Authorities focus on Kangwon Province in push to prevent defections by sea
As North Korea continues its charm offensive coinciding with the Pyeongchang Olympics, sources inside the country are reporting that the authorities have initiated yet another crackdown on defections. The dramatic escape of a North Korean soldier through the DMZ late last year, caught on camera and broadcast around the world, served as a wake-up call to the authorities for their inability to prevent defections.
"A notice was sent to all military units in the area on January 20 at 9:00 a.m. carrying orders for all attempted deserters to be arrested and for all movements of soldiers to be carefully managed," a source in Kangwon Province told Daily NK on January 30.
"The order stated that in Kangwon Province, especially the areas of Chorwon, Pyonggang, Kimhwa, Kumgang, and Kosong, etc., all three branches of the military will receive special naval crackdown reinforcements and are to assist each other (in carrying out the orders)," he added.
The authorities are focusing on stamping out the possibility of future desertions and avoid similar scenarios to last year's defection of a soldier through the Joint Security Area (JSA).
North Korea is also seeking to clamp down on military discipline in Kangwon Province due to the joint North-South events taking place at the Masik Pass ski resort in the region.
Along with the military, law enforcement agencies have received similar orders.
"The Ministry of State Security (MSS) and the Ministry of People's Security (MPS) received an order on January 18 written in Kim Jong Un's own handwriting telling them to double check all situations involving soldiers on leave, like those who claim to have gone fishing," another source said. "The order is intended to prevent any soldiers from defecting by boat."
According to a separate source in Kangwon Province, the order also spells out in fine detail the investigative process used for the case of the fishermen who landed in Japan and returned to North Korea in late 2017. Security agents investigating the case reportedly carried out interrogations based on the assumption that the fishermen were spies, and the latest crackdown order is using this example as a model for future investigations.
He added that the order may also be an attempt to eliminate the existing system where soldiers pay bribes in order to be granted leave.
"The authorities are threatening to begin considering it a traitorous act to work with independent ship owners," he said. "The MSS and MPS are being tasked with carrying out Kim Jong Un's orders to prevent these kinds of situations and stamp out defections."