North Korean robbers kill two women as crime wave intensifies

Residents in a northern province of North Korea are reporting an increase in violent crime, seemingly driven by a worsening economy, hunger and a lack of affordable food, sources told Radio Free Asia.
The recent killing of two young women during a botched robbery in Hyesan, a city on the Chinese border, has put people in Ryanggang province on edge, they said.
“On the 20th, at around 5:00 pm, there was a shocking incident in which two men rushed into a house in the Hyesong neighborhood and they murdered two of the three women living there while trying to rob them,” a resident of the city told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
The women living in the house were aged 22, 23 and 27, and the two victims were stabbed to death, according to the source. 
“The one who escaped was the homeowner. The robbers held a knife at her and told her to give him money. She was able to get away by saying it was in the attic, and pretending to go up to retrieve it, but running away instead,” the source said. 
Military police officers who were on patrol in the area arrived and arrested the suspects, the source said.
“The trial for the robbery was held the next day in public,” said the source. “Although the arrested men are members of society, they were tried by military law for committing a robbery at a time when the domestic situation was militarily tense.” 
The source said that after the trial the men were led away, so nobody knows for sure what will happen to them, but many expect they will be executed by firing squad.
Crime statistics from North Korea are not available, so it is impossible to verify whether there has been an uptick. But the source said the increase in March has been notable and food and money problems are often the motive.
“After a night’s sleep, you wake up to learn there was a murder somewhere, and then the next day, you’ll hear about a series of robberies somewhere else,” he said.
Another Ryanggang resident said the crime wave extends beyond Hysean, and that a friend in nearby Samsu county said over the phone that many robberies, thefts and murders are happening there as well.
“Murders, break-ins, and thefts are particularly prevalent this year, which has something to do with the worsening food shortage,” the second source said. “Residents are blaming the authorities for failing to take proper measures to stabilize society [by addressing] the food shortages.”
Chronic hunger
North Korea has been chronically short on food for decades, but has been able to cover gaps between supply and demand through imports or international aid. This became impossible during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Sino-Korean border was closed and suspended all trade with China, the country’s chief economic partner.
Though cross-border trade has resumed in limited capacity, it has not been enough for the country to rebound completely. 
People in Hyesan are starving to the point that they are eating the soybean residue from the tofu making process, normally thought to be a waste product, the second source said.
“You can’t even use [the residue] to make any kind of porridge or broth,” he said. “As starvation becomes more rampant due to the food shortage, you hear about more terrible robberies happening all the time.” 
Hyesan has had a 7:00 p.m. curfew in place for some time, and opportunistic criminals strike when there’s nobody out on the streets, the second source said, recalling an incident where three robbers broke into a home that doubled as a place of business for the owner, a street food vendor.
The second source said that the three men came to the house just before the curfew, claiming they were there to buy food. When the vendor opened the door to them, they rushed in and robbed her.
“They took all of the food that was for sale, including noodles, rice, candy and sweets,” he said.
Authorities are investigating the case, and because the robbery occurred before the vendor’s husband arrived home, they suspect that the three robbers are people that would know his schedule, according to the second source. 
“The three men were wearing masks so it’s not known if they are soldiers or civilians,” he said.
Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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