South Korea: Kim Jong Un has executed citizens, shut down capital to stop COVID-19 spread
The North Korean government under leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the execution of at least two people, locked down the capital of Pyongyang and implemented other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to South Korean lawmakers who were briefed by members of the country’s intelligence agency.
According to The Associated Press, lawmakers told reporters about the findings presented by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) in a private briefing.
The lawmakers said that Kim is concerned about the economic impact the pandemic could pose, and has also ordered overseas diplomats to not engage in any actions that could provoke the United States amid the transition to President-elect Joe Biden.
“We’ve been told that there have been orders to exercise utmost prudence in language,” lawmaker Kim Byung-kee told reporters, according to NPR.
One of the lawmakers, Ha Tae-keung, quoted the NIS as saying Kim is displaying “excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” over the pandemic and its economic impact, the AP reported.
The NIS informed South Korean officials that those executed include a well-known money changer in Pyongyang. Kim reportedly blamed the person for North Korea’s falling exchange rate.
The other is a key official who in August was found to be in violation of restrictions placed on goods coming from outside the country amid the pandemic.
Kim also implemented a ban on fishing at sea to prevent seawater from being infected with the virus, according to the NIS. The government also reportedly placed a lockdown on the capital and the northern Jagang province to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The AP also reported that Kim’s government unsuccessfully attempted to hack at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company aiming to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
North Korea has continued to argue that it has not had a single COVID-19 case, although this has been disputed by several outside experts.
The North Korean economy has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, with the country forced to seal its border with its biggest trading partner, China, in January. A series of natural disasters over the summer, coupled with U.S.-led sanctions over North Korea’s weapons program, have further destabilized the country’s already struggling economy.
Kim has so far remained silent on Biden’s win, although experts have debated whether North Korea will resume major missile tests as it has during past government transitions as a means to increase leveraging power in negotiations.
Biden’s administration could also signal a change from President Trump, who participated in three summits with Kim between 2018 and 2019 over North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
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