North Korean managers in Russia summoned to Pyongyang for questioning on mass defection

Kim Ga Young  |  2016-10-15 16:55
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Earlier this year, a Daily NK special report team met with North Korean workers at an apartment construction site in
 Ussuriysk, located 2 hours from Vladivostok, Russia

A number of North Korean construction workers dispatched to Russia have reportedly escaped from a worksite near St. Petersburg and made a request for asylum to the South Korean Consulate General in late August. Immediately following the mass defection, the manager and State Security Department agent (assistant manager) in charge of  the supervision of these workers in Russia were summoned to North Korea by the authorities. 

Daily NK has learned that the number of escaped workers is between 6-10 people, including the team leader, who seems to have played a central role in the defection. The workers are known to be affiliated with a North Korean construction enterprise called "Mokran," to which more than 150 workers belong.

On October 10, a local source familiar with inside information about the enterprise informed Daily NK that the company is now faced with an "up-turned beehive" as the president (manager) and the State Security Department agent were recalled to Pyongyang right after the news of the group defection reached home. 

"After repatriation, it is highly likely that the managers will be held to account for the incident and possibly executed," the source said.

 The External Construction Management Bureau of North Korea has been sending construction companies of more than 150 laborers to worksites across Russia. These companies are organized under a hierarchical system led by a manager, followed by an assistant manager, a foreman, team leaders and workers. According to the source, the group defection involved a single working team within one of the operational groups.

"From what I have learned, the team leader took out 6-10 workers in his group to the worksite and then made a call to the South Korean Consulate right away, the source said. The defection happened in an instant under his leadership."

He added, "The name of the troubled company is known to be 'Mokran. Most construction companies dispatched to Russia by the External Construction Management Bureau commonly use names such as Kangsong Company and Mokran.'"

The source also emphasized that the dispatched workers in Russia will be deeply affected if they learn that almost 10 people have successfully escaped. As there have been a series of defection attempts following the group defection of 13 North Korean restaurant workers in China in April, it can be presumed that similar situations will continue to occur in Russia.

According to multiple media sources, the escaped North Korean workers have reportedly been moved to a safe area by an international human rights organization, and the South Korean government is currently discussing procedures for their transfer to South Korea.

It is notable that another defection incident involving a worker belonging to the same company (Mokran) occurred earlier this year.

On October 12, Daily NK succeeded in establishing contact with this worker who stated, "It is hardly possible for the workers to communicate with each other, no matter how close they are, due to the strict surveillance and control system. The recent group defection is, therefore, a remarkable achievement."

"As I recall, almost 40 percent of the company workers secretly owned smartphones. So it is possible that the information they learned through their devices may have influenced their decision," he continued.

It can be presumed that the recent chain of successful defections by overseas workers and officials is having an effect on the remaining workers who are being exploited under harsh working conditions. It is also likely that those with smartphones have access to reports on North Koreas human rights violations published by the international media.

Accordingly, some are predicting further defections by North Korean workers at overseas working sites. A source from an intelligence agency has supported this assumption, adding, "There have been an increasing number of requests from overseas North Korean workers to defect through South Korean consulates. With the increased demand, people are having to be processed in a designated order.

Meanwhile, North Korean workers dispatched to Russia for construction and forestry are known to receive harsh physical punishments if they are caught attempting to defect. According to statements given to a Daily NK team dispatched to Russia last May, North Korean workers in Russia often face hard labor for more than 20 hours a day to pay state quotas (payments sent directly to the regime) of up to 1,000 USD per month.

Punishments for attempted defection include the deliberate severing of an Achilles tendon or having limbs mutilated with an excavator, inflicted by monitoring agents from the State Security Department. These agents use such punishments to create an atmosphere of fear to prevent further potential defections. 

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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