(FILE PHOTO) A civilian mobilized to conduct security activities in a farm village. He appears to be a Worker and Peasant Red Guard and has a gun strapped on his shoulder. Taken by PAK Yong-min on the Chinese side of the border facing North Pyongan Province in September 2017 (ASIAPRESS)

People continue to steal corn and other unripe crops ahead of the harvest from collective farms in the northern part of North Korea, which as led to a spike in tensions. The authorities have mobilized soldiers currently involved in farm preparation activities to take part in security duties and have even supplied weapons and live rounds to farmers to prevent the theft of crops. (KANG Ji-won / HAN Ha-yu)

◆ The harvest is still some ways off, but farm villages ramp up security

The harvest of corn – North Korea’s main staple crop – typically takes place from late August to September of each year, and it is during this period that security at collective farms tighten considerably. Farm villages intensify security to prevent crops from being stolen from storage facilities and the fields. This year, however, the villages have already tightened security from early August, a long time before the start of the harvest.

In late July, a collective farm in Musan County, North Hamgyung Province, saw a theft of unripe corn from its fields. A reporting partner in Musan County provided details about the incident.

Around 100 pyong-worth of crops were stolen, and other farms on the outskirts of Musan County also saw their crops stolen. On August 3, a survey of the damage was conducted at each farm. Investigators believe that soldiers deployed to help with farm work, miners or urban dwellers perpetrated the crimes, but are also considering the possibility that farmers were the culprits.

“The discovery of the crime came late because the crops were stolen from right at the center of the field. The corn wasn’t edible because it wasn’t even ripe yet, but because the incident happened so early in the farming process, farms have doubled down on security more quickly than in past years. The authorities are confirming who comes and goes from the farms and have even setup a surveillance sentry point on the road next to the field and staffed it with security guards.”

The perpetrators likely stole crops from the middle of the field to prevent their crime from being discovered.

◆ Live rounds handed out to protect crops

The reporting partner provided an explanation about how exactly the farm security guards conduct their work.

“Weapons and live rounds were handed down to all collective farms in Musan County. Security teams made up of soldiers stationed at farms and farmers who served in the military in the past have been created. The teams are made up of both soldiers and civilians to ensure they can monitor each other.”

◆ Urban poverty is at the heart of the matter

The rash of incidents involving the stealing of unripe corn shows that many urban dwellers are facing economic difficulties.

“A farmer told me that people are suffering so much that they are forced to eat unripe corn. He suggested that (the government) should hand out food before moving to intensify security,” the reporting partner told ASIAPRESS.

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.