The Samsoo Power Plant Construction Project started in May 2004 with the power struggle between the Worker’s Party’s Organization Department and Propaganda Agitation Department in order to earn Kim Jong Il’s favor. A number of North Korean defectors testified that the people mobilized to work at this site have been suffering of 14 hours of forced labor everyday for the last one year.
According to the North Korean defectors The DailyNK recently met around Changbai, China, about twenty thousand people have been mobilized to work at the Samsoo Power Plant construction site. They have not been paid for the last entire year but given 580g of corn to eat per day just to survive.
Samsoo Power Plant is Choi Chun Hwang’s Art Piece for Kim Jong Il
The idea of Samsoo Power Plant construction was initiated 1970s by Kim Il Sung and the site was visited for the preparation of construction but due to the geographical condition and high budget, it was canceled. However, the person who brought it up again in 2001 was Choi Chun Hwang, 1 vice head of Organization and Guidance Department of the Worker’s Party.
The following is the one to one interview with Yoon Chul Won, a former member of the Worker’s Party who was one of the 6.18 Sortie Group who has been working at the Saumsu Power Plant construction site until his defection to China.
- What is the reason the Samsoo Power Plant Construction started?
“Choi Chun Hwang, 1 vice head of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Worker’s Party formed the “6.18 Sortie Group” and proceeded the construction of revolutionary sites including Samji Research Site in Yanggando in order to earn Kim Jong Il’s favor. Samji Research Site construction ended and the Propaganda and Agitation Department became afraid that the fifty thousand laborers of the 6.18 Sortie Group would be scattered around. That is the reason they reinitiated the Samsoo Power Plant construction project.”
- What is the reason for Propaganda and Agitation Department to carry out the construction project?
“During the 1970s when Kim Jong Il was still in the Propaganda and Agitation Department, the department’s status was so high and it was called “Line 1 for the Party’s Ideological Projects.” However, as the status of the Organization Department and the Executive Department, the Propaganda and Agitation Department weakened. However, on June 18, 1999, when Kim Jong Il visited Samjiyeon of Yangjang province, he said to take a good care of the regions of revolutionary sites in Baekdu Mountain. Then Choi Chun Hwang submitted project proposal on be half of the Propaganda and Agitation Department to construct Samji Research site. This is how the Baekdu Mountain Revolutionary Sites Construction Worker’s of the Party Propaganda Sortie Group, which is also called the “6.18 Sortie Group.” The number of workers mobilizes was about fifty thousand. I heard that Choi Chun Hwang was complimented many times by Kim Jong Il for what he did.”
- There has been a rumor that Choi Chun Hwang lost his position last year.
“That’s true. Since the status of the Propaganda and Agitation Department increased, the Organization Department started to balance it out. The Organization Department has been running a campaign of “prohibition of liquor and heavy drinking culture” form March to May, and during the campaign many important cadres of the Propaganda and Agitation Department punished or lost their positions including Choi Chun Hwang. According to the rumor Choi tried to side with Chang Sung Taek and Kim Jong Il displaced him.”
Power Plant Construction is Pouring Water to Bottomless Vase
Although the construction is carried out due to political calculations, many technical workers are still quite unhappy with the project. Last July, the North Korean government invited French experts for consulting on the construction and it is known that they opposed the idea or construction on the site. However, the government did not take in consideration of the exert advises and pursued the project with little bit of alterations on the blueprint.
The following is the interview with Kim Young Seop who has been working at the Samsoo Power Plant Construction, Huchun River site as a process engineer until he defected to China.
- Could you tell us about the current situation of the Samsoo Power Plant Construction?
“The construction officially started in May 2004 with the large blasting but the actual construction work started on February 1, 2004. As of now it is on the first level construction, which is building of a dam with sand and cement at the meeting point of Huchun River and Unchong River and building 50,000kw power plant. About 30,000 people were mobilized including the military. Although they said the ceremony of completion of the site is scheduled to take place on October 10, which is the anniversary for the Party Establishment. However, due to the lack of gasoline and transportation system, it is impossible.”
- Where there technical workers who opposed to the construction?
“At first there were a lot of opposing opinions. That’s because the geographical state of the site is quite unstable. Even with Huchun River and Unchong River together, amount of water is not much. They predict that because the bottoms of the rivers are made of limestone, the water is absorbed. If they build a dam, due to the high pressure there is a possibility that the bottom of the rivers absorbs more amount of water. If it forms a underground water flow, then it might reach and flood the Hyesan Youth Mine, so it is very dangerous.
- Did no the Party Take Consider of the technical laborer’s opinions?
“They did not even listen to the experts invited from France, would they listen to us? The wrong started from the very first proposal submitted to Kim Jong Il. From what I know, the proposal contains three parts; one, if the dam is constructed with rocks and sand, the cost of the construction could be reduced, two, the amount of time necessary for the construction is no more than two years, and three, once the first level construction is finished, it is possible to build many other big-scale plants. All of them are wrong. Who can refute to it when the Propaganda and Agitation Department says it can complete the project without the help of the Central Party?
- What is the biggest problem with the construction?
“Without the belief that the construction could be completed successfully, they are mobilizing a countless people. The technicians only pretend to work. They are building dams with sand and rocks by mobilizing so many people, but what good does it do if the water is flowed downward? By drilling holes at the bottom and splashing cement water with high pressure, they are building a bottom so the water will not flow downward but there is nobody assured of such a cement bottom will be able to endure 1,300,000,000㎥ of water pressure”
The French experts asserted that at least 300 trucks, 200 diggers, and more than 100 technical experts. However, Kim testified that at the sites of Huchun River and Unchong River together, there are only 40 trucks and 20diggers. The rest is done with the manpower. He said over twenty thousand common people are mobilized for the forced labor.
Modern Version of Slave Labor, Compensated with 580g of Corn per Day
Lee Sung Ok, who defected on April 30 to China. She used to work at the Bunpo-ri Shore site of the Samsoo district. She was one of the members of the “South Hwanghe Province Youth Sortie Group” who was sent to the Samsoo construction site last April. She testified that she suffered of hunger and heavy labor of 14 hours per day for the past one year.
- What was your day like at the construction site?
“During the winter we had to wake up at 6am, during the summer at 5 am. We suffered of cold weather during the winter and we suffered due to longer hours of work during the summer. Around this time people eat at 8am, 1pm, and 7pm. During the summer, people are forced back to work ever after the dinner. The work usually ends at 11pm.”
- How well is food or necessary ammunitions distributed?
“They give us 580g of corn with salted bean paste soup and pickled radish. Apart from food, we barely get anything. On the Sun Day (April 15) we received a pair of socks, underwear, and two bags of cookies. I left home last spring so I didn’t have winter clothes, so I suffered a lot. Since I worked at the bottom of the river, all my toes were frozen.”
- What is main work for the people at the construction site?
“Apart from cadres or technicians, people delivered rocks and dirt. Most of the women workers put rocks and dirt in the sack, and the men delivered them. It weighs about 25kg. They have to carry it about 50 to 80 times a day. Since they make each group, small unit, middle unit, and age unit to compete with each other, each leaders force people. During the “The First Level Socialist Competition” period from June 18 to July 20 last year, I thought I would die. Each person carried the sack 80 times, which the distance was 1.6km.
- How can people endure such hard labor?
“There are people who become ill and injured and return home. During the winter there are many frostbitten and there some who died during the water fence construction. There are many who escape to China. When there are people missing in each unit, other people have to work more, so as the time pass by, people have to work more and more. Because of the hard labor, there are many women who get early menopause.”
- What was most difficult for you?
“I was cold, hungry and tired. The most difficult was that we were ceaselessly suffered from the hard labor. When we first left home, they said we only have to work hard for three months. But nobody told us anything over one year. Nobody knows how long the construction will take place. But everybody wakes up at the same hour in the morning and deliver rock and dirt. If I knew this was coming, it would have been better to join the military. More I think about, tears come out.”