North Korea executed people, shut capital in battle against Covid, South's spies say

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has executed at least two people, banned sea fishing, and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, to protect itself from the coronavirus and its economic damage, South Korean spy agency lawmakers said Friday.

Kim’s administration also ordered diplomats overseas not to take any actions that could provoke the United States because they are concerned about President-elect Joe Biden’s expected new approach to North Korea, lawmakers told reporters after attending a private briefing on the National Secret Service had participated.

One of the lawmakers, Ha Tae-keung, quoted the NIS as saying Kim was showing “excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” against the pandemic and its economic impact.

Ha said the NIS informed lawmakers that North Korea executed a high-profile money changer in Pyongyang last month after blaming the person for a falling exchange rate. He quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea also executed a key official in August for violating government regulations restricting goods brought abroad. The two people were not identified by name.

North Korea has also banned fishing and salt production at sea to prevent seawater from becoming infected with the virus, the NIS told lawmakers.

North Korea recently banned Pyongyang and northern Jagang Province over virus problems. Earlier this month lockdown measures were imposed in other areas where officials found unauthorized goods and foreign currency brought in, Ha quoted the NIS as saying.

North Korea also made an unsuccessful hacking attempt against at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, according to the NIS.

The agency has mixed experience in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the most secretive nations in the world. The NIS said it could not immediately validate the legislature’s accounts.

North Korea has claimed it did not find a single coronavirus case on its soil, a claim that has been denied by outside experts, although it claims it is making every effort to prevent the virus from spreading. A major outbreak could have dire consequences as the north’s health system remains crippled and suffers from a chronic lack of medical care.

The pandemic forced North Korea to seal its border with China, its largest trading partner and benefactor, in January. The shutdown, along with a string of natural disasters over the summer, came as a heavy blow to the northern economy, punished under US-led sanctions.

North Korea’s trade with China for the first ten months of this year was $ 530 million, about 25 percent of the same period last year. The price of sugar and spices has risen four times, Ha quoted the NIS as saying.

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North Korea surveillance groups in Seoul said the North Korean won-to-dollar exchange rate fell significantly recently as people found few places to use foreign currency after the Chinese border closed after smuggling was largely cut off .

According to the NIS briefing, North Korea ordered overseas diplomatic missions not to provoke the United States and warned their ambassadors of consequences if their comments or actions regarding the United States cause problems in relations with Washington.

The North Korean government has remained silent about Biden’s election victory over President Donald Trump, with which Kim held three summits on the northern nuclear arsenal in 2018/19. While diplomacy eventually stalled, the meetings helped Kim and Trump build personal relationships and stop the gross insults and threats of destruction they had previously exchanged.

Lawmaker Kim Byung-kee quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea is showing fear as its friendly relations with Trump become useless and it has to start over in dealing with the incoming Biden administration.

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