anything possible” in an interview with The Wall street Journal on Saturday.

The Wall street Journal reported an article on Saturday based on a 15-hour in-depth interview with Roh, which took a year. Some South Korean media outlets introduced him before, but it was the first time that a Western journal interviewed him.

According to the article, Roh was surprised to see his colleagues bribe their superior to skip training on the first day of his service at the DMZ in September 2017.

The border area where North Korean elites serve was especially rampant with corruption. Roh realized that there was a glass ceiling above him when colleagues from elite backgrounds paid for special treatment and promotions. Officers sold rice for soldiers to a nearby market and rationed cheap corn gruel. Roh’s skin chapped while doing his guard duty for 13 hours a day wearing a thin military uniform in sub-zero temperatures, but his colleagues with wealthy parents paid 150 dollars a month to skip their guard duty. “I wasn’t able to see the future,” he said.

His colleagues who paid money received enough food, warm clothes and were able to talk to their family on the phone every week. But Roh never had a chance to talk to his family as he spent most of his time doing his guard duty. Officers borrowed him money to talk to his family for two minutes and pressured him to ask his parents for money. They also gave him impossible missions such as “bringing 100 mantis eggs in two hours.” They sold the eggs, which are medicinal ingredients in China at the market.

Before defecting North Korea, Roh said he wondered if South Koreans had different lives looking at the picture of the South Korean army hung on the wall of North Korean army’s guard post at the DMZ. He crossed the DMZ in December 2017 after serving three months in the army. A main trigger of his defection was brutal assault of his superior, being falsely accused of stealing rice crackers.

Bo-Mi Im bom@donga.com