North Korean authorities launch search operation for defectors in Sukchon County

Seol Song Ah  |  2017-07-10 17:30
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A search operation for a family attempting to defect has been underway for more than 15 days in Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province. The local government has handed down the orders and tightened inspections by the 'tenth guard' that controls the movement of residents. 

In late June, a family in Sukchon County (South Pyongan Province) began a defection attempt. The Sukchon Ministry of State Security [MSS] had been monitoring them for some time since the mother of the family had previously defected, but the remaining family members suddenly disappeared overnight, putting the whole county on alert.

"The security agent who was monitoring the family reported the defection to the Sukchon MSS immediately after realizing the situation. The provincial MSS department ordered an expansion of the search operation to a nationwide scale. The provincial MSS has strengthened inspections of vehicles heading to the border areas from Sukchon by the tenth guard, as well as of trains going to the border regions," a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK.

"The authorities have announced that a resident and his two children have disappeared and are likely trying to defect, following his wife who is already in South Korea. Those who find them must immediately report them to the authorities. The age and appearance of the family members has been described to the public in detail."

However, over two weeks have passed since the authorities launched the national search campaign and it appears that they are no closer to determining the family's whereabouts. It also remains unclear who is assisting the family in their escape.

Residents have already begun criticizing the MSS for the turn of events. Of particular note, local vendors who run wholesale businesses from Sinuiju are complaining about business losses due to a slowdown in product circulation.

Residents are also criticizing the regime for issuing such a wide-ranging order to find three family members.

Considering the scale of the search, many believed that a high-ranking official must have escaped. "But now," said a separate source in South Pyongan Province, "people are saying that the MSS departments in big cities like Sinuiju routinely report family defections as a mere case of disappearance to avoid responsibility, but the Sukchon County MSS immediately reported this defection to the central government, showing how naive it is in political affairs."

She added, "Because the search has been ordered to expand nationwide, the directors of the Sukchon County MSS will have to take responsibility regardless of the outcome and will not be able to avoid dismissal. In the end, they have brought significant danger to themselves."

North Korea enforces a system in which some local residents must frequently report specific incidents in their villages to the regional Ministries of State Security and People's Security (police). These types of ongoing reports are usually made by informants. Such informants are also tasked with checking on the whereabouts of relatives of defectors once every two hours, and file reports to the MSS agent in charge.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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2017.06.28
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