N. Korea uses military law to punish smuggling on border

Merchants and border guards are frustrated because many have depended on smuggling to survive

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently ordered that smuggling in the border areas as well as the abetting or concealing of such activities will be subject to punishment under military law, Daily NK has learned. 

“On Feb. 15 the Ministry of State Security [MSS] issued an order to each border patrol unit directing them to apply military law in dealing with all acts of illegal smuggling, trafficking, and trading,” a military source based in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Feb. 17. “They were also told that this was an order straight from the commander-in-chief of the armed forces [Kim Jong Un].”

According to sources in the country, the MSS has warned that these orders mean that all smuggling that doesn’t have state approval will be treated as “anti-socialist activity” or as “benefiting the enemy.”

The orders appears to underline yet again the concerns North Korean authorities have about the leaking of “internal information” to the outside world.

Interestingly, the order emphasized that border guards are at the “frontline” facing the “enemy.” The “enemy” referred to in the order is not China but COVID-19, sources said. 

“Following the decision to shut the North Korea-China border entirely, border patrol units are being reminded to take on the task of defending the border to make the country an impenetrable fortress,” one source explained.


The North Korean border areas are now in a “state of emergency” following the issuance of the order, sources reported. 

“There was some hope that state-sanctioned smuggling and maritime trade would restart after Feb. 15,” one source said. “Instead, the border patrol is just fed up with [Kim Jong Un’s] order to severely punish those involved in such activities.”

Officers and low ranking soldiers are reportedly resisting the new order, instead of their commanders.

“Border guards have lived in increasingly poor conditions, and it was only through smuggling and trafficking along the border that they have been able to maintain their basic livelihoods,” the source explained.

Private traders in the border region are also feeling increasingly anxious, Daily NK sources reported. 

“There’s been an outcry from market merchants who expected to be able to restart their imports from China [from Feb. 15]. They are saying that [the government] is cutting off their life lines,” one source explained. 

North Koreans that Daily NK sources spoke to have complained that the government is no longer turning a blind eye to private smuggling, as it usually tends to do, and that this is hurting their business prospects. 

Overall, however, an atmosphere of fear over being punished – even executed – for smuggling has fallen over the border region, Daily NK sources said. 

“There’s no soldiers along the border who will help smugglers anymore following the order to deal with infractions through military law,” one source told Daily NK. 

“People are saying that it’s best to just keep an eye on the state of affairs the rest of this month [before doing anything],” he added.

*Translated by Alek Sigley

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