North Korea

North Korean prison break: 5 escape and 3 remain at large


The inmates escaped while working on a roof; recaptured prisoner said they were hoping to flee to China.

North Korean prison break: 5 escape and 3 remain at large

A North Korean prison policewoman stands guard behind fences at a jail on the banks of Yalu River near the Chongsong county of North Korea, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, May 8, 2011.

Five North Korean prisoners awaiting trial on charges like robbery, rape, murder and illegal cattle slaughter escaped from prison, and three of them are still on the run, Radio Free Asia has learned.

Taking advantage of lax security while they were repairing a roof, they climbed over a barbed wire-topped wall and escaped on the afternoon of Aug. 28 from Unhung county prison in the northern province of Ryanggang, sources said.

Such accounts of jailbreaks are relatively rare in North Korea.

Kim Choong Jik, 24, turned himself in days later, while Kim Chol Kwang, 23, was arrested near his home. 

The other three – identified as Kim Chol Min, 33, Kim Un Chol, 32, Kim Kwang Song, 28 – are still at large and believed to be trying to escape to China, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the prison, residents told RFA.

Officials urged residents to be on the lookout for the escapees, who can be identified with their very short prisoner hairstyle, which all North Korean men get prior to trial.

“There were 42 prisoners at the social security department of Unhung county on the day of the incident,” a resident told RFA Korean on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“The escapees, along with other prisoners were sent to repair the roof of the social security department building. But when security was lax, they escaped by climbing over the barbed wire atop the wall.”

One turns himself in

Once on the outside, they immediately hid in nearby mountains. Police and civilian security forces that can be mobilized at a moment’s notice searched for them, but could not find them, he said.

“Starting on the third day, the Unhung County Party Committee mobilized a broadcasting propaganda vehicle belonging to the Cultural Center and patrolled the Pogan-ri area where the criminals were believed to be hiding,” the resident said. 

From a loud speaker, the vehicle blared messages saying the escapees would be pardoned if they surrendered – and so one did come out of the forest, he said.

A second Ryanggang resident, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, said that the prisoner who surrendered was Kim Choong Jik. The first resident said he was interrogated.   

“They were able to find that the escapees had made a pact to cross the Yalu River and escape to China the day after their escape, and then dispersed,” he said. “However, the border security was very tight so they could not move together and decided to go separately.”

Someone will pay

The second resident said that the central government received a report about the escape on Aug. 31.

“They issued a warning to the investigation headquarters saying if the criminals escape across the Yalu River, they will be held responsible,” she said. “The Central Committee ordered them to arrest the criminals before the Day of the Foundation of the Republic,” or Sept. 9.

RFA has not confirmed if any of the local authorities have been punished.

“Arrests warrants with the faces and personal information were posted in all public places and streets in Ryanggang Province,” the second resident said. 

It included pictures of each escaped prisoner and their names, ages and height, she said.

“Of the five escaped criminals, 24-year-old Kim Choong Jik surrendered himself, and 23-year-old Kim Chol Kwang was arrested near his home in Unhung county, Taeosichon Workers District,” said the second resident. 

“The whereabouts of the other three are still unknown. Their crimes include murder, robbery, and illegal slaughter.”

She said Kim Choong Jik was accused of secretly eating a cow that was meant to be used for farm work. 

“This crime is usually punished by death, but he walked out on his own after being told that he would be pardoned if he turned himself in,” she explained. “Kim Chol Kwang, who was arrested near his house, is a rapist and assaulter and he is also a serious criminal.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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