North Korean soldiers sit in the shade near the North Korean city Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. Civilian forced laborers are being replaced with soldiers at North Korea construction sites in Kuwait and Qatar, a recent report stated. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, June 10 (UPI) -- North Korea may be sending soldiers to the Middle East, but it's not for the purposes of combat.
Rather, Pyongyang is dispatching troops so they can work at North Korea-operated construction sites in countries like Kuwait and Qatar, Radio Free Asia reported Friday.
Active duty military personnel pass themselves off as civilians before they are sent overseas. They grow out their hair and assume civilian identities, according to a source who spoke to RFA on the condition of anonymity.
That poses problems, however, for the civilian forced laborers who are typically assigned to the sites.
"Workers are having an even harder time because the soldiers are taking their jobs," the source said.
The mobilization of troops to overseas sites also comes at a time when North Korean state construction companies are struggling to pay workers, despite the fact that workers' share of income is marginal.
North Korean forced laborers in Kuwait recently went on strike and were summoned back to the North after the protest.
A similar strike took place in Qatar in March ahead of the Seventh Party Congress in May, when North Korean construction company executives told their workers to increase their productivity for the regime.
Soldiers, however, are under the separate command structure of the North Korean military, and don't need to be compensated like civilians, according to the report.
That could ease the financial pressure on North Korean construction companies Namkang and Cholhyon.
Cholyon has been steadily increasing the number of soldier-laborers in its work force since employing 70 soldiers in 2010, according to RFA.
About 30 percent of laborers in Namkang are also soldiers, and some 1,500 troops belonging to the engineering unit of the Korean People's Army were dispatched to Kuwait and Qatar, the report stated.