[imText1]With the tougher restrictions and control by authorities, it is difficult to find North Koreans defecting via the Tumen River, locals from the border say. From November and January, the Tumen River freezes over and as a result, this time is when defects occur the most. However, the number of North Koreans defecting at the start of 2007 had reduced significantly.
Many people seemed to have been arrested in the vicinity of the river and some as a result of the border guards whom they had paid money to assist them in the defect.
In a telephone conversation, a defector Kim Gwa Joo (pseudonym) who works and lives as a broker in Tumen said, “This year, circumstances are different. There are no more than a couple of people who have crossed the Tumen River from North Korea since last December.”
Kim said, “Even I would avoid defecting at this current time. The food crisis has not yet reached its peak and regulations strict. We will have to wait and see what happens.”
Since December 2006, North Korean authorities have tightened regulations over defects through an organization of inspection groups which are conducting investigations on border guards. As a result, many border guards have been caught for selling “defects” or in other words, aiding defects with money.
Recently, a sergeant and officer from the border patrol in Hoiryeong were known to have been sentenced to the death penalty. There was also a case, where 20 or so border guards from one platoon succeeded in a mass escape.
In another conversation, Park Yeon Hee (pseudonym, 50) who lives in Yanji, China while working as an intermediary funds transmitter and smuggler of goods into North Korea said, “Since the new year, it has become difficult to transfer goods over. I have recollected fertilizer and daily goods that were placed along the river for others to take.”
“Nowadays, even relatives who would once come for short visits by crossing over the river cannot conceive of such ideas” Park informed.
She said, “The defectors are arrested because the border guards who initially received money and goods have reported them to authorities… By doing this, they can join a party or be commended with a holiday to visit one’s hometown.”
Park said, “It’s risky to think like the past. The large number of people normally seen (crossing the river) have disappeared…There are many people with relatives living nearby, however the situation is the same for them also.”
She added, “Some time will have to pass before any deals are made with the border guards and soldiers as new platoons have replaced the old. At the least, it will have to be 3, 4, even 6 months before numbers will increase.”
Despite North Korea painstakingly making efforts to implement reform following the Feb 13 Agreement and develop relations with the U.S., only extreme measures have been instigated such as control along the border. It seems that conflict on capitalist culture is growing within the country.
There is a high chance that control along the border will succeed for now. However, locals say it will be difficult to continue to block the eyes and ears of North Koreans who live along the river banks from discovering the truth about the real world.