The North Korean authorities reportedly raised the level of security in the country by declaring the start of a “special security week” three days before Kim Il Sung’s birthday on Apr. 15. The move could be interpreted as a sign that the authorities are cognizant of the defection of a North Korean man that escaped to South Korea by swimming for six hours in flippers and a diving suit on Feb. 16 (Kim Jong Il’s birthday).

According to a Daily NK source in the North Korean military, the North Korean military authorities announced the special “Day of the Sun” security week on Apr. 9. They issued instructions to enforce a special security alert at 5 PM on Apr. 12. 

Special security periods issued to the military during political events and holidays in North Korea are usually enforced from 5 PM the day before the event until 5 PM on the day after the event. However, the enforcement of a special security alert beginning three days before Kim Il Sung’s birthday is unusual.

Furthermore, unlike last year when the authorities only gave guard posts blanks, the authorities provided three rounds of live ammunition to each guard post this year.

This means that the armed soldiers could fire live ammunition if they spot someone violating special security period regulations, approaching prohibited areas, or acting suspiciously. The atmosphere in affected areas has reportedly become tenser as a result of the changes.

Soldiers at guard posts near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in particular, reportedly received magazines fully loaded with 30 rounds of ammunition.

border patrol rotated
North Korean border guard. / Image: Kang Dong Wan (Dong-A University professor)

“[The military authorities] supplied magazines fully loaded with live rounds to the soldiers near the DMZ instead of just three live rounds,” the source said. “[The military authorities] want the soldiers to be fully armed and combat-ready during the special security week.”

Soldiers stationed at guard posts near the DMZ also received instructions to do three or four shifts instead of the regular two during the special security week.

The reason behind the orders for soldiers to be on duty for shorter periods and work more shifts during the special security week seems to be related to the February defection of a North Korean man who escaped to South Korea by slipping past guard posts on the East Sea DMZ line. The North Korean authorities reportedly believe that the negligence of soldiers on guard duty caused the incident. 

The North Korean authorities were reportedly wholly unaware that one of their citizens defected to South Korea via the East Sea and only found out about the incident after watching South Korean media reports.

Because the incident occurred during the special security period activated during celebrations for Kim Jong Il’s birthday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly severely reprimanded several high-ranking officials for their carelessness.

“The level of alert for this year’s Day of the Sun will be much higher to prevent incidents like defections,” the source said. “If a similar incident occurs this year, the commander and political commissar from the corps responsible might have to step down.”

The authorities reportedly warned military officials that this time would not be like February when the Military Guidance Bureau simply conducted inspections and summoned related personnel to investigate the defection.

Meanwhile, approximately 10,000 cell secretaries recently attended the Sixth Party Cell Secretaries’ Meeting held in Pyongyang, where the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League will soon be hosting a meeting. Many people will gather for the event, so the military will be responsible for enforcing security measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The military will dispatch doctors to guard posts at major institutions in Pyongyang to monitor people and take their temperature as they enter,” the source said. “The people are feeling a lot of intense pressure – because soldiers are in charge of enforcing the preventative measures, they could shoot someone who doesn’t follow their orders.”

*Translated by S & J

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.