Inspections Tighten on Moscow-Pyongyang Rail Line After Weapon Found in Bag

The weapon, a pistol, was found in an extra bag carried aboard by a North Korean worker returning home.

A North Korean soldier watches a train at a cross-border rail link in a file photo.

Russian railway police are increasing their scrutiny of trains bound for North Korea after a handgun was found last month in the baggage of a North Korean worker returning home, North Korean sources say.

The pistol was discovered just before the train’s departure from Moscow and after the number of bags found on the train failed to match the number said to have been loaded, a source in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

"Russian police noticed a difference in the number of bags reported by North Korean workers from the actual number on board,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They then unloaded all the baggage from the train and rescreened them with an inspection device. The weapon that was found was a handgun,” he said.

The woman in whose bag the gun was discovered was immediately arrested, but denied all knowledge of the weapon that was found, the source said, adding, “She said that she was only carrying the bag to Pyongyang because an acquaintance had asked her to.”

Police had at first failed to carry out a proper inspection of passengers’ luggage owing to the large number of bags, about 30 per person, being brought onto the train, the source said.

“There were too many [North Korean] workers with a lot of bags on that day, so they did not perform a careful inspection, and the weapon was taken on board,” he said.

“The incident put Russian security authorities on heightened alert,” he said.

Inconvenience to travelers

Speaking separately, a second source in North Hamgyong confirmed the incident had taken place.

“There was a weapon-smuggling attempt not so long ago on an international train to Pyongyang from Moscow,” RFA’s source said, also speaking on condition he not be named.

“Following this incident, inspections have been strengthened on trains going to Pyongyang, and this has caused inconvenience to travelers taking the trains,” he said.

Trains on the Moscow-to-Pyongyang line run about seven times each month, with North Korean train crews boarding the trains in Russia bound for North Korea, and Russian crew members boarding the trains in North Korea for the return trip, the source said.

With trade between North Korea and China now hampered by international sanctions imposed to punish Pyongyang for its illicit nuclear weapons and missile tests, North Korean military authorities have set greater hopes on trade with Russia, sources say.

But increased inspections on the Russian rail lines may now slow this trade as well, they say.

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