North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Where Are You Tonight?

The DPRK-PRC border (yellow line) from Pyo'ktong County (Photo: Google image)

The county center of Pyo'ktong County, North P'yo'ngan Province (40 35' 23" N 125 19' 43"E) (Photo: Google image)

As 2011 draws to a close, several media reports have come out about DPRK citizens who are unaccounted for or difficult to locate.  On or around 20 November, eight (8) members of the Border Security Command’s 10th Brigade fled the DPRK for China.  During a routine shift change, two guard teams fled from Pyo’ktong County, North P’yo’ngan Province into the Kuandian Manchu Autonomous County, Liaoning Province.  Two of the guards were shot by other BSC guards during the escape.  Daily NK reports:

According to the source, the group of armed soldiers made their escape at around midnight. They were reportedly from the Byeokdong County in North Pyongan Province, which faces Kuandian County along the banks of the Yalu River.
It is still unclear whether the escapees clashed with Chinese soldiers during their escape. However, the rumor is that they paid off local soldiers to turn a blind eye, although there is also talk of some modest clashes.

The North Korean soldiers are believed to have belonged to a border guard brigade responsible for things like preventing defections and smuggling. The source says that the soldiers conspired to escape together in two teams during a guard change.

Usually during a night shift, one two-man team stands fifty meters apart on guard while another team of three or four patrols the area. There are no changeovers for those standing guard, but the patrol team switches once every two hours, meaning that the group defection probably took place while the patrol team was changing over.

According to the source, armed People’s Liberation Army personnel were dispatched to key locations around Kuandian County as soon as Chinese officials became aware of the incident, fearing the possibility of a shootout with the North Korean soldiers trying to escape. In particular, dozens of soldiers were placed at railway stations and other transit points to try and stop the escapees from trying to avoid detection and make their way further inland.

Armed Chinese soldiers could also be seen patrolling Dandong railway station and other areas as late as December 11th. This served to further increase tension in the area because of the ensuing ID checks, leading to incidences of people being unable to verify their identities being taken in. Chinese commuters were further inconvenienced by ticket inspections at two or three times their usual level.

For their part, the North Korean authorities are understood to have sent several dozen NSA agents directly to Dandong to work on apprehending the fugitives. Numbers of NSA agents have been particularly high in areas of large numbers of Koreans since the event. The authorities are trying to find the escapees on foot, searching Sanma Road (the ‘Korea-Town of Dandong’) as well as the Xinliu shopping district and development areas.

Immediately after the incident the jamming of electronic signals between China and Sinuiju appeared also to have been stepped up, with areas usually receiving adequate telephone reception constantly dropping out.

Ri Chun Hui finishes her report on Kim Jong Il's written interview with ITAR-TASS during the 19 October 2011 KCTV news broadcast (Photo: KCNA) news broadcast

Meanwhile, Japan’s Radiopress noticed that Ri Chun Hui (Ri Chun-hu’i) has not appeared on Korea Central TV’s news broadcasts in nearly two months.  Ri was last seen reading DPRK media’s account of Kim Jong Il’s interview with ITAR-TASS on 19 October.  Perhaps, she has remained behind the camera in the intervening weeks to allow more youthful broadcasters the chance to “gloriously inherit and develop the revolutionary tradition.”  Korea Real Time reports:

She speaks in an inimitable style that mixes a kind of breathy quality with whatever the news calls for – exuberance when talking about the dictator’s greatness and stentorian power when talking those awful governments in the U.S. or South Korea.

To an outsider, it’s a style that’s hard to take seriously, but it has earned Ms. Ri fans among the North Korean followers.

In recent days, news organizations in Japan that regularly monitor the North’s TV broadcasts say that Ms. Ri hasn’t been on the air since Oct. 19, when she read a statement her big boss Mr. Kim gave to Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency.

That’s a long stretch away from the nightly news in Pyongyang. And Mr. Kim has been busy during that time with his normal activities of attending concerts, visiting factories and giving the wave at military drills.

And in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovenia, Toru Tamakawa of Asahi Shimbun visits the local branch of the United World College.  Outside the students’ residence hall, Tamakawa may have encountered Kim Han Sol, the son of Kim Jong Nam and grandson of Kim Jong Il.  Asahi Japan Watch reports:

But when it comes to Kim Han Sol, everyone said, “We have been told not to say anything (about him).”

Then I felt I was being watched.

A short man with Asian features was watching me from behind a bus stop 20 meters away.

The man, with a crew cut and wearing a dark-brown jacket, was talking on a cellphone while watching me.

He was strange, so I decided to take a break somewhere and lose the man.

I stopped into a cafe and had coffee. After 15 minutes, the man had gone.

Whew.

I started walking again toward the dormitory.

Then somebody called to me from behind, “Are you a journalist?”

I turned and saw the man I had seen a while ago.

He fired more questions before I had answered his initial question.

“I am a journalist coming from South Korea. Are you coming from Japan? Which press? TV?”

He was smiling, but his eyes were not.

He was not carrying a camera, a notebook or a bag.

It was my turn to ask the questions.

“Which news agency do you belong to? Newspaper? Television?”

Without answering, the man suddenly ran toward the student dormitory.

Thereafter, I saw him many times around the school and the dormitory.

(Is he a security guard the North Korean authorities sent?)

(Or is he Kim Han Sol’s guardian?)

One thing was crystal clear–he was keeping an eye on the media.

The school dormitory was about a 30 minutes’ walk from the school.

The building has six stories and its exterior is painted a crisp blue and white.

I tried to talk with the dorm manager, but was told sharply, “No media are admitted.”

I waited outside the compound until it was almost night, but Kim Han Sol did not show up.

I decided to return the next morning.

It was still dark at 7 a.m. A young Asian-looking man wearing a blue jumper came out of the dormitory.

He was wearing black-framed glasses and had an earring in his left ear.

It was him, the youth whose picture had been posted on the Facebook social networking site.

His hair was black, unlike yellow as the Facebook photo showed.

“Hello, Mr. Han Sol,” I said to him in English.

No response at all.

He did not react when I pointed my camera at him, but simply kept walking without expression.

He seemed to be used to the media.

The youth believed to be Kim Han Sol did not utter a word all the way to school.

He was so confident and so aloof that it felt almost refreshing to be in his presence.

It was an odd feeling.

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