With North Korea placing the border cities of Hyesan and Samjiyon in Yanggang Province under lockdown due to a smuggling incident late last month, Daily NK has learned authorities recently placed Chasong and Manpo in Chagang Province under lockdown as well.

A source in Chagang Province told Daily NK on Monday that authorities issued a lockdown order for Chasong and Manpo on Feb. 3. “The lockdown is scheduled to be lifted on March 7, about a month from now,” he said.

According to the source, the authorities issued the lockdown order ostensibly to strengthen quarantine efforts against COVID-19 after incidents of smuggling and defections in the two towns earlier this month.

In fact, on Feb. 2, an armed border patrol soldier and his girlfriend were shot as they attempted to sneak across the river into China.

With their families highly opposed to the relationship, the couple vowed to run away to South Korea. Putting their plan into action, they were crossing the river when they were spotted by the border patrol. Struck by gunfire from border patrol troops, they were killed on the spot. 

“The border patrol troops killed them, emptying out an entire magazine [30 rounds] at the time,” said the source. “The two bodies were also left in the middle of the river for two or three days.”

Prior to this, a problem also arose in Manpo on Jan. 1 when a donju (North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class) working in league with the border patrol tried to smuggle in a large shipment of rice, seasonings and other foodstuffs from China.

A North Korean resident in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province draws water from the frozen river in March 2019
A North Korean in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, draws water from the frozen river in March 2019. / Image: Daily NK

The smuggling itself concluded with little trouble. But according to the source, as word spread that there were merchants in the market dealing in unofficially imported Chinese foodstuffs, provincial Ministry of State Security officials began tracing the goods. In the end, they discovered that the donju had secretly brought the goods into the country without going through quarantine procedures.

Accordingly, the donju in question and seven accomplices, including the border patrol troops who looked the other way, were arrested and are reportedly undergoing questioning in a Ministry of State Security lockup. The speculation is that they are likely to be sent to a political prison camp for having committed a serious crime.

After receiving reports of this string of attempted defections and smuggling in Chagang Province, North Korean authorities suddenly ordered lockdowns on Chasong and Manpo on Feb. 3, fearing that the acts of lawlessness along the border – the outpost line in the war against COVID-19 – were generating disorder.

With the lockdowns, local residents are unable to leave their homes or go to work, said the source. Markets are closed as well.

Local residents are reportedly responding to the unprecedentedly severe lockdown by North Korean authorities by condemning the attempted defectors and smugglers who caused it, saying they “deserve death.”

Meanwhile, some locals are expressing dissatisfaction with the authorities’ excessive measures, asking if other nations “simply lock everything down” or whether other methods exist besides lockdowns. Others reportedly express concern about difficult living conditions, complaining that “10% of homes will be without rice” if the lockdown lasts just a week and that “soldiers will take all the food” if locals are locked up in their homes.

Seemingly aware of this sentiment, North Korean authorities reportedly supplied every household in the locked-down areas with 300 grams of corn. However, as this amount is woefully inadequate to tide families over a month-long lockdown, public outcry over the lockdown measure looks set to continue.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.