The North Korean authorities have launched a propaganda campaign to promote Kim Jong Un's benevolence, emphasizing the recently completed high-rise apartments built in Pyongyang's Ryomyong Street. However, local sources report that among the residents, the project is seen as nothing more than an attempt to further consolidate the security of those in power, and shows a disregard for the wider public.
With the exception of some buildings, the majority of the new apartments have been given to cadres and personnel affiliated with law enforcement organs including the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), and the Guard Command, which is tasked with protecting the Kim family. This has led many to decry the new residential area as “nothing more than a protective barrier for Kumsusan Palace of the Sun (the Kim family mausoleum).”
"Kumsong Street (now Ryomyong Street) has been restricted to ordinary citizens because it is a special area where the bodies of the Suryong (Kim Il Sung) and the General (Kim Jong Il) are located. The newly constructed high-rise apartments were first allocated to the families of officials belonging to the MSS, MPS, and the Guard Command," a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on April 20.
"[The state-run publication Rodong Sinmun claimed that] the teachers and researchers of Kim Il Sung University first moved into the apartments, but this is only a small part of the story. They were provided with apartments far away from the central area where the mausoleum is located. So the apartments in Ryomyong Street were not built for the people at all, but rather to boost security around the mausoleum," the source noted.
The North Korean authorities have strictly controlled the movement of people in and around Kumsusan Palace of the Sun since the time of Kim Il Sung, with undercover officers monitoring the area day and night. Apartments between Kim Il Sung University and Kumsusan Palace of the Sun were built solely to accommodate MSS agents, so that they can more easily guard the shrine.
Even when the new 22-story building for Kim Il Sung University was built near the mausoleum in the 1980s, the regime occupied everything above the 18th floor to use as a surveillance headquarters for the Guard Command, because the upper floors provide excellent views over the mausoleum.
"The newly built 40-story and 70-story skyscrapers are designated as homes for agents of the Escort Command in normal times, but in times of emergency (during war), they are going to act as physical barriers to enemy attacks or terrorism. The high-ranking military executives who are aware of this are reluctant to move in, saying that the buildings are basically shields," the source said.
A high-ranking North Korean defector who served as a military official in North Korea told Daily NK on condition of anonymity, "The world knows that Kim Jong Un visits Kumsusan Palace of the Sun whenever there is an important event such as the New Year's address or the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. It seems that the regime has awarded most of the apartments in Ryomyong Street to agents of the Guard Command, so that they can better protect Kim Jong Un and the enshrined remains of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.”
Images in the Rodong Sinmun appear to support the claim that the new apartments are predominantly controlled by the Guard Command.
On page 4 of the April 18 issue of the newspaper, a person who appears to be a military official (denoted by the red circle) can be seen guiding teachers and researchers from Kim Il Sung University into the apartments. In ordinary times, such guidance is usually the responsibility of the chairman of the Municipal People's Committee or the regional party secretary. It is unusual for a military official to personally guide residents in such circumstances.
As the defector source put it, "Even during the moving-in period for Mirae Scientists Street, military officials were not in charge of allocating placements. It is likely that the army officials are ensuring that agents of the Guard Command occupy buildings that have a view over the palace.”
Additionally, some note that high-ranking military officials are reluctant to move into the apartments because, unlike the luxurious external appearance, the interiors of the buildings are poorly built.
"The apartments were built by shock troopers and workers from the army rather than professional builders, so there is a high level of anxiety over the construction,” said a source in Pyongang.
"The construction of apartments in Ryomyong Street had to be finished by April 15 with no excuses, so the builders ignored standard construction guidelines. The regime has only emphasized the speed of construction, so the structural integrity of the buildings is highly suspect.”