Updated February. 25, 2013 05:37
Our female soldiers went out to steal things every night. They stole potatoes or radishes to appease their hunger.
The Dong-A Ilbo spoke to a former captain of the North Korean Peoples Army in her late 30s, identified only by her surname Song, in an area around the North`s border with China. Since fleeing the Stalinist country two years ago, she is hiding in China with other North Korean defectors in China.
Whenever Song thinks of the time she served in the military 10 years ago, she shivers. The North Korean army, to which she devoted her youth, is an organization that has certain units conduct nuclear tests and boasts the integration of highly advanced technologies, but whose soldiers at other units are dying of starvation.
Song said she learned how to steal things while in the military. With other female soldiers, she stole crops from nearby farm fields and consumed as food. On many days, soldiers get just several potatoes a day as rations. In frontline areas, many civilian households are situated near military bases, soldiers had to steal crops from farm fields cultivated by civilians due to hunger, she said. Male soldiers steal all livestock or pumpkins on fences from civilian households. Oftentimes, they take light bulbs and sell them."
The lack of goods and materials as well as starvation have dealt a bigger blow to female soldiers. Song said, They get their menstruation halted and suffer hair loss, which make them truly miserable. Five to six soldiers per company suffer from malnutrition, while five to six others suffer from tuberculosis. Just a few female soldiers remain healthy.
Tuberculosis is rampant due to poor nutrition and sanitation, she said, but mindful of public sentiment, authorities do not let those soldiers retire from the military and only separate them from others.
Paradoxically, the situation in the military has deteriorated since Kim Jong Il took power and instituted a policy of military first politics. As the 2-month mourning period for the country`s founder Kim Il Sung ended since his death in July 1994, the monthly rationing of 1 kilogram of sugar was stopped.
Song said, As the March of Suffering started due to lack of food, the treatment of soldiers began to deteriorate, adding, As the economic situation continued to worsen afterwards and corruption grew more rampant in the military, the living conditions of not only ordinary soldiers but also mid-level officers turned immensely miserable.
In North Korea, rumors say the most impoverished people are the families of soldiers in mountainous military units and farmers living around military units. The reason is that soldiers rob civilian households around the base because the former have nothing to eat.
"In July last year, people who defected to China from areas around a military base in North Hwanghae Province told me that they had seen villagers eating human flesh, Song said. The situation seems to be worse than when I was in the North.