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North Korea on high alert ahead of late founding father’s birth holiday

North Korea has declared a five-day military-wide special security period as the people prepare to celebrate the life of the country’s late founder, sources in the country told RFA.

Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, was born on April 15, a major holiday now known as the “Day of the Sun.” His son and successor, Kim Jong Il (1942-2011), was born on Feb. 16, the “Day of the Shining Star.”

The two holidays solidify the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family, which has now ruled North Korea for three generations.

Friday marks what would have been Kim Il Sung’s 110th birthday, and authorities have commanded the military to be on high alert.

“The special security period starts at 17:00 on April 14 and ends at 17:00 on the 19th. Units were ordered to create a special security plan for approval by their commanders by 17:00 on April 13,” a military source from the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“The General Staff Department has instructed that emergency mobilization units be in a full-combat readiness posture and on standby,” he said.

Additionally, the department told soldiers stationed at the country’s borders, the coast guard, and the air force to be ready at a moment’s notice.

“They need to be able to respond immediately without missing even minor threats that could occur during the special security period,” the source said.

Soldiers in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, meanwhile, also must guard against even the slightest problem during the five-day period, a military source there told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“They must also strengthen security in areas that glorify Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, like their statues, public portraits, public displays of their artwork, propaganda boards and related historic sites,” said the source.

Officials and soldiers are resentful at having to do extra work on a holiday, when they are used to getting time off.

“They are saying they wish there were no holidays at all, because they have been mobilized for difficult guard duty and will not be able to properly rest,” he said.

Forced loyalty

Retired and disabled soldiers, meanwhile, were upset about having to take an oath of allegiance to Kim Jong Un ahead of the holiday as a requirement to receive their annual special holiday food allotment celebration of the day, a resident of the Sino-Korean border city of Sinuiju told RFA Tuesday.

“Yesterday in Sinuiju, because of the Day of the Sun, 15 days’ worth of grain and basic foodstuffs, such as 500 grams [1.1lbs] of sugar and a bottle of soybean oil, were provided to war veterans and honorable soldiers,” she said, on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

Honorable soldiers are soldiers disabled from injuries they sustained while on duty. RFA reported last week that the state was unable to properly care for honorable soldiers as promised due to worsening economic conditions. The Sinuiju resident estimated that the city is home to between 100 and 300 disabled and able-bodied vets.

She explained that the gift of 15-days’ food assistance was not provided by the state, but by local authorities. Since central government did not provide funding to the local government for this event, so the veterans realize the “gift from Kim Jong Un” was nothing of the sort, she said.

“Even though they said it has been supplied as a special consideration from Kim Jong Un, it is actually a part of the emergency goods imported by the provincial trade bureau, using local funds” she said.

“They had to attend a special hour-long event at the cultural center, where authorities would present them with their ‘gift from Kim Jong Un’ on the condition that they pledged their allegiance to him. The disabled veterans complained,” she said.

About 200 veterans, including some who had seen action during the 1950-1953 Korean War, attended a similar ceremony in South Pyongan province, north of Pyongyang, a resident there who declined to be named told RFA.

“The special holiday supplies … included rice, 500 grams [1.1 lbs] of sugar, and a bottle of soybean oil imported from China via freight train,” she said.

“The county party official emphasized that the food was provided on the occasion of the Day of the Sun as ‘the noble will of the Highest Dignity to cherish and love the veterans and honorary soldiers who were loyal to the party and the leader,’ and forced them to repay them with loyalty,” the South Pyongan resident said, using an honorific term for Kim Jong Un.

The veterans were angry at being made to swear an oath to Kim Jong Un when his so-called gift was imported from China and was not actually from himself or the central government which he leads, she said.

Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.