The North Korean regime is on alert after signs of public unrest mainly in North Pyongyan Province, the chief conduit of information from the outside world into North Korea. On Feb. 14, dozens staged nighttime protests in Jongju and Yongchon in the province demanding electricity and food, while on Feb. 18, hundreds in Sinuiju clashed with security forces to protest a crackdown on open-air markets.
◆ Gateway to North Korea
Sinuiju is North Korea's main gateway to the outside world. "People can watch Chinese TV in Sinuiju and defectors can communicate with their family there," a North Korean source said. "Most people in Sinuiju probably know about the protests in the Middle East." Some experts believe North Korean authorities began cracking down on open-air markets in Sinuiju to prevent news about the Jasmine Revolutions from spreading across North Korea through gossip in the markets.
The authorities have apparently stepped up body searches of people going from Sinuiju to the Chinese border town of Dandong and back. They check even in the underwear of travelers in search of USB memory devices or DVDs with information about the Jasmine Revolutions, protests in North Korea or information about living conditions in the North. "There's still a lot of public unrest," a source in Sinuiju said.
◆ Ex-Security Official Killed
Radio Free Asia reports that signs of resistance are emerging, including the murder of the former chief of public security in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province. It quoted a local as saying the man was killed by several assailants who threw stones at him as he rode his bicycle home at night. "It seems to be an act of revenge," the source added. The man had earned a bad reputation during 14 years of ruthless rule in the city, sending residents to labor camps regardless of their situation if they were caught violating rules. Early this year, one villager in the province apparently killed three government inspectors who confiscated wood he had gathered to build a fire.
Meanwhile, aid organization Good Friends said North Korean soldiers are getting less than half a day's food allowance, and rations contain corn instead of rice. "North Korea has been strangely quiet since the breakdown of military talks last week," an intelligence official said. "They may have their hands full cracking down on their own people due to the effects of the Middle Eastern protests compounded by the food shortage."
◆ Chances of a Jasmine Revolution
Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said on Wednesday the North Korean regime "is probably trying to keep the Middle Eastern protests from affecting it. Internet access is strictly controlled in North Korea, and there is no North Korean media coverage, so I believe ordinary citizens are unaware" of the Jasmine Revolutions. "I think the impact will be negligible for the time being."
Jang Jin-song, a North Korean defector and poet, told the National Human Rights Commission there is no free exchange of information in North Korea, so there is only a slight chance of a revolution. A government official said there have been no instances of anti-regime movement in the North, but the government cannot rule out that protests triggered by food shortages will translate into an anti-government uprising.