April 14, 2010 10:22
Around 100 Chinese-made cars have been brought into North Korea through a checkpoint on the border with China, probably for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to give to favored officials. The delivery was made on Tuesday, two days before former leader Kim Il-sung's birthday, which is the biggest holiday in the North.
A North Korean source saw around 30 identical vehicles crossing the bridge across the Apnok (or Yalu) River into Sinuiju at around 9 a.m. The vehicles were the Chinese compact sedan F3 manufactured by BYD, referred to as the "people's car" in China due to its popularity. Around 100 cars reportedly crossed the border into North Korea on Tuesday alone. Starting last week, North Korea brought in more than 200 cars, including luxury foreign cars, jeeps and large vans. The total value of the imported cars is believed to be around US$5 million.
The North Korean regime often seeks to ensure the loyalty of senior officials by handing out the latest foreign-made cars on Kim Il-sung's or Kim Jong-il's birthday, but the Chinese-made cars imported this time are believed to be gifts for the middle ranks. "To my knowledge, the latest cars are gifts for mid-level officials at North Korea's prosecution and state security agency and have been allocated to specific people in different regions," the source said.
North Korea watchers believe the cars were bought to boost the morale of such officials, who were hit hard by the botched currency reform in December. "Failing to take care of mid-ranking officials could jeopardize the transfer of power to Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un," said one North Korea expert. "The purpose of the gifts is to appease discontent."
Do Hee-yoon of the South Korean activist group Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, said, "Public discontent is extremely high in North Korea right now as people see the lavish spending and gifts being given to high-ranking officials amid forecast that many people will starve to death during the spring dry season."
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