A new report out of North Korea claims that the government of dictator Kim Jong-un has banned weddings, funerals, major assemblies, and entering and exiting the capital, Pyongyang, as the nation prepares for the first Workers’ Party Congress in 36 years.
The UK Independent cites a report in Daily NK, a publication that relies on on-the-ground sources within North Korea’s borders for its news, as stating that travel within North Korea — Pyongyang specifically — has been severely limited as the nation prepares for the beginning of the Workers’ Party Congress on Friday. “Weddings and funerals have been banned and Pyongyang is in lockdown,” the report claims, adding that “there has been an increase in inspections and property searches” as well, to prevent any acts of sabotage against the nation’s communist government.
The Workers’ Party Congress will be the first under Kim Jong-un; during the last one, his father, Kim Jong-il, was appointed as the inheritor to his father, Kim Il-sung, the founder of communist North Korea. It is unclear what the result of this upcoming Congress will be.
According to Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s state-run newspaper, the Congress “will be recorded as the glorious one of victors to draw attention of the world” and is intended as “the highest tribute of the WPK and the Korean people to President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.” The Rodong Sinmun is short on details regarding the events to transpire at this “historical event demonstrating the revolutionary faith of the Korean people far and wide.”
South Korean intelligence officials have speculated that it is possible that Kim will order a fifth nuclear test during the Congress. “There is a possibility that the North would conduct an additional nuclear test and fire off a (mid- or long-range) missile in a blitzkrieg manner around the party congress,” a spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry, Moon Sang-gyun, told the South Korean newswire service Yonhap.
“The government assesses that North Korea appears to have completed its preparations for the nuclear test,” he added, warning that a “surprise” test would be difficult to anticipate.
Adding to speculation that a fifth nuclear test is upcoming, following the alleged detonation of a hydrogen bomb in January, satellite images indicate that Pyongyang has built a replica of the Cheong-wa-dae, the South Korean presidential office building. Many speculate the model “Blue House” is an intended target of a nuclear test, following North Korean broadcasts showing dramatized nuclear attacks on the Blue House, Manhattan, and Washington, D.C.
Some suggest that Kim is particularly desperate for a successful military display after back-to-back submarine missile launch failures in April. North Korean media called the latest such failure, in which the missile is believed to have preemptively crashed, an “eye-opening success.”
In another attempt to avoid more embarrassment, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports that North Korea has been cracking down on would-be defectors, extending their stays in labor camps for up to five years and sending them there directly when caught on the border, rather than giving them time to stand trial.
Chosun estimates that up to 70 percent of the population of North Korea’s notorious labor camps are North Korean citizens who tried to flee to China or South Korea. North Korea has also worked to limit access to mobile phones and outside media, like South Korean soap operas.
The crackdown on defectors followed an embarrassing incident in which thirteen North Korean citizens working abroad defected in China to South Korea. North Koreans allowed to work abroad are often the children of high-ranking officials and are considered among the most loyal in the repressive communist state. Pyongyang has called the defection an “unprecedented mass abduction” and demanded the defectors’ return, though there is no evidence they were forcibly taken from their work places.