The majority of Storm Corps troops stationed near the border in Yanggang Province were recently relocated to North Hamgyong Province while 7th Corps troops have been brought in to take their place, a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Tuesday. 

“Eighty percent of the Storm Corps in Yanggang Province were sent north to the border in North Hamgyong Province on Aug. 10,” the source said, adding, “[The remaining] 20% are in Taehongdan County, and on Aug. 11 troops from the 7th Corps arrived in Hyesan to fill in the place of Storm Corps troops that left the area.” 

According to the source, approximately 4,500 soldiers from the 7th Corps are now in Yanggang Province. None of the soldiers in the 7th Corps contingent are originally from areas in the Sino-North Korean border region due concerns that stationing troops near their hometowns could cause a lapse in discipline.

A LACK OF MANPOWER

The source explained that the decision to move 7th Corps troops from the interior of the country to areas near the border was motivated by a shortage of border guards. Many have reportedly been punished (sent to farms or other places for forced labor) or have either been given “early discharges” or “dishonorable discharges.”

While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to highlight the importance of thorough disease prevention measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, there is reportedly a growing need to stamp out smuggling, defection attempts and other illegal activities near the Sino-North Korean border. According to the source, however, the country has simply lacked the manpower to defend the border.

Concerned about border security, the head of the Ministry of State Security reportedly submitted a petition to Kim Jong Un recently where he requested additional manpower to secure the border. According to the source, the petition stated it would be difficult to completely seal the border unless more guard posts were established and more troops were made available.

The source said that Kim approved the request and that instructed that troops should be sent to the border to set up and maintain a quarantine system “so thorough that even an ant couldn’t crawl through” until the pandemic dies down. 

“After the Supreme Commander [Kim Jong Un] approved the request, the Storm Corps was selected as the first unit to be deployed based on their reputation as an elite unit not likely to be tempted by money or corruption,” the source said.

border
Border region of North Hamgyong Province as seen in early June 2019. / Image: Daily NK

“Before the Storm Corps was relocated to North Hamgyong Province, they built a number of new stakeout posts and hidden monitoring posts along the border in Yanggang Province, and the safety and secrecy of these facilities were checked to ensure they could be used by the incoming 7th Corps troops,” he added. 

Military personnel are reportedly doing everything they can to secure the border, working in groups of two to three to patrol their respective areas. At night, they are “loading three blank cartridges and 30 rounds of live ammunition” into their weapons while standing guard at stakeout posts built along the river, according to the source. 

The soldiers are reportedly living in temporary barracks they have built in areas near the border. According to the source, the troops have been supplied with everything they need from the Logistics Bureau under the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces (MPAF) and the quality of food is decent; this, the source said, is because the request for additional troops on the border was approved by Kim Jong Un himself. 

While it is unclear how long the 7th Corps troops will remain at the border, the source said there is speculation that the troops could remain in the area into 2021 – that is, until Kim Jong Un’s order to lock down the border is lifted. 

BAD NEWS FOR SMUGGLERS

The influx of troops into the border region has reportedly caused local people to vent their frustrations and complain about the suffering they are enduring. The source told Daily NK that locals are claiming that the smuggling activities people rely on to survive are no longer possible given the intensified control and monitoring of the border by the authorities. 

“People living close to the border are receiving nothing from the state, so smuggling is the only way for them to make ends meet,” the source said. “Now that ‘not even an ant’ is allowed to cross the river, they complain they have absolutely no way to earn a living. There is talk that everyone will starve to death if the border remains closed until the end of the year.” 

The source also noted that troops from the interior of the country have been sent to the border regions of other provinces. 

“Approximately 2,500 Storm Corps troops have been sent to Chagang Province, and 3,500 soldiers from the 3rd Corps are now stationed in North Pyongan Province,” he said.

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

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