The North Korean authorities have intervened in alluvial gold mining operations near Hyesan City, Ryanggang Province, near the Amnok (Yalu) River. While it is more practical to process the alluvial ore, which involves washing off the sand, in the waters of the Amnok River (which is close to the mining field), the authorities have instead ordered the process to take place in the city.
“These days, the working teams earning foreign currency under the Ryanggang Ministry of State Security and the Prosecutor’s Office are collecting sand near the Amnok River every other day. It makes sense to complete the washing-off process using waters from the Amnok River, but it’s all being brought to the city to be washed off. The authorities seem to sensitive to a potential leak of information,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on June 19.
It is assumed that the North Korean authorities are trying to prevent knowledge of the gold mining operations to be exposed to travelers around the border cities of China.
Alluvial gold mining is an attractive means of earning foreign currency for state organizations, which have suffered significant losses due to international sanctions. But as the mining field is located near the border area, the Ryanggang Provincial government is reportedly taking careful steps to keep the operations secret.
“The residents have suggested washing off the sand using water from the Amnok River, located directly adjacent to the working field, but the authorities have strictly rejected the idea, citing the possibility that people ‘against us’ can take pictures of the mining process from across the Chinese border. They are saying that if the mining work is exposed to the outside, no one can be safe,” the source explained.
In addition, surveillance over the residents has been strengthened in the region as water levels along the Amnok River have dropped. Lower water levels make it easier for defectors to cross the river.
“The border guards are on constant watch over the working fields in teams of three from above the dam. The authorities seem to think that residents working near the parched Yalu river are tempted to defect, because soldiers are also frequently deserting the army,” said a separate source in Ryanggang Province.
“The residents working in the mine are reportedly complaining to the authorities, saying, ‘Why do we need to be watched by soldiers with guns like we’re prisoners?’ Some are mocking the authorities, saying, ‘They are so short-sighted not to see that the soldiers with guns (trying to cover up the gold mining process) can also be seen from across the border.”
According to the sources, the North Korean authorities have ordered residents to collect alluvial gold in order to generate ruling funds for the Party. As an incentive, they are reportedly allowing them to keep the extra gold that they find, so as long as it exceeds their allotted quota.