North Korea has set up high-voltage electric fences around an important national landmark in a city near the Chinese border, a precaution authorities say is to defend it from would-be vandals opposed to the regime, sources in the country told RFA.
The Kim Il Sung Immortality Tower in the northwestern border city of Sinuiju is one of several such monuments that were built nationwide following the 1994 death of the national founder, grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. The towers are adorned with slogans that proclaim the elder Kim, and sometimes his son and successor Kim Jong Il, as “eternal presidents” of the country.
Authorities claim that Sinuiju is a hotbed for dissidents who would seek to deface the monument just before the country celebrates the “Day of the Sun” on the April 15 birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, one of the most important holidays in the country.
“Installation of the high-voltage electric fences began March 20 and was finished yesterday,” a resident of Sinuiju told RFA’s Korean Service April 3.
“High-voltage electricity is flowing through the wire fence, which was installed in a hurry on the orders of the Central Committee [of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party]. It’s impossible for anyone to freely access the tower now,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The source said the builders installed a door in the part of the fence facing nearby Chongnyon railway station so that people can enter to lay flowers at the tower on April 15 and other holidays.
“The authorities suddenly installed a high-voltage electric wire fence and creating an atmosphere of fear surrounding this important landmark because forces resisting the regime could potentially appear in the Sinuiju area.”
“Since last year, there have been dozens of officials who have been executed, removed from the party, or dismissed for corruption or failing to follow quarantine orders here in North Pyongan province. So it is natural for the leadership to feel uneasy,” said the source.
Another source, a resident of nearby Ryongchon county, told RFA April 4 that Kim Jong Un has been focused on eliminating corruption in the country’s powerful institutions.
“He has executed or removed core officials, including the principal of Kim Il Sung Higher Party School, and members of the party,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.
“Most of the purged officials were from the party and administrative agencies in North Pyongan province,” the second source said.
Corruption is a way of life for those wielding government power in North Korea. Unable to survive on paltry government salaries, officials are bribed to look the other way by those engaged in illegal activities like smuggling or making illegal international phone calls. Those in higher positions often run the illegal businesses themselves.
“Last year a bunch of customs officers from the Sinuiju office were arrested and executed for their corruption, but the purge that really hit home was that of the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School principal, as he was a native of the province,” the second source said.
“Even after the Sinuiju customs officers were quickly replaced, government officials in Sinuiju were in turmoil as the provincial party secretary and the head of the security department suddenly disappeared one day. Authorities continue to purge senior officials, and they are saying they want to catch potential dissidents in the North Pyongan area including Sinuiju,” the second source said.
A number of officials and residents in the province have been turned against the country’s leadership due to the ongoing purges, according to the second source.
“The authorities are creating an atmosphere equivalent to a quasi-state of war by installing high-voltage fences around the Kim Il Sung Immortality Tower. They are trying to tell residents to prepare for contingencies because they don’t know what will happen in Sinuiju.”
“We know that the fences will be installed in the parts of the city that border China sooner or later.”
A North Korean defector who used to be a high-ranking official in Pyongyang told RFA that Sinuiju is a particularly dangerous part of the country watched closely by the government.
“Dissident forces have been deep-rooted there since the Kim Il Sung era [1948-1994]. Authorities are very careful about who they appoint as secretaries for the provincial government and the city party up there,” the former official said.
“Even when they investigated the  Ryongchon train explosion disaster, which failed to assassinate Kim Jong Il, the authorities presumed it had been carried out by government officials in Sinuiju and so they first investigated the officials and related people.”
Then-leader Kim Jong Il had passed through Ryongchon station on his way back from China just hours before the disaster, which killed about 3,000 people and was caused by “electrical contact caused by carelessness during the shunting of wagons loaded with ammonium-nitrate fertilizer,” according to state media.
Though there was widespread speculation that the disaster was a failed assassination attempt, South Korean intelligence has said it believes the event to have been an accident in a country with a poor industrial safety record and few resources to maintain infrastructure.
South Korean lawmaker Thae Yong Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat before he defected, told the South Korean media in 2017 that Kim Jong Il ordered the executions of transportation officials including the country’s railway chief following the 2004 disaster.
According to the former Pyongyang official, North Pyongan province has produced many well-known people and organizations opposed to the North Korean government or communism in general, including the late religious leader Moon Sung Myung, who fled to South Korea during the Korean War and founded the Unification Church.
The Seoul-based Daily NK online newspaper reported in late March that North Korea has begun building electric fences along the Sino-Korean border in Chagang province, with plans to cover the entire 880-mile border. According to that report, Kim Jong Un ordered the fences as a measure to prevent illegal border crossers from bringing the coronavirus into the country.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.