special patrols coronavirus outbreak smuggler mobile phones strict smuggler border
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 Korean authorities recently instructed soldiers along the China-North Korea border to further tighten controls along the international boundary, emphasizing once again orders to shoot at anything approaching the border with live ammunition. 

North Korean authorities handed down the order on May 12, the day the country switched over to a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system,” according to a Daily NK source in Yanggang Province on Tuesday. 

North Korea established a one to two kilometer buffer zone along the border in August 2020, when COVID-19 was spreading worldwide. At the time, the country’s Ministry of Social Security issued an order calling on border patrol troops to “unconditionally” shoot people and even animals that approached the zone. 

North Korean authorities have now re-emphasized heightened wariness and a tough response from the border patrol, taking into account the seriousness of the situation following the outbreak.

In fact, the new order comes amid flagging discipline within the border patrol due to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic.

The source said the order called on the border patrol’s 25th Brigade to “abandon their chronically poor attitude on duty and carry out their border patrol duties with a battle-like and ideological attitude.”

In particular, North Korean authorities provided detailed instructions about what border patrol troops should do when firing live ammunition. If, for example, troops shoot dead an unknown person along the border, they should leave the body where it is and stay at least two meters away. Then they should report the incident immediately to the local emergency anti-epidemic regiment or battalion.

However, the source said some soldiers are reacting poorly to the order. He heard soldiers saying: “We signed up to protect the country and the people, not to kill people trying to feed themselves,” “People wouldn’t risk death to cross the border unless it was that difficult to survive,” and “Even if I spot somebody trying to run away, I’ll play dumb rather than shoot them.”

North Korean authorities have ordered the bolstering of military regulations, strictly forbidding border patrol troops from approaching local villages.

The authorities also ordered for reinforced night duties and stakeouts, while officers must stay on duty with their men until the “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” is lifted.

However, soldiers are complaining that they cannot seal the border any more than it already is.

Soldiers are suffering from poor food conditions and dislike the order because it would put an end to smuggling, which allows them to obtain food, the source said. 

In fact, both local people and border patrol troops are suffering severe food shortages due to the protracted border closure.

With government rations having ceased a long time ago, military units have taken to farming their own fields to solve food problems. However, with soldiers mobilized for part-time farm work now being recalled to their units to tighten border patrols, military units are finding it tougher to ensure everyone is fed, the source said. 

“In the old days, even when [military] units gave you snacks like biscuits or candies to eat while working, you didn’t eat them,” said the source, adding, “But since [the start of] COVID-19, the military can’t even ensure three meals a day, let alone snacks. Who would welcome an order to suffocate oneself?”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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

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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.