The North Korean authorities have dispatched Ministry of State Security officials to accompany traders trucks from the end of last year in order to block the inflow of South Korean products.
"The Ministry of State Security (MSS) personnel are reported to have been posted to monitor trading vehicles since the end of last year. Their purpose is to block the massive influx of South Korean products through traders doing business with China,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on March 27.
"The truck drivers are frustrated because they no longer can bring the (South Korean) products to officials or acquaintances as they are secretly requested. Many traders are complaining that the state is cracking down on trivial practices while conducting much more serious illegal actions."
Drivers used to operate trucks earmarked for trade independently or occasionally accompanied by a trading company supervisor, however, it is abnormal for an MSS agent to come along for the ride.
Instead, the main duties of the MSS personnel were used to be to infiltrate the group of people who are visiting their relatives in China to prevent them from attempting defection or closely watching the cadres who are on a business trip in foreign countries.
Also, the state security agents are reported to be monitoring and patrolling the areas where North Koreans frequent for business just over the border, including Dandong, Liaoning Province and Yanji, Jilin Province.
"MSS officials generally considered inspection on trading goods as trivial, but the current mood shift is pronounced, suggesting they deemed the inflow of South Korean products into the North to have crossed some sort of red line," said a separate source in North Pyongan Province.
He added, "Now, after boarding these vehicles, MSS officers search under the driver's seat and check the cargo area with extra scrutiny. In fact, already there has been a case when a large amount of South Korean products were found stashed under the driver's seat."
However, many point out that the crackdown will not continue for long because the South Korean products are mostly requested by high-ranking officials who are in the blind spot of the crackdowns.
"In the past," he said, "people have always found remarkable ways to avoid crackdowns after laying low for some time. Besides, the MSS agents are unlikely to sustain this degree of fervor with vehicle checks--they can't afford to aggravate consumerist cadres."