North Korean authorities have initiated a special month-long security mobilization period in the run-up to a military parade on Feb. 8 celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of its People’s Army in a display of its military force the day before the opening of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, sources inside the country said.
Authorities have doubled the number of border guards and mobilized police, state security agents, and people’s security forces to patrol many areas across the country between Jan. 20 and Feb. 20, including the Lunar New Year holiday on Feb. 16, which is also what would have been the 77th birthday of Kim Jong Il who ruled the country from 1994 to 2011.
The increased security patrols will also be in place when North Korea sends a delegation of officials and athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on Feb. 9-25. The North decided to participate in the Games after officials held high-level talks with their counterparts from the South in the first such discussions between the two nations in more than two years.
Pyeongchang lies about 50 miles from the demilitarized zone, the heavily armed border that has separated the two Koreas since 1953.
The beefed-up security also comes at a time when current leader Kim Jong Un is tightening his control over the repressive country as it feels the squeeze of tough sanctions imposed by the United Nations as punishment for recent missile launches, and experiences heightened tensions with the United States.
“The Central Committee’s directive proclaiming a special security period from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20 was delivered during a meeting that was held on the morning of Jan. 19 for directors from each organization,” said a source from North Hamgyong province who declined to be named. “Factories and firms are busy organizing security personnel.”
The Central Committee, the chief policymaking body of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, approves political and ideological campaigns and deliberates and advises on government policies.
Local factories with fewer than 30 employees must have three or more security guards patrolling their premises from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. during this period, the source said.
The public facilities that the security forces will surveil include the research centers for Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il doctrine in Yanggang province’s Smajiyeon district, “towers of eternal life” located at crossroads throughout the country, and mosaic walls across the nation that glorify Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong Un, and Kim Il Sung, founder of the country who ruled from 1948 to 1994.
The source also said the security patrols will guard exhibition centers, cultural centers, youth centers, gymnasiums, parks, playgrounds, railroads, ports, and bridges along major roads.
“The Central Committee has reinforced security claiming that we have tense situation, but I don’t understand why they say there is tension these days,” he said. “We are participating in the Winter Olympics that will be held in South Korea. Isn’t it nonsense?”
Preventing ‘shameful incidents’
A source from Yanggang province said authorities may have ordered the additional security patrols to try to prevent any “shameful incidents” during this period as the nation honors the founding of its army and sends athletes, performers, and a cheering crew to the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
“The border area is full of security guards, including ones from the State Security Department’s strike force, Worker-Peasant Red Guards, and a juvenile crime team,” said the source who spoke to RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity.
“They are jamming signals and tightening controls over illegal cell phones” he said, referring to mobile phones smuggled in from neighboring China.
North Koreans who live in border areas where mobile reception from China is available use the devices to talk to relatives and friends living in China or South Korea.
The source suggested that authorities’ real motive for the increased security patrols was to prevent possible defections.
“Their intention is to prevent citizens from experiencing agitation due to international sanctions and to prevent mass defections,” he said, adding that winter is the optimal time of year for North Koreans who wish to defect to cross the frozen Tumen River that separates the country from China, if security is not too heavy.
Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.