North Korean Traffic Stops Pull in Money For State Building Projects

Hard pressed by shortages of funds needed for government-ordered building projects, authorities in one North Korean province have set up checkpoints along major roads and are stopping and fining car owners for real and invented infractions, sources say.

The move by officials in the isolated, U.N.-sanctioned state's North Hamgyong province is apparently aimed at completing work on unfinished buildings in time for the ruling Korean Workers' Party convention in May, sources in the province told RFA's Korean Service.

The building of several child-care facilities in North Hamgyong is now almost finished, "but reconstruction of the May 10th Lanam Coal Mine Machinery Factory still shows unsatisfactory progress," one source in North Hamgyong said.

To raise money for the work, police have now set up roadblocks about 500 meters apart along major roads in the province and are stopping cars to inspect their operating condition and external appearance, one source in North Hamgyong said.

"Once you've been stopped, you can't go through without paying something," he said, adding that police at one checkpoint routinely levy fines of 5,000 won [U.S. $47 at official rate, $0.59 at black market rate] for each cited violation.

"Drivers are now preparing bribes ahead of time to give the police so that they are allowed to pass through," he said.

"Residents are afraid to go out due to this indiscriminate crackdown," he said.

"The police department is just eating our money."

Building workers also stopped

Dozens of drivers are now being stopped and fined in North Hamgyong's Chongjin city, with 30 guard posts set up between the province's Ranam and Sinam districts alone, a second source in North Hamgyong said.

"Even drivers being sent to work on the building sites have been stopped, with the money taken from them in fines being used to support the construction work," he said.

"Drivers are saying that authorities are doing all this to support state-ordered construction in time for the upcoming Korean Workers' Party Congress," he said.

About three thousand delegates are expected to attend the national party convention, the seventh to be held since the birth of the reclusive, one-party state after World War II.

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