North Korea has fired the top three leaders of a city slammed by two typhoons this month for failing to prevent damage and death, a decision drawing criticism from colleagues who said the men were scapegoats for a central government that issues orders but sends no resources, RFA has learned.
Typhoons Maysak and Haishen, known locally as typhoons number 9 and 10, both came up the eastern coast of the peninsula from South Korea. Maysak made landfall on Sept. 3, followed by Haishen on Sept. 7 - both slamming Wonsan, a coastal city in North Korea's southeastern Kangwon province.
On Sept. 3, an apartment building in Wonsan collapsed, burying some 70 apartment residents under the rubble, while 40 single-story homes in the city of 360,000 people were knocked down on Sept. 7 by strong winds, forcing residents to live on the streets.
Prior to Maysak's arrival, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had ordered the nation to take the proper precautions to minimize the impact of the coming typhoons. The Wonsan officials were fired for failing to uphold Kim's orders.
A Kangwon province official who asked not to be named told RFA's Korean Service last week that the Central Committee of the Korean Workers' Party decided Sept. 3 that all responsible officials in Wonsan would be dismissed, including the head of the municipal party, the head of the People's Committee, and the head of the public security department.
"The dismissed Wonsan officials were degraded from their lofty positions of city party officials to labor workers," the source said.
"The head of the city party committee was an official with a good heart and character. He often visited people who were having difficulty making ends meet and took care of them. Everyone is saddened by [his] dismissal as he was highly respected by city officials and residents," the source added.
The source said that the city and province could not have limited property damage by simply following instructions from the central government.
"If the authorities were really interested in preventing casualties, they would have taken practical measures, including repairing old buildings in preparation for typhoons and heavy rains," said the source.
"The authorities have long avoided responsibility by punishing local officials whenever there are incidents or problems that could draw complaints from residents. So, this time they are also passing on to the officials their responsibility for the damage caused by the typhoons," the source added.
The source said the damage is actually greater than the central government is reporting.
"The typhoon has caused a great number of casualties in Wonsan, not to mention damage to facilities and buildings, but the authorities are saying that only parts of Wonsan have been submerged and only a small number of lives have been lost," said the source.
"If we talk to residents, there are many people still missing and the number of casualties is expected to rise further," the source said, but was unable to give a precise number.
Another source, a resident of Kangwon who requested anonymity for security reasons, confirmed to RFA that the top-level city officials were sacked.
"They were dismissed for failing to properly enforce the Highest Dignity's order to take thorough precautions in connection with the damage caused by Typhoon 9," the second source said, using an honorific term to refer to Kim Jong Un.
"Wonsan and Kangwon are surrounded by mountains and seas. It is difficult to come up with proper measures against typhoons and heavy rain. The Central Committee is well aware of the geographical features and characteristics of Kangwon province but dismissed the officials from their posts anyway to pass on their responsibility," the second source said.
The second source said that the mass firing angered residents of Wonsan, who are well aware that the authorities are "passing the buck to local officials," over Maysak and Haishen.
"Instead of just words for the people or construction to show off nuclear and missile development to maintain the regime, they should come up with practical policies that the people can really feel," said the second source.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on Sept. 5 that the Central Party held a meeting to draw lessons from the irresponsible attitude of officials in Kangwon province, who they said caused severe casualties by neglecting to implement the party's policy to prevent damage from Typhoon Maysak.
In addition, the Rodong Sinmun declared that the party, administration and security officials in Wonsan City, would be punished strictly by the party, administration and law for causing human casualties against the Central Committee's intentions, but the report did not reveal any specific punishment or personal information about them.
Reported by Sewon Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
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