Scores of officers and rank-and-file soldiers from North Korea’s border guard unit have been rounded up and are under investigation by a special inspection team of the country’s Workers’ Party, following an incident earlier this year in which two of the guards crossed the border and killed two Chinese, sources inside the country said.
The team stormed the headquarters of the 25th brigade in the neighborhood of Yonbong 2 in Hyesan city of Yanggang province earlier this month, and arrested as many as 40 soldiers on the spot, said Hee-yun Doh, a representative of the Seoul-based Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, citing information from a local North Korean source.
Those arrested included the leader of the third platoon from the fourth company of second battalion and six staff sergeants, he said.
“The 25th Brigade is controlled by the Border Guard General Bureau in Pyongsung city, South Pyongan province, and this time its second battalion in Hyesan city and fifth battalion in Bochon County, Yanggang province, were subjected to an intensive inspection,” he said.
The inspections and arrests were preceded by an incident in early April when soldiers from the 25th brigade crossed into the Chinese border area and shot to death two Chinese civilians, Doh said.
It was not clear why the North Koreans crossed into the border area, but it is believed that they were trying to obtain food when they killed the two Chinese, according to reports.
The killings generated a diplomatic dispute between Pyongyang and Beijing, which resulted in the dismissal of the chief of the Border Guard General Bureau, although North Korea did not officially confirm the shooting.
“After the incident occurred, the new chief of the Board Guard General Bureau, acting on the instructions of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un, dealt sternly with the border guards who assisted defectors trying to cross the [Yalu] River,” Doh said. “With an order from above that not a single defector should be allowed to cross the river, he started a general inspection of the border areas.”
The Yalu River separates Hyesan from the Changbai Korean Autonomous County in northeast China’s Jilin province.
Then on Aug. 7, North Korean authorities secretly executed three staff sergeants from the 25th brigade, spreading fear among the brigade soldiers as the news spread, Doh said.
“Because of this incident, it is expected that defectors will find it very difficult to cross the river,” he said. “In particular, as almost 80 percent of the barbed-wire fences along the borders have been built, river crossings will become more and more difficult for defectors.”
In the meantime, 11 defectors were arrested in China after they crossed the Yalu River from the border area in Hyesan. Eight of the defectors from three different families who lived in Musan county, Hamgyong province, were deported back to North Korea after they were arrested in China.
After North Korean authorities discovered that their border guards assisted the defectors, they began conducting a thorough inspection of the 25th Border Guard troops, local sources said.
Authorities had expected to complete the inspection by Aug. 20, but have extended it until Friday, they said.
Reported by Jae Wan Noh for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.