The North Korean defector who recently escaped from a prison in China’s Jilin Province is a 39-year-old discharged soldier named Chu Hyon Kwon. North Korean authorities are reportedly carrying out a sweeping survey to ascertain where discharged soldiers live after learning that Chu’s place of residence was unknown.

According to multiple Daily NK sources in North Korea on Thursday, Chu’s hometown was somewhere in the North Korean interior, but he served as a soldier in a border region.

Chu broke out from a prison in Jilin on Oct. 18, but was caught 41 days later.

Hailing from a very poor family, he wanted to reside in the border area where he served after his discharge, running a private business, rather than return to his hometown.

According to regulations, North Korean soldiers are supposed to return to their hometowns when they are discharged. However, some hope to stay where they were stationed, running businesses based on personal connections and background built up during a decade or more of military service.

To live somewhere other than your hometown, you should bribe either the military officials who handle deployment and residency issues, or the Ministry of Social Security cadres who deal with residency matters. However, Chu did not have the financial means to pay the bribe.

Ultimately, faced with having to return to his hometown after his discharge, Chu crossed the border into China in July of 2013.

A photo of Chu Hyon Kwon / Image: Chinese social media

After defecting to China, Chu broke into a private home in Jilin Province to steal food, cash, clothing and identification documents. In the course of the break-in, he seriously wounded the owner by stabbing him. His crimes earned him an 11-year, three-month prison sentence for burglary and attempted murder.

Chinese public security officials notified North Korean authorities when they arrested Chu in 2013, requesting confirmation of his identity.

At the time, North Korean authorities told the Chinese that Chu was not a North Korean national since his name and place of residence were unclear.

However, when video of Chu’s prison escape went viral on Chinese social media and even foreign media ran detailed reports of the incident, North Korean authorities belatedly began investigating Chu’s identity.

According to Daily NK’s sources, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a report of the results of the investigation.

Kim reportedly said if the Chinese authorities ask for an ID check, it is almost certain the individual in question is a North Korean. He also ordered officials to find out who exactly the culprit was and actively respond to the situation. Essentially, Kim criticized his officials’ passive response of denying Chu was a North Korean national.

Following North Korea’s internal investigation into Chu, the Ministry of Social Security’s Bureau 8, which handles citizen registration, has been confirming the places of residence of discharged soldiers whose abodes are unclear.

The bureau also ordered an end to the practice of permitting discharged soldiers from residing in the region where they served if they do business in the area. This is because the practice has led to a growing number of discharged soldiers with unknown places of residence or who have gone completely missing.

The sources further reported that there is concern that forced repatriations from China could increase given that Kim ordered officials to actively respond to Chinese requests for ID confirmations.

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