North Korean Cops Go Undercover as Phone Brokers to Entrap Refugees’ Families

Authorities threaten to send families to prison camps if a member contacts relatives overseas.

North Korean Cops Go Undercover as Phone Brokers to Entrap Refugees’ Families

North Korean agents are going undercover as phone brokers to entrap citizens attempting to contact overseas relatives for money to cope with a worsening food shortage and an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the country told RFA.

Phone brokers charge money for using Chinese cell phones to tap the mobile network in China to provide a channel for North Koreans who have escaped the country to send money and information to their families back home.

But since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in January 2020, Pyongyang has been cracking down on its citizens’ contact with people outside the country, especially in the border regions, where Chinese cellular networks are accessible.

The crackdown coincided with the closure of the Sino-Korean border and the suspension of all trade to stop the spread of the virus into North Korea, a move that devastated the North Korean economy and caused shortages of food, medicine and industrial inputs.

RFA reported last month that the dire food situation made escapees’ families and the phone brokers themselves desperate enough to assume the heightened risk of using that method to move money.

Now families in North Korea trying to contact overseas relatives must also be careful when working with a broker, because some could actually be police.

“As the refugees’ families resume their connection with overseas family members and the number of telephone brokers continues to increase, law enforcement is using a mean method of contacting North Korean refugees’ families by disguising security agents or police officers as phone brokers,” a law enforcement source from the city of Hoeryong in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA.

“But now that the residents are aware of the authorities’ cunning and mean strategy, the families are extremely careful not to speak to unknown brokers,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The source said that at the beginning of the pandemic, most families of escapees cut off contact with them because the government had stepped up surveillance and punishments.

“They were enduring economic hardship with all their might, but they are no longer able to. So more and more of them are trying to contact their overseas relatives again, saying that dying of hunger is no better than dying from harsh punishment,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Law enforcement is telling the residents that they will be sent to political prison camps immediately if they discover any contact with their family outside the country, but if they voluntarily confess that they’ve been in contact, they will be treated leniently,” the source said.

A resident of nearby Musan county said police were mixing threats and ruses to catch residents trying to reach their relatives overseas.

“They visit the families of escapees and trick them into giving them detailed information, saying they will help them connect with their loved ones,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“The State Security Department and the Police Department are telling refugees’ families to immediately alert the authorities if they receive any contact from overseas, or else they and the rest of the family will be arrested as political criminals,” the second source said.

“Even so, residents who are in desperate need of help from their escapee relatives are able to use certain words, numbers or special expressions as code to verify who is a real broker and who is a police officer faking it,” said the second source.

The second source said that despite all the threats from law enforcement, most families with relatives abroad find ways to keep in touch with the outside world.

“The threats presented by the living difficulties happening here right now far outweigh any threats of surveillance by the State Security Department.”

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, which interviewed 414 North Koreans in the South, reported that 47 percent of them were in constant contact with their families in the North in 2018. Of those, about 93 percent said they called their families on the phone.

In the same survey, 62 percent said they had sent money to North Korea. Based on their answers, the center estimated that refugees in the South who send money to North Korea do it about twice per year, sending around 2.7 million South Korean won (U.S. $2,260) each time.

Each time they had to pay an average broker fee of almost 30 percent.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, more than 33,000 North Koreans have settled in South Korea since 1998, though only 229 entered the South last year during the coronavirus pandemic.

Reported by Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Chin State Coalition Overruns Myanmar Military Outpost, Killing 12 Soldiers

A citizen militia teamed up with the Chin National Army to take over the camp, which they burned to the ground.

Chin State Coalition Overruns Myanmar Military Outpost, Killing 12 Soldiers

Anti-junta resistance forces in Myanmar joined up with an ethnic rebel group over the weekend and took over a military outpost in Chin state near the Indian border, killing 12 regime soldiers in the firefight, sources told RFA.

A coalition of about 400 combatants of the Chin National Army (CNA), and newly organized Chin Defense Force (CDF), were able to overrun the sparsely manned outpost Saturday evening in Chin State’s Thantlang township.

The CDF was formed by citizens who took up arms following the military takeover of the country Feb. 1 that oustied Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government.

They joined forces with the CNA, the armed group connected to the Chin National Front (CNF), a nationalist political organization that advocates for Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority. Since its foundation in 1988 the CNA had been fighting against the Myanmar military, but it signed ceasefire agreements in 2012 and 2015.

Eight members of the CDF lost their lives in the attack over the weekend, according to local outlet The Irrawaddy.

Ronoe Lian, a CDF spokesperson in Thantlang, told RFA that the clash over the base in Lungler village lasted two days.

“A combined force of the CDF and CNA laid siege to the camp on the evening of Sept. 10. There was a four-hour-long battle that day, and at around 1:00 p.m., a jet fighter flew by twice, then circled the surroundings and bombed four times,” Ronoe Lian said.

The junta air support bombed the area about nine or 10 times that day, Ronoe Lian said. A report in the local media outlet Myanmar Now said the coalition that first attacked the base numbered about 200, but they retreated after the arial bombardment. The next day they returned in greater numbers.

“On the second day, we battled for over five or six hours. Finally, we overran the camp, seized all the ammunition and set it on fire,” Ronoe Lian said.

He said that the coalition were able to acquire ammunition and small arms stored in the camp, which was located just across the border from Mizoram state in India. The camp had been manned by 12 soldiers and had not received reinforcements in months.

The CDF told RFA that after the base was taken over, military helicopters were spotted in the area, likely on reconnaissance missions.

CNA spokesman Salai Htet Ni told RFA that the fighting could intensify because the military will likely bring in reinforcements to the area.

“The military can put a lot of pressure here. What we know is that they are sending reinforcements to this region, and we have heard that they plan to wipe out all CDF movements statewide,” Salai Htet Ni said.

“That’s why we are expecting bigger clashes. We think this is going to happen,” he said.

About 1,000 people living near the base fled toward the Indian border when fighting began Saturday, sources told RFA.

“People from Longler village and two other nearby villages are fleeing to safety to avoid the fighting,” a resident who requested anonymity for security reasons told RFA.

“Some people fled their houses before the battle started. Later on, more people fled toward the border,” the resident said. 

Salai Za Op Lin, the deputy executive director of the India-based Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) told RFA that about 1,000 civilians fled to Mizoram in recent days.

“Most of the villagers have fled to safety. This morning, when they saw military planes flying nearby, many of the villagers were terrified. We heard that a lot of the villagers left their homes after Sept. 10, when the military planes showed up,” Salai Za Op Lin said.

“They fled toward Kyainseng village in Mizoram, but there are also some people who are taking refuge nearby, an estimated 5,000 in total,” he said. 

The CHRO said more than 30,000 people have fled from Chin state to Mizoram since the coup. The military has responded by setting up road checks in many areas, which could cut of certain parts of the state from supplies and cause food shortages.

Junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun was not available for comment.

The attack on the outpost came days after Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) on Sept. 7 urged supporters to engage in a nationwide revolt. Interim President Duwa Lashi La called for for the complete overthrow of the junta.

Since then, the country has seen an increase in clashes between soldiers and citizens defense groups all over the country.

In the seven months since the coup, security forces have killed 1,089 civilians and arrested at least 6,477, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—mostly during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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