(Photo) A traffic officer in blue stands by a checkpoint. Photo taken in South Pyongan Province in January 2011 by Kim Dong-cheol (ASIAPRESS)

◆Traffic police labeled ‘roadside thugs’ and 'caterpillars'

In early December, a traffic signal was installed for the first time in Yanggang Province, in the northern region of North Korea. According to our reporting partner, local residents greatly welcomed the change.

Servicing a population of 200,000 residents, the red, blue, and yellow lights of the signal now direct traffic at the intersection in front of Hyesan Station.

The new signal’s popularity, however, is not due to the easing of traffic congestion. Instead, it is because the signal has taken away the need for ‘traffic safety officers’ to stand at the intersection.

Our reporting partner further explained, "We call the traffic cops 'caterpillars' and 'road thugs’. They stop cars, motorcycles, and people on bicycles to demand bribes and steal valuables."

The reason traffic officers are called "caterpillars" is not just that their uniforms are blue. Like caterpillars eating away at crops, the traffic cops are considered pests- eating away at the finances of those unlucky enough to be stopped by them.

Our reporting partner went on, "The ‘caterpillars’ stop vehicles at intersections for no valid reason, taking gas from the vehicles and forcing drivers to hand over cigarettes or cash. Of North Korea’s various police officers, traffic cops certainly make the most profit. The officers pocket bribes themselves but are also required to collect bribes for the police administration.”

According to an investigation conducted in November, the monthly salary of a North Korean police officer is only about 3,000 won (about 380 South Korean won). The food distribution system provides officers with just 15 kilograms of rice, with no extra provision for family members. With such low compensation, it is no wonder that police officers rely on bribes and fines to survive.

Next page: Increased traffic leading to rising accidents and fatalities…