North Korean authorities have tightened border security measures by increasing the number of guard posts and night patrols as part of their effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to a source in China, many Chinese citizens residing in nearby areas have expressed their concern over these new measures.
“North Korean soldiers are standing guard during the night in the border areas of Yanggang Province and North Hamgyong Province where temperatures have quickly dropped below zero,” a source in China told Daily NK on Dec. 22. “They have increased the number of guard posts and now there is one every 50 meters.”
In a photograph provided by the source of an area near Inge-ri in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, guard posts can be seen every 50 meters with North Korean guards stationed outside them.
The guard posts in the Sino-North Korea border region were previously around 100 meters apart. New guard posts were constructed between the original guard posts, most likely to be on the lookout for smugglers or defectors.
Daily NK reported back in July that North Korean authorities increased the number of guard posts in the Yanggang Province area from 23 to 28 as part of its efforts to ramp up the crackdown on smuggling.
There is also a possibility that North Korean authorities will increase the number of guards as well because simply increasing the number of guard posts may not have much of an effect.
The source also told Daily NK that North Korean authorities have not only increased the number of guard posts, but they have also ordered the repair and installation of barbed wire along the border.
According to the source, night guards are patrolling with heightened vigilance. This increased surveillance during both day and night is part of the government’s COVID-19 prevention measures.
“Although you cannot quite make out the soldiers themselves because it is too dark, you can easily see how they are standing 50 meters apart from one another due to their lights,” another source told Daily NK. “Despite it being minus 10 degrees, they are standing guard outside the posts, not inside.”
According to South Korea’s weather information portal, the lowest temperature recorded in December was minus 18 degrees in Hyesan, Yanggang Province, and it could have been colder in Onsong County because it is at a higher latitude than Hyesan.
Having these guards patrol at nighttime in the extreme cold will most likely not be as effective as the North Korean authorities might hope, however.
A photo (below) from the area near Sinjeon Station in Sambong, Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, show lights lit for night patrols. However, the lights are not strong enough to properly shed light on the border area, so it seems that it might be difficult for border guards to properly detect movement in the surrounding areas.
North Korean border guards are using general lighting devices, not searchlights, to illuminate the areas they are monitoring. The border guards are suffering in the extreme cold due to the country’s lack of electricity and equipment as they struggle to make do with what they have.
Meanwhile, Chinese citizens who live close to the border region are growing more anxious as the North Korean army tightens security around the border.
“Ever since North Korea ramped up its border security as part of its COVID-10 prevention measures, Chinese citizens who live near the border have become more anxious,” said the source. “They are now afraid to even go near the border.”
According to him, “some residents have said that when they went to the riverside to catch fish, North Korean soldiers, not Chinese soldiers, warned them not to come to the riverside anymore.” He added: “This means that the soldiers had yelled at them across the river and threatened them with their guns.”
According to the source, the townspeople “do not even think about going near the riverside these days and that “one townsperson even said they heard a gunshot at night.”
Last September the Ministry of Social Security ordered the border patrol to shoot at any person or animal that enters specified zones along the border without permission.
*Translated by Susan Lee