Experts Reject Riot Gear Claim

Defectors have countered a report carried by Yonhap News on Tuesday and re-reported worldwide which suggested that North Korea had imported “tear gas, helmets and shields through Chinese merchants in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang in recent months.”

To a man, those The Daily NK talked to about the report, including individuals with experience working for special military units, the National Security Agency and People’s Safety Agency, expressed doubts about the report that North Korea had purchased the equipment to prepare for potential public disorder.

One defector who once worked for a special unit under the People’s Safety Ministry told the Daily NK, “The idea that North Korea bought equipment like tear gas for breaking up demonstrations from China is nonsense. It is premature to suggest that there are riots in North Korea, and even if a riot were to break out, the state would simply break it up with live ammunition.”

“It is also illogical to say that a state could buy those items from individual traders,” the defector continued. “It’s military equipment; how could a private individual even get hold of it?”

Another defector, a former NSA agent who arrived in the South just this year, agreed, saying, “The People’s Safety Ministry, the equivalent of South Korea’s police, is known as the ‘internal military’,” and adding, “If a riot breaks out, obviously the guards would just shoot and kill the participants indiscriminately; they would not have the patience to warn them with tear gas.”

A former member of North Korea’s Special Forces asserted that the Chosun People’s Army operates one Special Forces unit of 1200 guards containing a battalion of 350 trained to suppress public disturbances. In effect, this means that North Korea will insert the military into any protests or riots directly.
The defector explained, “This unit solely trains for problems within the country. If a demonstration breaks out, NSA agents would also be mobilized, but first and foremost, soldiers would be armed to break up the crowd.”

He said, “The characteristics of disturbances in North Korea are fundamentally different from those in China or Libya. As can be seen from events like those in North Hwanghae Province in 1998, when an army tank bulldozed a house without advance warning, North Korea would not break up a riot with tear gas; they would shoot to kill.

“The Special Forces and whomever else would break up the demonstration and kill the people there and then. In North Korea, where any sort of demonstration is deemed to be anti-regime, the government will hunt down and punish every single one of those who participated,” he concluded.

In addition, defectors note that purchasing equipment for suppressing demonstrations would mean accepting the possibility that public demonstrations could take place. Such is unlikely, they say. The North Korean authorities, which have always emphasized the supreme leader’s infallibility, would certainly not readily recognize that popular discontent with the regime could cause demonstrations to break out.

A former NSA agent dismissed the thought, saying, “If ever a riot breaks out, the authorities will just smash the participants indiscriminately and publicly announce that it was planned by a hostile faction in communication with the American imperialists and their South Chosun puppets.”

“Mid-level cadres would find it almost impossible to report to Kim Jong Il that ‘due to so-and-so a protest broke out’. A public disturbance of any kind is an insult to the leader, completely impossible,” he added.