North Korean authorities recently established two new sentry posts on roads heading into Chagang Province as part of efforts to better monitor the movement of people and goods into the area, Daily NK has learned. 

On Apr. 10, two sentry posts managed by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) were built on the highway and railway in Kaegogae Pass leading into Songwon County, a Daily NK source in the province reported on Apr. 22. 

Kaegogae Pass is a major entry point into Chagang Province from neighboring Hyangsan County in North Pyongan Province and those travelling by road or train must pass by these new checkpoints to enter Chagang Province. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly issued orders for the construction of these new checkpoints, “so everything happened very quickly,” the source said. 

“In the orders, Kim said that Chagang Province must be ‘war-ready’ and that during a war it has to act as a second ‘capital’ of the country where both the supreme commander and war commanders can conduct their activities,” the source continued, adding, “His orders also stressed that the province must become an impregnable military zone.”

Kim’s order can be seen as an attempt to maintain a state of military urgency and crisis, notwithstanding the country’s emergency disease control measures already in place aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

TIGHTENING CONTROL

Around 98% of Chagang Province is mountainous, which has led the regime to cluster many of its military-related factories in the area. 

Military factory clusters in Chagang Province are surrounded by mountain ranges that are between 850 meters to 1,420 meters above sea level and can only be accessed through mountain passes. Roads and railways that lead into the center of the province are adjacent to each other as part of efforts to restrict movement and information from travelling outside of the area. 

The Kaegogae Pass, where the new checkpoints were recently built, is the only path in and out of Chagang Province from North Pyongan Province. The region north of the pass is home to a cluster of factories that manufacture North Korea’s top secret weapons.

While there are two other sentry posts already in the area – one at Kaego Station and on the highway along the pass – they reportedly do not have the authority to properly inspect travellers in and out of the area. 

“Sentries [at these existing checkpoints] can only check people’s travel documents and have to report any suspicious things to their superiors [before any action is taken],” the source said. 

“The newly built checkpoints allow sentries to stop cars and train and they have the authority to search, seize and detain anyone or anything they find suspicious,” he explained, adding, “They can even prevent trains from moving across the provincial border. Their authority is unlimited.” 

Generally, sentries must consult with the country’s railway authority to stop a train, but because the new checkpoints are under the MSS their authority trumps that of railway officials. 

The new checkpoints are technically under the administration of Chagang Province’s Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) and the Military Security Command of the Korean People’s Army. Sentries at both checkpoints, however, reportedly follow commands from the MSS in Pyongyang. While MSS checkpoints have the authority to inspect railway cars, MPS checkpoints are only allowed to inspect vehicles. 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Daily NK sources suggest that the recent efforts to intensify security in the province may be related to the drop in the supply of electricity and raw materials into the area, a development Daily NK reported on last week. 

“Workers at military factories in the province depend on both rations from the state and ‘performance pay’ depending on how much they produce. Now that the electricity supply has gone down [and, consequently, production], workers are getting less performance pay,” another source in the country told Daily NK. 

“Workers have siphoned off raw materials to sell when similar situations have happened in the past. The recent measures to tighten security may be aimed at preventing this illegal activity from happening,” he added. 

The intensified security in the province may only last until October, based on rumors that central authorities are asking factories to “endure until Oct. 10” – the founding anniversary of the country’s communist party. 

Daily NK was, however, unable to confirm whether the new checkpoints are temporary or permanent.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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