Two North Korean women crossed over the Sino-North Korean border into Samjiyon, Yanggang Province, on Aug. 20, and rumors that one of the women tested positive for COVID-19 in China has led to concern among locals, Daily NK has learned.

“Two women illegally crossed the border in Potae, Samjiyon, on the evening of Aug. 20,” a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Monday. “People heard from the families of officials at the Ministry of State Security [MSS] and Anti-epidemic Command that one of the women had tested positive for COVID-19 in China, and this rumor has spread like wildfire.” 

According to the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, two North Korean women aged 35 and 27 who had been living in China were caught by three border patrol officers as they attempted to secretly enter North Korea near Potae, in the city of Samjiyon, on the evening of Aug. 20. The guards had detected movement in tall grass on the banks of the Yalu River and found the two women hiding when they approached with cocked guns.

The women were taken to Samjion’s MSS office, where it is believed that one of the pair stated she had received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 in China and had been quarantined for six days before escaping and coming to Samjiyon. When this news spread, it created a considerable stir among locals. 

“The 35-year-old woman who [said she] tested positive knew there was still no vaccine for COVID-19 and that she might die abroad, so she wanted to come back to North Korea and see her parents,” the source said. “She decided to return along with another 27-year-old defector who lived in her neighborhood.”

According to the source, this incident sparked rumors in Samjiyon and Hyesan that the virus had entered North Korea.

RUMORS ABOUND

The two women are currently in isolation cells in Samjiyon’s MSS office, and the 35-year-old is believed to have such a high fever that she is nearly comatose and unable to respond to questions. The MSS is reportedly carrying out a preliminary investigation based on the testimony of the younger woman, who has undergone blood tests after being classified as a suspected COVID-19 case.

The 27-year-old woman stated she had been in frequent contact with the other woman, who had been quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 at a Chinese hospital. They agreed to escape together and return to North Korea, spending two days in the tall grass on the Chinese side of the Yalu River before crossing. After observing the border patrols, they determined there was a 30-minute gap between shifts from 10:50 PM and 11:20 PM, which is when they decided to make their move, according to the woman.

There are reportedly rumors that the allegedly infected woman may be executed. “The woman is guilty of illegally crossing the border to begin with, and there is talk that returning to North Korea with the virus means she could also be charged with the crime of endangering the lives of citizens,” the source said. 

Some North Koreans believe that the younger woman may receive a different punishment depending on how her test results come back, the source added.

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Barbed wire fences on the Sino-North Korean border. / Image: Daily NK

“The runaway to the South who returned to Kaesong in July could also face execution, as entering the country during a pandemic aggravates the crime,” the source said. “Since even the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] is aware of this matter, it is possible [however] he will be used as an ‘educator’ rather than killed.”

According to the source, Kim has been informed about the two women who returned to the country in late August, but “unlike the Kaesong defector incident, this has not been reported in the Rodong Sinmun or on Central Television [Korean Central TV], so it is hard to know what punishment they will receive.”

Daily NK previously quoted a source in Yanggang Province who reported that a 20-year-old North Korean woman living in China had secretly crossed the Yalu River and entered Samjiyon on Aug. 24. Based on reports from Daily NK’s sources, this means that at least three North Koreans have entered Samjiyon from China in August alone. 

These border crossings have led to the mobilization of all military units, MSS and Ministry of Social Security officers – even party officials – in the Sino-North Korean border region given that Kim Jong Un continues to emphasize intense efforts to prevent COVID-19 from entering the country. 

“The central government is bringing in recent graduates from Party schools who have not yet been given jobs and sending them to the border to beef up the numbers,” the source said, adding, “Ten percent of those sent by the central government are from Yanggang Province, but the rest of them hail from other regions of the country. Pyongyang citizens were not included.”

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.