North Korean authorities reportedly renamed a road near the North Korea-China border and transferred its management from the Ministry of Social Security to the Ministry of State Security. They cited past negligence in management and the need for strengthened security for military facilities as reasons for the changes.
A source told Daily NK on Monday that the State Affairs Commission changed the name of “Road 123” to “Road 7.27” on Mar. 26. The commission also ordered that the Ministry of Social Security transfer the road’s management to the Ministry of State Security.
Road 123 connects Sinuiju Nakwon Machine Complex and Uiju September Iron and Steel Complex. It is physically indistinguishable from a regular road, but it is only used by vehicles related to events attended by Kim Jong Un. Only the Supreme Leader himself and a select group of arms industry staff and secretaries are permitted to use the road.
Even administrative officers such as the director of the local people’s committee are not allowed to use the road. With the exception of Kim Jong Un, those who are allowed to use the road must carry a special pass designating their authorization to pass through.
The road has been put under heightened security because it is located near Uiju Airport, which is guarded by a unit under the country’s Air and Anti-Air Force. Additionally, because the September Iron and Steel Complex also serves as an arms factory, North Korean authorities keep the road under special management in order to prevent military secrets from leaking out of the facility.
However, the increase in the number of servi-cha (repurposed buses and vans) in recent years has gradually led to the loosening of restrictions surrounding passage through the road. It was reportedly relatively easy for traders and donju (North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class) to bribe Ministry of Social Security guards to gain access to the road.
Ministry of Social Security officers tasked with guarding the road busied themselves with filling their pockets to the point that it was nearly impossible to raise concerns to the authorities because so many people stood to gain from the arrangement.
However, the head of the Ministry of State Security put an end to this implicit contract between servi-cha and those guarding the road when he passed through the road in early February. After witnessing unauthorized vans pass through the road, he reportedly raised the issue to the Central Committee.
After the head of the ministry submitted the report, the situation escalated quickly. Upon receiving orders from the Central Committee’s Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of State Security conducted an investigation into the management of the road. The ministry reported the results of the month-long investigation to the Central Committee, which decided on the punishment to be meted out to the guards shortly after receiving the report.
“Twelve people who made money from the state-owned road, including members of the Ministry of Social Security’s Transportation Department and the head of the sentry post, were forced to resign,” the source said. “The [road’s] transfer to the Ministry of State Security is moving very fast.”
News of the incident has spread quickly among locals, who expressed concern that “not even a single ant will [be able to] get close to the road for years.”
The road’s transfer to the Ministry of State Security may also be related to preparations to open the New Yalu River Bridge, which connects Sinuiju and Dandong. North Korean authorities are reportedly making efforts to use the Ministry of State Security to tighten control over the region before restarting tourism and trade with China.
*Translated by S & J