Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cars in North Korea - Part 2 (License Plates)

Originally, I was planning on writing a two-part article on cars in North Korea. As my information collecting continued, however, I realized that there are a lot more information out there. So this second part of the series is going to be about license plates of North Korean cars.

Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Source : 지식의 수집광 (Korean Blog)

The plate above reads : Pyongyang 50-306. Licence plates in North Korea consists of Area(Pyongyang), Category(50), Car number(306). According to Ministry of Unification of South Korea and other sources, category 50 means this vehicle is from a 'Foreign Community Service' department. The fact that this car is a Mercedes gives away the fact that it belongs to the government or someone that works for the government.

Generally, the lower the category number is, the higher and more powerful this car's owner is. Category number 01 means this car belongs to the Labor Party for secretaries, department directors, and so on. 02 means it belongs to the Central Party.
Reads : Pyongyang 07-806
This car's category number is 07. It means this car is a stand-by vehicle (whatever that means) for the Central Party. 

Now, not all cars have licence plates numbered the same way. Here are some examples : 

1. If a car is given by Kim Jong-Il as a gift for a birthday, etc, then the number does not follow the Area-Category-Number structure. According to the book "Kim Jong-Il's Cook" by Hujimoto Genji, Kim Jong-Il occasionally gives out expensive liquor or foreign-made cars (especially Mercedes) to close friends or visitors. In this case, they are given special license plates. 
Look at the car in the back.
For example, license plates without the area code, like 2-16XXXX means they have something to do with Kim Jong-Il's birthday, Feb. 16th. The picture above was taken during President Rho's historical visit to North Korea in 2007. The car in the back has a licence plate of 2-168054.

2. Also in the picture above, you can see that the car in front is missing a '0' in its category number. This is also seen from time to time. 

3. -XXX means it is a special event vehicle. Some cars have red stars, some blue stars, and even red triangles.

Looks like a Lego car.
4. Like above, some cars don't have license plates at all.

5. Vehicles for Mountain Kumgangsan have their own designated plate numbers. They are written Kumgangsan X-XXX. Also, the grey van you see above is a Karaoke van for tourists... totally legit.

6. When crossing the border between North and South, all vehicles must hide the license plates according to an agreement made between the two nations. 

7. Every motorcycle and bicycle must get registered and put on a license plate as well. They follow the same general pattern.

8. All military vehicles have license plates as well. They don't have area numbers however, so they read XX-XXX.

In North Korea, especially in military/government facilities, all cars must go through a rigorous inspection and authorization to enter. People who belong to the highest seats of the Party and secret services, however, fly through the inspection gates thanks to their special licence plates.

Kim Jong-Il's vehicle numbers are obviously top secrets, but generally they either don't have a plate at all, or have dozen identical cars with plates 5555555, 999999, 777777 moving altogether. This is to prohibit outsiders from knowing which car Kim Jong-Il is sitting in. Kim Jong-Il's closest kins and friends use the plates 80-XXXXX or no plates. 01-XXXXX plates belong to the parliament or the royal palace, and you see these often in Pyongyang. The most common plates in Pyongyang is 02-XXXXX, and these belong to the members of the Party. A lot of the Mercedes in North Korea have 216-XXXX plates.

Next up, North Korean-made vehicles.


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