Sources in Dandong have informed Daily NK that a group of armed North Korean soldiers recently left the country across the Yalu River, leading the Chinese authorities to increase security substantially.
A source close to Chinese frontier forces in the area explained on Wednesday, “There was an incident around the 20th of last month in which eight armed North Korean soldiers came across the border into Kuandian Manchu Autonomous County. Two of them were shot and killed by North Korean border guards while trying to cross the river, but the authorities are still trying to track down the six who made it across.” The county of Kuandian lies roughly 75km northeast of Dandong.
According to the source, the group of armed soldiers made their escape at around midnight. They were reportedly from the Byeokdong County in North Pyongan Province, which faces Kuandian County along the banks of the Yalu River.
It is still unclear whether the escapees clashed with Chinese soldiers during their escape. However, the rumor is that they paid off local soldiers to turn a blind eye, although there is also talk of some modest clashes.
The North Korean soldiers are believed to have belonged to a border guard brigade responsible for things like preventing defections and smuggling. The source says that the soldiers conspired to escape together in two teams during a guard change.
Usually during a night shift, one two-man team stands fifty meters apart on guard while another team of three or four patrols the area. There are no changeovers for those standing guard, but the patrol team switches once every two hours, meaning that the group defection probably took place while the patrol team was changing over.
According to the source, armed People’s Liberation Army personnel were dispatched to key locations around Kuandian County as soon as Chinese officials became aware of the incident, fearing the possibility of a shootout with the North Korean soldiers trying to escape. In particular, dozens of soldiers were placed at railway stations and other transit points to try and stop the escapees from trying to avoid detection and make their way further inland.
Armed Chinese soldiers could also be seen patrolling Dandong railway station and other areas as late as December 11th. This served to further increase tension in the area because of the ensuing ID checks, leading to incidences of people being unable to verify their identities being taken in. Chinese commuters were further inconvenienced by ticket inspections at two or three times their usual level.
For their part, the North Korean authorities are understood to have sent several dozen NSA agents directly to Dandong to work on apprehending the fugitives. Numbers of NSA agents have been particularly high in areas of large numbers of Koreans since the event. The authorities are trying to find the escapees on foot, searching Sanma Road (the ‘Korea-Town of Dandong’) as well as the Xinliu shopping district and development areas.
Immediately after the incident the jamming of electronic signals between China and Sinuiju
appeared also to have been stepped up, with areas usually receiving adequate telephone reception constantly dropping out.
Defections are rare in the downstream areas of the Yalu River, and therefore military discipline is somewhat more lax than in areas on the Tumen River. Regardless, a group defection of armed border guards certainly appears to hint at the poor state of much of the Chosun People’s Armed Forces.