March 5, 2016 – North Korea has stepped up army recruitment and called on former soldiers to re-enlist to bolster its ground forces ahead of the traditional joint military exercise between South Korea and the US, according to sources inside the country
Washington and Seoul are scheduled to begin their biggest ever military manoeuvres across the border on 7 March, involving 15,000 US troops – double the number of previous years.
A source from South Pyongan province said a petition opposing the joint South Korean-US exercises has been circulating across the country, with mass meetings organised in the provinces and the capital.
The claims came as DPRK leader Kim Jong-un said his country should be ready to use nuclear weapons “at any time” because of growing threat from its enemies. The statement appeared to be a response to new sanctions imposed by the UN security council after North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch.
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The North Korean source, who cannot be named for security reasons, said the regime had encouraged all youth from secondary school up to university level to sign up, and had proposed that all those under 40 who have been discharged get back in uniform.
A similar call was recently issued by the National Defense Commission, with the provincial military mobilisation units interviewing workers who meet the requirements for re-enlistment. Those selected for service have now been placed on stand-by.
“Only those who have a missing person – or are an inmate at a kyohwaso [re-education camps, which also function as prisons] – among their family members are exempted,” the source said.
Ahead of next week’s the military exercises, Kim told state TV that the regime’s enemies were threatening North Korea’s survival. “At an extreme time when the Americans … are urging war and disaster on other countries and people, the only way to defend our sovereignty and right to live is to bolster our nuclear capability,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
The source in South Pyongan said the provincial commissions had been gathering local residents and spreading the message that modern warfare is artillery warfare, and that “every citizen who is a gunner is expected to do their share in fighting the war for reunification”.
But ordinary North Koreans have not all welcomed the mobilizations, the source said. “A lot of people say how unfair it is that ‘rhetoric bombs’, favored by the authorities in response to the ROK-US joint exercises, only effectively harass the domestic population.”
North Korea’s central news agency has reported that recruitment in response to the call had already reached 1.5 million, but a source in Ryanggang Province said that this did not represent the full reality.
“The nation is swept away by the fervor to join the military. But those who do not respond will be seen as having ideological problems, so who wouldn’t join?” the source said.
“The youth of this country has long said that they would much rather study technology or enter university than join the military, so why [else] would there be this sudden change of heart?”