Daily NK has learned that an additional 2,000 troops of the so-called Storm Corps have been deployed to the city of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, which was recently put under lockdown.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea yesterday, around 2,000 troops of the Storm Corps got on a special train in Dokchon, South Pyongan Province, in the early morning hours of Tuesday and arrived in Hyesan at around 4:30 PM of the same day.

Prior to this, the troops assembled after receiving a reinforcement order from the Ninth Department of the General Staff Department of the Korean People’s Army. The troops assembled with their weapons and departed for Hyesan straight away, carrying with them ammo boxes.

“Their basic mission is to put Hyesan under complete lockdown for 20 days, making sure nobody crosses the border,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Since Hyesan has a long border area, you need more people to occupy it completely, so additional members of the Storm Corps were sent [to the city].”

The source said the dispatch of additional Storm Corps troops is also aimed at keeping local members of the Border Security Command under control. The source explained that with a member of the border guard in Hyesan recently getting nabbed for direct involvement in smuggling, there arose a need to manage the Border Security Command. Accordingly, members of the Storm Corps – a special forces unit – were deployed to the city.

The incident involving the border guard smuggling goods demonstrates just how difficult the economic situation has become for personnel guarding the border. North Korean authorities have begun trying to manage the situation by deploying better trained special force units from the interior of the country. 

The source said that with the people no longer able to smuggle, soldiers have been doing it themselves. According to him, “the leadership believes that border guards are the bigger danger.”

Quoting a source in Yanggang Province, Daily NK reported (in Korean) on Tuesday that a security official with the 25th Brigade of the Border Security Command and a soldier had fled with their weapons after getting caught smuggling while on duty. This led the authorities to order a 20-day lockdown of Hyesan. 

elite military unit storm corps border
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observing Storm Corps training in 2013. / Image: Rodong Shinmun

Called “murder weapons” inside North Korea, the Storm Corps troopers now deployed to Hyesan are part of an elite force specializing in mountain warfare. They will first search the surrounding mountains for the fugitives and their missing weapons and then focus on locking down Hyesan, according to the source. 

The Hyesan lockdown is set for 20 days, but even after the lockdown is lifted, Storm Corps personnel will remain in Yanggang Province to conduct their winter training, the source said. Winter training will start on Dec. 1. 

“When winter training begins, an additional 2,000 troops from the Storm Corps will be deployed throughout Yangang Province, joining the personnel already there,” said the source. “By deploying the Storm Corps, [the authorities] intend to completely root out all smuggling and non-socialist activities currently taking place in the province.”

With Hyesan being put under lockdown and now more Storm Corps personnel being deployed to the region, local public sentiment is roiling. Residents are reportedly responding with fear and unease, expressing concern that “it will be big trouble if they get caught doing something wrong during the lockdown” and that “they could get blindly shot by the military, be it by the Storm Corps or by the border guard.”

“Among locals, rumors are going around that the Central Committee has ordered the local party in Hyesan to treat anyone who leaves their home during the 20-day lockdown as a traitor and put them in lockup,” said the source. “People feel really uneasy that neither the inminban [neighborhood watch-like administrative units], local district offices nor people’s committees are coming up with any measures, even though people need to at least eat and survive indoors if they aren’t allowed out.”

The source added that some people are expressing animosity toward the state, saying it makes no difference whether they die after going outside and get shot or die while they remain indoors and starving.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.