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Defectors are switching to more dangerous mountain routes

Desperation is driving North Koreans to make the increasingly hazardous journey across the border to China despite an intensifying crackdown on defectors in the border area, RFA's Korean service reports.

�The Chinese government has beefed up the guard against North Koreans, but North Koreans still keep coming to China,� North Korean defector Jung Il-young said in an interview, echoing other recent defectors.

�North Koreans know now that the routes they used to take�such as around the Dooman River, Do-Moon, Yong-Jung, Wha-Ryung and Jang-Beak�are under heavy guard. So they have started to cross the border on foot and walk more than 40 kms through the mountains to Moo-Song, Song-Gang, and Tong-Hwa.�

A South Korean human rights group warned in December that the situation was becoming more and more dangerous for North Koreans seeking to escape famine and oppression in the world's last Stalinist state.

The South Korean Democracy Network Against the North Korean Gulag said North Korean security forces were stepping up their monitoring of mobile phones in the area, using the signals to locate defectors on the move. That the flow of refugees continues despite additional security measures highlights desperation of many North Korean citizens.

Jung, who asked that his real name be withheld, said a recent innovation was the installation of unbreakable windows on all trains approaching the border area. Previously, defectors had commonly broken windows and jumped off trains, but that was no longer possible.

�Foreigners might think that the train has been improved, but the reality is that the government wanted to control people�s movements so they couldn�t jump off or get closer to the border area,� Jung said. �The international community must see this fact for what it is.�

As many as 300,000 North Koreans are believed to be in hiding in northeastern China, hoping for passage to a third country. Hundreds of North Koreans fleeing hunger and repression at home have been allowed to leave China for the rival South after seeking refuge at embassies and other foreign offices.

Jung said the plight of North Koreans in hiding in China was �desperate.�

�I met some boys when they were 12 but now they are 18. They had been in China for five years when I met them, which means they came to China when they were five. How can we abandon these young kids who have lost all educational opportunity?� he said.

However, he said conditions in North Korea were bad enough for people to risk everything in a bid to flee.

�I know how people�s minds work because I was a labor supervisor. It must be hard to imagine, in this capitalist world, a situation where people eat mice, pig water and dog food,� he said.#####


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