North Korea Casts a 'Spider Web' Over Flooded Areas

2016-09-26
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North Koreans mobilized to support rebuilding efforts work to repair a water source after heavy flooding of the Tumen river in late August 2016 in Musan county in the north of North Korea. Sept. 18, 2016.
North Koreans mobilized to support rebuilding efforts work to repair a water source after heavy flooding of the Tumen river in late August 2016 in Musan county in the north of North Korea. Sept. 18, 2016.
Anil POKHREL/UNICEF DPRK/AFP

North Korea’s state security apparatus is throwing a ‘spider web’ over flood-ravaged sections of the secretive nation, sowing fear and resentment as they attempt to ensnare potential defectors and prevent information from leaking out of the country, RFA has learned.

While the floods devastated parts of North Korea so badly that Pyongyang was forced to seek international aid, the authorities there seem more concerned with enforcing security than helping the victims, sources tell RFA’s Korean Service.

State Security Department officials began fanning out over the area on Sept. 18 as they hunted down potential defectors who sought to use typhoon’s aftermath as cover for their escape, said a source from Yanggang province.

“The border area including Yanggang Province is currently controlled by the state security’s investigative team that is conducting a spider web-like operation,” said the source who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.

While authorities are searching for defectors, they are also conducting house-to-house searches in order to confiscate illegal mobile phones, banned media and other electronic devices, the source said.

“While residents are conducting a ‘1000 Support Group’ for flood damage recovery, the state security department is conducting a search of every single house,” the source said. “An intense investigation is being operated as televisions and electronic devices are confiscated from those who have illegal phones in their possession.”

The 1000 Support Group campaign appears to be a state-sponsored effort to aid flood victims. Flooding devastated parts of North Korea after rain from Typhoon Lionrock lashed the country from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2.

Pyongyang is fond of using colorful names for various civic efforts, the most well-known being the ‘speed battles’  aimed at mobilizing mass labor to produce results in a short period of time. The campaigns are usually accompanied by a new batch of slogans and other propaganda efforts.

International aid agencies reported that at least 138 people were killed by floods spawned by the typhoon and more than 100,000 people were left homeless, but other sources tell RFA that more than 200 were killed in Hoeryong city, North Hamgyong Province alone.

“Instead of consoling residents who are in deep sorrow after so many deaths and so many victims, North Korea would rather dispatch the state security’s investigative team and threaten residents with censorship,” a source in North Hamgyeong Province told RFA.

Areas along the Tumen River that forms the border between North Korea and China and Russia were struck particularly hard as the river quickly overflowed its banks.

Coming during a time of strife, the North Korean crackdown is spawning both fear and resentment, the sources told RFA.

“Some people have already been caught during the crackdown, which is creating a frozen atmosphere among the people,” said the Yanggang Province source.

“The people who are caught using illegal cellphones are mostly connected to South Korea, which is why there will be a high possibility of disposing of them as political prisoners,” the source added.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korea Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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