North Korean secret police and Chinese security are hunting for defectors from the impoverished country across China, the Asahi Shimbun reported Monday.
The Japanese daily quotes Chinese and North Korean sources as saying some 100 secret police from several security agencies in the North have teamed up with hundreds of armed Chinese police to round up North Korean defectors throughout China. "It appears that scores of North Korean defectors have been arrested by the teams and repatriated to the North," it added.
North Korean secret police have been homing in on Yunnan Province and its vicinity, a major defection route to Vietnam, Laos or Thailand, and on South Korean and Korean-Chinese businesses suspected of harboring North Korean defectors. They are combing Shandong Province on the eastern coast and Guangdong Province on the southern coast, which are home to many such enterprises.
"To arrest North Korean defectors, some North Korean secret police disguise themselves as defectors, and others work undercover at South Korean or Korean-Chinese stores or companies," the daily said. It speculated the hunt is part of efforts by the North to tighten the regime's control ahead of an extraordinary congress of the Workers Party that starts Tuesday.
North Koreans began fleeing their country in greater numbers in the famine in the mid-1990s and numbers have soared since 2000. Tens of thousands flee the Stalinist country each year and an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 are hiding somewhere in China.