Calls in North Korea for wartime mobilization in response to U.S.-South Korean military exercises now under way are being greeted by the country’s citizens as business as usual, with few showing signs of actual alarm, sources in the nuclear-armed state say.
The first order by the North Korean army’s Supreme Command went out on March 1, a source in Yanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Since then, emergency orders for Worker-Peasant Red Guards have been made three times,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But this has only increased the number of complaints about the mobilizations instead of heightening an atmosphere of real crisis.”
North Korea's Worker-Peasant Red Guards, formed in 1959 and equipped mainly with small arms with some heavier weapons, are the country's largest civil defense force.
Preparations for mobilization include orders for active duty and reserve troops to stand ready for combat, with training in black-out and evacuation procedures made mandatory for both soldiers and civilians, the source said.
“Evacuation drills for the reserve forces have not yet gone ahead,” the source said.
“But the emergency mobilization of paramilitary forces, reserve training units, and the Worker-Peasant Red Guards have been put into effect. These calls can be made at any time, so everyone is under pressure all the time now.”
The sources spoke to RFA before a visit to Seoul this week by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who signaled a tougher policy toward North Korea, including the possibility of pre-emptive military action.
"Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended," Tillerson told reporters after he visited the heavily militarized border that separates the two Koreas.
"We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table," he said.
Daily movements restricted
In a departure from earlier North Korean training, this year’s calls to mobilize began at 4:00 a.m. and lasted until 6:00 a.m., the source said.
“This was one hour ahead of the previously established schedule so that the movements could escape surveillance by U.S. reconnaissance satellites,” he said.
Emergency mobilization orders now restrict business trips and other daily movements by soldiers and civilian officials, a source in North Hamgyong province said, also speaking to RFA.
“But apart from the inconvenience of the blackout training and other emergency drills, no one seems alarmed anywhere. The atmosphere is the same as always,” he said.
“Central government authorities say that the situation is more serious this year than in previous years, but they say this every year,” he said, adding that some are calling the present state of emergency “a conspiracy” aimed at winning public support following the purge earlier this year of North Korean state security chief Kim Won Hong.
“In gatherings of trusted friends, people are saying ‘Only the high-ranking officials who are high and mighty are really frightened of war,’ while the poor people with nothing to lose are saying it would be better for war to come.”
Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Soo Min Jo. Written in English by Richard Finney.