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FILE PHOTO: A border patrol checkpoint in Pungso County, Yanggang Province, can be seen in this photo, which was taken in February 2019. (Daily NK)

North Korea’s Ministry of State Security engaged in unofficial trade, otherwise known as “state-led smuggling,” last month to import various food for Victory Day, Daily NK has learned.

Victory Day, which is held on July 27, commemorates the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday that the Ministry of State Security oversaw a state-led smuggling operations in the border towns of Samjiyon and Pochon County in early and mid-July.

“It was conducted in extreme secrecy to provide holiday supplies to the people to mark Victory Day,” he said.

According to the source, North Korea used Chinese-made Dongfeng cargo trucks to import food and foodstuffs like flour and cooking oil for distribution on the holiday.

The items unofficially imported through Samjiyon were distributed to the city’s residents to mark the holiday, while those imported through Pochon County were mostly distributed to war veterans and disabled soldiers in Hyesan, as well as to local party, security and police officials. The scant remainder was distributed to ordinary Hyesan residents.

“The authorities had a big event to celebrate Victory Day in the capital Pyongyang, so they had to distribute holiday provisions to the people of Samjiyon, which sits next to the revolutionary holy site of Mount Paekdu,” said the source. “However, it seems they also imported supplies to distribute to Hyesan because they were worried about a backlash if they provided supplies only to Samjiyon and left out Hyesan, where Yanggang Province’s major cadres are concentrated.”

The latest round of state smuggling operations followed the same method employed when the Ministry of State Security oversaw some “top secret” unofficial trading earlier this year.

Daily NK reported in February of this year that North Korea engaged in unofficial trade through Samjiyon’s Ssangdubong Customs House in mid-January to provide people with supplies to mark late leader Kim Jong Il’s birthday on Feb. 16.

However, the Ministry of State Security reportedly stepped up the security for the latest operations. Soldiers attached to the Ministry of State Security — rather than civilians — drove the trucks used to smuggle the goods into the country, and each truck carried two Ministry of State Security agents who guided the vehicles to their destinations.

“There is considerable discontent on the part of the people because they are suffering hardships due to the closure of the border and restrictions on movement as part of efforts to stop COVID-19,” said the source. “Perhaps because they are aware of this public discontent, the Ministry of State Security excluded civilians and mobilized only Ministry of State Security personnel to keep the smuggling a closely guarded secret.”

The Ministry of State Security also reportedly deployed agents selected from the ministry’s provincial, city and county branches every 10 meters along the border to perform special guard duty during the smuggling operations.

The security was so tight that rumors even spread among some local residents that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was visiting Samjiyon and Hyesan.

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Kim Chae Hwan is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He can be contacted at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.