With defections by North Koreans continuing despite Pyongyang’s sealing of the border to block COVID-19 from entering the country, North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered the Ministry of State Security to secretly arrest defectors and the brokers who help them.

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Friday that the leadership of North Korea’s ruling party on Oct. 30 ordered the Ministry of State Security to capture “fugitives” and “brokers who help them” to strengthen control over residents “who continue to choose to defect,” even if this meant “secretly tracking their hidden movements.”

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, with defections continuing even in the current atmosphere of tougher border control and heightened patrols, the North Korean authorities ordered local Ministry of State Security officers to work closely with the Ministry of Social Security and China’s public security apparatus to secretly track defectors and arrest them – even if this means engaging in “tenacious” operations. 

The order went out to all Ministry of State Security officials – not only ones in North Korea, but also to agents operating overseas at the North Korean embassy in China, in Russia, and several other places.

Cars in North Pyongan Province man
Vehicles parked in an area of North Pyongan Province near the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

In the order, North Korean authorities reportedly instructed officials to “quietly” bring back defectors in China caught trying to go to South Korea or brokers who criticize Pyongyang, regardless of concerns over COVID-19. The order instructed the officials to turn them over to Ministry of State Security counterespionage offices on the Sino-North Korean border for interrogation. The order further stated that after interrogation, they are to be sent to political prisons. 

North Korean authorities also emphasized in the order for the need to strengthen control over people illegally crossing the border, along with the need to “ceaselessly monitor” the border to stop defections.

“According to one Ministry of State Security cadre in the border area of North Hamgyong Province, Pyongyang ordered that defectors going to South Korea and brokers in North Korea and China quietly be dealt with,” the source said. “[The order said that] defectors [already] in Chinese prisons who were caught by Chinese security forces while living in China needn’t be turned over immediately.”

According to the source, the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security understand that “cooperation and permission have been obtained” from China’s public security bureau regarding the order.

This latest order is reportedly connected with the so-called “80-day battle” that is ongoing until the end of this year. Ministry officials are taking the order very seriously, burdened by the fact that they need to improve their performance while preventing defections from occurring at all, the source said.

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.