N. Korea clamping down on people making phone calls with South Koreans: sources

March 29, 2016
In this Tuesday, May 5, 2015, photo, a man sits in front of portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, as he uses his smartphone in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean officials have unveiled a mobile-friendly online shopping site. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

FILE — In this Tuesday, May 5, 2015, photo, a man sits in front of portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, as he uses his smartphone in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea has been intensifying a “sting operation” to arrest people making contact with South Koreans using mobile phones, especially in border areas near China, sources said Tuesday.

Sources familiar with North Korean affairs said that nearly 10 people have been arrested by security forces since the start of the ongoing 70-day campaign to encourage its people to work harder as the ruling Workers’ Party gets ready to host its first congress since 1980.

The event is expected to allow North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to unveil new policy goals and conduct a major reshuffle of posts.

A source said that the country’s public security authorities have recently carried out a special operation in the border city of Musan in North Hamgyong Province to round up residents having phone conversations with South Koreans or their relatives living south of the border.

The source said that the security authorities’ sting operations are being conducted in the “Rimgang” area near Musan, where phone connections are relatively good.

According to the source, the North Korean authorities turn off their jamming devices intentionally for two to three hours to make it easier for residents to have smooth telephone conversations and then apprehend them for making the phone conversations that are illegal in the North.

“Some 10 residents have been arrested in such operations since the start of the 70-day campaign,” the source said, adding that there are rumors that those detained will be executed before or after the party congress on charges of espionage.

Despite such crackdowns, the number of people contacting the South or making phone calls with citizens are on the rise, as many rely on support from their relatives to survive in the impoverished country. Money sent can be used to buy goods on the open market.

An official of South Korea’s intelligence service said that they are presently confirming the validity of the report.

According to other sources, North Koreans living near the border with China are known to use Chinese cell phones and USIM chips after they purchase them in black markets. Such phones can be used to make calls outside the country.

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