North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) arrested a family of three trying to defect over the Sino-North Korean border on Kim Il Sung’s birthday (Apr. 15), Daily NK has learned. 

“In mid-April, a 53-year-old man surnamed Kim, his 49-year-old wife, surnamed Choi, and their 22-year-old daughter attempted to cross the [Tumen] River, but officials from the Musan County MSS arrested them,” a North Hamgyong Province-based source told Daily NK yesterday. “During their interrogation, they confessed that they had intended to go to South Korea.”

According to the source, the family resided in the Pohang District of Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province. They had travelled to Musan County to attempt a crossing of the Tumen River into China on Kim Il Sung’s birthday.

North Korean factories, businesses, and inminban (people’s units) conduct “special security” during national holidays such as Kim Il Sung’s birthday. The authorities frequently hand down orders calling for areas on the Sino-North Korean border to maintain a stronger security posture than inland areas. 

In reality, MSS officials and members of the border patrol have difficulties maintaining these “special” levels of security demanded by the authorities because of the country’s chronic economic difficulties. 

musan mine
In this undated photo taken in China, the Musan Mine can be seen across the Tumen River. / Image: Daily NK

The Kim family likely tried to take advantage of this situation. A report from a Musan County local that “outsiders” had arrived in the border region around a national holiday, however, ultimately led the family to become noticed by the authorities. 

The source said that after the MSS became aware of the family’s presence, they put them under round-the-clock surveillance. The moment the family attempted to cross the border, MSS officials arrested them on the spot. 

“Normally, the [authorities] should transfer [the family] to the MSS in Chongjin. However, the investigation is dragging on because [the authorities] haven’t been able to find or arrest the broker who arranged their defection,” the source said. “When the investigation is over, the family is expected to be dragged off to a political prison camp to serve at least ten years of re-education on charges they tried to defect to South Korea.

“This incident has raised alarms among officials in places in the North Hamgyong Province border region like Musan County and Hoeryong,” the source continued, adding, “The [incident] brought attention back to the issue of defections, the frequency of which had decreased sharply due to the closure of the Sino-North Korean border. [The authorities] are increasing surveillance and tightening restrictions on people’s movements.”

Daily NK reported on May 20 that North Korean authorities had issued an order to strengthen the reporting system used when people move into and around the Sino-North Korean border region (North Pyongan Province, Chagang Province, Yanggang Province, and North Hamgyong Province).

*Translated by S & J

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