North Korea has launched a crackdown on military border guards suspected of assisting in the trafficking of people and drugs in exchange for bribes, a Seoul-based defectors' group said Tuesday.
North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said Pyongyang on Sunday issued an emergency order for a check-up on guards in the northeastern cities of Hyesan and Hoeryong, both bordering China.
"The very unusual emergency personnel checkup... caused a big fuss as many soldiers taking holidays or resting at military infirmaries rushed to go back to barracks," the group quoted one source in the North as saying.
The move was intended to shore up lax military discipline among border guards, many of whom are suspected of aiding human or drug trafficking in exchange for bribes, said sources quoted by the group.
Many are also suspected of turning a blind eye to a growing stream of refugees fleeing to China, they said, adding one officer was even caught deleting video footage from surveillance cameras in exchange for bribes.
Some officers also tried to bribe their supervisors in exchange for months-long holidays, the group said.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based online newspaper, reported this month that Kim Jong-Un, son and heir apparent to leader Kim Jong-Il, had ordered tighter border security and a crackdown on would-be refugees.
Special investigators sent from Pyongyang were patrolling the border and checking the number of household members in a campaign to punish "traitors who leave and betray the mother country", the paper quoted a source as saying.
Persistent food shortages, along with a botched currency revaluation last year have deepened the North's economic woes.
About 10,000 North Koreans over the past three years have fled to the South via China despite the risk of potentially severe punishment -- more than the total in the previous fifty years.
Young female refugees can become a commodity in China, where they are sold to farmers for up to 1,500 dollars a head amid a shortage of Chinese women in the countryside.