The North Korean authorities are operating enhanced controls on transit through the region of the country closest to China, including close checks on the documentation of travellers passing through in the direction of the Sino-North Korean border.
Part of the process means it has become more difficult to obtain travel permits. Although the issuance of such permits was recently resumed following months of combat mobilization and other activities that limited movement, the process of traveling through the border is making life difficulties.
A North Hamkyung Province source told Daily NK on the 26th, “The issuance of travel permits resumed on the 21st of last month, but the procedure when moving in the border region has gotten more demanding than ever. Travel permits need to be approved with not just the signature but also the seal of a person’s local PSM (Ministry of People’s Safety), relevant security agency and workplace, and if the trip is for a traditional ceremonial occasion such as a funeral then they must get a further confirmation letter saying so.”
“In the past, they did not ask for the confirmation letter, or the seal of the local security forces and NSA (National Security Agency, the state security organ) for that matter. But now they are asking for this and that certificate; it’s as if travellers are criminals,” the source said, recalling, “We used to be able to easily get travel permits by bribing people or having close associates in certain positions.”
Even for those with a permit there are still multiple layers of security and checks on the way to the border.
“Even after you get a travel permit by paying bribes, there are still the PSM agents on the trains and railway staff doing hourly checks,” the source said. “People say it is worse than the customs checks on the border.”
“Stations are being locked down by soldiers and then intensive body and baggage checks are taking place at Gomusan (the station before Musan and Hoiryeong on the Musan Line (train 9-10) and Sariwon-Rajin Line (train 113-114)) and at Huchang (the station before Rajin on the Pyongyang-Tumen River Line (train 7-8)),” the source noted. “They even have magnetic detectors for the body checks.”
Travellers ensnared by the checks are supposed to be detained locally until a security agent from his or her area of residence arrives to deal with the case. However, payments of 50,000 to 100,000 Won are apparently sufficient to attain release for those who simply don’t have the right transit permits. The only ones whose release cannot be obtained so easily are those caught with South Korean materials in their baggage; they face re-education or labor camp sentences, sources say.
“Some of the older people are saying that there were fewer controls under Japanese rule,” the source concluded.