The men were captured by armed guards as they attempted to cross the Chinese border on July 8, according to details leaked out of the secretive state. Illegally leaving North Korea is a serious crime but trying to do so during the annual period of national morning for the hermit state’s patriarch is considered an even greater offence.
The group is thought to have been heading for South Korea by via China – a route taken by more than 30,000 North Korean over the years.
A source told Radio Free Asia: “The six men were arrested by the police while trying to flee across the border in Kimjongsuk county here in Ryanggang province.
“They confessed to having attempted to leave North Korea for South Korea during the investigation.
The source said the men were from Hyesan, Ryanggang’s largest city and a major river transportation hub along the Yalu, which separates North Korea from China.
He told RFA: “They left Hyesan on the morning of July 8 and climbed a mountain near the border of Kimjongsuk country at around 2pm to wait for sunset.”
The would-be defectors hoped to cross into China under cover of darkness but a local informer tipped off the Kimjongsuk county police, who arrested the men as they waited for nightfall.
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An official of Kimjongsuk county confirmed the heavily armed officers quickly tracked the men down.
He said: “Upon arriving at the scene, the security guards sealed off the mountain where the group of young people were hiding and arrested them after a two-hour search.
“On the July 9, after the county police completed their investigation, they were handed over to the Kimjongsuk county Security Department which is now conducting its own investigation.
“We all expect that they will face harsher punishment because they attempted to escape North Korea on the anniversary day of the death of Kim Il Sung, which is our national memorial day.”
Many families in border areas have relatives who work abroad and send cash home.
Authorities have generally turned a blind eye in exchange for small bribes but the recent crackdown has resulted in increased scrutiny for those receiving money from family abroad.
The source said: “So these days the latest detection equipment has been distributed to security authorities all over the North Korea-China border area, and many of the residents who used to contact the outside world by illegal phone have been arrested and are in trouble.
“The crackdown and surveillance on illegal phone usage is stronger now than it ever has been.”