Villagers fear attack by N.Korean intruders

A deserted street in the Chinese border village of Nanping, with the hills of North Korea behind. After a spate of murders - allegedly by frontier-crossing intruders - frightened villagers are keen to leave.
A deserted street in the Chinese border village of Nanping, with the hills of North Korea behind. After a spate of murders - allegedly by frontier-crossing intruders - frightened villagers are keen to leave.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NANPING (China) • A 3m high barbed wire fence and the winding Tumen River are all that separate Nanping in China from North Korea.

Following a spate of murders - allegedly by frontier-crossing intruders - frightened villagers are increasingly keen to leave, fearing neither the water nor the barrier is enough to protect them.

Over the past year, at least 10 people have been killed by North Koreans - mostly soldiers - attempting robberies in the area, according to Chinese officials and state-controlled media reports.

Food security is a perennial issue in North Korea, resulting in individuals driven by desperation to raid their wealthier neighbours in China.

Officially, Nanping's population is more than 6,000 but, in reality, it is becoming a ghost town.

Its people are ethnic Koreans, and the younger generation's multilingual abilities give them far better employment opportunities elsewhere.

All have left, leaving only the elderly and a small Chinese military contingent, along with local Communist Party secretary Wu Shigen. He has a two-pronged plan for keeping the peace - a voluntary curfew and an information blackout.

"I tell all the residents not to go out at night, and to pay attention to their safety," Mr Wu said.

"There are no witnesses to any of these attacks, and we don't tell the residents much," he added. "The less people know, the less they will be afraid."

Security cameras monitor the two streets running parallel to the border and China, earlier this year, announced civilian-military patrols for the area. However, residents said the militia was never set up.

In April, a trio of North Korean soldiers seeking food and money killed three people near Nanping, according to Chinese reports. That came after a North Korean soldier was fatally shot in December, having murdered two elderly village couples while stealing 100 yuan (S$22) and some food.

China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said after the April and December killings that it had "lodged representations" with Pyongyang, and both sides took the case "very seriously", adding that the North "expressed its regret that such an incident happened".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Villagers fear attack by N.Korean intruders'. Print Edition | Subscribe