North Korea installs solar panels along border to boost surveillance

Even with power outages, border security will be able to shine a light on smugglers and escapees
By Myung Chul Lee
North Korea installs solar panels along border to boost surveillance This 2018 file photo taken from Dandong, China, shows a solar panel on the roof of a North Korean guard post across the Yalu River border.

North Korea is installing solar panels along the border with China to ensure that security facilities have enough electricity for nighttime surveillance, sources living in the area told RFA.

Rolling blackouts have long plagued North Korea, especially in areas outside the capital, where citizens may have access to electricity in their homes for only a few hours each day.

Winter further disrupts the country’s aging power grid, as the cold hinders production in hydroelectric plants. Citizens who can afford to install solar panels on their homes have access to electricity at all hours.

The military is taking a cue from these residents by installing the panels along the border to ensure that flood lights can shine through the night, making it harder for people to escape, a member of the military from the northeastern border city of Hoeryong told RFA’s Korean Service Dec. 1.

“Since last month, we’ve been putting up the panels so there is enough electricity for the night lights attached to the barbed-wire fences that we can monitor the border more thoroughly,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“The solar panels are made domestically. They convert sunlight into electricity during the day and stores it in a battery, so that it can be used at night,” the source said.

The solar panels are made using Chinese raw materials and will line the barbed wire fences at the border at an interval of 150 to 200 meters, according to the source.

“Conducting a stakeout at night has become easier with the lights. They used to only have radar-based detectors before this,” the source said.

“Most of the solar panels in North Korea are imported from China for about U.S. $30 to $50 each. They were used to power homes. But now we produce them locally,” said the source.

RFA was not able to confirm whether the raw materials were imported before Beijing and Pyongyang shuttered their border and suspended all trade at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in January 2020, or if they were recently imported this year as an exception.

The military will finish installing solar panels by February 2022, said a military person from the border city of Hyesan, more than 100 miles to the southwest of Hoeryong.

“If these solar panels are installed in the border area and they can turn the lights on at night, it will be very difficult to access the border, day or night, even during a power outage. This is especially true along the border here in Ryanggang province, where there was very low visibility in certain areas.” the second source said.

“The guards will use sunlight to illuminate the night. At nighttime no one should walk near the border.”

The North Korean government has significantly enhanced border security during the coronavirus pandemic in what it says are measures to prevent the introduction of the virus into the country.

Previous RFA reports revealed that the military sent special forces to the border region to supplement guard units and prevent corruption. Additionally, authorities ordered landmines laid along the most traveled crossing points and established a 1-kilometer kill zone along the entirety of the 880-mile border.

Several people were also publicly executed for smuggling activities.

More than 33,000 North Koreans have successfully escaped and made their way to South Korea in the past several decades, but the number of escapees entering South Korea sharply decreased from 1,047 in 2019 to only 229 in 2020, according to statistics from the South Korean Ministry of Unification.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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