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China Dispatches Civilians to Patrol North Korean Border Area

FILE - A North Korean soldier looks out from a sentry as he stands guard at an entrance to the Hwanggumpyong Economic Zone near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite China's border city of Dandong.

Media reports from China say authorities are creating civilian “militias” to guard villages and towns near the North Korean border. The increased security measures are being prompted by concerns over rising crime reportedly committed by North Koreans who cross the border.

China is organizing civilian patrols near the North Korean border in the Yanbian region, where a North Korean soldier reportedly killed four people during a robbery attempt in December.

Kang Dong-wan, a professor of international relations at Dong-a University in Busan, South Korea, said China is growing increasingly concerned about the security situation at the North Korean border.

The measure organizing civilian patrols indicates that crimes are being continuously committed by North Korean soldiers and North Koreans, he said.

Despite widespread poverty and malnutrition in North Korea, the number of defectors crossing into China in search of food or economic opportunity has actually dropped significantly in the last few years. The drop off is partly attributed to Pyongyang increasing the number of border guards and instituting harsher punishments for Koreans caught attempting to illegally cross the border.

At the same time, the Chinese media have reported a number of assaults and killings allegedly committed by North Korean assailants in the border region.

Matthew Halsall with Durihana, a Christian missionary organization that helps defectors escape from North Korea, said these crimes are being committed mostly by North Korean soldiers and are feeding into already widely held fears among Chinese.

“What is a massive problem is the Chinese public’s perception of North Koran defectors and the fact is that the Chinese do just see North Korean defectors as economic migrants and have very low opinions of them,” said Halsall.

The establishment of the new patrols, as well as the installation of new surveillance cameras and a telephone hotline to report illegal activity in Chinese border areas, are intended to address growing concerns about safety and security. It is unclear if the so-called “civilian militias” are armed. It is illegal in China for private citizens to own firearms, although there are some exceptions for those who hold hunting permits.

China and North Korea are close allies and trading partners, although analysts say Beijing is worried about the potential for regional instability and Pyongyang’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N resolutions.

Professor Kang Dong-wan said the increase in crime and security measures at the border does not indicate any change in the relationship between China and North Korea.

He said the authorization of the militia is just a measure to protect Chinese citizens living in the region near the border between North Korea and China.

Beijing recently lodged a formal complaint with Pyongyang about the alleged robbery attempt and murders by the North Korean soldier in December.

VOA News Producer in Seoul Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

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