North Koreans 'will pay with their lives' after forest fire that threatened base

Innocent North Koreans will “pay with their lives” after a wildfire has brought a critical missile base to the brink of destruction, insiders fear.

Military figures said the fire broke out near Kim Jong-un’s “No. 2 Missile Launch site” on a hill near the Chinese border.

The enraged leader is likely to take violent action, it is claimed – even if officials weren’t blamed.

“Trees planted eight years ago and trees planted last year were reduced to ashes in the blink of an eye,” they told the Daily NK newspaper in South Korea.

To save the base, civilians had to fight the flames, deploy the military and declare a state of emergency.

Now responsible officials are expected to “pay with their lives,” said the outlet, “regardless of whether the fire was intentional or a mistake.”

North Korean analyst Jacob Bogle said the report referred to the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a facility on the west coast of the country, 60 miles from the Chinese border.

It is a base that could be crucial to the development of the Hwasong-16 – a nuclear missile that is feared to be among the largest in the world.

Mr Bogle said: “Sohae has become the premier satellite launch facility due to its proximity to major industries and superior capabilities to the regime’s first satellite station, Tonghae.

Although it is called a satellite launch station and has sent satellites into space, Sohae is also an integral part of the Kim regime’s missile program.

North Koreans 'will pay with their lives' after forest fire that threatened base

Sohae was actually part of the talks between North Korea, the US and South Korea in 2017-2018.

“North Korea partially dismantled the base in 2018, but when talks fell apart, the test rig was rebuilt and a major rocket motor test was conducted in December 2019.”

He continued, “Since Tonghae has held janitorial status for years, Sohae’s importance has grown much greater.

His ability to test very large engines may put him in the process of developing North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the so-called Hwasong-16.

“If operational, the Hwasong-16 would be the largest road-mobile ICBM in the world.”

North Koreans 'will pay with their lives' after forest fire that threatened base

Kim Jong-un has taken a personal interest in reforestation in his country and has even set up a new agency to lead the charge.

So the news of a forest fire near a critical facility has been called a “major problem”.

“Even officers from the Forest Policy Monitoring Bureau were sent from Pyongyang to determine the cause of the fire,” a military source told Daily NK.

“The relevant cadres had to run around desperately to escape the responsibility of ruining a major national effort.

Units of the Eighth Corps in North Pyongan Province and officials from the Provincial Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Social Security went into a state of emergency.

Soldiers from nearby bases and helicopters from Cholsan Air Force Base were mobilized and put out within three hours.

North Koreans 'will pay with their lives' after forest fire that threatened base

“A vehicle with a speaker started broadcasting at night in Cholsan, and then the authorities began to encourage all residents of the province to take an active part in fighting the fire on local TV.”

They continued: “Since the missile base was not damaged, the command was able to close the case by punishing the main culprits and a high-ranking officer.

“But it is also very possible that severe penalties will be imposed on other people as well, as a facility that the state considers important could have been destroyed by a single mistake.”

Mr Bogle, who created a comprehensive map of North Korea from satellite images, emphasized how dangerous a fire at the Sohae base can be for the regime.

“This underscores the need for good forest management, but also underscores the risks for Sohae as it is now surrounded by ever-expanding forested areas,” said the US-based analyst.

“Should a fire reach the base, it would threaten dozens of homes, as well as the satellite launch pad, engine test rig and numerous support buildings.

‘A major fire there could affect the regime’s capabilities for years to come.

“North Korea’s countryside is dotted with many small villages and various military sites.

“If larger fires were ever to become routine – especially as the effects of climate change become more apparent – the human, military and industrial costs could become severe.”

The regime’s interest in tree planting comes after decades of deforestation left countless slopes across the country bare.

Mr Bogle said: “North Korea has long relied on wood-burning stoves and heating methods, and it has uncovered innumerable slopes to create arable land, putting pressure on the country’s forest reserves.

This contributed to major floods in the early 1990s and helped trigger the famine that killed more than a million people.

“The collapse of the economy also meant that people depended even more on local wood resources for their needs, and between 1990 and 2005 North Korea lost a quarter of its forests.”

The news comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency said it detected activity in Kangson, a secret facility near Pyongyang that has long been suspected of producing weapons-grade uranium for North Korea.