Report: North Korea Places Anti-Aircraft Units on Chinese Border to Stop Defections

A North Korean soldier walks near the Yalu river near Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, on April 16, 2017. Dandong city is the main crossing point to North Korea, and every day hundreds of tourists embark on small boats for a cruise on the Yalu border river …
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea has deployed anti-aircraft units to its border with China to prevent people from crossing, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Wednesday.

Sources who spoke with RFA said that authorities are hoping the move will decrease the number of defections to China as desperate North Koreans risk their lives to escape the failed communist state.

“In October, the General Command ordered corps commands stationed along the border to forward-deploy anti-aircraft guns,” said the anonymous military source from northeastern North Hamgyong province on the border with China. “In mid-November, anti-aircraft artillery battalions under the 9th Corps were forward deployed to the city of Hoeryong, and Musan and Onsong counties.”

“The anti-aircraft artillery battalions were deployed to areas of the border that were deemed to be poorly guarded,” the source added. “They completed site preparation by November 30 and used rice straw and dried grass to camouflage themselves. The anti-aircraft gunners were told not to participate in 2020 winter military training, which starts today, but to focus all their efforts on border security.”

Another source who spoke with RFA explained that the measure is also intended to help crack down on soldiers accepting bribes from escapees, as well as other forms of corruption such as gold smuggling.

“The reason why the anti-aircraft units were deployed in some areas along the border is because of the gold smuggling incident in Hyesan in early November,” said the second source, who also must remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “Even though the special forces were deployed to the border on the orders of Kim Jong Un, because of the Hyesan smuggling lockdown, authorities no longer trust the special forces.”

“We know that the orders from the General Command say that the anti-aircraft guns should fire immediately at anything suspicious near the border without considering the situation or without first reporting to superiors, so now it’s not just residents that should stay away from the border, the guards and special forces should too,” they added.

Such reports underline the desperate situation faced by millions of North Koreans including members of the military, whose incomes are typically prioritized to maintain their fierce loyalty to the regime. Last week, the Korea Herald reported that the country is currently facing a severe humanitarian crisis due to shortages of food, medicine, clean water, and other living essentials.

Like the majority of countries, North Korea has suffered serious economic damage as a result of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, wiping out the small levels of growth experienced in recent years. Dictator Kim Jong-un is understood to be so angry with the state of the country’s finances that he publicly criticized his economic agencies for failing to manage things effectively.

Back in August, the 36-year-old dictator made a tearful admission that economic progress has been “seriously delayed” and the population continues to struggle as a result of “unexpected and inevitable challenges in various aspects.”

“Our people have placed trust, as high as sky and as deep as sea, on me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily,” Kim said before a military rally. “I am really sorry for that.”

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