North Korean smugglers self-inspect to avoid punishment by authorities

Smugglers have started inspecting their own goods to be sent across the border into China, North Korean sources report.

The behavior is arising due to fear of punishment by the authorities for smuggling out goods that could “leak” internal information about North Korea.

“Until now, people packing goods for smuggling into China would just check one or two items, but now they’re inspecting everything,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source.

The North Korean authorities have generally turned a blind eye to smuggling activities conducted by private operators, who work with North Korean border patrol agents. If the authorities decide to crackdown on smuggling activities for political reasons, however, those involved could face difficulties crossing the border.

“Smugglers who have been investigated by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) now check everything before sending it over the border. They are checking to see whether anything – a pamphlet or other item – may have internal information,” the source said.

If such materials are found during a government crackdown, the smugglers could face severe punishment.

The border patrol agents charged with preventing smuggling in the area could also be held responsible, the source added.

“Smuggling activities were halted for two days due to the People’s Conference delegate elections held in the provinces on July 21,” he said.

“The recent rains have increased the height of the river [between China and North Korea] but smugglers have had no trouble crossing. They are nonetheless vigilant about their inspections.”

The smugglers can quickly check medicinal plants and mountain fruits, but take time to look over all other types of goods.

“The MSS is reportedly keeping a close eye on them,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province reported.

“There are surveillance cameras across all the major routes used for smuggling, and even rotating cameras in some places. Smugglers are exposed more than ever before, so if they get in trouble, the consequences can be dire.”