March 08, 2016 11:46
North Korea's nascent market economy has taken a downturn as the regime started cracking down on commerce in open-air markets ahead of the Workers Party congress in May.
Radio Free Asia reported that some North Koreans are hoarding food amid fears of another famine. The North went through a famine from 1995 to 1998, largely due to then leader Kim Jong-il's addle-brained military-first doctrine.
The regime has recently only permitted markets to open in the afternoons and is clamping down on smaller unlicensed markets that have begun to pop up in back streets.
According to Daily NK website, authorities are cracking down on markets to ensure that people focus on nationwide efforts to prepare for the party congress.
"People have been mobilized to take part in a '70-day struggle' to prepare for the party congress and prohibited from selling products in open-air markets," it quoted a source in Ryanggang Province as saying. "I don't know how we can survive until early May."
Following a botched currency reform in late 2009, North Korean authorities eased up on the markets due to fears of mass starvation after the state-run food-rationing system broke down.
One senior North Korean defector said, "The fresh crackdown shows that the authorities are willing to risk growing discontent among North Korea's 20 million people and shows just how far Kim Jong-un is prepared to go."
Tighter international sanctions are also having a negative impact on North Korea's moribund economy.
Citing a source in North Hamgyong Province, Radio Free Asia reported that the distribution of goods has slowed down and food prices are rising as fears of another famine spread. The source added that markets in Chongjin have virtually stopped working.
Intelligence officials believe the North suffered from a food shortage last year due to severe drought. The source told Radio Free Asia that the entire North Korean public is aware of the unstable political situation.
One intelligence source here said, "We're keeping our eyes on signs of discontent among many North Koreans who support themselves by selling goods in the markets."
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com