The North Korean military is currently preparing for joint military-civil activities in which family members of fallen soldiers can take part in grave tending and memorial services around Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).
“The political departments in each military unit received orders from the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] on Aug. 20 to take charge of organizing joint activities around this coming Chuseok for the family members of soldiers killed in action,” a source in the North Korean military told Daily NK on Tuesday.
According to the source, family members of soldiers who died in the line of duty over the past few years have not been able to personally visit the units of the deceased or even attend their funerals because of COVID-19 measures that restricted travel around the country.
The source explained that COVID-19 measures prevented travel documents from being issued except in extraordinary circumstances. As a result, the only consideration shown to parents of deceased soldiers was notifying them of their children’s death.
Leading up to Chuseok, the KPA General Political Bureau informed political departments at military units that joint events were being organized to comfort family members who had not been allowed to visit the graves of their relatives over the past three years because it is the responsibility of the state and the Workers’ Party to look after the family members of fallen soldiers.
These Chuseok plans appear aimed at restoring military-civilian relations — which grew estranged during the COVID-19 lockdown — as well as assuaging public dissatisfaction and instilling positive feelings for the public in the military.
In line with the General Political Bureau’s orders, the political departments at each military unit have selected one or two dozen members to represent the families of soldiers who have died in the line of duty over the past few years and asked those individuals and members of local party committees for their help.
Local party committees are reportedly working with security organizations to issue travel documents and authorization numbers in advance.
However, the General Political Bureau has only ordered that these joint events be held at units stationed in the interior of the country, excluding units on the border with China and on the front with South Korea.
Some bereaved family members have responded bitterly to the news of these joint events, the source said.
“The families of numerous deceased soldiers weren’t even allowed to attend their funerals during the pandemic, and now that victory over the pandemic has been declared, they think it’s unfair that only a few representatives will be allowed to take part in the grave tending and memorial services at the military units,” he explained.
Some soldiers have also bemoaned the fact that joining the army basically means a permanent separation from their families, considering that soldiers are not even sent back home after death.
Most soldiers who die while in the service are buried on hills near their unit. It is uncommon for those soldiers to later be buried elsewhere because it is taboo in North Korea to move the graves of unmarried individuals who pass away before their parents do.
Soldiers complain that no one will perform the traditional rituals if they die because they will be buried near their unit instead of being sent back to their families, the source said.
“The Ministry of Defense and the Emergency Anti-epidemic Command have emphasized that anti-pandemic measures must be strictly followed in the grave tending and memorial services that are being held as joint military-civilian events for Chuseok,” the source said.
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