Protests and Tensions as Security Services Talk

It has been suggested that small protests recently occurred in northwestern North Korea as a result of power cuts inflicted on provincial citizens so as to facilitate Kim Jong Il’s birthday celebrations in Pyongyang.

Citing three towns in North Pyongan Province, Jongju, Yongcheon and Suncheon, a Chosun Ilbo source was reported today as saying that people had fashioned loud hailers from newspapers and begun to call for “fire and rice” at around 8 or 9PM on the 14th, two days before Kim Jong Il’s birthday.

“At first there were only one or two people,” the source asserted, “but as time went by more people came outside of their houses and started shouting.”

When National Security Agency (NSA) personnel attempted to get to the bottom of the disturbance, they met a wall of silence, the source also claimed, saying, “In the past, if the NSA started investigating, people used to accuse their neighbors, but now there is an atmosphere of turning a blind eye.”

Proposing a trigger for the alleged protests, the source went on, “Recently, the price of rice has risen and life has gotten hard, so when even the electricity they had been receiving for a few hours a day got cut, the people’s frustrations boiled over.”

Elsewhere, it appears that the slow but steady entry of information on the Egyptian democratization movement into North Korea via smugglers and defectors is also generating tension, while the authorities persistently refuse to report anything about it.

A source from Onsung, North Hamkyung Province told The Daily NK late last week, “Some people who speak with smugglers or defectors by cell phone have access to the news on the Egyptian anti-dictatorship struggle.”

“On the evening of the 15th after the commemorative event for February 16th, a cadre from Onsung Party Committee said there was a bad wind blowing among some people in the county,” the source added. “He went on, ‘In this atmosphere everybody must hold their tongue,’ without mentioning Egypt directly,”

According to sources, the people first heard about the democratization movement in early February, but kept quiet for fear of regulation and punishment. The source reported, “Even though radio and TV have not mentioned it, ordinary people generally do know about this. However, given that we don’t know who around us is an agent, how can we talk about it? A slip of the tongue could get us decapitated.”

Meanwhile, it has been suggested that the visit of a top Chinese security official to Pyongyang at the same time as the protests are said to have occurred was partly organized in order for the two sides to discuss ways to ensure that the democratic protests sweeping the Middle East have no chance of taking root in the two East Asian dictatorships.

Chinese Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu was in Pyongyang from February 13th to 15th.

According to a diplomatic source who spoke with the Joongang Ilbo, “North Korea, nervous about the possible arrival of the wind of Middle East democratization, intended to get information on how to maintain its system from the Chinese public security services, including Meng.”

“It appears that Public Security Minister Meng shared information on Tunisia, Egypt and the whole Middle East region obtained through Chinese intelligence services, and discussed the backdrop to the collapses in Tunisia and Egypt and ways to limit the chances of anti-government protests erupting in North Korea,” the source concluded.