A trading company affiliated with the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, the military’s main logistics agency, recently smuggled in large amounts of health masks produced in South Korea, Daily NK has learned.
The smuggling operation appears to have been undertaken by the military as part of efforts to ensure soldiers are protected against an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, which continues to spread in China and around the world.
The Kimbongsokyong Trading Company reportedly sent a request to Chinese traders for “South Korean-produced products [masks]” through a “customs office in Sinuiju,” according to a source based in North Pyongyan Province on Feb. 3.
The Chinese traders provided the company with KF94 anti-dust masks produced by LG, the source added.
Given that trade and smuggling has been completely suspended between North Korea and China, the fact that the transaction occurred through a customs office in Sinuiju is remarkable.
Daily NK sources suggested that only the direct intervention of North Korean authorities in the transaction could have made it possible under the circumstances.
That North Korean authorities requested “South Korean products” also suggested to Daily NK sources that the military was trying to acquire “good-quality” products, as opposed to North Korean or Chinese-made ones.
That being said, it would be very unlikely for North Korean authorities to give South Korean products to low-level soldiers and officers in the military because of the “anti-socialist” campaign that is currently ongoing within the military.
Sources reported that the trading company involved in the transaction removed the labels on the products to make it seem like they were produced in North Korea.
“Groups of people removed all the labels and placed the products in clear plastic bags,” one source told Daily NK. “Around forty female soldiers at a nearby military base were mobilized to do this.”
Daily NK sources were unable to ascertain how many masks were smuggled into North Korea; however, one source told Daily NK that the soldiers involved in the “repackaging” of the masks had to do it so quickly they had no time for sleep.
“All the masks are headed for military bases and military-run hospitals near Pyongyang,” the source added.
Daily NK sources have reported that North Koreans on the Sino-North Korean border are anxiously buying up whatever masks they can find.
“Ordinary [Chinese-made] masks made out of cloth went for around five Chinese yuan until recently, but they’re now selling for 10 yuan,” one source said.
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