Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, has rushed to Hyesan, Yanggang Province, in the wake of a recent case of smuggling in the city that has come to be known as the “Hyesan Incident.” A Daily NK source in the country said on Wednesday that it seems Ri has been entrusted by the Central Committee with ascertaining the problems that have arisen with the case and coming up with measures to deal with them.

Speaking on the phone with Daily NK, the source, who is based in Yanggang Province, said the entire province had been “thrown into a state of chaos” due to the smuggling incident (in Korean) that occurred in Hyesan early this month, adding that Ri had been rushed to the city to “deal with the chaos.”

According to the source, cadres of the Ministry of State Security sent from Pyongyang to Hyesan conducted an intensive investigation during the 20-day lockdown that was implemented after a border guard busted while attempting to smuggle gold disappeared early this month.

The Ministry of State Security, however, apparently sent a report to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, believing the problem to be too big to resolve on its own as it implicated countless people, from cadres of the provincial Military Security Command and Ministry of Social Security to the officers and enlisted personnel of the province’s border patrol.

Hyesan, Ryanggang Province
In this undated photo, a view of Hyesan, in North Korea’s Yanggang Province. / Image: Daily NK

The source said the North Korean authorities responded by convening an emergency meeting of the Central Military Commission, which named the gold smuggling case the “Hyesan Incident” and dispatched Ri to Yanggang Province to handle the situation and come up with countermeasures.

The source said the Hyesan case weighs heavy on Ri’s shoulders as Pyongyang considers it a serious matter that will impact the “existence” of the state. 

Completely closing the border to block the entry of COVID-19 after the pandemic emerged early this year, North Korea has been intensifying its monitoring of the border by installing wire fences and night lighting in the area along the Sino-North Korean frontier.

The country’s leadership has redeployed military units from the interior to the border area for operations to close the frontier, including the Storm Corps and the Seventh Corps from South Hamgyong Province. In October, landmines were also laid along the border.

Despite all of these efforts, smuggling across the border continued, including a case involving a border guard officer playing a role in an attempt to smuggle out a large amount of gold. Taking into account the gravity of the smuggling situation, the authorities seems to have dispatched one of the country’s top cadres to the scene to resolve the matter. 

Arriving in Hyesan on Monday, Ri received a report on the situation from the chairpersons of the provincial and municipal parties. He offered harsh criticism, reportedly saying that “everything was so rotten that the Workers’ Party, administrative organs, legal organizations and even the military would sell out the nation just for money.”

Moreover, in a meeting with the heads of the provincial bureaus of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security, Ri reportedly said, “We could [complete] the revolution if we were to send half the residents of Yanggang Province to prison.”

The source said that as rumors of these comments spread, provincial residents are reacting with a sense of betrayal, skepticism or despondency.

“Ri will hold a plenary meeting of the party of Yanggang Province on Wednesday [yesterday] to discuss and decide future measures concerning the recent incident before returning to Pyongyang,” the source said, adding, “It appears the authorities may resort to more powerful means of controlling the residents of Yanggang Province in the future.”

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