North Korea Employs ‘Tailing Squads’ to Nab Defectors to China

nk-border-patrol-april-2013.jpg An armed soldier patrols the banks of the Yalu River along the border with China in Sinuiju, North Korea, April 10, 2013.

North Korea’s State Security Department has been operating special squads proficient in Chinese to track down and arrest defectors who are hiding out in China, sources inside North Korea said.

Disguised as Chinese security agents, a “tailing squad” and an “arrest squad” are ferreting out North Korean defectors by searching the homes of the Chinese who are providing them shelter, they said.

A family of five surnamed Kim was sent back to North Korea after they were arrested on Wednesday by State Security Department agents in a rural village in Yanbian, the Korean autonomous region in China, three days after they crossed the Tumen River, which separates the two countries, they said.

The Kim family lived in a village in Sambongri, a small town in Musan County in North Hamgyong province.

“They [the family members] were abducted by a tailing squad operated by the State Security Department and an arrest squad in plainclothes,” a source from the province told RFA’s Korean Service. “The tailing squad disguised as Chinese security agents stormed the house of the Chinese man who had been sheltering the Kim family.”

Security department personnel in Onsung County jailed the family and would soon send them to a political prison camp, he said.

Students at the Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and Wonsan Foreign Language School formed the squad in June 2013, he said.

Organized by students who are fluent in Chinese, the squad can go anywhere in China to search for and arrest defectors, but it’s not clear whether it is under the direct control of the State Security Department or the organization’s anti-spying bureau.

Surveilling the people

The State Security Department, also known as the Ministry of State Security, serves as North Korea’s secret police force and monitors the political and public activities of citizens to ensure they do not contravene the rules of the regime under the leadership of the Kim family. Its agents also monitor North Koreans who travel to and from China as well as telephone communications in border areas.

The tailing squad was responsible for the arrest of the three families who had fled to the Chinese border town of Changbai on Aug. 11, said a source in Yanggang province.

“The squad agents first determined their hiding place and then reported to the Chinese Public Security Bureau so they could be arrested,” he said.

The State Security Department had dispatched as many as 40 squad agents tailing and arresting people in the city of Hyesan, who were stationed at a field camp in the mountains of the town of Hwajonri, he said.

Members of the tailing squad are more than five feet, six inches (170 centimeters) tall and very proficient in the Chinese language, he said.

Based on statements by North Korean border guards who assisted some of the defectors, the squad members pose as Chinese security police to kidnap North Koreans hiding inside China, the source said.

“Because the tailing squad can’t publicly move in and out of the border customs offices, its agents mobilize the arrest squad to kidnap the defectors and their Chinese helpers once they detect the defectors’ hiding place,” he said. “Those who are kidnapped are carried in sacks across the Yalu and Tumen rivers for deportation and then imprisoned by State Security Department.”

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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