January 26, 2010 11:57
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered officials in May 2008 to shoot defectors or imprison them for 10 years of hard labor if they were arrested, according to information obtained by South Korean and U.S. intelligence agencies. Previously only those caught attempting to escape directly to South Korea had been punished so severely.
Intelligence agencies in the two countries say Kim started tightening control in 2007, with barbed wire fences and surveillance cameras installed along the North Korea-China border and soldiers ordered to shoot defectors. Later that year separate surveillance and inspection teams were dispatched to the border.
In March 2008, Jang Song-taek, Kim's brother-in-law and close aide who is the administration director of the Workers' Party, personally oversaw checks of party, government and military organizations in Sinuiju, a gateway city in the border area. Several corrupt city officials were apparently executed at his orders.
An intelligence source said Kim attempted to overcome economic difficulties in the early 2000s by introducing a modicum of market capitalism, but he seems to have tightened controls as there were signs of the dictatorship being eroded by nascent capitalism.
The North Korean leadership believes that South Korean goods or news about the South distributed by smugglers from China are a direct threat to the regime, experts say. A defector from Chongjin said commandos crack down on any signs of a black market and conduct midnight raids on producers of illegal South Korean DVDs
Public executions are the most drastic scare tactic. They had more or less ceased since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 started a thaw and the North became wary of international criticism, but in 2007 they started up again and record numbers were publicly executed in 2008, an intelligence source said.
But since last year they have been declining again as the North concentrated on strengthening its economy and marshaled all the available manpower into boosting production.
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