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With the Sino-Korean border shut and all trade currently suspended in line with strict coronavirus restrictions, the option of quitting the Hermit State for its larger neighbour to the north is likely to be an increasingly attractive option. However, the secretive country’s Supreme Leader has indicated he is prepared to do everything in his power to prevent people from doing so.
A military source in North Hamgyong province in the country’s northeast told the US-backed Radio Free Asia website: “In October, the General Command ordered corps commands stationed along the border to forward-deploy anti-aircraft guns.
“In mid-November, anti-aircraft artillery battalions under the 9th Corps were forward deployed to the city of Hoeryong, and Musan and Onsong counties.”
North Korea has imposed increasingly strict rules in relation to the border throughout 2020.
First marksmen were deployed with orders to shoot anyone found to be within 0.6 miles of the border, regardless of their reasons.
Subsequently, RFA reported that landmines had been planted to make crossing over even more hazardous.
However, even these measures do not seem to have been enough, with RFA’s source saying: “The anti-aircraft artillery battalions were deployed to areas of the border that were deemed to be poorly guarded.
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“They opened a camp on a low ridge, like 200 to 300 meters away from the border and are now combat ready.
“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.”
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Now the border guards and special forces alike are nervous because they might be shot dead by the anti-aircraft guns
Not only are the anti-aircraft gunners tasked with preventing escapes, but also have instructions to keep an eye on special forces soldiers, who in turn must monitor the regular border guards, the insider said.
They explained: “Now the border guards and special forces alike are nervous because they might be shot dead by the anti-aircraft guns.”
A second source said the decision to station the anti-aircraft units had been prompted by one specific incident, explaining: “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.”
On that occasion, two soldiers were caught moving gold bars into China.
The city was then locked down, with the authorities claiming the smugglers may have introduced coronavirus to the population.
The second source added: “Even though the special forces were deployed to the border on the orders of North Korean Leader 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.”
Kim’s association with anti-aircraft guns goes back several years.
In 2016, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper claimed he had ordered Ri Yong Jin, a senior official in the education ministry whom Kim accused of falling asleep during a meeting with him, and former Agriculture Minister Hwang Min, seen as a potential leadership rival, to be executed using one of the weapons.
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