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ICC Note: Although the two Koreas seem to have a budding détente, Pyongyang is still wary of North Koreans who show any links to South Korean influence, be it music or still-banned South Korean currency. Local sources share with Radio Free Asia recent cases of arrests of North Koreans for their possessions of items from the South.

 05/31/2018 North Korea (Radio Free Asia) – Though North Korean media have been highlighting the atmosphere of reconciliation that followed recent successful meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, authorities in the authoritarian state are carefully watching residents who have a taste for still-banned money and movies from the South, sources inside the country said.

Foreign-made products are prohibited in North Korea, but citizens manage to get their hands on coveted South Korean goods from relatives in China or from traders who obtain them in China and sell them in black markets back home.

But now — despite pledges by Kim and Moon to put their animosities aside and assurances that there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula during breakthrough bilateral meetings — authorities have ramped up checks on those believed to possess contraband items from the South.

“A resident from Pohang district in Chongjin city was arrested by a police officer after he visited a relative in China for personal reasons,” said a source from North Hamgyong province who requested anonymity. “He was arrested because he had South Korean money that his relatives in China gave him.”

The man’s relative, who used to work in South Korea, gave him 100,000 South Korean won (U.S. $93) in notes as a souvenir, the source told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Given the atmosphere of inter-Korean reconciliation and the fact that there is now less criticism of South Korea [in the North], he bragged about the South Korean money that he had, and this got him into trouble,” he said.

“He considered South Korean money to be the same as general foreign currency just like Chinese yuan, so he simply bragged about his South Korean money to his friends, but someone reported him to the police,” the source said.

Agents arrested the man and interrogated him so intensely for a week that it seemed as though it was a form of torture, the source said.

Though the man said he had simply kept the money as a souvenir, police kept asking him why he had it in his possession and why he had bragged about it, he said.

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