North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un has reportedly put an entire city under lockdown after 653 bullets went missing during a military withdrawal.
The dictator’s officials have searched house-to-house in the city of Hyesan, which has a population of around 200,000 people, for the ammunition, two sources told Radio Free Asia.
‘The city… will remain on lockdown until all 653 bullets are found,’ a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang, where Hyesan is located, anonymously told RFA’s Korean Service.
The assault rifle ammunition was discovered missing on March 7, when soldiers with the Korean People’s Army 7th Corps were pulling back from the area surrounding the city, which lies on the border with China.
They had been deployed there in 2020 to enforce the border closure at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘They withdrew completely between February 25 and March 10, but an extensive investigation is underway because of a loss of bullets during the evacuation process,’ the Ryanggang resident said.
When it happened, the soldiers did not initially report it but tried to find the missing bullets themselves, according to the source. ‘But when the missing bullets could not be found, they notified the residents and began a rigorous search,’ he said.
The police and military launched an investigation, sealed off the whole city, and began searching house to house, the source said.
‘Those who have seen or picked up any number of bullets are required to report them as soon as possible.’
Those who fail to report any bullets they found could be punished, the source said.
‘There have been no clues even after ten days have passed since this investigation began,’ the source said.
Residents had been looking forward to the army’s withdrawal from the area, but during the investigation they will have even less freedom of movement, a Ryanggang province official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA.
‘Last week, orders were issued to factories, farms, social groups, and neighbourhood watch units in the province to actively cooperate with the ammunition-related investigation,’ the official said, adding that when the bullets were not recovered after ten days, the investigating authorities resorted to lying to spread fear among the public.
‘They tried to put pressure on the residents by bluffing that the withdrawal was a manoeuvre related to the safety of the Supreme Dignity from reactionary forces,’ the official said, using an honorific to refer to the country’s leader.
‘The Ministry of State Security, the Military Security Command of the Korean People’s Army, and the Ministry of Social Security issued a particularly stern warning against “Plunder, Illegal Possession or Disposal of Weapons, Ammunition, and Combat Technology Equipment” as stipulated in the criminal law Article 78,’ the official said.
‘According to that law, a person who illegally possesses or transfers firearms, ammunition, or weapons shall be punished by reform through labour for more than three years,’ he said.
The residents are afraid that if there is no resolution then the authorities will randomly punish someone who might be completely innocent, the official said.
‘Some residents are saying that the authorities are raising the atmosphere of sharp military confrontation between the North and the South every day, even claiming that the South is provoking war,’ said the official.
‘Because this incident occurred at a time of tension, residents are closely watching how the investigation will end.’