April 23, 2019 13:32
North Korea has installed barbed-wire fences and state-of-the-art surveillance cameras along the border with China even as locals still labor with ox cars and draw water from wells by hand.
The measures are aimed at stemming defections across the Apnok (or Yalu) River by North Koreans desperate to escape hunger and squalor at home. They also include ostentatious firing targets in the shape of people tied to posts.
The misery of North Koreans in the border region is depicted in a photo exhibition by Kang Dong-wan of Donga University, who is also in charge of the Busan branch of Hanawon, which helps North Korean defectors settle in South Korea.
It features photographs Kang took from the Chinese side of the border last winter.
"We have heard several accounts of directives threatening to shoot and kill defectors, who are branded traitors, but this is the first time that such scenes were actually witnessed." Kang added, "These firing targets were set up to train soldiers to shoot actual defectors, which serves as a dire warning to anyone seeking to flee the North."
Photos show North Korean women breaking the frozen ice of the Yalu River to wash their laundry in -30-degree temperatures, or passengers perched perilously on top of trains.
The border town of Sinuiju photographed at night shows a pitch-black landscape accentuated by a single beam of light shining brightly on portraits of North Korean nation founder Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il and leader Kim Jong-un.
Other photos show ragged apartment buildings in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, which contrast starkly with the modern condominiums lining the streets of Pyongyang. Kang said, "The focus since the April, 2018 inter-Korean summit has been solely on Pyongyang residents, while the dictator has been glamorized as a moral and upright individual. But a glimpse of the 'people's paradise' seen from the border with China revealed that 'people' are clearly not a consideration."
When Kim visited an airbase last week to observe the launch of a new tactical weapon, the soldiers looked alarmingly malnourished. Radio Free Asia reported that North Korean soldiers and even pilots eat meat "only on national holidays," while subsisting on corn other days.
Several rallies have been held across the country touting the revival of the "juche" or self-reliance doctrine of the nation founder as international sanctions bite.
"The purpose was to warn North Koreans to brace for the worst," a researcher with a state-run think tank here said. "North Korea hopes to ride out the storm until the end of this year."
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