North Korea has dispatched a compact
special team of State Security Department [SSD] personnel to China tasked with the
capture of three wanted Party cadres: two who fled from North Korea and one who
fled his post in China. The sweep comes amid an uptick in cadres hatching
escape plans, citing anxiety instilled by Kim Jong Un’s penchant for
A source close to North Korean affairs
currently residing in China told Daily NK on Thursday that the three-man task force has not only been combing through the usual border area locals–
Shenyang, Yanji, etc.–but extended the search as far inland as Beijing. An additional source in China, also personally involved with this matter, corroborated this news.
The task force has been commanded to
exercise absolute discretion, attempting to covertly track down the wanted
parties by canvassing areas including, but not limited to, North Korean
consulates, restaurants run by the North in China, and trading operations headed by the Korean-Chinese community.
Wielding photos of the escapees and leaving no stone unturned in its expansive search, “the team is feverishly doing
everything it can to arrest and repatriate these Party cadres,” he said.
Pyongyang has hitherto dispatched agents
from the SSD and General Reconnaissance Bureau to arrest defectors and those
who overstay their personal travel permits in China, sending cohorts of some 150 agents to do the job at times. This, the source said, spurred by Kim Jong Un’s “repatriate
escapees without question” directive.
However, the decision to send such a
small group on this occasion is unusual, and indicative of how desperate the
state is to try to keep this incident under wraps.
“The team has only requested help from
managers who double as SSD undercover informants at foreign-currency earning offshoots in China. They secretly monitor and report back on the activities of their
assistant managers and other employees,” he said. “Also, the help they’ve solicited from the
Korean-Chinese community has only come from those with a reputation for being
tight-lipped and having a longstanding trade relationship with North Korea.”
But no degree of stealth can match the
power word of mouth commands, with rumors already flying about the prominent escapees
among the North Korean community in China. Said rumors point to the possibility
for one of the defectors in question to be among “some high-level officials at
overseas post said to have recently and suddenly severed the line of
communication,” according to the source, who reasoned that the state will not
grow the task force for fear of inciting more speculation.
Worryingly for the task force agents,
failure to bring in the defectors is only excused by locating their
whereabouts, and “if they can’t even figure out that much, they would find it
hard to save their own lives,” he explained.
On some occasions, if these agents are neither able
to locate the escapees nor arrest them, they look for other ways to produce
results and sidestep repercussions from more senior officials. Forging
documents is one way, by making them appear as though the persons of interest
have fled to South Korea or were murdered.
“Other methods involve going after droves of regular defectors to try to produce tangible achievements,” he
said, adding that this is why North Korean refugees hiding in China, already vulnerable to forcible repatriation at the hands of the Chinese authorities, should exercise extra caution under these conditions.