North Korean authorities lifted the lockdown on the towns of Chasong and Manpo, Chagang Province last Wednesday, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in Chagang Province told Daily NK on Friday that the lockdown on the towns was lifted from midnight Tuesday. North Korean authorities had put the two areas under lockdown on Feb. 3 following incidents of defections and smuggling. They had initially announced the lockdown would last until March 7, but lifted it after just two weeks.

As for why the lockdown was lifted early, the source said it was “because about 100 people each starved to death in Chasong and Manpo during the lockdown period.” Some of those who collapsed starvation were brought to the hospital, but died as they were simply fed salt water due to a lack of saline solution.

Starvation deaths occurred in the households of about 30 military officers, motivating authorities to take the situation even more seriously.

“After the lockdown was ordered, military officers could not return home and had to stay on base. When they couldn’t reach anyone at home, they felt something was wrong and called the head[s] of their inminban,” said the source, using a term for North Korea’s lowest administrative unit. “Afterwards, district officers visiting each home found the fallen residents and rushed them to the hospital, but in the end, they perished.”

A factory in Manpo, Chagang Province. / Image: Kang Dong Wan

Above all, the authorities reportedly provided the families of military officers 630 grams of rations in January and February, but this was enough for just 10 days, causing food shortages among the families. Moreover, with the authorities strictly blocking residents from leaving their homes or markets from operating during the lockdown, all families faced even greater difficulties in making ends meet, according to the source.

“You could say this tragedy happened because there was already very little to eat,” said the source. “Accordingly, the officers raised the issue with the political committee, and in the end, the lockdown was lifted after even the responsible secretary of the provincial party sent a proposal to the Central Committee.”

In fact, among the officers and their families, some reportedly complained about why “they should die when they don’t smuggle, and all they’ve done is show loyalty to the state.”

Locals, too, are reportedly angry about the response of the authorities, expressing concern about their living difficulties.

With signs of internal unrest emerging alongside the cries of local residents and starvation deaths among the families of military officers, it seems the authorities ultimately decided to lift the lockdown at an earlier date than planned.

Additionally, the lifting of the lockdown was reportedly accompanied by distribution of food. This also seems to be intended to calm public sentiment unsettled by the lockdown.

“Food was distributed all day Wednesday, the day the lockdown was lifted,” said the source. “The amount given wasn’t a lot. They gave 400 grams of corn to adults and 150 grams of corn to children, calculated on the number of days of the lockdown.”

Meanwhile, the source added that the member of the donju (North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class) who masterminded the smuggling operation in Manpo that directly prompted the lockdown was sent to a political prison camp sometime around Feb. 15, along with seven border troops who abetted him. He said their families were sent to the camps as well.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to