After drugging local border guards, a North Korean family of four recently defected into China from Yanggang Province, Daily NK has learned. Upon receiving an order from Kim Jong Un himself, the Ministry of State Security has been hard at work trying to catch the family, formally requesting cooperation from Chinese authorities.

According to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province, the family — residents of Kimhyongjik County — crossed the Yalu River into China in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, taking advantage of a gap in border patrols.

The source said the incident got reported all the way up the chain of command, and on Oct. 2, Kim Jong Un personally issued an order to catch the family. Since then, the Ministry of State Security has been busy trying to catch the defectors. 

The reason Kim personally issued the order is because the family slipped border guards sleeping pills and crossed the river while they were out cold.

Border patrol personnel were frequent guests at the family’s home, and they planned to drug a staff sergeant with whom they were on particularly good terms when he was on duty.

They then put this plan into motion. 

The family learned the staff sergeant would be on duty in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, so they pre-prepared soft drinks and bread spiked with sleeping pills and offered him them when he visited their home that day. They also offered soft drinks and bread to his subordinates on duty that night, too, pretending to look after their needs.

Having made their living through smuggling, the family knew all the ways to get to China, and they learned where the patrols were. Crossing the river, therefore, presented little difficulty.

However, the situation turned tense after the border patrol figured out something had happened. The border patrol immediately reported the incident to the Ministry of State Security, and the very next day, Kim personally issued order to “catch the traitors to the nation and strongly punish them to set an example, no matter the cost.”

The Ministry of State Security tasked its agents in China with arresting the family and officially requested cooperation from Chinese counterparts, sending official letters to Chinese public security and border patrol authorities.

labor camp
A view of Yanggang Province from the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

However, the Chinese side has appeared uncooperative, with Beijing seemingly concerned that repatriating defectors to the North will lead to international condemnation, the source said. 

Kim’s order also condemned the drugging of the soldiers as an act that “seriously harmed military-civilian relations” and called for a full ideological review of people living along the border.

Accordingly, agents from the Ministry of State Security’s headquarters in Pyongyang went to Kimhyongjik County on Oct. 2. They tried to get an exact sense of what happened, calling in the border patrol’s local administrative, political, and security officers for individual talks.

During the talks, the agents from Pyongyang warned the officers that “civilians you trust are drugging you at the decisive moment and escaping, and they could do worse to you in order to escape.” They called on them to thoroughly report which homes soldiers were leaving their things at and frequently visiting and to stop soldiers from visiting private homes for the time being.

Meanwhile, the staff sergeant who was drugged was immediately sent to the brig and questioned, said the source.

According to the staff sergeant’s testimony, the family was not only a financially comfortable one with little trouble making a living, but also a so-called “revolutionary” household with neither illegal border hoppers or defectors among their relatives, nor family members who performed forced labor for criminal acts. 

However, the staff sergeant also said that the family recently began complaining about the concrete wall and high-voltage wires being erected along the border. They said they had “no hope” if they cannot smuggle any longer; that they would have to “live like animals” farming a small plot and eating corn; that they would be “unable to live like people” if they cannot smuggle; and that “this year would be key” as they watched the wall go up.

The source said rumors of the incident have spread throughout Yanggang Province. “The incident has darkened the mood along the border,” he said.

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