Smuggling at North Korea Border Slows Due to Kickbacks For Guards

A North Korea soldier stands guard as people unload a boat on the Yalu River, which separates the North Korean town of Sinuiju from the Chinese border town of Dandong, Dec. 17, 2013.

Demands by North Korean border guards for a greater share of the profits of smuggling have slowed the movement of commodities across the border with China, causing hardships for North Koreans who earn a living by trafficking in goods, sources say.

Because of tightened security measures put in place over the last year, the fees charged by guards delivering goods across the border have now risen as high as 30 to 40 percent of the smugglers’ profit, sources in the country told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Control at the border is now three to four times stricter than it was before,” said one source living in Hyesan city in Yanggang province, bordering China.

“So people cannot cross the border to meet Chinese traders and exchange goods in person,”  RFA’s source said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Items typically smuggled into China from North Korea include copper, scrap metal, and medicinal herbs, with low-priced consumer goods brought into North Korea from China in return.

Because of heightened security, smugglers have increasingly entrusted their goods to guards to convey across the border for a fee, he said.

“We can now make only a small profit because of the high kickbacks they demand,” he said.

Moving goods

If they can, guards will often move a large quantity of goods belonging to one smuggler once a day, a second source living in Yanggang told RFA.

“Or, if there are not enough of these, they will smuggle two or three persons’ goods instead,” he said.

Previously, when North Korean smugglers moved goods directly across the river, they would give 11 percent of their profits to guards to look the other way, a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA.

“But they now have to give 30 percent of their profits to the guards, because the guards themselves are involved in the smuggling,” he said.

The higher fees charged by guards have now brought most smuggling at the border to a halt, sources said.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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