Several defection attempts and smuggling operations occurred near the Sino-North Korean border in North Pyongan Province during the Eighth Party Congress, Daily NK has learned.

“Two defection attempts along with three smuggling operations occurred” in the area during the Eighth Party Congress, a source in the province told Daily NK last Thursday. “The border patrol fired their weapons, killing three people on the spot, while another two are currently recovering in the hospital and will be investigated by the province’s Ministry of State Security as soon as they recover.”

Of the two in the hospital, one suffered a gunshot wound to their right thigh, while the other was shot in the abdomen, according to the source. The person shot in the thigh will not be able to walk properly again, while the one shot in the abdomen is not expected to survive their wounds.

The source told Daily NK that border guard commanders had been given 30 rounds (regular soldiers 70 rounds) of ammunition each for use during the Eighth Party Congress period.

The authorities, however, constantly reminded the border patrol not to “discharge their weapons by accident,” and the military’s General Staff Department also ordered soldiers to avoid using live rounds unless absolutely necessary. With these orders in place, soldiers patrolling the border during the party congress were very careful about using their weapons, according to the source.

That the soldiers turned to live ammunition, leading to the deaths of several people, was due to the “urgent” situations that unfolded at the border.

While the soldiers would have likely fired off blanks at people trying to defect across the border if they were discovered just as they were crossing the river, the people in question were discovered right before they crossed over into Chinese territory. This meant that the border patrol had no choice but to take aim and fire at them, the source said.

Rodong Sinmun reported on Jan. 8 that the third meeting of the Eighth Party Congress had commenced on Jan. 7. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

The smuggling operations, for their part, involved people who were caught after they had conducted the exchange of goods and who were trying to flee being arrested. Soldiers quickly fired live rounds at them to prevent them from escaping, the source said.

Following these incidents, military authorities have told soldiers along the border that they must “bravely fire [at people] if similar incidents occur in the future” and that the moment people “commit illegal behavior they are no longer citizens of the Republic.” Soldiers were also told that they should treat those who “do things that the Party tells them not to as the enemy” and that “until the pandemic goes away” the soldiers must “stand guard over the border as if you are at a sentry post on the front line.” Soldiers at the border were also told that “the border is the outpost line” to keep COVID-19 at bay, according to the source.

The military has showered praise on soldiers who fired their weapons in this “battle.” Soldiers who harmed people with their weapons were given “regimental commander commendations” while soldiers who killed people were given “Korean People’s Army commendations,” the source said.

Party and government officials who have been blamed for “failing to control the population” are expected to face intense interrogations during the evaluation report for each organization and institution regarding the party congress period. The evaluations are expected to take place soon.

People living in the border region are more scared than before that they could be killed by soldiers if they do something wrong, based on the source’s account.

“There were actually quite a few people who conducted smuggling operations and tried to cross over into China during the party congress period because they figured the authorities would have too many other things to handle,” the source said. “There are rarely any shooting incidents during big events because nobody wants to create a ruckus, but because [the soldiers] went ahead and shot people to death everyone is afraid.”

The source said that some people believed that the authorities would only fire at people to scare them, finding it unbelievable that the soldiers would actually fire at them. Others have commented that the military is no longer what it once was because they are shooting at their own people.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to