GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 429 November 16, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Intro] Tough Crackdown on Border Crossers is Not the Answer
Extreme Sea Border Control Against North Korean Refugees
“Tight Control Was Foreseen after the Execution of Ryu Gyeong”
Capital Punishment Now Possible on Food Crimes
Overcoming the World Food Crisis with Willpower?
A Fierce Competition over Offices at the Ministry of Foreign Trade After the Inspection

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[Intro] Tough Crackdown on Border Crossers is Not the Answer
After the frequent occurrences of sea border crossers these days, the North Korean government now allows on-the-spot execution for defection attempts. Every year the crackdown on cell phone users and border crossers was an important task. This year, with the tightened border control on the land, there has been an increase of people who attempt to cross the sea border with the replacement of the border patrol and regional security officers. It is especially noteworthy that that there have been a substantial number of defectors from Hwanghae-province, where the food crisis this year is at its worst, because it signifies that if the food crisis issue remains unresolved, border crossing in a mass scale such as the one during the mid- and late 1990s can happen again. A scenario as such is the North Korean government’s worst nightmare. However, it is impossible to overcome the crisis by relying on the power of the gun. The only reason that hundred thousands of people attempted to cross the river during the Arduous March was that they wanted to live. No military power can deter the will to live. The only fundamental solution is to supply food. The North Korean government must immediately stop shooting its own people, and make all possible efforts at securing food supply. The South Korean government must take note of the sufferings of people who cross the border risking their lives, and make sure that there will be no more tragic deaths as such.


Extreme Sea Border Control Against North Korean Refugees
After experiencing frequent occurrences of defection attempts on the sea this year, the North Korean government intensified its border control to maximum. The government delivered a strict order that any ship that attempts to go out to the sea without permission from the Security Department or the Guard Command must be seized, and people in the ship who do not obey the orders or try to flee can be executed on the spot. In addition to the sea border, the areas in vicinity to the land border are tightly controlled to allow no border crossing.

One of the officers in the central government said, “Border control centers were notified that if necessary, guards can execute people who try to cross the border on the spot and file an official report afterwards.” The reason behind the drastic measure is that the number of family-unit border crossers has been going up, and there is a concern that an even greater number of people will try to escape when the river freezes. The central government delivered orders to the local governments to devise strategies to prevent border crossing and make a weekly report on the progress.

The biggest victims of the stricter border control are smugglers, who used to cross the border relatively easily, with their connections with officers in the Security Department and the Guard Command. Choi Jungkeum (alias), who has traded South Korean movie DVDs illegally in Hyesan, Ryanggang province for a long time, said that the current border situation “gives [him] chills.”

Smugglers like Choi Jungkeum have struggled to build connections with new officers in the Security Department and the border patrol who came to replace the old ones after the round of inspections last August, and they find the new officers harsher and less flexible than the old ones in terms of organizational operation, regulations and human relationships. With their harsh and merciless approaches, people hardly dare think of crossing the border these days. Another smuggler, Cho Hyuk (alias) said that it is not an exaggeration to say that nine out of ten previous officers in the Security Department went to prison, and the rest were suspended or sent to remote areas. He also said that “The new officers are working so hard that smugglers like me, cell phone users, and border crossers – we are all paralyzed with fear.” Almost 3,000 people who used cell phones in North Hamkyong’s border areas were arrested and investigated. There are more than 10,000 people who were investigated for charges including corruption, smuggling, assistance in border crossing, contact with South Korean culture and people, and drug trafficking, and more than 3,000 were sent to re-education centers and disciplining centers. People found with major crimes charges in local security departments are handed over to the General Guard Headquarters for further in-depth investigations.


“Tight Control Was Foreseen after the Execution of Ryu Gyeong”
With intensifying government control in border areas, it seemed that some officers of the Central Party were disturbed by the extent of strictness in recent policies. They have expressed their concerns over the fact that the firm determination of the highest leadership to deter border crossing at any cost may overheat the competition between the newly appointed Safety Bureau officers to demonstrate their loyalty. They think that the reign of terror may be effective for a short while, but rampant firing of gun in a long run may provoke people to revolt. Some argue that the seed for a future revolt has already been planted with the secret execution of Ryu Gyeong, the former Vice Minister of the National Security Agency (Colonel General of North Korean People’s Army) in January, 2011, and the downfall of people in his inner circle. The execution of Ryu, also known as “The Ryu Gyeong Affair,” was not just about the execution of one high-ranking officer; rather, it symbolized the generational shift within the center of political power in North Korea. Ryu was the symbol of those who used to maintain and manage the state system on the front line, such as the officers of the People’s Safety Agency and the National Security Agency, who were swept away in a flash with his execution.
A Central Party officer said: “After the Ryu Gyeong Affair, the Security Department and Safety Bureaus nationwide were investigated thoroughly, and the party began a general purge, starting with high-rank regional officers. To prevent people from noticing what was going on and then running away to a foreign country, they suspended the targeted officers from their dutie and tightened the surveillance to make sure that they remained in their region. Their subordinates were transferred to other regions, so that they would not be there to cause trouble when their superiors were removed - nipping a potential rebellion in the bud. Charged with various offenses, those who had faithfully worked for 30 years under Ryu Gyeong’s administration in important positions were eliminated, and the officers in the Security who were thought to be affiliated with this faction were also discharged. By executing Ryu Gyeong, they discharged the old workers in Security Departments nationwide, and thus accomplished a fast generational shift. It seems like the newly ascended officers are eager to immediately surpass the accomplishments made during the days of Ryu Gyeong. Although it is tough work, investigation on North Korean defectors and mobile phone users is an area where one can achieve the most outstanding result if it is done properly. With the power of immediate punishment given to the new leadership, the world will be at their disposal.” He expected that the tightened control will continue for a while.


Capital Punishment Now Possible on Food Crimes
In addition to allowing on-the-spot execution for border crossing, the Central Party has also warned that food crimes can also result in capital punishment. Food crimes include theft and illegal transaction of agricultural crops. A Central Party official remarked that there is a nationwide inspection on ideological discipline, and out of one hundred offenses on the list, thirty of them are classified as political crime. Political crime includes corruption, border crossing, usage of cell phone, smuggling, long-term absenteeism, lack of participation in the labor force, circulating illegal DVDs including South Korean movies, circulating South Korean goods, and drug dealing. Among these crimes, usage of Chinese cell phones in particular is investigated by the Security Headquarters. “Permitting capital punishment for food crimes is the expression that they will now be considered as serious an offense as political crimes”, said the Central Party official. On the other hand, the Central Party has repeatedly ordered not to waste even one grain during threshing. The point that the government tries to make is that this is an important year for opening the doors for being a Strong and Prosperous nation, and in order to resolve the food crisis, threshing should be done has to be as quickly as possible, and not even a single grain should go to waste in the process.


Overcoming the World Food Crisis with Willpower?
North Korean government authorities have been emphasizing the importance of crop harvest and rice threshing, and they have tried to convince the public that the current food crisis is caused not just by domestic problems, but by the world food crisis. Associating domestic food crisis with world food crisis has been going on for several years now, but Central Party officials say that the association is particularly emphasized this year. On government official said, “It means that the food shortage this year is that bad. But it’s been several years since we started blaming external conditions for the domestic food crisis, and now people are fed up with it, making the state’s promotional work difficult.” A government official who just gave a lecture on the topic at a cooperative farm in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, said that people don’t even listen to a word he says these days. The public sentiment seems to be that they are fed up with such lectures, especially with their very livelihood at risk at this point. Although people do accept the idea the current food crisis is related to the world food crisis to some degrees, the reaction from the public is cold when comes to the exertion that they must persist and finish threshing successfully by using sheer mental force. “Maybe it’s just the way I feel about the audience reaction, but in any case, I don’t want to continue this kind of lecture anymore,” he complained.

Following is an excerpt from his lecture:
“The current food crisis that has been affecting the whole world is very serious. Even countries that normally export grains control the distribution of grains and limit the export. The current reality proves to us that we have to be self-sustainable in terms of food with strong agriculture on our land. We cannot emphasize the importance of the thresh process enough in this time of a worldwide crisis. To ensure a timely completion of threshing, we must make sure that the threshing machines run well. Work shifts should be arranged thoroughly to prevent any misalignment. It is also important to prevent the loss of electricity by with regular examination and maintenance. All these projects should be led by the strong willpower of the people.
Many collective farms, including Dongbong Cooperative in Ham South Hamkyung’s Hamju country, are continuing to thresh in the face of fuel shortage by burning woods and using the gas from it to run the threshing machine. These collective farms in various places have been fully exerting the revolutionary spirit of self-sustenance in the midst of difficulties. We have to learn from these cooperatives, and do out absolute best on every threshing floor. The only way to solve the food crisis for our people will be to strengthen our farming and fill up the grain reserve of out fatherland.”


A Fierce Competition over Offices at the Ministry of Foreign Trade After the Inspection
With the generational change among high-ranking officials that followed the inspection at the Ministry of Foreign Trade now complete, the replacement of lower-ranking managers has begun. New faces have been appearing, with previous officials being discharged or relocated into less important offices. The competition for the position handling foreign currencies in particular is fierce. It is especially the case for trading companies located in Pyongyang, because it is easy to go overseas from these places. Many try to get a spot, even an entry-level position, in these companies, by utilizing personal connections and paying an enormous sum for bribes. Meanwhile, the new officials in important offices at the Ministry of Foreign Trade accept a bribe and try to fill lower-level manager positions with their own people. Although the old officials were discharged with the pretext of corruption charges, corruption is rampant in hiring new people. An official who was replaced during the inspection of the Ministry of Foreign Trade said, “This proves that new generation of officials with their passionate display of loyalty are in fact not that much different from us. It wasn’t about getting rid of corruption. It was about the generation replacement by their own people.”
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