North Korean border patrol units in North Pyongan Province are being rotated out more frequently as part of efforts to end cross-border smuggling and prevent the spread of COVID-19, Daily NK has learned. 

“A border patrol unit responsible for patrolling a certain area would typically remain there for a relatively long period of time,” a North Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK on Wednesday. “Recently, however, units are being rotated out with increased frequency.” 

There are logistical issues that make it difficult for a unit larger than a battalion to be moved frequently, which likely means that only small units, such as companies or platoons, are the ones being rotated out.

“One patrol unit will move to different places almost everyday,” the source explained, adding, “This makes it harder for smugglers to do their work because there are new people standing guard all the time.” 

North Korea’s border patrol has long turned a blind eye to smuggling and illegal river crossings in return for bribes, resulting in strong bonds between border patrol officers and local populations. 

In the past, North Korean authorities reportedly considered taking the extraordinary step of rotating out border patrol officers to break these bonds. 

The new measure to quickly rotate border guards appears to be “somewhat effective” in preventing smuggling operations across the Sino-North Korean border. 

According to the source, smugglers have found it more difficult to conduct transactions with new border guards. Smugglers are being forced to cultivate relationships with new border patrol officers, but even these new officers are rotated out within days. 

Daily NK was unable to confirm whether the new border patrol strategy is being implemented in other areas of the Sino-North Korean border. 

COMBATING COVID-19

North Korea’s moves to crack down on smuggling have long been part of efforts to eliminate “anti-socialist” culture.

Recent crackdowns, however, appear more focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19 into the country. 

“The new border patrol strategy is due to worries about smugglers infected with COVID-19 entering the country,” the source said.

“Smugglers face harsher penalties than before if they’re caught,” he added. 

In fact, North Korea has reportedly put in place restrictions on fishing in international waters to prevent smuggling activities and has been severely punishing smugglers caught in the act.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.