A North Korean soldier deployed to the Sino-North Korean border as part of efforts to seal the border against COVID-19 recently defected across the border with his weapon and ammo, Daily NK has learned.
In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source in Yanggang Province said a soldier with the Seventh Corps “had recently deserted in Sinpa County.” While pulling night duty, he “crossed the river and ran off to China,” taking with him the rifle and ammo he was carrying.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo has also reported (in Korean) on the story, writing that “a soldier in the Seventh Corps crossed the Yalu River and defected, carrying a 5.45mm rifle and 60 rounds of ammunition.”
According to the Daily NK source, a higher ranking cadre was openly pressing the soldier – a squad leader – for bribes.
Specifically, the company’s political guidance officer was demanding RMB 500 and a carton of Changbaishan cigarettes. When the soldier was unable to provide them, the officer rebuked him, saying he would not get into the Workers’ Party “with an attitude like that.”
The officer continuously harassed the soldier, telling him that the duties he assigned him “are the same as those handed down by the Party.” Berating him, he asked, “How can a soldier who can’t perform even trivial duties during peacetime sacrifice himself for the Party and the Supreme Leader in a critical moment?”
According to the source, the cadre demanded the bribe despite knowledge of the fact that with the border completely closed to smuggling it would be impossible to acquire the money and cigarettes.
“In effect, the political officer seems to have pushed the soldier into deserting [his post] and defecting,” the source added.
North Korea has been intensifying its efforts to shut down the Sino-North Korean border, having already deployed members of the Seventh Corps along with the “Storm Corps” special force unit. There have been some downsides to deploying all these new troops to the border, however. For example, Hyesan was recently put into lockdown after a cadre in the border patrol was busted for masterminding a major smuggling operation in early November.
Since October, North Korean authorities have been laying landmines along the border, leading to a series of accidental explosions. There have even been firefights between soldiers deployed to the border region.
“The authorities are literally in shock after finding out that the soldier crossed over the border with his weapon and live ammo,” said the source. “Given that a soldier tasked with monitoring the border has run off, locals are expressing pessimism about the state of affairs, saying, ‘Both the country and the army are a mess.’”