A North Korean soldier stands on guard duty near the barbed wire fence along the Yalu River on the North Korea-China border. Photographed from the Chinese side in October 2023 (Asia Press)
<Interview with a N. Korean Woman>What was happening in the spring of 2024? (1) Who is starving and why?

Earlier this year, Kim Jong Un's regime declared South Koreans to be enemies and set out to erase all traces of South Korea and reunification in the country. In late April, ASIAPRESS conducted a phone interview with a woman in Ryanggang Province to find out about how ordinary people are feeling about this change in policy. (JEON Sung-jun / KANG Ji-won)

◆ North Koreans are confused about sudden changes, while the military is erasing unification slogans

―― Kim Jong-un declared earlier this year that South Korea and North Korea are not the same people and not worthy of reunification. What was the reaction inside the country?

"It became a big deal here. They don't even let us say the word Korea, and South Korean dramas and movies are considered something for the enemies to watch. The military has been instructed to remove all unification slogans, so there are a lot of soldiers coming (to the city) to obtain paint."

"We received rice from them (South Korea), we had talks at Panmunjom (the inter-Korean summit in April 2018), and we were expecting to live well with each other for a while. That's why people are confused. They don't know if the government is doing this to prepare for war or if they are afraid that South Korea will absorb us because its living well. The government may be afraid that if we open the border with South Korea, it's all going to go downhill."

―― What are you referring to when you talk about soldiers coming to obtain paint?

"They're coming to get it so that they can paint over the slogans related to reunification."

◆North Koreans still want unification and economic exchanges

―― What do people around you think of South Korea?

"We have the same ethnicity, and it's a country that's doing well economically. People who have family in South Korea are referred to as part of the "Hallasan Bloodline" and they're better off than those part of the "Paekdusan Bloodline." It would be great if there was reunification, and even if there wasn't, it would be great if there was economic exchange. I hope that exchanges can become normalized.”

* People who are part of the "Baekdusan Bloodline" are the immediate family members of those who fought alongside Kim Il-sung in the anti-Japanese struggle when Korea was a colony of Japan, and have been favored by the North Korean regime. In recent years, the families of those who defected to South Korea have been referred to as part of the "Hallasan Bloodline" and envied because the remittances sent by defectors have raised their standard of living beyond that of those in the "Baekdusan Bloodline."

―― Do you wish for reunification, even if the country opposes it?

"Yes. We can't hear or talk about what's going on outside the country, and it's become a really, really scary world. All we focus on is getting something to eat... I wish I could go out and see how people live in the outside world."

◆ Emergency arrests and public executions: People are numbed by fear

(FILE PHOTO) North Korea’s guard post No. 10 seen across the Yalu River. It is under the jurisdiction of the National Security Bureau (secret police) and blocks major roads leading to the border, mainly inspecting ID cards, travel documents, and cell phones of passers-by. Photographed from the Chinese side in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, September 2023 (ASIAPRESS)

―― We've heard that there's more control over the population than before. What is that like?

"Like I said, it's become a world where everybody here can't say anything, and you have to stay away from your friends and relatives. It's become a world where you have to spend two years in reeducation camps if you do almost anything wrong. They'll line you up and shoot you in an instant. Recently, there's been something called an "emergency arrest.” If they see someone involved in a case, they take them away, no matter where they are. It's hard just walking around because we’re all numbed by fear. There's been three public executions since last year, and there are still many people who are going to face executions, I've heard."

* Between August and December of last year, 12 people were executed in three public executions in Hyesan alone.

<Urgent Report> Public execution takes place again on December 19, the third in Hyesan this year…large numbers of people mobilized to witness event

―― Are people around you scared?

"Yes, they only do what they are told to do and see what they are told to see. The families of North Korean defectors in particular are unable to say much of anything because of the fear of getting sent to prison. If you say something wrong, you'll face surveillance, and no one knows what will happen then. The authorities say that people who don't follow the law should die, and tell people they should turn themselves in or report wrongdoing. That's the kind of system that's in place. If you get caught, you're going to die. I don't know why they do this."

(End of Interview Series)

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.

Map of North Korea (ASIAPRESS)
<Interview with a N. Korean Woman>What was happening in the spring of 2024? (1) Who is starving and why?