Guard post on Sino-North Korea border
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean guard post on an unidentified part of the China-North Korea border. (© Daily NK)

A number of North Koreans trying to cross the China-North Korea border in North Hamgyong Province have been injured or killed by landmines recently, Daily NK has learned. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK Monday that five would-be defectors were wounded or killed by detonating mines while trying to cross the Tumen River near the city of Musan in mid-October.

The band of defectors split up into two groups with the idea that staying together would be more dangerous. But both groups set off landmines near the crossing, the source said.

The North Korean authorities have been laying landmines around the border with China since August to keep people from defecting. The mine fields are supposed to be particularly dense near narrow sections of the river, where defection attempts are more common.

Landmines that have been buried for a long time often fail to explode even when stepped on, but the newly laid mines are almost certain to go off, placing defectors in great danger, the source explained.

According to another source in North Hamgyong Province, three other people died on the spot when a land mine went off during a defection attempt near Musan this past September.

“When the mine went off late at night, there was a boom near the Tumen River and a crimson flash. There wasn’t anything to recover afterward,” the source said.

“The people tried to cross despite being aware of the land mines in the area. That’s how desperate they were to get across the river,” the source said.

In addition to placing mines along the main defection routes, the North Korean authorities have also been stringing up large numbers of security cameras to beef up surveillance on the country’s border with China. But as economic conditions worsen in the North, more and more people are risking their lives in the attempt to defect, the source said.

“The people who died in the accident probably weren’t trying to go to South Korea — they just wanted to make some money in China. But as they were crossing the river in the hope of making a living, they were blown to bits, and now they won’t even get a funeral,” the source said.

The Chinese authorities have also been tightening their watch on the border with North Korea since September, putting North Koreans who do make it across the border at a greater risk of being arrested by the Chinese police.

“Why else would people in good health risk their lives to leave North Korea? If they had the cash to start a business, they could make some kind of living. But they don’t have anything, so they try to cross the border while knowing they’re taking their lives in their hands,” the source said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources who live inside North Korea, China and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous due to security concerns. More information about Daily NK’s reporting partner network and information gathering activities can be found on our FAQ page here.  

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to

Read in Korean