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Fewer North Koreans defecting to the South after crackdown


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The number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea have plummeted after the North increased surveillance and tightened state control over its population.


The figure had sharply increased since the mid-1990s when a mass famine killed an estimated 2 million people.



There were only 41 defectors in 1995, 312 in 2000, 2,018 in 2008 and 2,927 last year.

But the number of North Koreans who arrived in the South in this year's first half was 1,237 and is expected to reach about 2,000 this year, according to the Unification Ministry.


The number for the second half is likely to decline further because fewer North Koreans fled the country in the first half, according to the report. More than six month are normally required for North Koreans who crossed the border into China to reach South Korea, the ministry said.


The North Korean defectors in Seoul said they spent about six months in China after fleeing the North to seek routes or South Korean helpers to find asylum in Seoul.


The ministry attributed the drop to the North's stronger social control and crackdown on border-crossers. The North set up surveillance networks in border areas early this year shortly after the country's two biggest public security apparatuses -- the Ministry of People's Security and the Ministry of State Security -- issued their first joint statement declaring war on defectors in February.


According to South Korea's top daily the Chosun Ilbo, North Korea has ordered its border guards to open fire on anyone who crosses its border without permission, based on concerns that last November's drastic currency revaluation could spark mass defections.


The National Defense Commission, the country's highest decision-making body led by Kim Jong-Il, has instructed guards on the border with China to "shoot down any unauthorized border crossers on the spot," the Chosun Ilbo said, citing sources inside the North.


The North’s confiscatory currency reform that wiped out the savings of citizens has triggered rare public protests in the communist country. The crackdowns were seen as an attempt to thwart defections by people disgruntled by the currency revaluation.


The news comes as South Korea has been strengthening the scrutiny of North Korean asylum-seekers out of concern that spies from the communist country are attempting to enter the South pretending to be refugees.


All North Koreans who entered the South undergo questioning by South Korea's intelligence agency service for up to 90 days. The government will extend the vetting period to as much as 180 days to find out if any North Korean spies are disguised as defectors.


The move comes after two North Korean agents -- both majors in the army's reconnaissance bureau -- were arrested in April on charges of attempting to assassinate Hwang Jang-Yop, a high-ranking North Korean defector who has led anti-North campaigns.


The two spies entered South Korea separately in January and February through China and Thailand by posing as asylum-seekers. The North's spy agency issued a directive instructing the two "never to allow Hwang to die a natural death," Seoul prosecutors said.



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