North Koreans Kept in the Dark on Talks with South Korea

korea-talks-042618.jpg A television at a Seoul railway station shows file footage of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, April 26, 2018.

Residents of North Korea are largely unaware that talks with rival South Korea are set to be held on Friday, with the few who know about them reluctant to discuss them openly for fear of coming to the attention of police, North Korean sources say.

Travelers to China and others who secretly watch and listen to South Korean television and radio broadcasts are now aware that summit talks will be held at Panmunjom, on the border with South Korea, on April 27, a North Korean visiting China’s Dandong city told RFA’s Korean Service this week.

“But they don’t dare open their mouths,” RFA’s source, a resident of North Korea’s Sinuiju city, said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If they speak a word about this and get caught by state security, they won’t be able to escape harsh punishment,” he said.

Because of increasingly harsh and arbitrary police inspections and questioning, together with political surveillance by citizens’ groups, North Korean residents are now “extra careful about what they say,” RFA’s source said.

“Even having a meal with more than three people now can be uncomfortable,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a resident of North Korea’s North Hamgyong province said that he had learned about Friday’s summit meeting only after speaking on the phone with relatives living in South Korea, adding that he hopes for positive results from the talks.

“If there is a fruitful outcome, this will move the cause of national unification forward, and we promised to meet again soon and made wishes for each other’s well-being,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“People here are somewhat aware that relations between the North and South have been warming since the Winter Olympics, and they expect that if this summit meeting is successful, we will have a much better relationship with South Korea,” he said.

Hope for improved lives

If talks go well, trade industry executives and the relatives of North Koreans who have defected to the South hope to reunite with family members, a resident of North Korea’s Yanggang province added.

“They are looking for economic development and improved lives if this meeting is successful,” he said.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s elite Supreme Guard Command, which guards national leader Kim Jong Un and public sites connected to the Kim family, has taken control of a major highway connecting the North Korean capital Pyongyang with the South Korean border, a source in North Pyongan province said.

“The Pyongyang-Kaesong highway is usually open only to official vehicles and tour buses for foreigners, and vehicles belonging to the general public are not allowed to go there,” he said.

“However, since April 24 it has been closed to all vehicles,” he said.

“The highway is now under strict security so that not even an ant can come near it. Officers from the Supreme Guard Command and local state security agents are all there now to guard the area night and day,” he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim, Myung Chul Lee, and Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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