North Korean authorities recently created a new organization to crack down on South Korean-made products in the Sino-North Korean border region, Daily NK has learned.

“A new group to crack down on South Chosun [South Korean]-made goods was created in Sinuiju and is staging raids on smugglers and people’s homes,” a North Pyongyan Province-based source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Daily NK on Friday. “[The authorities] have punished people buying and selling South Chosun goods to warn off others in the past, but the intensity [of this recent crackdown] is different [from before].”

The new group mentioned by the source appears to be different from the “June 27 Task Force,” which is active in cracking down on the possession of illegal books and videos.

The Ministry of State Security created a unit cracking down on the smuggling, distribution and use of South Korean-made goods in late July and this group has been active in the Sino-North Korean border region since early August. The source’s report about the creation of a new unit to crack down on “anti-socialist” activities recently suggests that North Korean authorities are further intensifying their crackdowns on the distribution and use of South Korean-made goods.

Daily NK was unable to identify the name of the new organization; however, the source reported that the new group is made up of officials from the Ministry of State Security’s Domestic Anti-Espionage Unit. The new group is reportedly conducting large-scale crackdowns in Sinuiju – the first target for its activities – given that it is a center of trade with China because of its location across from Dandong.

“The new unit has first moved forward with identifying and punishing smugglers of South Chosun goods and their accomplices,” the source said.

“Those caught up in the crackdown have largely included those working for trade agencies, those in the military, along with members of the donju,” he added, using a term to refer to North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class.

According to him, agents with the new group have refused to accept bribes from those they have nabbed. Those caught up in the dragnet have reportedly received “high-levels of punishment, including being dismissed or removed from their positions.”

NO STONE LEFT UNTURNED

The source further told Daily NK that members of the newly-formed organization are actively trying to find and confiscate South Korean goods either being sold at markets in Sinuiju or illegally bought by locals.

“Members of the unit have staged sudden raids on all houses in Sinuiju and confiscated South Chosun-made TVs, electric rice cookers, clothes, cosmetics, medicines, and other things,” the source said. “They seemed to have already understood what to look for [when staging the raids] because I’ve heard they just looked at the design of the products and were able to discern whether it was South Chosun-made or not.”

The new organization has even gone to such lengths as gathering up South Korean goods it has confiscated and burning them up.

In fact, black smoke was seen wafting up from part of Sinuiju late last month, which led to speculation that a major fire had broken out in the city. According to Daily NK’s source, however, the smoke was just from the authorities burning South Korean goods.

“The smoke was from [the authorities] burning up South Chosun goods confiscated in late September, and they had already burned up South Chosun goods at least two times before that,” the source said. “There were rumors that [the goods] were burned because of efforts to control the infectious disease [COVID-19], and other rumors said that [the authorities] burned everything [out of fear] people will have fantasies about South Chosun.”

People who have been caught up in the crackdowns on South Korean goods have been forced to pay substantial penalties, the source further reported.

“There was someone who paid a fine of RMB 1,000 [around USD 150], and another paid a huge fine of RMB 20,000 [around USD 3,000] for having several South Korea-made goods in their house,” the source said. “Members of the unit even threatened those it caught red-handed that they would treat them as traitors if they smuggle or buy South Chosun goods again.”

Article 63 of North Korea’s Criminal Code considers a traitorous act against the country as a grave crime that can be punished by execution. North Korean authorities appear to be trying to intensify an atmosphere of fear as part of efforts to prevent the distribution and consumption of South Korean goods in the country.

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

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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.