Security tight in North Korean capital for military parade and Kim Jong Il's birthday

Authorities are on the lookout for weapons and explosives that could harm leader Kim Jong Un.
By Chang Gyu Ahn for RFA Korean
2023.02.08
Security tight in North Korean capital for military parade and Kim Jong Il's birthday Military personnel take part in a nighttime military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2022.
KCNA via Reuters

North Korean authorities have ratcheted up security this month in Pyongyang, apparently to prevent travelers from bringing weapons or explosives into the capital that might mar a big military parade or the birthday of Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

Even under normal circumstances, authorities restrict the flow of people about the country, and citizens must have prior authorization to even set foot in the capital. Police stationed on the roads that lead into the city check that every traveler has the proper documentation.

Pyongyang residents are usually waived through, while those from outside the city are more thoroughly checked. 

But with Kim expected to attend Wednesday’s Army Foundation Day parade, and the Feb. 18 national holiday marking his father’s birthday, soldiers are being extra cautious, a resident of Pyongsong in South Pyongan province, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“After the lockdown of Pyongyang due to the military parade, all entry into Pyongyang for personal business, not government business, is blocked,” the source said. “The No. 10 guard post installed on the roads at the entrance into Pyongyang City is inspecting the travel certificates and luggage of people traveling in and out of Pyongyang more strictly than usual. All loads in the cars and trucks are being inspected.”

The heightened security posture is meant to prevent dissidents and spies, illegal weapons and explosives from coming into Pyongyang because they could all harm Kim Jong Un during the parade, said a former member of the elite force who escaped and now lives in South Korea. 

The source said that on normal days there is only one guard stationed at each post, but now there are two.

One person checks certificates, and the other carries a metal detector and searches the bodies and luggage of travelers,” the source said.

The inspection process

The source explained that normally Pyongyang residents can flash their citizenship cards and pass through. 

But those from the provinces must show their IDs to the guards, enter a building behind the guard post and have the travel passes inspected and the ID double checked, then cross-referenced with the travel approval number they were issued when they applied for permission to travel. Finally, after having their certificate officially stamped, they can enter the city.

Recently, Pyongyang residents have also been checked more thoroughly, even if they left the city for only a few hours. according to the source.

The Pyongsong-Pyongyang bus is often used by Pyongyang residents returning from shopping trips in Pyongsong,” the source said. “The soldier used to get on the bus and make the residents hold up their citizenship cards, glanced over, and let the bus pass. But now, he checks each citizenship card one by one.”

ENG_KOR_IllegalWeapons_02072023.2.JPG
Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missiles roll by in a nighttime military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2022. Credit: KCNA via Reuters

The guard posts labeled No. 10 are thought by most citizens to be ordinary police under the State Security Department, but they are actually under the Supreme Guard Command, special agents tasked with protecting Kim Jong Un’s life, according to the former member of the elite force who escaped and now lives in South Korea. 

The Pyongyang Guard Command of the Supreme Guard Command is in charge of final inspections and crackdowns on residents and vehicles entering and exiting Pyongyang by land, excluding railroads,” he said. Soldiers and military vehicles are not exempt from inspections by the Pyongyang Guard Command. They block and manage all trails in the mountains that can enter Pyongyang to avoid the guard post.” 

South Korea’s Yonhap news reported that the parade was held Wednesday night, confirming satellite imagery that showed preparations for the event over the past few weeks.

North Korea’s state media has not made mention of the parade as of Thursday morning.

Military parades are often showcases for new weapons that Pyongyang has added to its arsenal, including ballistic missiles designed to deliver a nuclear payload.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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