A North Korean soldier posted at the Sino-North Korea border has been apprehended while re-entering North Korea after crossing over into China. His arrest marks a new period of renewed efforts by the North Korean authorities to enforce discipline within the military ranks and tighten border control to thwart defections.
"The soldier belongs to the 25th Brigade of the border guard in Ryanggang Province, and was arrested on sight while returning from China. He was allegedly earning money by aiding defectors and was ambushed by a Ministry of State Security (MSS) officer ,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on March 24.
"The soldier was transferred to the MSS for investigation, during which he confessed that he had been aiding defections in return for remittances sent from settled defectors in South Korea."
A separate source in North Hamgyong Province reported that border guard soldiers located along the border region had enjoyed relatively unfettered access into China until November last year. These soldiers were able to engage in cross-border trade due to their comparable ease of mobility, acting as conduits for remittances sent by defectors in South Korea via broker networks in China.
Soldiers were previously known to have been able to traverse into China and return without severe punishment if caught, but the current situation is indicative of changing times. "Ministry of State Security patrol officers and soldiers are working together to ramp up their surveillance of the border areas around the clock. They’re looking for any excuse to apprehend people so that they can deflect suspicion or investigation into their own activities," the Ryanggang source explained.
"In the past, the military officers would sometimes secretly assign soldiers to smuggling missions, but their attitude has changed dramatically. Because any illegal actions undertaken by soldiers are almost always led by their superiors, the current incident should also be viewed with suspicion as a set-up instigated by high-ranking officers.”
Daily morning lectures aim to further foment anxiety and give pause to soldiers engaging or considering engaging in illicit activities to earn money for their own survival.
The North Hamgyong Province-based source said of a recent meeting he was obliged to attend, “This incident has become the constant focus of our daily lectures. Every day the officer presiding over the meeting says, 'Anyone failing in their duties as gatekeeper of our borders for money will be charged with treason. There will be no mercy.’”