N.Korean Students Forced into Construction Labor

Some 100,000 North Korean college students have been press-ganged into construction work. "The regime is trying to finish redevelopment of the Mansudae District in Pyongyang by April next year," a source familiar with North Korean internal affairs said on Monday. "Because it couldn't finish construction before the deadline, the regime ordered colleges in Pyongyang and other major cities last month to close for 10 months and drafted students to construction sites."

The regime twice before changed the academic calendar for a "200-day struggle" in 1988 and an "Arirang" mass calisthenics performance in 2008. But mobilizing so many students for construction work is unprecedented.

The North has been carrying out a campaign since 2009 to build 100,000 new homes in Pyongyang ahead of regime founder Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15 next year, the target year to become a "powerful and prosperous nation." But only nine apartment buildings with 500 units had been built as of late last year due to a shortage of money and building materials.

When it became clear that the goal was unreachable, the regime recently drew up a new plan to redevelop at least the Mansudae District. It wants to spruce up the district, home to a 23 m Kim Il-sung statue, with 77-story apartment buildings with 3,000 units and recreational facilities including theaters and parks.

But the mobilization of the students is unlikely to make much difference. "The problem is not manpower shortage but lack of money and materials," the source said. "Building sites are overflowing with laborers, but most of them are doing nothing because building materials don't arrive in time."

The regime is not even giving the students a proper meal, the source added. Instead, it is reportedly forcing them to donate materials, such as sand, cement and gasoline, in exchange for a promise of membership in the Workers Party or a youth honor award when construction is complete.

There are rumors that the real reason the students are being forced to work on building sites is to avoid an uprising emulating the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East, since students are among the most likely to have heard about the uprisings.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 26, 2011 11:32 KST