North Korea’s regime has issued a directive limiting long-distance travel for the entire month of February to prevent any “incidents” that could overshadow an anniversary marking the foundation of the country’s military, according to sources.
On Feb. 8, North Korea will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, formed in 1948 from the anti-Japanese guerrilla force known as the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army he had established nearly 16 years earlier.
The North has mobilized as many as 12,000 troops since December for the event, which falls on the day before the opening of the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in rival South Korea, Yonhap news agency reported on Monday, citing South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.
Sources inside the country recently told RFA’s Korean Service that ahead of the anniversary the Central Committee of the North Korean Worker’s Party ordered a ban on travel between all provinces and cities throughout February, disrupting the lives of residents.
“The Central Committee recently issued an order prohibiting the movement of residents,” a source from the capital Pyongyang said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The order was given to prevent any possible incidents that can happen during the Military Foundation Day events on Feb. 8.”
According to the source, members of all government agencies, social organizations, and Peoples’ work units have been prohibited from long-distance travel, while “anyone who travels during this period for business, personal or any other reasons will be punished.”
Residents are complaining about the travel restrictions and being mobilized every day to take part in event preparation.
“Companies that regularly supply goods to the outskirts of Pyongyang are also prohibited from leaving the city unless they can obtain a valid transportation document from the Ministry of Commerce,” the source said.
“The Central Committee has placed more of an emphasis on this year’s anniversary than in previous years, so many companies have just given up on traveling outside the region. Doing so could put company’s existence on the line.”
Concerns over leaks
A source in North Hamgyong province, on the border with China, said similar restrictions were in place there following the Central Committee’s prohibition on travel from city to city and from one province to another.
“Any movement using rail or vehicle is considered illegal travel,” he said.
“The people who must travel to access regional markets are the strongest opponents of the order. They complain that the lives of citizens are not considered as important as the Feb. 8 anniversary.”
The source said authorities are concerned that travelers could “leak inside information” about planned events and place the celebration at risk.
“Security agents are arresting whoever travels outside the region without even asking the reason for doing so,” he added.
This year marks the first time authorities have restricted travel around the time of the anniversary, the sources told RFA, adding that tightened security surrounding the event has given North Koreans the feeling that their country is in a “state of war.”
At the end of January, sources told RFA that North Korean authorities have initiated a special month-long security mobilization period in the run-up to the Feb. 8 anniversary of the founding of the KPA.
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, they said, in a bid to prevent any “shameful incidents” during the anniversary and the Winter Olympics, including mass defections.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.