(FILE PHOTO) Border patrol soldiers in training. Taken by ISHIMARU Jiro on the Chinese side of the border in August 2004.

◆ Father and son try to flee, but malnutrition makes it difficult to run

According to a reporting partner in late November, two men were arrested as they attempted to flee into China across the Tumen River on November 22 in Musan County, North Hamgyung Province.

The reporting partner said, “The two men were a father and his child, and the father couldn’t run because of malnutrition, leaving them easy prey for the authorities to capture.”

Defection attempts were common near Musan County given its location on the upstream of the Tumen River. Starting in the late 2000s, however, heavier patrols in the area along with the establishment of a barbed-wire fence on the Chinese side of the river in 2015 made it more difficult to mount defections. Later, the North Korean authorities built a barbed-wire fence on their side of the river, too.

The administrative center of Musan County as seen from the Chinese side of the border. There is an iron ore mine to the left covered in snow. Taken by PARK Yong-min in November 2012 (ASIAPRESS)

◆ The government tells people that “defections will not be forgiven”

The reporting partner explained that “The two people captured tried crossing the river without ‘cover’ and were captured as a result. I heard that they were executed by firing squad, although I’m not sure whether it was public or done in secret. The neighborhood watch unit meeting told members that ‘from now on, [the government] will not forgive anyone crossing over into China.’ They are saying this to scare people.”
※“Cover” in this context refers to someone bribing or requesting help using their connections with officials or soldiers to cover up illegal activity.
※ Neighborhood watch units (inminban) are the lowest administrative units in North Korea. They typically manage 20-30 households in a particular area. Inminban leaders relay orders from local district offices to residents and are also in charge of keeping a close eye on the (ideological) tendencies shown by ordinary people.

In August 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19, the Kim Jong-un regime announced that anyone approaching the border without permission would be “unconditionally” fired upon.

Poverty in provincial cities is so bad that since October there has been a stream of defection attempts along with smuggling operations discovered by the authorities. The border region has a 6 PM curfew in place.

※ ASIAPRESS smuggles Chinese cell phones into North Korea to communicate with its reporting partners.

This announcement states that “Any person or animal that enters our side of the Yalu and Tumen river banks will be fired upon without warning.” Taken in late August 2020 by ASIAPRESS.
Map of North Korea ( ASIAPRESS)