North Korea Cracks Down on Soldiers Viewing South Korean Videos

Pyongyang forms a special group to carry out surprise inspections of regular units and units on the border.

North Korean soldiers stand on a boat across the border from China in a file photo.

North Korean authorities alarmed by the spread of foreign cultural influences in the country’s military have set up a special unit to discourage the viewing of South Korean TV dramas and movies, sources in the isolated country say.

The unit, called the 109 Group, carries out surprise inspections of military units, some of whose officers and regular soldiers have been caught watching and distributing videos restricted under North Korean law, a source in North Hamgyong province, bordering China, told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The 109 Group is a joint inspection unit under the authority of the General Staff Department, the General Political Bureau, and the People’s Defense Security Bureau,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They conduct surprise inspections, and any units or soldiers found violating the law are severely punished, so senior officers are becoming very nervous,” the source said.

Foreign-made videos and other recorded entertainment are prohibited in North Korea, but citizens sometimes manage to obtain South Korean goods from relatives in China or from traders who get them in China and sell them in black markets back home.

North Koreans who are caught with South Korean movies and soap operas on USB drives or mini SD cards that have been smuggled into the country can face imprisonment or even execution.

Hoping to forestall scrutiny and reprimand from higher levels of authority, some military commanders have organized their own inspection groups to investigate their units, including their soldiers’ families, the source said.

Also speaking to RFA, a source in Yanggang province, also bordering China, said that military officers and soldiers from both border security units and regular units had previously “enjoyed watching South Korean movies and dramas in civilians’ homes.”

“Recently, however, no soldiers have been visiting civilian homes, and no civilians have been inviting them to watch South Korean shows.”

Civilians who offer to sell South Korean movies to soldiers are now also targets for investigation, “so the border region has just dried up,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

With military units now conducting their own, separate investigations, conflicts have arisen among military commanders, officers, and security agents, he said.

“For example, a chief of staff recently conducted a surprise inspection of the office of the head of a political department, and this created serious friction between them,” he said.

Reported by Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.