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North Korea’s military migrant workers

SEOUL (SE): The government in Pyongyang is using military personnel as contract workers on construction sites in the Middle East run by companies from the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea as a way of avoiding paying their salaries.

Radio Free Asia reported on June 13 that the soldiers are told to grow their hair so that they will look like civilians and not to mention where they have been when they return home.

The two companies they are contracted to are Namkang and Cholhyon.

Namkang has about 800 personnel from the Engineers Corp in Kuwait and 750 in Qatar. Of the 3,200 people employed by Cholhyon in Kuwait, 30 per cent are military.

However, finance is not the only rationale for sending military personnel ahead of civilians, as Radio Free Asia says that it can keep a much tighter rein on soldiers making them easier to control than civilians, as the number defections of North Koreans working abroad has increased.

This has set off alarm bells in Pyongyang. At least 30 people sent to work in restaurants in China have defected and are currently seeking political asylum in third countries.

The salaries of workers sent abroad by Pyongyang are remitted direct to the government coffers as a source of foreign income.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, reported that 590 North Korean defectors arrived in the first five months of this year, 16 per cent more than in the same period last year.

This is the first time since Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011 that there has been a notable increase in defections, even though more stringent controls have been put in place.

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