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North Korea cracks down on illegal entry into Pyongyang

Pyongyang central station (Kristoferb/WikiCommons)
December 29, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in North Korea are attempting to prevent people from the countryside, including members of the military, from entering the capital city of Pyongyang illegally, RFA has learned.

Pyongyang is the domain of the country’s elite and well connected. It is considered a privilege to live there, and a Pyongyang residence certificate is considered a status symbol. But for those from other regions of North Korea, a travel pass is needed just to visit the city.

Rules alone are not enough to keep everyone out. Residents from outside of Pyongyang can still make their way in by calling in special favors, bribing officials, or smuggling themselves into the capital.

Sources say that a public education program aimed at preventing illegal travel to the city is underway nationwide and it includes punishment for government officials.

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A senior government official from Ryanggang province told RFA’s Korean Service on Wednesday that the various branches of government are being directed to tighten controls on traffic bound for Pyongyang.

“Under the order of the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party], we were told to ramp up our public education efforts so that the armed forces and other special agencies can more effectively control entry into, and exit from Pyongyang,” the source said.

“We are doing this because of an increase in the number of residents from other areas of the country who have entered Pyongyang without any documents or other proof of approval,” the source added.

The source said outsiders sneaking their way into the capital raises security concerns.

“Since the spring, many residents have been secretly entering Pyongyang by asking senior government officials or hiding in cars,” the source said.

“The Central Committee is aware that this is happening so it has issued an emergency order to stop it,” said the source.

The source said the Committee was legitimately concerned for security reasons.

“It became a big problem because soldiers secretly bring weapons, live ammunition and explosives, including gunpowder, into Pyongyang,” the source said, adding, “This is a top-level security issue.”

The source said that agents of the government that were found to be most responsible for illegal entry would be judged and punished.

“Under the Central Committee’s order, local party organizations and government agencies (including the armed forces and other special agencies) are responsible for educating residents and soldiers so that they don’t try to illegally enter to Pyongyang,” the source said.

“Also included in the order was a plan to punish members of the armed forces who failed to educate and control illegal entries,” the source said, adding that the punishment could be minor, at the party organization or administrative level, or it could be major, and considered a violation of criminal law.

A second source, connected to the military in North Hamgyong province, told RFA on the same day that the senior military officials held a meeting to discuss the Committee’s order. The meeting’s agenda included a public criticism session for those who had been caught illegally entering the capital.

“At the meeting they decided to take preemptive measures to prevent illegal entry into Pyongyang from ever happening again,” said the second source.

But the crackdown is causing legitimate travel into the city to become more of a hassle than it needs to be, according to the second source.

“Even people on official business trips are experiencing inconvenience due to the difficulty of getting Pyongyang entry certificates,” the second source said.

“To take the train into Pyongyang, [travelers previously] only needed to make the train police and military police aware of the situation. [Once that was done] they were able to enter Pyongyang without any problems,” the second source said.

“But since the order has been issued, the police are reluctant to even meet the [frequent] travelers they know, because they are afraid of punishment.”