Storm Troops being mobilized for construction of a dam shown on a Korean Central Television broadcast in September 2004

◆What are the 'Storm Troops'?

The construction workers mobilized for large-scale national construction projects are called ‘storm troops'. Workers are selected to be storm troops by superiors at their workplaces or by those within the Party.

Storm troops are dispatched for the construction of power plants, apartment blocks, roads, and railways. The storm troop units are essentially organized to imitate the army but without providing compensation.

The storm troop unit for the Samjiyeon construction project was named the '2.16 Division' after Kim Jong-il's birthday and organized to have ‘brigades’ set up under it in each province- the 'South Pyongan Brigade of the 2.16 Division' for example. These brigades also have battalions set up under them.

“Accommodation centers are built at construction sites for each province, where storm troops lodge together. Meals are provided, with food requisitioned from across the country. Construction workers sleep and work on-site and rotate out every 6 months. Local housewives, meanwhile, are mobilized frequently for road maintenance but cannot reside at the construction sites. Citizens who want to avoid forced mobilization have to pay a bribe,” explained another reporting partner from Samjiyeon.

Many people consider the bribery to be unfair because only those who have money can escape mobilization. Those who pay to avoid it can use the freedom to maintain private businesses and earn more money. Meanwhile, those who cannot pay to avoid the service are denied the opportunity to make money through private market activities.

How many people have been mobilized for the Samjiyeon construction project? Though the exact numbers are unknown, it seems there are tens of thousands of workers mobilized at at any given time. This takes into account the fact that workers are mobilized from all provinces and that construction brigades are also deployed by the military, in addition to the 'storm troops'.

Currently, authorities are focusing on construction of a railway  between Hyesan and Samjiyeon. The construction started during the Kim Jong-il era but completion was delayed considerably due to a lack of materials and labor.

The Kim Jong-un regime has been pushing to complete the project for the past two years. However, due to low-quality construction, which was criticized by Kim Jong-un during a visit to the site in July, much of the work had to be redone.

"In Hyesan City, sections of the project are assigned to each institution and enterprise, where they must place gravel on the tracks and rebuild stone walls. We must also rebuild the roadbed, but progress on that has lagged behind for many years,” said a Hyesan-based reporting partner.

Next page: 'Storm Troops' hidden from President Moon...